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First Day on the Job

Disappointment washed over my hopeful mood as the door of Kay’s group home opened. My autistic daughter was loudly repeating her echolalic phrase about wet towels on the floor, spiced with plenty of profanity. And she was smelly in a way that brought me right back to that old reptilian revulsion I felt many times when she was in my care.

It was her first day on the job as a small town newspaper carrier, and she needed to look the part. At our house, she got cleaned up, chose and changed into an outfit that was business casual, complete with sunglasses and a ball cap. She had a snack of freshly squeezed juice (carrot, celery, kale, apple, and ginger) but, before she swallowed, she opened her mouth to talk about the wet towels again. I silently prayed for help.

We talked in hopeful tones about how this is her new job, different than her previous day program. How having a job is important, and the local newspaper is important.

We had a hundred papers to deliver. As Gene drove, I demonstrated how to walk up the driveway and place the paper by the front door, and Kay sat in the back seat and watched out of the periphery of her eyes. When we reached a neighborhood with few cars to look out for, I asked her if she wanted to go with me to deliver papers. She responded with an enthusiastic “Yes!”

She carried the orange bag weighed down by newspapers, and we walked together up to the first entryway. I gave her a paper and told her to throw it down by the door. She threw it sideways into the bushes. More than once. And I had to do some gymnastics to retrieve it.

(Gene explained later that using the word “throw” would cause her to throw sideways, it’s the way her arm throws. So next time I will use the words, “put the paper in front of the door.”)

A few neighbors were out, and some said “hi.” I introduced Kay and said we are their new carriers, and that this is her first job. Though Kay didn’t say “hi” back, I could tell she enjoyed the attention from people and being out among them. Some of the neighbors looked apprehensive, some had a kind and welcoming look on their faces.

Girls and boys track teams from the nearby high school ran up and down the hilly streets on our route, and a few neighbors were out to encourage them. Our little team was caught in the action, and Kay enjoyed being in the midst of all of those people.

A few neighbors had Black Lives Matter signs in their yard, a few had Protected by Smith and Wesson bumper stickers on their truck, many entryways were overdecorated with lettered signs that seemed to bark out commands (Live, laugh, love! Dream. Enjoy the journey.) There were many gnomes, deer, store bought and hand made decorations. I enjoyed the experience of visiting so many entryways in a short time, and took note of the decor and gardening of the most appealing ones.

Kay was running out of steam after delivering about twenty papers, and I was already tired from walking up the hilly streets, so she got back in the car and I delivered the next batch. I enjoyed watching the papers land balletically when I threw them, and that small pleasure carried me on. When I asked her if she wanted to come back out and deliver with me, the answer was again a resounding “yes!”

Gradually we all slowed down. I had trouble remembering house numbers, my head ached, and I was bone tired. And finally we were done.

Carole King’s song, Child of Mine, came on the car stereo just after we finished out route. We were all mentally and physically exhausted, but our task was complete. Maybe for the first time in her life, I am sad to realize, I told Kay I was proud of her. We celebrated a job well done with some kimchi and sauerkraut (one of Kay’s favorite snacks) and then drove her back to her home. She yawned on the way, and I said, “this paper route will help you sleep.” She agreed. When I asked her if she wanted to do the route again, the answer was a hearty “yes!”

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