Tuesday, September 8, 2015

A Small Slice of Heaven Amidst a World of Change

I openly admit it…I don’t like change.  In fact, I don’t know many people that do!  But, it is a daily fact of life that I have had to find a way to deal with.  One of the ever-changing things in my life has been my career.  If you’ve read my book (Come on, just read “Becoming Mrs. Rogers”! www.mrsrogersworld.com), then you are aware of some of the facts surrounding these changes. 

To sum it up, I spent 20+ years as an Executive Assistant working for high-powered corporate gurus, wearing suits and panty hose in the Monday through Friday, 8:00-5:00 grind, while, my husband, Chris, spent more than 30 years honing his skills as a commercial plumber.  Then, in 2009, together, we formed our own commercial plumbing subcontract company.  It’s a complicated title that really means we do all of the plumbing for a General Contractor, specifically on commercial jobs like restaurants and new commercial buildings. 

Not that it’s terribly interesting, but just to provide a bit of background…..We’ve had the privilege of working for one specific General Contractor that, in the past, did a lot of the building for new McDonald’s Restaurants.  This allowed us to hire a few employees, and work at a steady pace for several years.  It wasn’t hard for me to move from Executive Assistant to Bookkeeper, as they are quite similar!  It did take me some time to understand all of the details surrounding plumbing, although I had been married to Chris for 25 years at the time, and knew a lot of the lingo and could identify parts, etc.  Around the middle of 2014, though, McDonald’s nearly ceased building any new restaurants due to the flux of business capital (money).  This sent a wave of changes coming our way.  

We have been somewhat used to change since the birth of our two sons, who were born with a (SURPRISE!) genetic cognitive disability called Fragile X Syndrome.  We knew nothing about it until we got the news when our oldest was two-and-a-half and our youngest was a mere newborn (again, read the book—it’s a detailed account of these awesome guys).  This is the kind of unexpected change that rocked our world!  In hindsight, it kind of seems petty to even blog about a job change with all of this uncertainty going on, right?  Well, hang on….this is relevant.

So, last fall, Chris and I discussed it, and we decided to take a leap of faith and pursue work on Love’s Truck Stops with this loyal contractor since the future of McDonald’s and our bread and butter, were gone.  What does this mean?  Well, if you’ve done any traveling, you realize that Love’s Truck Stops are built on major interstates, miles apart!  It’s good work, but it would require Chris to travel in order to do the plumbing on this kind of job.  We had a company meeting, over a nice dinner (you can do this when you own your own business), and decided that I would become a Plumber.  I had little experience, but I was willing to learn, AND I slept with the boss, which was an added bonus.  I had a base of knowledge, but Chris had 30 years on me.  Also, the fact that he is not the most patient teacher would require us both to adjust. 

We did a few smaller jobs near home to fill the immediate void and bring me up to speed, and then we took our first real contract on a Love’s away from home.  Among the many benefits for our family is the fact that we own a little RV named “Rocket”.  This makes traveling with two young adults with Fragile X Syndrome more doable, but would still require me to be extra organized in order to make is successful for them.  “Rocket” has been a God-send over the past many years as we’ve traveled to all of the lower 48 states for pleasure, visiting other families affected by fragile X syndrome along the way!  This kind of travel has allowed us to meet the specific needs of our sons who need structure and routine when exposed to any kind of transition.  Why not use it for yet another transition—that of work? 

I began the same way I had for any other transition for our sons, planning, preparing and praying.  I spent the week before our departure planning a menu, and prepping meals for an estimated 14 days away.  There is no way that I wanted to work all day in the 100 degree heat then prepare a nice meal for our family. So, I pre-cooked things like spaghetti sauce, beef stroganoff, taco meat, enchiladas, grilled chicken and pulled pork to become major parts of easy-to-assemble meals.  Then, I packed fixins’ for other meals such as crockpot lasagna, crockpot meatloaf and a tasty dish I like to call crockpot green chili chicken rice, that I could easily plunk into the crockpot in the morning and we could eat later that evening.  I like the idea of using the crockpot when the weather is too hot to use the oven in “Rocket”.  Now that the logistics of meals were complete, I focused on preparing the guys for a whole new routine. This was also going to be a big change in their lives.

Jake and Joe really live the very best life when we can provide a structured schedule during their day, including recreation, and/or work.  They both hold very good jobs in our home neighborhood, but we had to think about how they could be happy AND productive while our own work required us to leave home.  I also wanted to find even small things that we could do to continue to make their world bigger and allow them to experience new things. This has always been a goal we lived by. So!  How could we do this? 

I pulled out my trusty library of picture symbols that were the language of our sons.  With a very limited vocabulary from a very young age, we have learned to communicate with them via a complex mixture of pictures that tell a story called ‘pic sims’.  This story would at least give the guys a daily idea of what we were doing, how long it would last, and what was next—all important things for them.  Then, Chris, my amazing husband, and I talked about how we could make our sons’ lives quality while we worked.  Afterall, we would be taking them away from their own daily jobs and plunking them into our work life.  As with any trip we’ve taken in “Rocket”, we did some research to find out what would be in the area of our short-term community.  One thing we learned very quickly is that Love’s Truck Stops are often built near very small towns in order to make their presence more viable.  What this meant for us is that there was not much around to entertain us while we worked.  We had to figure this out.  I gleaned some help from my past methods and approaches, especially for our sons. 

The dog, Lulu, and the guys all loaded into “Rocket”, I drove our truck and towed the trailer full of tools and supplies, and we hit the road on our first adventure of working away from our home neighborhood. We decided to camp nightly at the closest RV park in proximity to the job, which was 20 miles away.  To our pleasant discovery, this RV park came complete with a full-sized drive-in movie!  It also had its own homemade pizza and snow cone stand!  We took full advantage of these amenities to help make life more tolerable during our 2-week stay, then it was home for a few weeks, repack, and make our way to the next stop.

The next town did not have a drive-in, but it did come complete with a really nice city park that included a water feature!  We decided to make a plan to pack our lunch each day and take it to the park.  As is with any transition to a new place, we anticipated our first day’s visit would be brief—only about 15 minutes.  We developed a quick, albeit successful and complete routine, for the park that included sit down and eat, play at the water park (not get in) for a few minutes, then walk Lulu around the perimeter.  Our past experience has always been that “the third time’s the charm”, and this park visit was no exception.  The second day we stayed for 30 minutes, then the third day was a full hour.  Other than a bit of relaxation, we had no expectations.

Having no expectations usually means that Chris and I are often surprised, and we certainly were in this situation!  We used to visit parks often when our sons were younger, but had not made a habit of visiting the jungle gyms of late.  It seemed they had both outgrown them.  On day number one, even at the age of 26, and being of limited motor skills, Jake, wanted to go down one of the little slides that were fairly easy to access.  I stayed back and just observed while he approached, climbed the steps and went down, all the while bearing a smile on his face.  Joe, age 24, also independently went over to the swings and climbed on.  I had forgotten how much fun these things used to be.  This park was equipped with an exceptional set of obstacles that included a rocket ship and three really tall slides, but getting to them appeared to me to be a bit of a challenge.  I was not sure if either of the guys could manage it.  What do I know? I’m just a Mom. 

On day number four, I made my way up the first level of steps, then negotiated a curved ladder that was reversed leading to a landing.  I found it to be a little bit awkward, but Jake followed me without hesitation, leaving me speechless.  I never knew he, the one with the most limited of motor planning success, could conquer such an obstacle…but he did.  I was so proud.  He took his time and carefully placed one hand then one foot in front of the other, surpassing each rung by himself.  It was awesome.  I, then, left the landing and climbed another long ladder that led to an even higher platform that led to a choice of three different slides.  Jake, again, followed, picked a slide and went down ahead of me.  This would be the beginning of a new routine that would become each day’s process.  I felt as if we had managed to make his little, but full, world a little bit bigger that day even with something as small as going down a slide.

Joe, too, made huge strides as he tolerated more and more calm and relaxed enjoyment at the park.  Then, there was day 10.  The job site was deserted on this day, but the numerous pieces of heavy construction equipment were still present.  Joe has always loved big trucks, big “diggers” and anything to do with Dad’s world.  Chris asked Joe if he wanted to drive the backhoe?  At first, Joe was hesitant, but within 60 seconds, he was out the door of “Rocket” and standing next to the huge “digger”.  Chris opened its door and Joe climbed up and sat in the driver’s seat.  Chris started the engine.  The door was closed now, so I could not hear what was going on, but the gestures were gentle and calm.  Joe grasped the steering wheel like he owned the world.  Suddenly, the gas pedal was pressed and off they went for a jaunt around the property.  Smiles were everywhere.  After a few minutes, they returned to the area where I was standing, Joe jumped out and bellowed a loud “Hulk-like” sound.  Total man moment.

The following day, we were nearing the end of our work for phase number one on this job (there are a total of three, typically).  We decided to take the afternoon off and see some of the local sites, though limited.  We had heard about one of the most interesting spots, which was a historic carousel.  Those words don’t even begin to describe this “carousel”!  This one was made in the early 1920’s and is #6 in the patent office.  It is all hand-carved wood, with hand-painted panels and animals of all kinds.  There is a tiger, a lion, a giraffe, a prong-horned sheep, and of course, horses.  Our guys had never ridden a carousel, so we, again, weren’t sure what to expect.  I had used the pic sims to attempt to communicate riding a carousel, but the actual riding would be a surprise.  We paid the extremely affordable price of 25 cents apiece, picked our animals and waited for the ride to begin.  The antique pipe organ began to play, and we began to circle at a rapid pace of 12mph, which is pretty fast!  I sat on a goat next to Jake, who sat on a camel.  Chris sat next to Joe and off we went!  We went around and around for the full 4 minutes, feeling a bit woozy as it came to a stop.  All of us enjoyed our first ride on this historic carousel and had fun while doing it!  It was a great day.

We will likely continue to abhor change, but in the face of reality, it is likely that we will also learn to cope.  As our guys have shown us…they can do it, and so can we.  My next really big task is to develop, teach and hon new jobsite tasks for Jake and Joe. They are already very good at following 2-3 step tasks on an ad hoc basis, but I know they are capable of more.  Only time will tell.  It's a matter of figuring out how to do what they are capable of in a safe manner in an environment that is not always safe.  I have faith.  We also know that these kinds of life changes are almost never permanent, but we have resolved ourselves to be happy while enduring that 4-letter thing called work.  I never planned to be a Plumber, but I am content for now to be an integral part of our company working on the front lines.  We feel blessed to have each other and be together each and every day.  Hey!  How many people can say that they got to spend their 30th wedding anniversary working side-by-side with the one they love?  All in a day’s work……