I have promised Diana that I will take her to a local diner tomorrow morning. It had closed about a year ago and is now being reopened under new management. This kid is hot to have a job and money in her pocket. The other places she wanted to work filled up their summer positions before she got her applications in. She's also hindered by needing working papers since she isn't 16 yet. She wanted to know about my first job and since I was in need of a blog topic I thought I'd bore....er...entertain....um....tell you about it too.
I worked at a Special Ed. camp for $60 a week when I was 14. I was sure I’d hit the jackpot. The camp needed extra hands desperately so I was a Junior counselor-in-training, fancy talk for ‘the kid who gets the dirty work.’My first day I was assigned to the group with severely/profoundly handicapped adults. Holy hannah! That was baptism by fire! Skinny, short 14 year old me was tossed into a group of people such as I have never seen before in my life. To say I was in shock would be a huge understatement. I was not repulsed I was just entirely clueless. I had NO IDEA what on earth to do. These people were big, strong, and did not seem too easy to communicate with although the other counselors were calm, gentle, and seemed at ease. I tried to pay really careful attention to them and do what they did
Penny was a BIG camper. She outweighed me by about 75 lbs. She liked to give bear hugs. The group's senior counselor introduced me and Penny lunged. I wondered how I'd extricate myself from her death grip. Next was Kurt who was about a foot taller than me and had a vertical leap that Michael Jordan might have envied. He was Tigger in human form. He came screaming at me and as I ducked I wasn't sure if he was going over or around me. In the middle of the day, a young man who was microcephalic but from the moderately handicapped group came over and said, ‘You’re new. But I like you.’ I’d never seen someone with such a tiny head, but darn if I didn’t need to hear that and he had such a sunny smile.
At the end of the day I was asked if I planned to come back the next day. I said, 'Of course. I was hired to do a job. Unless you're telling me I'm fired because I don't know what the heck I'm doing.' They laughed and said they thought I did just fine. Phew! Heavy sigh of relief. They also told me I'd be with a different group the next day. 'Oh, heavens, what next?' I thought.
The next day I was assigned to the wheelchair group. This was a group of about 5 kids ages 8-12 who were in wheelchairs for various reasons. They all had some degree of retardation as well. I was relieved not to be dodging huge people who couldn't talk. Penny saw me coming in that day though and she remembered me. She made a beeline for her hug though. After about 20 hugs from her the day before I had learned how to do a Penny hug without getting crushed. She looked for me every day. How the heck could I say no to her happy face?
Anyway, back in the wheelchair group I learned basic wheelchair manuevers and safety procedures. Did I mention this camp was built on the side of a hill that went straight up? Did I also mention there was nary a paved path anywhere on camp grounds? We pushed and pulled kids up and down a rocky hill more times a day than I can remember. Campers were tied into their chairs. Brakes were always locked. Counselors always had the chair facing uphill.
One day, I mindlessly broke the facing uphill rule. I was, afterall only standing there to talk to someone. Jimmy's wheelchair got away from me when he wriggled too much. The chair, with Jimmy in it, bounced and rolled all the way down the hill before coming to rest upside down with Jimmy trapped underneath! I had taken off after Jimmy when he started to fly. I was sure when he landed he must be dead. 'Dear God, I killed this kid!' When I got to the bottom of the hill it was one of those adrenaline moments where mothers lift cars off kids. Skinny little me grabbed the whole chair with Jimmy still tied in, lifted and flipped him upright in one motion. I started checking him in a panic at which point Jimmy started to laugh hysterically and he finally spoke......'Do again!' Once the camp nurse determined Jimmy had sustained no injuries worse than a couple scrapes the incident became the talk of camp...for the next 3 summers.
I really fell in love with all the campers there, including the ones in the first group on my first day. But my favorites were the wheelchair group. Most of the kids had moderate to severe forms of Cerebral Palsy. Few of them were able to speak but spend just a little time with them and their personalities came shining through. Communication could be challenging but again, with a little time and ingenuity things became clear. Any new skill learned or discovery made was a cause for happiness.
I worked there for 3 summers, made good friends, learned a lot of lessons, and grew up a lot. I've got lots more stories too but I won't bore you now. I wonder what Diana will take from her first job. Wish her luck! And while you're at it, tell me about your first job.