A few years ago I had someone ask me my profession. I told them I was (still am) a caregiver. The person replied with "oh, you're a babysitter" and continued on with how easy a job I had and so forth. I wanted to scream at them, I wanted to cry, then I began to rationalize, maybe I was a babysitter. I'm far more than a babysitter for a kid on mom and dad's date night, this is my career. Hats off to all the babysitters and nannies out there! We are all caregivers, brothers and sisters in arms! But, the way this person spoke was as if to devalue what we do. We are helping to shape the future of this country. Every nose we wipe and every lunch we prepare is important.
Rewind five years, I'm sitting at my aunt's house and I get a call from a dad who saw my resume on a popular job board. Within an hour I'm sitting in front of the mom sharing my job experience and hours of availability. She shared about herself and her son with Autism, who I like to call "the kid." The following week the kid and I did a trial run and the rest is history.
Caregiving is difficult work! At the time I started working for the kid I was already 3 years in as a Special Education/Behavior Aide. Being in a home is much different than being in a classroom. There aren't any behavior interventionists at the home. There isn't a teacher or principal.
I remember the first time the kid had a meltdown. I was told to expect it but, you can never be fully prepared for a meltdown. We were walking down the street and a fire engine's siren blared! At that moment I didn't care about the emergency, I hated fire engines and their annoying sirens. The kid began to scream and throw his body. What an awesome day that was!
There have been several meltdowns since that day. They've been in an aisle at Target, they've been at the park, and they've been on the streets of Highland Park while people are wondering who the kid belongs to. Then come the stares. OH MY GOODNESS the STARES! When I first started the kid was much shorter than me, I'm 5 foot 1 and he was a small 10 year old. We'd walk down the aisles holding hands; him scripting, me praying for a successful outing. People would break their necks to stare at us. It used to irritate me now, I smile and ask "may I help you?" Now that he's nearly 16 and towering over me the stares have seemed to increase. It's as if people are trying to figure out our relationship. I remember a man struggling to put his daughter in the basket because he was so busy staring at the kid jumping in our favorite section of Target (dollar spot). I was more amused than annoyed.
At the end of the day it's not about the stares or the meltdowns. It's about caring for the kid. There have been times I have wanted to scream and there have been times I've had the best laughs and joys of my life with the kid. Each day I try to put myself in his shoes. Let me tell you, caregiving is hard and rewarding work! And, I'm grateful for what he's taught me.
About Krysten Cooper:
Krysten Cooper is an Administrative Coordinator at a day program for adults with Developmental Disabilities and a caregiver. She's been working in the disability field for over 10 years. In addition, she provides virtual administrative assistance to families of children with disabilities. She is a member of Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, Incorporated and she blogs at www.KrystenCooper.org. Krysten resides in the Los Angeles area.