A fellow volunteer from the same organization got word from the volunteer coordinator that I’d be “perfect for the job.” How she came to that conclusion…I’m not sure because I’ve never taken care of anyone with down syndrome. The closest I’ve came was watching Corky on that show, Life Goes On.
While not even close to my comfort zone, I decided to give it a go since I could use the extra money and new experience. My quasi-interview was going to this guy’s babysitting place with his mother as this would be where I would pick him up if I were to accept the position. The previous guy landed himself in jail for stealing money from the parents of another disabled kid he looked after. The parents trusted him and gave him their bank card to take money out for the kid when he needed something.
Walking into a place full of mentally challenged people for the first time in your life is a bit daunting. My first task was to get Michael to put away his stuff and leave with us. Michael goes when he wants to and you can’t rush him. He doesn’t speak and doesn’t always give any indication if he’s even listening to you.
“So how am I supposed to do this?” The last thing I wanted to do was piss this guy off the first day and have him hate me. Michael carries around one of those huge, hardcover Merriam Webster dictionaries that people now use as a “back in my day” showpiece. I’m pretty sure he can’t read but he just likes to flip through the pages and stare at the symbols that we call words. I passed or failed, I don’t know, but she decided to take me on a once a week trial basis. That’s okay with me. Three hours of this a week might be enough.
The first couple times I took him to Toys “R” Us. He’s 26 years old but I’m told he has the mentality of a 5-year-old. I think it’s more like 3 but I guess at times it’s 5. I could probably leave him in there and let the workers take care of him while I walk around the mall but that would be irresponsible. He’s fairly self-sufficient while he’s in there. He gets fixated on one thing and will stay in that one spot for a long period of time.
I’m not sure if paying someone like me to do this gig is really benefiting Michael. He could be just as happy sitting in his basement staring at his portable video game system for hours. I think it’s more for his mother to make her feel better. Kind of like taking your dog to a spa. The dog couldn’t care less if instead you took it to a mountain of dog shit to roll around in but the owner feels good thinking their pet is living a better life.
I’ve had him 5 or 6 times now and it might be the best job I’ve ever had. The only potential downside is if he whizzes in his pants or shits himself. I’m just hoping it will never happen. Taking care of him is like taking care of a big dog that has all the rights of a human. If he doesn’t want to move I can’t just pick him up or yank on his leash. What I’ve realized from doing this gig is that if you never want your kid to grow up then pray that you will get one with down syndrome.
Fortunately he listens to me. Apparently he likes me according to his mother. I don’t mind him actually. He’s cooperative and amusing to be with at times. She said she is so happy that our mutual friend referred me. I’ve been unknowingly overachieving given that the guy before me took him to the library 4 days of the week. All of Michael’s other caretakers just take him wherever they want to go whereas I try to take him where he wants to go. So far it seems that he likes the toy store and watching wrestling at my house. The dog finds him interesting as well. Sounds like I’m trying to nominate myself for the down syndrome caretaker of the year award.