Susan's Blog

Saturday, September 7, 2013

John & Ben, two menschen

We went to a party at Nat’s house. It was all the families plus John, the manager. It’s weird calling him “John, the manager,” because he is so much more. I take pride in the fact that Ned and I found him. Well, the wonderful human resources person at the agency found him. With her, we were the ones who first hired him, right when Nat was done with school but had no group home yet. Our agreement with Department of Developmental Services (DDS) was to have Nat at home with as much staff time as we needed, so that our family life would remain stable. The agency we work with, Advocates, advertised with an ad I co-wrote, and John was one of the final candidates. He interviewed here and blew us away with his self-confidence and ideas. He wanted to be able to try this and that with his clients. He had so many creative ideas and was so eager to try.

John stayed with Nat when the first iteration of our group home came to be. He was a staff person among two or three. He was totally devoted to the job. He took Nat through his early days transitioning to a new home. He kept Nat safe, and happy. John went along to school with D, the new guy that was just moving into the house at the time, to see how the school worked with him, to learn about D. He put in weeks and weeks of transition efforts that really paid off. D and Nat settled in well together and remain a good pair. The next roommates worked out well, too, with John using the same techniques and care. I never forgot how impressed I was with the time John put into the guys in this way and so many other ways, and how quickly he got to know them.

Even though he sounds like an angel, John is not. John’s style is very controlling, very hands-on. He is as talented as he is opinionated. He can be downright stubborn and actually intractable when he thinks he is right — which is often. He told me that when he read my last blog post, he was surprised — not by how Nat expressed his desire for breakfast so freely, nor by how Nat went and just made it all himself — but by how unusual these things seemed to me. “Nat talks and does a lot more at home than he does with you guys,” he said point blank. I sighed to myself, knowing that mothers do get into these kinds of patterns with their children, where they don’t even see how much growth there’s been all along. For me, sometimes it is easier just doing stuff for my kids than asking them to do it or waiting for them to do it on their own. John does not mince words. He expects a lot and Nat and his roommates have blossomed under his watchful, tireless eye.

We took Ben to the party, too, since it was a family gathering. I knew that Ben didn’t want to go, that he had arranged to hang out with a friend around that time. But he rearranged his outing and went with us very willingly. I guess I expect a lot of grumbling from Ben when it comes to Nat, but it is not really like that anymore. It used to be terrible the way it was between them. But things are opening up. It’s almost as if the space Max occupied, as the brother who knows how to relate to Nat, opened up for Ben when Max moved out. I think at first Ben may have been overwhelmed by the chasm there between him and Nat. And I didn’t want to push for fear of Ben falling in. When Ben was little I used to try to appeal to his compassion, but it didn’t really work. Ben needed his own time and process. He needed to come to this on his own. He was not going to model his relationship after me. Nor after Ned or Max. What, then was it going to be?

That kid surprises me all the time. It’s probably time for me to stop being so surprised but I think I love the feeling when I am. Ben is such a mensch, which if you read me regularly I hope you know means “man” in Yiddish (and German) and means a person who really does what’s right and doesn’t make a big deal out of it. It’s actually more than just doing “what’s right;” it’s just doing and being pleasant and giving your full heart to the situation. A mensch is not someone who follows his “shoulds,” but who doesn’t even really think they are shoulds. They’re just life.

We left later than we intended and Ben had to alter his get together yet again. But in the car ride home Ben did not talk about any of that. Pretty much the first thing he said was, “I really like the way John relates to those guys, with this kind of sassy edge.” Perhaps John is giving us yet another gift: a way of dealing with Nat that Ben can imagine for himself.

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