I bit my lip as I watched my nervous 15-year-old son walk around the outside of the log-cabin-like restaurant, searching for the employee door, completed paperwork clutched in his hand. 

“Please find the door without panicking,” I prayed. “You’ve got this, honey.”

He was going the wrong way. He stopped, stuck at a fence, and looked around. New places and tasks can throw him off and cause him to freeze. I sat perfectly still in my car, holding my breath. I wanted to roll my window down and call out to go around the other side of the building, but that would be more embarrassing than helpful. I bit my lip harder.

A pretty waitress came out the side door to the patio. Andrew noticed her and weaved through the round tables until he reached her. I could see them chatting, and they were smiling at each other. Oh dear, focus Andrew! She led him into the restaurant.  He didn’t look back at me.

This is exactly how it should be.

This is Andrew’s first job. He will be working in the kitchen at a local restaurant. This is the first time he has something all of his own.

For the past several months, I kept thinking, this kid needs a job! He plays a lot of video games, gets very little exercise, plus he’s been stuck at home so much during this pandemic. A job would give him a purpose, socialization, exercise, and money. It would be great for him!

After dropping off his resume at various places several times with no luck, we were all ecstatic when this restaurant called to set up an interview. He got the job on the spot.

I thought I would simply feel happiness. I didn’t expect the rush of so many other emotions.

Worry. Sadness. Fear. Panic.

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My baby boy HAS A JOB. My baby boy with the blonde, curly hair and sky blue eyes.  My baby boy who used to run wildly through the park and climb the brightly colored equipment, with a “watch me!” attitude. My baby boy who loved to bop along to The Wiggles’ songs, his pudgy legs sticking out of his white diaper, eyes glued to the TV screen.

This job is HIS and his alone. I can’t help him learn the job, like I would help him with schoolwork. If he has a conflict with another employee, there isn’t much I can do. If he gets injured, I can’t be there to bandage him up.

This is the first time in his life I can’t be there for him. He is on his own. This . . . this is all his.

And my mama heart aches.

What if someone makes him feel stupid for not catching on fast enough? What if someone yells at him? What if he burns himself badly on the grill?

That first evening, while watching a piece of me walk away, my heart felt full and sore. I took a deep breath, filling my nose with the scent of BBQ wings and French fries. As the glass door swung shut behind him, and he was swallowed up by that restaurant, I realized it was time for me to go. I hesitantly started up my small SUV, white-knuckles against the black steering wheel, and slowly drove away, leaving my baby boy behind in so many ways.

Every mile I put between us was a stab in my tender heart.

I felt jittery all evening, wondering how his first shift was going. I busied myself with making dinner, cleaning the kitchen, and rotating laundry, the whole time chewing my lip and praying.

His shift started at 5 p.m., and he was to text us when things slowed down, so we could come back to pick him up. The restaurant is a five-minute drive from our home. I figured I could get there in three minutes if needed.

I blew out a breath loudly. Calm down, mama. It’s OK. He’s OK.

When my phone finally pinged, I lunged for it. It was just a simple text to come get him. Of course, no details from a 15-year-old boy. I guess I’m lucky he even spelled out all the words fully.

My husband left to pick him up. I paced the living room floor while our family dog observed me from her station on the couch, head resting on the gray cushion while only her eyes followed me.  

The sound of the front door opening and deep voices told me when the boys had returned home. The dog rushed at them to sniff and tangle up their legs. I held myself back from jumping at Andrew with a million questions.

“So, how did it go, honey?” I asked calmly, hiding my pounding heart and roiling stomach.

A big smile lit up his face, and I silently exhaled the breath I didn’t realize I was holding.

“Mom, it was great!” Andrew exclaimed. He went on to describe the layout of the kitchen, the tasks he learned, how large the walk-in fridge and freezer are, and the many nice people he met. He excitedly told us all about how to make the delicious appetizers and decadent desserts we as a family have eaten dozens of times in the past at that same restaurant, but now coming alive from his fresh, new perspective.

I cannot recall Andrew talking to us this much since, well, maybe ever?

Later that night, I whispered a quiet prayer of thanks to God for making Andrew’s first shift such a positive experience. For keeping my baby boy safe when I couldn’t do that for him.

For helping him make this huge transition to being an employee.

My job as his mama is to teach him the skills he needs to go out in the world and be a productive member of society. To be well-adjusted, mature, and hard-working. To be respectful, kind, and compassionate

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Looking at my baby boy as a newly minted employee, listening to his stories and laughing with him about his jovial co-workers, I am seeing Andrew through fresh eyes. He’s already got many of the lessons I’ve taught him down pat. I guess he was listening to me all these years, absorbing what I was trying to instill in him. Of course, he is still young and learning, and this job is going to help him grow and develop even more. 

His first job is one of the major steps in letting him go. My mama heart now also aches with love and pride for my baby boy. I’m so blessed to get to watch him enjoy new experiences. Letting go is terribly hard, but Andrew is already proving that he will be OK. In fact, I know in my mama heart that he is going to do amazing things with his life, and I can’t wait to see what he does next.  

Carole Johnston

Carole Johnston has been married to her college sweetheart for 22 years, and adores her teenage son and daughter. When she isn’t working at a local college, she can often be found baking while singing the wrong words to popular songs. Her love of organizing products is matched only by her love of make-up. Carole has been published in Her View From Home, Sammiches & Psych Meds, Chicken Soup for the Soul: Curvy & Confident, The Metabolism Miracle, Fire of the Spirit: The International Library of Poetry, and Ignite News. Her hope is that her words will help others feel understood and less alone, and maybe bring some humour to their day. She would love for you to join her on Facebook for some @FamilyFunAndDysfunction