A few days ago a friend contacted me on facebook - she'd heard Oscar had started a dog walking and cat sitting business and wanted to know if he was free this weekend.
"Oscar!" I called to the other room. "Word is getting around! You have another request for cat sitting."
Oscar came out of his room, sporting a wide-eyed grin. But when he spotted me sitting on the couch, smiling broadly, he narrowed his eyes and studied my expression. I knew what he was thinking - it sounded too good to be true, and this is exactly the kind of joke I'd play on him.
"Wait, Mom," he said, "are you joking?" A giggle erupted from between his lips. I'm not sure if he was laughing because he'd thought he'd caught me in a fib, or because he might actually have a new cat customer. I burst out laughing too which made it only harder to convince him I wasn't teasing this time.
For years now the family has been bugging me to agree to a dog. Or a hamster. Or a gerbil. (No one has ever begged for a cat, but that might change now!) And then a few months ago money-obsessed Oscar got the idea to start a dog-walking business. He could earn money for his future* and get to spend time with dogs. He was downright giddy about this plan and spent weeks on his flier, working on slogans and strategies with a few super patient adults at Abe's baseball games. We took this picture of him with one baseball friend's dog to use on the flier. Adding cat-sitting to the flier was a last minute decision but has landed Oscar three jobs already.
I had an aha moment during this whole process. Since Oscar was born we've tried to find ways to help him lead a fun and interesting life, doing the things his peers would do. It took a year to learn to ride a bike, but now we can go on family rides. Recently, with help from Abe and Ruby, he's learned to play a few board games, and can sustain a game with a friend without a huge meltdown. So, I finally realized, just because he can't walk a dog by himself or handle a cat-sitting job alone doesn't mean he shouldn't get to do it at all. We just have to help him.
This weekend Oscar cleaned out the litter box, re-filled water and food bowls, and played with my friend's two cats. I saw him working on so many new skills. When he spilled water it took him a few moments to realize he needed to clean it up, and then went in search of a paper towel, all without consulting me. When one cat was wary of him he sat on the floor next to her hiding place and talked gently to her. He learned how to engage them with their toys, something that doesn't come as easily to a kid with compromised social skills. And then tonight I had him dictate an email to my friend with a summary of the weekend. He struggled with articulating his thoughts but finally managed a heartfelt note.
None of this has changed my mind about getting pets of our own right now (sorry kiddos!), but it did make me realize that these jobs are far more than "just" indulging Oscar's interests and helping him save for the future.
*Oscar's future dreams include getting a degree in zoology, marrying his girlfriend, buying a big house, having three children and five dogs, and purchasing and running a zoo. (Helping him reconcile these dreams with a more realistic future will undoubtedly be one of the most challenging aspects of parenting we'll face. But we'll figure it out, right?)