my sister got fired from her job at Target.
when I went to pick her up from work in june, I was approached by her manager, who told me (she had been intending to tell one of my parents, but I was the one there to pick her up that day) that meg had been stealing icees from the food court’s self-service machine. and that this wasn’t the first time. and that they had been giving meg free passes, because she has down syndrome, but that at some point they had to start treating her like every other employee—and any other employee would have been fired by now. (this has been an on again/off again problem for meg, stealing stuff from the food court. we can’t figure out if she forgets after a couple of months, or if she thinks we’ve forgotten.) I guess she went a month or so being careful, and then the stealing started again, so they fired her. and that’s the bare facts. fired for stealing icees that cost $1.17.
my parents (especially my father) seem to be taking what we might call the Honey Badger strategy (Honey Badger Don’t Care). she was only there for 3 hours a week anyway. it wasn’t the most interesting or productive use of her time. my dad’s been lobbying for her to quit for a year or so anyway (welcome to the party, I say, I’ve been wanting her to quit more or less since the day they hired her). but it does bring up for me something I don’t think of very often, which is figuring out where her down syndrome ends and her own personality begins.
one of my favorite blogs is Fighting Monsters With Rubber Swords, written by a father whose daughter has a brain malformation (diagnosed at age 3). I think for him, particularly because he had those three blissful (or not) ignorant years before his daughter’s diagnosis, he draws a very clear line between his daughter and her disability. schuyler’s disability doesn’t effect her personality in the way that meg’s disability does. and it’s not like autism, which seems to creep up and steal children, replacing them with an entirely different child. down syndrome is different. the line between meg and her disability is fuzzier to me. and when she doesn’t do something, sometimes it’s hard to tell if she really doesn’t understand that she can’t do it, or if she knows that we think she doesn’t understand, and takes advantage. did she really not understand that she wasn’t allowed to help herself to icees? or did she think that nobody would notice or care if she did take them?
i do think that meg has a different understanding of property than the rest of us. when she was little, she would share anything with anybody, if you asked her. she never went through the selfish non-sharing phase that most kids go through in preschool or kindergarten. we (especially me and my brother) had to be careful what we asked her to share, because she invariably would, and it just wasn’t fair to take advantage of her like that. even when I was still in elementary school, I could see she was a kid that was just asking to be taken advantage of.
and she has a corresponding disrespect for other people’s property, especially mine. we had to put a chain lock on my door when I was in middle school, above her head, to keep her out of my room. it didn’t matter if I closed the door to keep her out, she’d go in anyway. she still does this—I went home in june to find that my snowboard and several other possessions had “migrated” themselves into her room. all property is communal to her on some level.
on the other hand, we have never had a problem with her stealing (from an outside source) anything other than food. I know she would never presume to just take a shirt or makeup or a toy without paying for it. she knows stealing is wrong. so why are icees in another category for her? or are they? or are we back to she knew it was wrong, she just thought we wouldn’t notice?
the other piece of behavior that I think may be relevent is her behavior at the dinner table. we have never been able to get her to ask for things she needs (actually, this extends beyond the dinner table, when she was a kid my mom would have to periodically check her shoes to see how they fit because she would never say they were too small or they hurt, and her feet would start bleeding and/or blistering, and even then, she’d complain about the blood, not about her shoes being too small). if she wants butter or syrup or spaghetti sauce, she doesn’t ask, she just sits and doesn’t eat and waits for one of us to notice she’s not eating. I’m pretty sure that if we just stubbornly waited for her to ask, she would continue to sit there and not eat until we all left the table, and then get up to help herself. when one of us says, “meg, are you waiting for something?” she says yes with an audible sense of relief. for whatever reason, it simply does not occur to her to ask for help. and I can see this playing into the icee thing—she couldn’t or wouldn’t ask, so she helped herself (but then why didn’t she pay?), and figured no one would notice. this especially baffled her boss, who clearly didn’t want to fire her, and asked me, “if she doesn’t have money, all she has to do is ask me, I will happily buy her an icee.” we all agreed that it was stupid that it was even an issue. the people that meg worked with liked her well enough that they wouldve have bought her icees and she never would’ve had an issue. but no, she doesn’t ask.
she can take initiative in some areas, and the nearest that I can figure out is that she will do things if she sees them as a responsibility. she’s on birth control to regulate her periods and lessen her cramps, and she’s uber careful about taking them regularly, and reminds my mom when her prescription runs low. she empties all the trashes around the house and empties the dishwasher with very little prompting (certainly less prompting than I needed when my mom was trying to get me to do my chores). but those are responsibilities, those are signifiers that she’s an adult, so maybe they’re in a different category in her brain for her? I don’t know.
so, that’s that. I can’t say I’m bitter at Target for firing her. she was stealing, that’s Rule #1 for retail employers—you don’t tolerate stealing. but it frustrates me that after all these years, we haven’t figured out how to communicate with meg about this shit. that we don’t even really know what she understands and what she doesn’t around this. maybe if we’d figured out a way to keep her out of my room voluntarily fifteen years ago, she wouldn’t be having this trouble now.