I knew my son valued his job, but I hadn’t considered if his employer valued him.
“Behind you!” I heard Max call as he walked through the bustling commercial kitchen. As a mom, I’m doing an excellent job of “letting go,” just as long as my son wears a hazmat suit, or in this case, perhaps a full-body oven mitt. Fortunately for Max, I’m not his regular job coach in this busy Cape Cod seafood restaurant. But when his coach calls in sick, there is no way I’m going to let Max miss his day of work.
Max passed through the hot kitchen, punched his time card, and made his way into the dining room. “Come on in, Max!” the manager smiled. “Hi Cory!” Max answered as he grabbed the window cleaner. I scurried to keep up as Max washed all the windows and tables in the restaurant, filled the sugar caddies, and restocked the condiments. “How about getting the ice, Max?” Cory suggested. Max bounced up on his toes and followed directions as if autism never clouded his mind, never caused him to lose focus or hesitate.
Finally Cory unlocked the front doors, “Ready Max?” he said as the line of waiting customers flooded in. Max held the door open and greeted people with his mile-wide smile. The dining room is Max’s turf; Cooke’s didn’t make him a back room guy.
I almost blew this job for Max. It was mid summer and Max was scheduled to work on the 4th of July. He only works one morning a week, but with the holiday traffic on the Cape, I knew the commute would be unbearable. So a few days prior I sent Cory an email to cancel. Cory responded almost immediately. As I read his words I felt a tinge of embarrassment. And then I sat back in awe.
“Hi Emily, Max is doing a great job and we love having him! I want you and Max to know that we truly rely on him. That being said, it’s difficult for me to adjust the schedule with such short notice – especially on a holiday weekend. In the future, I’ll need a little more notice for a day off. I don’t mean to sound harsh, but he really is a part of our team and I’m telling you what I would tell anyone else that works at Cooke’s.”
I knew how much this job meant to Max; I just hadn’t considered how much Max meant to Cooke’s.
“Here’s one for you, Max,” I heard Cory say. I turned to see a tray towering with golden fried clams and a stack of onion rings. “Can you make a food delivery?” I looked at the tray and went a little weak in the knees, imagining how easily those clams could become airborn. But Max just stood tall with his shoulders back as if he’d been waiting his whole life for this moment. As I followed Max into the dining room I couldn’t help but notice how capable my son has become, how valued he is in this restaurant. His steps looked so free that I stopped following.
I let him go.
I watched from a distance as Max set the tray down with only a minor bump. The customer looked at his plate as the rich fragrance filled the air. Max knew the next part; he’d been practicing at home with his job coach. Cooke’s has made Max the official Customer Satisfaction Representative; we need more employers in the world like Cooke’s. “Welcome-to-Cooke’s-How’s-everything-Enjoy-your-food,” he said as if it were a single word. My heart burst.
The customer looked up and smiled, but didn’t have a chance to answer. Max was already bouncing back toward the kitchen, ready and willing to take his next assignment. I could feel tears well up in my eyes because I knew the unspoken answer. We all knew.
“Everything is great, Max.”
By Emily Colson