So, some of you may know this, but I have spent every Thursday afternoon of the last year at Fox Hollow Assisted Living calling Bingo numbers for a spunky group of elderly folks. Today was my last day doing this, as I need to focus on the move. I've been telling them for 6 weeks now to prepare them, but of course half of them were surprised. For my parting gift to them, I paid my mom--a massage therapist--to bring her chair and give free chair massages.
I began volunteering a year ago when I saw a flyer at the local market looking for people to come in and spend time with the folks there. I had actually been looking for a volunteer opportunity because I think it is an important aspect to expose my children to--but what could I do and bring the kids with me? Fox Hollow sounded perfect, a chance for not only my children to be around the seniors of our society but also for them to get to spend some time with fresh, boisterous youth. Our tendancy to segregate ages in our culture is not, in my opinion, healthy. I arranged a meeting with the activities director and she showed me their weekly schedule--I thought that the Thursday afternoon Bingo game fit my schedule and the kids could play in the large room while I called numbers.
Well, it was nice idea but it wasn't very realistic for Mayan. At 3 1/2 she needed too much attention and the people that came down were there to play Bingo. Keeping Mayan happy and calm while having a sleeping 18 month old on my back AND trying to call the numbers--wasn't happening. Not to mention, Mayan's sinuses began to swell from the old lady fragrance. We didn't get too much done that first day, but I didn't want to back out. Instead Blake watched Mayan while I took Isadore who usually took naps during this time slot. For a few months, she would fall asleep in the car, I'd transfer her into the Ergo and she'd nap the first 1/2 hour, then wake up sweaty-faced and red-cheeked and nurse (while I hollered out "G 52" and the like) and then someone would always offer to hold her for the last round or two. This worked out pretty well for a few months. As she got closer to 2 though, she quit napping became more mobile, and really just got into things and distracted me from my task. Soon, to the disappointment of the group, I left both girls with Blake and came in by myself. They got over it pretty quick though because I could focus and talk and laugh with them, and this is where they started to become my friends. I felt good that even though my vision to volunteer with the girls didn't work out, at least I was setting an example. Not to mention it was nice to get away and do something for others on my own!
These last few weeks I have been bringing the girls--Mayan is older (and I crack a window for her to get fresh air if the smell starts to get to her sensitive nose) and Isadore also can be entertained by drawing with her sister and putting the Bingo balls in the cup for me--and eating snacks! Today, my last hurrah, I just brought Mayan and my mom. We had fun, the residents LOVED getting their free ten minute massages, and instead of the normal crappy Bingo prizes that the director fills the basket with (tissues, beef jerky, lip balm, loofas...) I went to the bank and got a stack of Sacajawea dollar coins. These folks are total penny-pinchers and they were stoked to get a prize that they could use. I chose the Sacajawea coins because it has the image of her with large earrings carrying a child on her back--a little memory of me and Isadore in those first months.
Candy is oh-so special. Apparently, her car crashed into a snow bank when she was 19--and she's been neurologically compromised ever since. She speaks two syllables at a time and her words are barely decipherable--but with practice you can have a conversation with her. Her muscles are constricted and she needs assistance for everything--to move, eat, go to the restroom--I even have to play her card for her. She's the Bingo champ and wins frequently. Picture frames are her all-time favorite prize. Even though her life is difficult and she suffers from terrible headaches, she has a saying: "Every day's a gift, every day's a party." And she loves kisses. When everytime we see a wheel chair out in public, Isadore points it out and says "Candy's chair!" This is exactly why I did this--so my girls could meet people like Candy. She cried when my mom began to massage her. She kept saying "you are doing the right thing" while my mom searched around for her sore spots. My mom said that her muscles just melted under her fingers, went from super tight to totally relaxed. A reminder of what touch and massage can do for people especially cases like hers where medications are used to treat every ailment.
Alright I will admit it, Athalia is my favorite. I remember when she moved to the complex a few months into my time there. She said "You going to have to teach me how to play this game...." I told her not to worry. "Do I need money to play?" she asks in her sweet high, crackly old lady voice. "No, honey, we play for prizes, but you don't need money." Next week, same questions. She asks the same things every week. At first I thought she had Alzheimers, but I soon began to notice that mischevious twinkle in her. A fiesty one, she is. Much to the annoyance of the other players, but to the amusement of me, she says thank you everytime I call one of her numbers, or Amen. She also tells me that I am doing it wrong when I don't call her numbers--oh, and when I am one off of her number, which is pretty much everytime. That gal cracks me up!
This is the one fellow who regularly plays--Herman. He gives everyone a hard time in his good-natured way. To me, he seems like a prepetual batchelor--I don't think he ever married. But as I played there, I saw a little friendship between him and a women named Mary. (That's her next to him.) He always has a seat saved and bingo card waiting for her--while she goes and puts on a fresh coat of lipstick. Too cute.
Mayan took this picture--Betty and Del. Del has the worst Alzheimers of anyone I've ever met. Sometimes, he wonders into to the room picks up a card and sits back only to wonder off a few minutes later--but not after breaking out into song. A small word or phrase would jog a song in his memory and he'd do a few lines--and what a wonderful voice he has! Getting him to actually place a chip on a number is nearly impossible--it's very confusing and with all of the ladies pointing and directing him, singing a ditty was his way to break away. I also saw the development of a relationship between him and Ms. Betty Baily (has five kids all with names that start with "B".) I will always remember her as the best dressed woman at Fox Hollow--elegant and very put together. But just in the one year, I've witnessed her memory deteriorate greatly and I see confusion in her eyes. Maybe that is why her and Del have found a connection.
Here is mom giving her fabulous chair massages while others wait their turn with walkers strewn about.
Mayan showing "the flamino pose" she learned earlier that day to her captive audience.
Me and Helen. I love this lady 'cause she can tease and laugh....we really connected and to me she really seemed the most youthful--coincidence?? My all-time funniest moment of my time there was when Isadore had pooped in her diaper and was crawling around under the table. When she passed by Helen, the poor women almost fell over. Then she burst out laughing. Between gut-busting laughter and tears, she managed to say "I haven't changed a diaper in over 40 years.....and let me tell you that smell hasn't changed a bit!" We had the giggles for a good 10 minutes after that. Bonding over the smell of breast-fed baby poop: priceless.
Jean and Helen--total buds. Got to love those old lady sweatshirts.
So a big shout out to my peeps at Fox Hollow--hope to visit you all in the near future and that the bingo prizes greatly improve. Thanks for sharing your Thursday's with me.