Saturday, March 17, 2012

The Generation Gap

I did something a little unconventional this past week.
It is something that I have been meaning to do for years, literally.
I wasn't exactly sure what to expect and I didn't know if it was a good idea or not, but I wanted to try it.
So, what did I do?
I took my toddler son to go visit residents at a nursing home.

When I was a child, it was called an "Old Folks" home.
I remember my first ever visit to  the "Old Folks" home when I was a child, around the age of 7 or 8.

 You see, my mom was a nurse and she used to work for a nursing  home when I was a child.
She would take me to work with her sometimes. I'm not exactly sure why she did this, but I can recall being scared to death the first time I ever went to the home with her. There were all these elderly people sitting around either watching TV, playing board games or just sitting in their wheel chairs staring out the window.

This was such a foreign place to me. I had never seen so many old people together in once place before.
I didn't like it. I didn't want to stay, I wanted my mom to take me back home.
She didn't take me home and I ended up staying there for her full shift.

I was very shy, I sat down in the cafeteria trying to hide. I didn't want anyone to speak to me, or to even look my way.
Of course I couldn't hide. There I was, a little girl with long, perfectly fixed braids in her hair, with huge brown eyes taking in the sites and smells of the place.
 My mom  introduced me to the residents and then she told me to go play checkers with one lady, so I did.
I can't remember too much more about that day, but I do remember that I left that day with a smile on my face and it gave me a really good feeling inside.  .

I returned to the nursing home many times after that first  visit. I would play board games, take someone for a walk, eat lunch with my new "friends" and sometimes I wouldn't do anything, I would just sit quietly and listen.
That's all they wanted most of the time, was to have someone listen. They wanted to be noticed, to be validated and I provided that for them.
It was a great feeling and I was happy that my mom introduced me to this new world that I never knew existed.

 When my oldest was just a baby, 6 months old, my husband and I traveled to Nebraska to visit his dying Grandma. When we walked through the doors of the nursing home with my son held tightly in my arms, I remember the look on the residents faces as we walked the corridors. It was a look of joy. I saw their eyes light up and I remember thinking that it was the same look that I would get when I would visit the nursing home as a child.
The women wanted to hold the baby and when I handed over my son to one lovely lady, it touched my heart. It made me happy to know that for one moment I could make someone's day. Make them feel loved.
I wanted to continue visiting nursing homes with my son when I returned to my home, but I never made time for it.

 This brings me back to my visit this past week with my toddler.
It was now or never. My youngest son is at the perfect age for us to start visiting nursing homes.
I contacted a local nursing home and let them know that I wanted to come by to visit some residents with my son. The activity director was overjoyed with this news and made arrangements with me to visit during their weekly activities session.

 So, on Wednesday, we went to the nursing home and it turns out, I had nothing to be worried about. We had a great visit!
My son was very shy at first, he clung to my leg and didn't want me to leave his side.
Slowly, but surely he warmed up to the crowd. He walked over to the TV and started to fiddle with the different buttons, he caught his reflection in the mirror and examined himself for a few seconds before moving on to something else. Finally, he  found an exercise ball and started to throw it around the room. He played "Peek a boo" with one grey haired lady and he jumped up and down and made silly faces for everyone and we all laughed.
 I'm not certain that everyone was happy to have a little toddler running around the facility, but for the most part I think he was a hit!
I can't tell you how full my heart was that day. It was a full circle moment for me.
My mom would have been proud.
I will continue to honor my mom's memory by taking my son for weekly visits to the nursing home.
It's the least I can do to close the generation gap.
I encourage you to get out there and do what you can to put a smile on someone's face.
After all, wouldn't you want someone to do the same for you when you're 99?

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