For over 30 years, my parents operated a personal care home for older adults who were mentally challenged. They kept adding room after room, until the house that all of us children grew up in could accommodate approximately 12 additional people. My parents loved each person and felt they were a part of our family. In fact, all of the residents called my father “Daddy,” and my mother, “Mama Jo.”
When this “extended” family was younger, we would take them on vacation each summer. They loved country music, and more times than not, we ended up vacationing in Nashville, TN…which leads me to my story for this week…
On this particular trip, we were going to spend all of one day at the Opryland Amusement Park, and then finish the day by going to The Grand Ole Opry. If you have never worked with an older adult who is mentally challenged, you need to understand that it is difficult for them to “adapt” to a new environment. On outings, it is so easy for one of them (or several) to get confused and wander away from the group. So, all day long we had been “counting,” making certain that everyone in our group stayed with us…and that we ended up with the correct number of people each time.
We were in the amusement park, going from musical show to musical show, when suddenly the bottom fell out of the sky, and it was pouring down rain. It was just a summer shower – no thunder or lightning, so I gave everyone a choice: we could buy rain slickers and continue to go to all the musical shows, or we could leave the park and go explore the Opryland Hotel. Now, they did not know what a “slicker” was, but they wanted to stay in the park, so that was their choice. I went to a nearby store and purchased said slickers. (Just to give you a complete picture, and in my defense…the slickers were either orange or blue, and once you put them on, all you could see was a face and legs…)
I began removing the slickers from their packaging, and put one on each person in our group. As I did so, I would place my hands on their shoulders, and line them up together…always counting, making certain that we still had everyone with us. I stopped suddenly when I realized I had my hands on the shoulders of a man that I did not recognize. (I had lined both him and his wife up with our group…) I didn’t even have sense enough to remove my hands from his shoulders. I looked him straight in the eyes and said, “You’re not a part of our group.” He said, “We know it.” I then said, “Well, why did you let me line you up with our group?” He gave me the cutest little grin, winked, and said, “Ma’am, we thought it was best to do EXACTLY what you said…”
So…this week I am going to recognize and understand that I don’t have all the answers…that I don’t need to “direct” anyone’s actions. I don’t HAVE to take care of everyone else. I am going to fully appreciate that others can contribute and be responsible for their actions. Won’t you join me? Just for this week…