Tuesday, December 29, 2015

on being present

During the past legal holiday, we visited a nursing home. My friend posted that she would like to visit, as a חסד (kindness), but her kids are out of town, can someone with cute babies come with her? My husband was on call anyway, and I wanted to give my kids this experience, so I agreed to go.

This is so not my thing: going and making small talk with strangers while making sure that my kids are not too wild or loud. My insides clench at the thought. I don't know what to say, I don't know how to say it, and I'm afraid to offend.

Still, I went. I talked it up to the kids, trying my best to make it sound good and exciting: you can sing for the residents, you can do taekwondo presentation, it will be fun. The nursing home itself was brand-new, more like a fancy hotel. We went into the memory care unit, a fancy way to describe a place for those who no longer can orient themselves. The coordinator pulled out games: bowling, balloons and badminton rackets, balls. The kids busied themselves with the equipment. They tossed the balls to each other and to the residents, whacked at those balloons and were noisily happy. 11 yo played a game of "keep it up" with one of the ladies, solicitously tossing the balloon within her reach. He continued for good five minutes, patiently retrieving the balloon when it wandered off..

5 yo asked for a drink of water. We had to go around a corner, to the dining area to get her one. Over there, an old man was sitting in front of his breakfast tray. He looked at us, and something in his eyes looked like he wanted to connect. I had plenty of reasons not to do so: the rest of my kids were not within my line of sight, the residents who wanted interaction were in another room, the drinking that my daughter wanted was done. Yet I said something or other to this man, and he started talking. The words were tumbling out, with urgency. I sat down at his table, looking straight at him, nodding. He had a message, and he was trying to tell it to me. Israel, kibbutz, scientist daughter, millions of books, wise men, military: it was all there in the story, Yet I could not catch all the words that he said, and the details (who, when, where) were all missing. The story was circular, clearly without an end. My daughter left; I stayed, rationalizing that there are enough adults watching my kids. I consciously willed myself to stay and do nothing productive at this time. I stayed for a bit, and when my kids entered the space again, I excused myself.

As we were loading in the car, 11 yo angrily said that these residents do not need us: they have all these fancy activities. I explained how these people specifically need us. Our visit brought a certain positive experience to them, even if they won't be able to remember who came and what happened. They will remember the joy of interaction.


For the past three days, 5 yo has been sick. She has fever and feels overall miserable. She lounges on the couch and calls for me to sit with her. She wants me to cuddle. She does not want me to read books to her, she does not want me to get her drinks, or do anything else, she just wants me to sit next to her. It is excruciatingly painful for me. I want to do something to make her feel better. I don't want just to sit, I want to move, to fix, to tidy up, to do something with her or for her. I feel trapped, bored and lonely. I want to check my phone and arrange things. She complains about my phone. I try to just sit, but I can't.

In our lives, we are constantly told to be efficient, be quick, get things done, accomplish something, have a tangible measure of achievement. Sitting next to my sick daughter does not produce anything. Sitting to an old rambling man with dementia does not achieve anything. Yet both of these idle activities generate a sense of well-being in the recipient.

I am quite good at doing fun things with my kids. I am not quite good at simply being with them.

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