A few things before we start….I changed the names of the neighbors in my story. Because I care about them both. Also, before you start reading know this is all mom and no speech. So I’m just themom today. I will go back to being thespeechmom tomorrow.
We recently had something bad happen next door. Something really really bad. So bad I hate to even talk about it. We love our neighbors. An elderly man, George, who is 100 years old and his sixty-something son, Joe. I visit them at least once a week with dinner. (Don’t go thinking I make them dinner. I make my family dinner and since I am cooking already I just make some extra and bring it over in a container. Nothing fancy.) I rarely see George, as Joe answers the door, makes small talk, exchanges last week’s empty container for a full one, and then we go on our merry way. Hank, my toddler, always comes with me. Not just because he wants to get out of the house, but because he likes Joe. And Joe seems to enjoy Hank.
A few weeks ago Joe stopped in. He was obviously stressed. George wasn’t eating, he was no longer communicating, and he panicked every time his son left the home. Joe was trying so hard to help him but just couldn’t keep up. George was eligible for in-home nursing care, but due to a shortage no one had shown in weeks. I was not as focused as I should have been. Gus was getting tubes the next day and I was working on some bigger projects for work. I didn’t give his visit too much thought. I wish I would have.
Three days later Joe was arrested for elderly neglect and George was put in the hospital. A few days later Joe was home and George was in the nursing home. My heart was broken. I cried. I cried because I didn’t help. I cried because I saw they needed help but I didn’t do what I knew I should have. I cried because I knew Joe loved George, but he couldn’t carry the load. I am not making an excuse for Joe. I am just saying Joe is a good person that wasn’t equipped for this type of responsibility. But really, who is?
What did I do? I avoided. I had no idea what to do. Then Hank told me what to do. I made a big pot of chili for dinner the week after the incident. After dinner Hank said “Let’s bring some to Joe.” So we did. I didn’t know what to say and I didn’t know how to react to anything he said, but I went. Because Hank told me to. Joe opened the door and his eyes filled with tears. He took the chili and I opened my mouth to say something inevitably awkward. But before anything came out of my mouth he said “Thank you. They put my dad in the nursing home. Will you go visit him?” Yes. Yes I will.
So the next night my husband had to mow and to avoid my children losing a limb, I took them for a walk in the wagon down to the nursing home George was in. I had no plans to actually see him….just find out visiting hours and rules, you know…nursing home stuff. That isn’t how it happened. The nurse said “Oh! He would LOVE a visitor.” And we were whisked down a few halls to George’s room.
George was sitting in his wheel chair looking at pictures. A picture of a cat, a picture of a happy family in coordinating sweaters, a picture of a young man in a football uniform. I walked in with the boys. Gus covered in a sticky substance, and Hank yielding a sword and a small stuffed puppy. I again attempted to make awkward small talk. He didn’t look at me, or respond to me talking. He just watched the boys. Then he lifted a finger and pointed to his covered window. I assumed he wanted the curtain open, so that is what I did. Behind the blue floral curtain, on the ledge of the window, there was a toy car. It was something you would see in a novelty store. There were three “gangsters” in the car and a small button on the hood. He motioned for it. I handed him the car and he moved to press the button. As he neared the button I prayed “Dear God, don’t let this car do something that scares the crap out of my children, leaving them screaming and scarring them for life, never wanting to visit a nursing home again.” The car started bouncing and singing “Low Rider.” My sticky, sword fighting, puppy barking children paused and jerked their heads towards the music. Then they danced. Hank threw a fist in the air and shifted his pathetic hips from side to side. Gus bobbed up and down, squatting on his chubby little legs. And George smiled. He smiled big. He didn’t want to talk. He just wanted to watch my boys play and dance. He pushed the button 7 more times before our visit was over. I asked if he would like us to visit again. He pointed to my boys and nodded. I don’t think he cares if I show up.
That is when I realized how petty I was. I was so worried how to react to my neighbor. I was so worried about what to say, to Joe and to George. None of that mattered. This is what fixed it all: kindness and joy. Chili and The Low Rider. Joe needed kindness. George needed joy. I gave them nothing (okay, I gave a bowl of chili). My children gave them exactly what they needed. I need to start following my kids’ leads a little more often.
We have recently learned that all of Joe’s charges have been dropped! He has since been present during all of our strange delightful visits to see Grandpa George.