As anyone that works with children can tell you, there are days that you wonder. Why in the world did I choose this profession? In all my time observing children I can honestly say that I am reminded all the time about why I chose education but every once in a while there are those moments that can only be describe as a rewarding gift- a glimpse into the honesty of children that few people ever look close enough to see. A moment that you wish you could capture, save and show. Here is one of those moments.
For the past five years the Lower School has been going to visit Windoor Gardens, a local nursing home. Organizing rides, traveling to and from and adjusting children’s schedule may see like a lot of work to visit for two hours. This week I was truly reminded why I started these visits. I would like to share this experience with you.
Oliver first started visiting Windward Gardens three years ago. He instantly found a connection to an older gentleman named Bill. Watching Oliver and Bill together was like observing two old friends only the age difference is measured in decades. Each week Oliver was excited to go to Windward Gardens and would always rush over to his friend Bill. They usually played Dominoes. Bill’s experiences and story-telling often captured the attention of anyone sitting near him. He traveled the world he would tell them and proudly, he would say, “I traveled the world thanks to Uncle Sam”. After his stories were done, he would always be sure to return to his friend Oliver. When it was time to go they would shake hands and say “see you next week”.
This past Tuesday we went to Windward Gardens for our first visit of the year. I watched Oliver’s face as he approached the activities room and I watched it get sad for a bit when he noticed his friend Bill was not there. After a few minutes Oliver asked, “Hey Todd, do you think Bill is still here?” My heart sank a bit, knowing that the answer may not be easy to explain. I encouraged Oliver to ask the activities director about Bill. Oliver took a big breath and asked if Bill was still here. To my delight, she said that she saw Bill upstairs and he did not want to come down because Oliver would not be there- he forgot that Oliver went to Riley. A huge smile came across Oliver’s face. I asked the nurse if she could bring Oliver upstairs to say hello to his old friend. Oliver quickly darted out of the room. Minutes later, he and his friend Bill came to work on an art project. Although they are separated by decades, the smiles their faces were identical. They sat down and Oliver asked, “Hey Bill do you remember how we played dominoes last year, do you want to do that again?” They sat next to each other playing dominoes and chatting for the rest of our visit.
As I watched this unfold there were two other people in the room that were aware of the history between Bill and Oliver. I glanced over at them and there were tears in all of our eyes. And at that moment it was clear, this is why we go. Two hours a week to accomplish one goal- to foster the sense of human connection.
We also met some new friends, Caleb and DeHavilland worked alongside Kathleen. She told them stories from her childhood about having to slaughter chickens for stew and her love of art and ceramics. Elliot had his artwork graded by a former school teacher. He received a star for his artistic creation. Anna and Lily enlisted Marjorie to help them with their Unifix pattern blocks. Frida was content to simple sit and watch the children go about their business. Wiley worked near another long-time friend of ours, Fran. She likes knocking down towers built from blocks. Fran has changed a lot in five years but she remains a favorite with the children. Emmett made a collage for his new friend Freddie who only spoke German, was usually singing and just turned 99 on Sunday. Albert from the Upper School joined us this past week and worked with a number of different residents.
If you have never observed this type of interaction I suggest you join us for a couple of hours. The short time we spend with the residents truly impacts their lives. It is obvious that they smile when we are there. To the Lower School children they go to Windward Gardens “to do art projects with old people” but I have a feeling that deep down they understand the real reason.