For quite some time now, I have been thinking about taking my kids to visit some elderly folks in a nursing home. I thought this would be a wonderful way to practice the works of mercy together and to nourish a spirit of charity and service.
However, each time I have considered doing this, I have fairly quickly talked myself out of it, because of thoughts about how my girls will think the home smells funny, or they won’t feel comfortable talking to the residents, or they’ll mumble and no one will be able to hear them. This has always quickly led to imaginings of myself, in such a situation, being forced to try to make small talk while shushing complaining kids, and the idea would just shrivel and die, right there. My little introverted self does not like small talk.
So, I have resisted doing this good deed. Repeatedly.
About two weeks ago, I got an email from coordinator of pastor ministry at our parish, asking for volunteers to take flowers and Easter gifts to elderly and home bound individuals in a local nursing home. I decided that this was my chance to just get over myself and do something with my kids to serve others, and I quickly replied to the email, before I could talk myself out of it.
I’m so, so glad I did.
When I told them that we were going to visit a nursing home to take gifts to some of the residents, they immediately began to cheer happily. I thought they might be nervous and/or reluctant. Instead they were excited and eager.
Before we went to the nursing home, I talked to the girls about what to expect and coached them on how to behave. I warned them that the home might smell funny and told them not to complain, or pinch their noses, or otherwise draw attention to it. I reminded them to speak clearly and not too fast (one of my girls is a super speed talker!), and that some of the people might not hear very well so they might have to speak a bit loudly. They said, “Like we do with Grandpa?” Yes. They know the drill. We talked about things they might bring up in conversation. I was pretty sure that they would be tongue-tied, and all the conversation would be left to me.
When we go to the home, they were poised, polite, and articulate, and so kind and loving towards the people we met.
I was humbled by their unselfconsciousness and their easy manner with the residents we spoke to. They weren’t uncomfortable at all. They weren’t tongue-tied, or mumbling, or complaining in the slightest.
In fact, they wanted to keep meeting and giving to more people. On the first day we visited, we were only able to deliver the gifts we had brought to two of the four residents we were assigned. The other two did not answer our knocking. I was fully prepared to take the two gifts we had left back to the coordinator of the project, tell her we weren’t able to make contact, and be done with it.
The girls wanted to go back the next day and try again.
So we did. And we got a few extra names in case we still weren’t able to deliver the gifts to those on our list. We managed to deliver both of our remaining gifts and when the coordinator asked us if we wanted to make one more visit, my girls excitedly exclaimed that they did.
Five encounters. Six elderly people (we delivered one gift to a married couple). The smiles on the faces of the residents and the care that my girls showed toward them just warmed my heart.
The girls felt a special affinity for one elderly lady we met, and asked if we could go back and visit her again. I told them that we didn’t want to just keep going to someone’s home without being invited, but that we could write a letter to the lady, and maybe visit her again if she invites us. They have been talking about her daily since we met her last week, and they are so excited about the idea of potentially going back to see her again.
^^ This was their excitement after we finished delivering the gifts ^^
I learned a lot about my kids (and myself) during this experience. A few of the high points:
Small talk isn’t quite as horrible as I make it out to be in my mind in anticipation of it. I’m not good at it, but I can manage, and when it’s in service to someone else who is lonely, I need to just get over myself.
Also, my kids are so much more capable, caring, and giving than I sometimes give them credit for. I know that they are these things, but sometimes I forget how mature they’re getting. And maybe I underestimate them. I certainly did in this situation.
The biggest take away from this experience was for me to remember not to put my own insecurities onto my kids. I’m self-conscious in situations where I need to make small talk with strangers. They are not. I’m nervous about cold calling at someone’s door, even if it is to deliver a gift to him or her. They are not.
They are confident. They are well-spoken. They are kind. They seem to have become even more of all of these qualities as a result of this experience.
I need to just get out of their way.