I’ve never written about the guys.
I shouldn’t anyway since it probably violates HIPAA and ZIPPA and ZIPPO and BIC and I think a couple of Canadian Fish and Game laws if I put my thoughts about working in an assisted living house out on the interwebs.
So, let’s redirect here and write a post about working with special needs folks of all kinds. If you want to get technical, I have 25+ years working with special needs folks starting with my sister and all the way through until I finished brushing Bronco’s teeth earlier tonight.
His name is not really “Bronco.” I chose that because he’s a fierce lad. He’s in his 50s and since he is functional only from the waist up, the upper half of his body is cut. Like, crack-a-walnut-in-half-with-his-bicep cut. So I try to stay on his good side and am usually successful. I’ve only had to dodge his shove-away once this week but that’s just because he likes me. He is the only resident who requires a wheelchair and he hates it but tolerates it when he has to. Most of the time, he gets around using his arms as his legs, which of course makes his pectoral muscles like iron. I know because I’m the only staffer that can lift him on a regular basis and when I have him in the Heimlich maneuver hold, it’s half me doing the work and half him, God bless him.
Then there’s my other charge. Max has cerebral palsy and I work with her doing respite care.We have been relegated to working out via Skype since 13 months ago when the Rona descended on the world and shut everything down. Max’s mom has advanced stage cancer and when Max’s workshop shutdown, so did her gym and thus our trips to her gym and really everywhere else. We workout 3-5 times per week but it’s not even really about working out as much as its about me giving Max time with someone who is not her Mom and Dad. It is through these sessions that I have learned I have a strong affinity for exceptionally dumb jokes and puns. Often I am still laughing hysterically right along with Max about a joke I have already told her 6 times. For example:
[Now you say “Who’s there?”]
[Now you say “Cargo who?]
No, car go BEEP BEEP!
I’m sorry but that’s some funny shit right there.
All those years I worked with animals, I heard people say all the time that they much prefer working with animals over people. I’ve never heard any of my fellow staffers repeat anything like that sentiment or really sound off one way or the other when it comes to working with developmentally disabled folks. I can tell you that from my Mom to Max’s brother and sister and parents to the other folks I’ve met who work for my company, all of us have a certain groundedness, a glint, if you will, and it’s from knowing that the folks we care for and who rely on us very likely love us and hate us all at once. They know that most people are born a certain way and they know that they are not most people. I have had moments with all my residents when I know I was talking to and interacting with that man in his truest, most raw state of being, the person they were before their disabilities mucked up the works. It’s that steely-eyed awareness in their eyes, often for just a fleeting moment, when I see them before they were born, before they wore their original face when the millions of synapses behind their eyes kept pace with a drumbeat unique to them alone.
I have a painting hanging at home that has the best inspirational bit of wisdom I’ve ever read. I just Googled it and there’s no one person accredited with it so I won’t feel bad blatantly ripping it off.
“Anyone can slay a dragon, he told me. But try waking up every day and loving the world all over again. That’s what takes a real hero.”
That’s how I feel about my residents, my guys. Honestly, I think it’s because for them and for me, we all have our own rulebooks going into this thing called “living.” None of us have the same rulebook because none of us are playing the same game. It’s like Bronco brought his chess pieces to the table and half of them are missing, and he’s also got the racecar from Monopoly, a couple hotels and a Catchphrase buzzer. Meanwhile, I’ve got my trusty backgammon board and half a dozen each black and red Checkers pieces. And a tennis racket. And a Yahtzee scorecard. The guys have activities that keep them occupied during the day and at night they come home to my cooking. Well, it’s about half my cooking and half Stouffer’s and frozen pizzas. Me and the other staff fold their laundry and deliver medications and cook their dinner and they then slowly peel off and go to bed. At the age of 45, I still have five lunches I must prepare for the next day, but it’s five lunches for five adults instead of five snot-nosed toddlers who grew up with no clue how much I resent them. Instead, I have no expectations that any of the guys will ever thank me and that’s perfectly fine.