Wednesday, April 25, 2012

I’m the Entertainment??? (Or finding a clown suit that fits)

This might not seem funny to you moms and dads. You are used to thinking up stuff to entertain children. I, on the other hand, have not had children. Only now, I have an elderly father whose jigsaw puzzle level is 25 pieces. The box says this cute 25-piece puzzle of a puppy on a red-checked picnic blanket is for people 3 years old and up. Yup, that’s about right. I like providing activities that Dad particularly enjoys and can feel successful at, since he’s lost so many abilities.

To be equipped for my weekly entertainer role at the nursing home, I now travel with the puppy puzzle in my car, along with a book of animal photographs, and a CD of Dad’s favorite music that he recorded in more lucid years. My "normal" life is reading, writing, editing, walking, cooking, and gardening—all quiet pursuits. Suddenly I’m thrust into a situation where I’m somebody’s entertainment. It feels so odd … maybe like a man who is a plumber or a painter in “real” life but who always has a clown suit in the trunk of his car for occasions when he needs to put on a happy face for kids in the local hospital’s cancer wing or show kids at the library how much fun reading is.  

Today I put my “clown suit” in a green cloth bag, sign in at the nursing home, and then hoof it halfway around the building to a free elevator. (The elevator by the sign-in desk is being held for paramedics responding to a 911 call. Paramedics say they average about 6 calls a day to this nursing home. Sigh.) First, Dad and I listen to some of his favorite songs. He bobs his head side to side to the beat. I put the CD back in my bag and pull out the nature photos. Dad sits in his wheelchair and carefully turns every page. He knows the porcupine and zebra but not bears or penguins or seals, or any others. He used to know giraffes and lions but does not mention them today. Back into the green bag goes the photography book, and I pull out the puzzle box and hold it up.

“Look at this cute puzzle! Would you like to do it?”
“Yes, I believe I would.”
“Okay, let’s ride around to find a table to put the puzzle on.”

I know he likes wheeling around the first floor. He always comments on how beautiful everything is. And he does today, too. We wheel in to the little museum. Every week I tap out a few letters on the antique Remington. Most weeks he recognizes the sound. Today he does not. Every week I tell him how hard he worked to support our family; he taught school all day and wrote textbooks at night. Every week I tell him I remember falling asleep every night to the tap-tap-tap sound of his hard work. Every week, and today too, he nods and beams.

We find an open table in a quiet sitting area. I ask him to put all the puzzle pieces right-side-up. He does. I put the bottom and top edges of the picture together, then hold back. He picks up pieces one by one and tries them. Today he is able to match the red-and-white-checked parts, the sunflower petals, and grassy background. We’re both pleased.

Puzzle back in the box, box back in the bag, Dad back up to his spot at the lunch table on his floor. Kiss, kiss, goodbye, goodbye, I’ll see you again soon, I hope so. He doesn’t cry or grab my arm today when he says, “I hope so.” I feel light-hearted as I carry my green bag of tricks back to my car. Clown gig over … and I’m surprised to be looking forward to the next time.

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