August 1, 2015

Hi, Subscribers ~

I hope you all had a great summer.

As we get further into August, all you moms out there are probably counting the days until  your kids go back to school.  I know you love them, but geesh, two months of them screeching through the house?

I am bringing up school because after my retirement, I was getting bored.  I was used to 12 hour days, high pressure deadlines, and basically living my life at warp speed.

So, after retirement, I turned to volunteering. My lifestyle slowed down a lot, but it also picked up in other ways.

My first volunteer experience, was tutoring at an elementary school.   I was given a group of six third-grade kids in a small classroom. I tutored four separate groups of six kids every  day.

Did I know what  I was doing?  Noooo…but, the teachers gave me some structure as to what they wanted these kids to learn.

Six kids and I sat at a small rectangular table all of them looking at me with expectant eyes, or boredom.

I started talking about the various things we were going to learn and how they would accumulate a lot of different information.

It suddenly struck me half way through my second class, that I was using some pretty big words.  So, I asked them if they knew what the word “accumulate” meant.  A girl spoke right up and said flatly: “No”.  Then I started asking about other words and they continued to say off handedly “No”.  In hindsight this is funny, but at the time I was very embarrassed. They were supposed to learn from me?

It started to get better and I developed my own style of teaching.  In each class the students and I started to bond and laughter surrounded us.  It was great. To keep that vibe moving, I would ask a question, a kid would answer it and then I’d challenge the other kids if they agreed with the answer. Some very original thinking starting to pop up whenever I asked if they agreed. That’s when I felt the entire class click and all of us started to move together in the same direction and having fun. I had forgotten how cute it sounded when six kids start giggling.

We whipped through the assignments the teachers gave me but, I was running out of materials.  I told the teachers I needed more, but they didn’t have much more to give me.  I asked if what I was doing was showing any improvement in the classroom.  They said things were improving and they were very happy with the progress. But, since new materials were not being given to me, I started to improvise.

I taught them the vowels and we put them to a simple musical rhythm and they remembered them. They also thought it was fun to dance around while reciting them..

Then I switched over to History and they learned who the President was, what kind of government we had, how many states, how many stars on the flag and what they represented.

Moving onto Geography, I found a map and  they started learning where the states were and where the capital of the country was. Gradually we moved on to four or five major states and they learned what they were famous for  such as Idaho for potatoes, Texas for oil and cattle, etc.

One day, I just put the map on the table and asked them to point out where the capital was and what it was called. Where were the states we discussed located? They leaned over the table in serious study. They would point at one thing, others disagreed, so the game was on. Without much effort, they nailed it.  Third graders can learn all of this stuff? Apparently.

The semester ended, summer was upon us, and my classes were over.

So, my second volunteer venture began by giving gentle manicures to the elderly in a retirement home with 80 beds.  WOW – did I learn a lot.

After setting up my station in the hair salon, I immediately started to get customers.  (It was all free.)  I used gloves and rubbing alcohol to create a sterile environment for both of us.

After I made sure they had no cuts on their hands, I’d place their fingers in warm water with mild detergent.  Then using pure alcohol, I started gently digging out from under their nails. Then I would file them.  I asked what color nail polish they wanted. I had bought bright red, pink, sparkled, silver, blue and every wild color I could find.

A group of curious ladies started to form at the door. I had them come in with their walkers and wheelchairs and a great gab fest began. I made sure there were plenty of chairs.

One lady told me she should have only clear nail polish.  I asked her if she had been raised a Baptist and she burst out laughing. So, I along with the rest of the group, nudged her into wearing a shocking bright red. Her eyes lit up and she loved showing them off to the other residents.

Business picked up very quickly to the point where I had to have a scheduling chart on the door.

As  the  manicures continued, I learned about their childhoods, what they did before retiring, how many kids they had, etc. They started talking over each other and I was laughing so hard, it was difficult to get the polish on evenly.

But, then I started to notice sadder things.

Most of their kids did not stay in touch with them. When a woman got a picture postcard from one of their kids, the women would come down the hall, out of their rooms, just to see the postcard.  The message was read aloud and that one thing was good for a solid 30-minute conversation.

Since their Social Security was usually being used to pay for their occupancy at the retirement home, they were dependent on their kids to supplement their recreation, or whatever.  A lot of their kids seemed to over look this.

The saddest thing I saw was when the bus for the retirement center came around and a lot of the ladies got on to go shopping. One lady could not go.  She didn’t have any money. I started to slip her a $20, but she firmly refused it.  Her kids had not sent her any money that month and I was devastated for her.

When the women came back from shopping, you would not believe how far they could stretch a dollar. They had bags from Dollar General where they picked up beads, elastic, trinkets and other things to make bracelets.  Then they would go to either Goodwill or sometimes a small store and buy a smock or bedroom slippers.  But, they also bought toothpaste, bar soap, shampoo.  I didn’t understand why they bought those everyday things, until I learned they were not provided by the retirement home. Or, if they were, they had to pay for them. I couldn’t believe it.

There was a happy ending.  While shopping, the ladies bought a few small fun things for the resident who couldn’t go with them.

So, if you want to do something really nice for someone in a lower income retirement home, go to CVS, Rite Aid, or Walgreens and buy bottles of a nice smelling shampoo, good bar soap, toothbrushes, toothpaste, hand lotion, bedroom slippers, and some magazines or better yet, some movie CD’s.  Wrap each item up in colorful paper, put them into decorative bags with tissue paper and leave it with the director or the front desk.  They will ask what is in there,  so make sure you have the receipt and/or list. They have to screen for things that might not be safe for the residents.  Then you leave.

I did it and it made me feel terrific. I spoiled them rotten and bought at least 25 things.  If they were factory packaged in a group, I undid the package and wrapped each one separately. I hope it felt like Christmas for them.  I think I spent $45 and I’d rather give it to them via presents than any charitable group.

If you have parents in a retirement home, please remember to send them $25 or more a month so they have the money to go out when the other residents do and shop for things: crafts, clothing, personal hygiene products, and a stop for lunch.  It is a real social event for them and a chance to get away from their day-to-day predictable routine. Those trips lasted two or more hours.

These trips also helped to brighten their mood. Depression can be a real issue at a retirement home. Especially when parents feel they have been thrown away and forgotten.  Call them. Give them something computerized like a laptop so they can email you. If you think they are too techy deficient, I can almost guarantee someone there can teach them. They will also catch on to how to play games on that thing, lots of games, and enjoy it with the other residents.

Oh, in case you still think of the elderly as feeble and slow witted, I have a surprise for you. One day, I walked through the dining room out to the back patio and there were six of them playing poker.  (I believe toothpicks were the currency.)

In summary, if you love your parents, honor and respect them. Your mom was the one who made your birthdays fun. The sleep-overs she arranged. The great Christmases when you got what you asked for.  Who took care of your dog when he was sick?  Your dad who took you to a baseball game or watched you when you were in one.  The same guy who sometimes said: “Don’t tell your mother, but while she is out, let’s go sledding down that long hill.”

Definitely, don’t leave your fathers out.  Hair or no hair, men seem to still love baseball caps of their favorite teams.  Small computer gizmo games. Men love those computer-type things to play with. A cell phone. You know him better than I do, so think of something you know he’ll love. It does not have to be expensive. (Please, not a tie.)

Send tons of photographs of their grandkids.  A CD of all of their grandchildren horsing around in the backyard, birthday parties, playing in the snow, the dog running around and playing with them. The retirement home will have (or should have) a TV to accommodate a CD.  You also might enjoy knowing that the entire TV room is going to fill up to watch it together. They will love it and want to watch it over and over.

Keep the communication open between you and your parents.  Call and tell them you love them and miss them. Ask if they like their doctor.  Ask if they like the food. Ask if they are being treated well  by the staff. Ask if they have been sick lately, ask what it was and how was it was treated.

Ask if people are stealing from them. Unfortunately, this can be very common, especially if they leave the money you send them in their rooms.  Tell them to leave their money with the associate director in her desk. You may also want to have a chat with the director about what they are doing to cut down on the theft. When the director does not hear from you, they can get psychologically lazy. Any kind of call from you to check on your parent’s well being will leave a very serious impression.

This communication between you and your parents is especially important the first three months after they have been taken away from their home full of family memories. They have just been put into a strange environment where making friends can be awkward and lonely.

Can you stop by? That’s the best present of all. Familiar loving faces. I have seen male and female residents burst out crying when they see their family. If they are physically able, take them out to lunch or dinner.  Bring a real present, not just flowers.

One day you will be at their funeral. Don’t wait until then to start feeling guilty about all the things you could have done.  You won’t get that second chance.  So, do it now.

Best wishes,


If you like what you have read, please, subscribe, and spread the word to your friends!

Updated: February 1, 2017 — 10:24 pm
Ann McElroy Blog © 2017 Frontier Theme