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Family (Nursing) Home Evening

May 27, 2010

I took my family to a nursing home tonight. I dreaded going, but ironically, I’d be happy to go back.

There’s a retirement home/assisted living complex (or whatever is the nicest way to describe a place where elderly people are often sent to live when their families are unable or unwilling to care for them) within my ward’s boundaries. (“Ward” is the LDS word for congregation. Outside of Utah, ward boundaries can stretch for many miles across counties; within Utah, a ward is often just a neighborhood because of the higher concentration of LDS families.)

My family was asked to help provide Family Home Evening for the residents of the building. Family Home Evening is exactly what it sounds like. It’s traditionally held on Monday night, but it can be any day a family decides to set apart some time to enjoy each other’s company. The format varies from family to family. At my house, on a good night, our program includes a song, an opening prayer, a brief lesson on a gospel principle or scripture story, another song and a closing prayer. This takes less than 30 minutes, including nagging and redirecting of wiggly children. Some nights we are far less formal and just talk about our blessings while we eat treats, or play a game together. Any format qualifies so long as you’re with your family.

Even among single people (who often attend “singles wards,” made up of unmarried church members), Family Home Evening is a regular tradition. They might collaborate with friends or be assigned to a “family” created with other members of their singles ward.

People in nursing homes miss regular life, and Family Home Evening is a part of regular LDS life. My ward is responsible for helping the nursing home staff create weekly Family Home Evening events for the residents there, and this week was our turn to help.

I have a general phobia of character-building experiences. As much as I want to provide them for my children, I get nervous about them. Nursing homes scare me a bit, mainly because they force me to confront my own mortality and make me consider the mortality of people I love. In Hawai’i, aging people are called kupuna, a term of great respect and endearment for men and women. I know of no equivalent in English, which is a shame. While I was full of theoretical respect for the kupuna we were about to meet, I worried things might not go smoothly.

Would these residents be. . . OK? Of course, of course, they are people like anyone else, but there were still a lot of variable beyond my control. Would they be able to participate, or would they even care we were there? Would my children be charming or completely toad-like?

I shouldn’t have worried. My eight-year-old son is Captain of the Cheeseballs, and he knows a captive audience when he sees one. He was given a microphone, which delights him as much as cookies delight me. He gave his little talk about choosing the right, and then we sang a few songs with the residents.

That was the part I’d been extra nervous about. We are not a musically trained or talented family. We like music well enough, we certainly appreciate people who can produce it, but we’re not among them. I fretted the people who’d assigned us to help were imagining my family singing harmonies while wearing matching sweaters and strumming guitars. (That’s the family down the street, not us.)

Again, what was I so worried about? No one has ever told my children they shouldn’t sing in public. It’s one of the luxuries on being young, I think, to still feel that it is perfectly acceptable to do things you may not be awesome at. If it’s fun, you can do it. No inhibitions, just Eensy Weensy Spider at the top of your lungs with all the actions and a grin on your face. And it’s not as if Simon Cowell were in the audience–this was the most forgiving group I’ve ever stood in front of. They were so genuinely pleased to see my kids bouncing around enthusiastically–smiling and waving and patting them as they walked by– that our song performace hardly mattered. The children were the stars; my husband and I were just the people who drove them there.

I was amazed and relieved to see how relaxed my boys were around the residents. They were completely unfazed by the wrinkles and wheelchairs and–let’s be honest–occasional undignified behavior. The kids smiled and passed out napkins and cupcakes and chatted cheerily. These were grandmas and grandpas and that was good enough. Everything else was an irrelevent detail.

The last song we sung was the classic LDS children’s hymn, “I Am a Child of God.” I’ve sung it so many times it’s almost cliche, but tonight, singing it with my little men and those welcoming old people, those kupuna, I heard it like it was the first time. My children are young, but they are learning to love. God’s children age, but they don’t stop loving. How lucky I was to be among them tonight.

5 Comments leave one →
  1. May 27, 2010 5:41 am

    wow, what an awesome experience. kids are such amazing creatures, able to lift entire moods only by being who they are anyway. i’m so glad it surprised you! i can’t really think of a better surprise than this and all those kupuna having such a wonderful night.

  2. May 27, 2010 1:00 pm

    can i hear that song on youtube? i’ll check…

  3. Hal permalink
    May 31, 2010 1:59 am

    I think that kind of experience is essential to the family structure, as well as a very important part to raising children. But i think a family home evening can (and possibly should) be a bit more simple, and far more regular than all the fanfair that you’ve described.

    Please don’t take me to say there’s anything wrong with your tradition. Certainly it’s laudable, but for example: I was recently visiting my sister-in-law, providing a helping hand with my young nephews, as my brother is recently deployed with the Army. On a particular evening, when my sister-in-law was running late on some errands, I was left to make supper for my nephews. Normally, they sit down in front of the television and watch one of the many educational-style DVD’s their mother has bought for them. On that night, i sat them down to my pandora radio account and we listened to music. The experience was far more interactive than what they were used to. I tend to believe that music is the single greatest art-form out there, and my nephews got a chance to touch on some of that, learn a little about music history, and get a little dancing in, all in the course of thier mac-n-cheese.

    I think my point is that if a family can just take 20-45 minutes out of a day (every day) to share an experience (any experience at all) then you can make a world of difference in their lives, to include the relationship you’ll have with the wee ones when they’re all grown up.

    • June 1, 2010 12:10 am

      Interesting thoughts, Hal ^^

      I think that part of the point of this type of family activity is that you can’t necessarily experience it organically. The ‘simple’ evenings happen, of course, but they happen as part of your natural and daily life. What about people who don’t have that kind of family surrounding them? And how do you teach your children to show love, care and generosity to people outside of their immediate circle, who have been alienated from other people by their circumstances?

      I don’t know if you can ever do enough to help people, and the lessons best remembered are the ones learned while you are young. It must be Kai’s hope that what her children did that day is something they will do for themselves when they are old enough to make their own choices, and that they can love to do it – or even, if they find it hard to do, as Kai did, that they would do it anyway, because it is right and good.

      This wasn’t about being a family with your family – that’s something different altogether: that’s eating dinner together and sharing with each other the news of your day, and talking and being together. This, though – this was about taking that best experience of your own family to another place and to other people, and sharing yourselves with them: giving and gaining at the same time.

    • Maryam permalink
      June 8, 2010 1:46 am

      hal, i so understand what you’re saying. it can be hard for so many of us to even find ten minutes out of the day to slow down and be together in a connecting way. it seems far too easy to run around all the time trying to get it all done and just get through the day. those extra moments take extra planning sometimes, until they become a tradition or habit. i can barely imagine what it’s like to for one partner to be deployed, that must be so crazy difficult. it’s great you were there to help out and give the kids a new experience. there’s a great book called simplicity parenting by kim john payne, which is all about the importance of those moments of quiet connection and tradition in our families (and taking away other things that are not useful like overscheduling of sports and classes, television, excessive toys, etc). it’s as much a book for parents to read about their kids, as it is for any person to read for their own life.

      thanks for sharing 🙂

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