The Secret Life of Melanie O.
Friday, December 01, 2006
Christmas wrapping, Part II
Today was the day of our departmental Christmas party. We all met on the street outside of our building at 8:30 am to catch the Greyhound bus that we had chartered for the day. The sky was a bit overcast, and we wondered if it was going to rain on our festivities.

As we made our way to Bicentennial Park, the sun came out. At first, this seemed like a really great thing - until we got out of our air conditioned bus and discovered that it was going to be a hot day. We had planned several games and activities for our disability clients - everything from cricket, to volleyball, to soccer and tug-of-war. The athletic field was in the full sun, and by the time our guests arrived, we could feel that it was going to be a sweaty day.

The clients didn't seem to mind the 37 degree Celsius heat and 80% humidity as much as the hosts did. They played games with enthusiasm, even if sometimes the enthusiasm was also accompanied by ill humor and language.

Most of our disabled clients are quite large, and a kick towards the soccer net was often accompanied by having to chase the ball half way across the athletic field. I played goalkeeper for a while, until Paul, a man with Down syndrome, decided that he wanted to be the goalie. He did a splendid job, too. I think he was just tired of me allowing the opposing team to get points.

The women were wonderful. I could tell that since they all shared the same group home environment, that they were a close-knit bunch. I felt quite emotional when Kaye, a disabled woman, got an ice pack for her friend Margaret, who was feeling overheated. Kaye, the lesser disabled of the two, looked after her friend like a big sister.

Karren looked across the field, saw all of the game set-ups, and opened her little Chinese parasol against the sun and heat. "Anyone for cricket?" she asked in a proper posh accent. "All we need now are some cucumber sandwiches and tea," she remarked.

Charlie, an older man, was wearing a Santa hat. Charlie obviously loves sweets, as his round belly attests. "I'm Santa," he declared to me as he grabbed and shook his belly.
"Where's your sack of toys?" I asked him.
"In the sleigh," he matter-of-factly answered.
"What about your reindeer?" another host asked him.
"They're in the snow," he said. No one was going to trip him up on any questions today.

We had some severely disabled clients at the park today with cerebral palsy and severe muscle atrophy. Some couldn't hold their heads up properly, but one in particular was adamant that he wanted to sit in the sun. Even in the heat. I worried about him, but he seemed to soak up the rays and didn't break a sweat. I had a feeling that he didn't get out into the sun too often.

Another Paul wore a tattered sports jacket and a dirty button up shirt and tie. He volunteered for rubbish duty. He was gentlemanly and I thought that perhaps there was some part of him that very much wanted a wife and family when he was younger. Paul's now an old man. He will never get his wish, but he will never stop trying to impress the ladies.

I grew attached to Rosie and Kaye. They were the definitive "sweet old ladies." Both women were about age 60. They smiled and loved following us around, carrying on friendly conversations. It's only after spending time in their company that you realise that they operate on a very elementary level. But since they seem so happy and placid, maybe they have it all figured out, and we should all operate on that level.

Throughout the day, I couldn't help but think of my son Andy, who is also handicapped. Not all handicaps are visible to the naked eye. I'd like to think that Andy would love a group environment like this one - but, no. Andy's a loner who hates rules. Andy's in the hospital now, getting treatment that I hope will do more than just patch him up before he's sent back on the streets again. I fret more about Andy than I do about our clients, who are well looked after.

The day, whilst hot, was fulfilling for all of us. Eventually, it was time to say our goodbyes and wish everyone a Merry Christmas. Norm, another disability client, wished me a Drunken Christmas. "Have about 25 Midori Splices," he advised. "There's two alcohols in them," he said.

After cleanup, on the bus back, we hosts exchanged Secret Santa gifts. I opened mine, not knowing what to expect. In the bag was a pink bracelet (to go with all of my girly pink clothes and handbags, no doubt,) and a piece of cut up garland! I couldn't help but laugh, remembering the day we all wrapped gifts in the Board room.

The garland's going on my tree, and the day is locked in a gold frame somewhere in my mind, where I hope to bring it out from time to time to remind me about how precious and precarious life really is.
posted by Melanie O. at 7:24 PM -
  • At 12:19 AM, Blogger gardenbug said…

    It seems your experiences are paralleling mine. I did my student teaching at a school for handicapped children. While working for United Way, I interfaced with the mentally retarded. I married a handicapped man and He was the love of my life. His handicap did not matter

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About Me
Name: Melanie O.
Home: Durham, North Carolina, United States
About Me: Female, American health and beauty-conscious professional who has rekindled a childhood love of dolls.
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