I went home to Chicago last week and dropped in on an adult day care center to check it out for my 84 year old Dad for a visit. When I arrived the assistants were very cheerful and kind, walking around serving the members lunch. “It’s all about structure,” they said. “Our activities are very predictable so no one gets confused.” As the manager led me to a chair in the back of the dining room, many of the folks looked up and followed me with their eyes. Their expressions reminded me a first grader meeting his new teacher for the first time – hopeful, cautious. The hot turkey and mashed potatoes on their plates was apparently no match for this stranger in a bright yellow running suit.
I sat in the dining room and after a few minutes a couple folks put down their forks and hobbled over to sit with me. The others watched silently as the bold ones came forward. They sat down at my table and just looked at me. I greeted them and introduced myself to the welcoming committee. I might as well have been from Mars. One woman muttered a brief “hello” and that was it. The silence could have gone on for days; they just stared at me. The others, hesitant to join the three others at my table, watched in earnest waiting for me to say or do something. I reached into my pocket and pulled out a new deck of cards (“Old Maid”, go figure!) that I had bought for my little niece. I said to the group, “Does anybody know how to play cards?” At that moment, members of the group turned in their chairs, laughed and some raised their hands as if they were waiting to be called upon. Others shouted out names of card games they had played years ago. I heard “Vegas!” from across the room. Before I knew it, a dozen members surrounded my chair and the lively discussion began, leaving lunch behind. Interruption, overlapping, furniture bumping and a few cheers from the crowd jolted the staff out of the kitchen to witness “a break” in the structure. Horrified and stunned, the staff tried to temper the disarray and return the folks to their tables, but with little success. Yep, I blew the lid off “structure.” Clean up was late, bingo was cancelled that afternoon. But, according to the manager at the day care center, the girl in the yellow suit and the deck of cards will keep them talking for weeks.