“We don’t stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing.”
Whilst out and about with my little boy over the summer we stumbled upon this lovely playground in Derbyshire, and carved in beautiful stone was this quote. It got me thinking…
When I had my little boy, I knew that I would in time return to work and that he would need to attend nursery five days a week. In picking a nursery for him, with a heavy heart in many ways, we shopped around keen to find somewhere our little boy would be able to settle, develop and grow. We selected a nursery on how the place made us feel and how we would feel leaving him there. The one we chose was friendly, small enough to get one on one attention, had lovely spaces inside and outside to run and play and an Ofsted outstanding rating. Perhaps more importantly than that we got a good vibe about it that made what was a difficult time of going back to work and starting nursery so much easier in many ways.
I knew nothing about nurseries and what the service would be, but am delighted that every day when I pick him up they tell me how he has been doing, what he’s been doing and what he’s been eating (although I can normally guess bits of both the last two things by whatever spillages are on his jumper that day). They take photos and put them on the doors for us to see as we walk in, and post them on Facebook so I can see him having fun, in sand pits and paddling pools, cutting, sticking and baking. All of this helps my confidence and reassures me that actually he is ok, and more than ok, he is having fun and developing and growing every day (without me, sigh…but that’s a whole different blog).
Around the same time as my little boy started nursery my partner’s Mother became poorly. Since losing her husband a few years ago she has got progressively more frail and following spells in and out of hospital, and social work assessments, the decision was made that she needed full time care and she has moved permanently into a residential care home. This has been a difficult time in so many ways, involving similar moments of anxiety, self-questioning and the same heavy heart.
It has dawned on me that essentially our nursery and my Mother in Law’s care home are the same place. They are places that care for people I love – they keep them safe, warm, clean and fed when I am not able to. They are the same but also they very different and our relationship with them is different.
I know the people who care for my son by name and they know mine; I feel involved in his care. I look forward to walking into his nursery; it is bright, fun and the energy is high. There is a sign on the door saying “excuse the mess, the children are making memories” and that kind of sums it up. Messy, chaotic, joyful and colourful.
When we visit my partner’s Mother the experience feels different. Don’t get me wrong, the home where she lives is a perfectly nice place, but it is quiet, clinical and frankly, a bit beige. We don’t have the same relationship with the people who look after her, we don’t know the other adults who live on her floor and share her space. Other than what we can see and what she tells us, we don’t know much about her life in between our visits. There always feels an air of melancholy to our visits to my Mother in Law, as everything involved reminds us of the sadness of what is happening to her.
It feels that with our children we are all about aspiration and development; about helping them to grow and become responsible, successful adults. They have their future ahead of them and we recognise the responsibility in giving them the best start. But with our older people it feels that we are more about treatment, maintenance and about preventing decline. We see old age as a destination rather than part of life’s journey.
What can we learn from the world of children to change the way we care for older adults in our society? Do we talk to our parents about their hopes and dreams? Do we plan and look forward to the future? Do we play and use our imagination? When carrying out some research for what would become Gusto, a new service developed and launched by our team, older adults told us that the one thing they wanted to do more of was laugh.
I am very lucky that at work we have the space and the appetite to tackle social challenges. Through our iLab we have made it our business to look at some of these tricky issues and find new ways to make a difference. We have set ourselves the challenge to look at ways that we might help inject some of the energy, the fun and the colour that surrounds our children in to the worlds of older adults. There is no doubt something about looking at our expectation and culture around old age and perhaps even asking ourselves, at what point did we stop playing?
Jo Kilcoyne – @JoKilcoyne