Tuesday, July 19, 2005

"Don't pretend you're not impressed"

So, I spent last night playing games with a bunch of crippled kids at NYU's RUSK Institute. I do this every so often through a worthy organization called Project Sunshine that, as you may or may not recall, I plugged frequently in the last incarnation of this blog. I've visited several hospital groups through PS, but I like RUSK the best and, while I sometimes miss them, I am always grateful whenever I show up to find that one of the regulars is missing. That usually means the child was released to go home.

This, however, isn't a post about how great I am.

Last night, I got frustrated with one of the girls. I don't know what she had. All the kids at RUSK are in wheelchairs, but we're not allowed to talk to the children about their conditions unless they bring it up. And I've NEVER had a child want to talk about her condition with me. But she's in a wheelchair, with no neck and a twisted arm. We were playing a game called Life (remember that?) and she kept cheating. She'd spin the dial, claim that it was getting stuck (which it sometimes did) and insist that if it hadn't been stuck, that it would have landed on the number 10 (which it clearly wouldn't necessarily have). She insisted on being the banker even though I was essentially playing banker as I had to tell her how many of each bill (by color) to hand out to each player and when. Her crooked hand made dealing the dough slow and the other players would get impatient or distracted. She'd insist she wasn't looking at the cards that she was supposed to pick blindly, even though she was clearly looking at them.

To be fair, Life was waaaaay too complicated a game for my kids. They all quit the game early, and I felt more tired, as I put the board away, from playing this stupid kid's game than I had when I'd arrived at RUSK after a day of real life and actual work. But I empathized with this girl. How can you blame a child who's stuck in a wheelchair and who's been doled a hand to suffer great unfairness, for trying to exercise what little control she has toward regaining some semblance of fairness - to restack the cards, as it were? Maybe it's not fair to cheat at Life, but neither is it fair to have to live in a wheelchair with a twisted arm since birth.

I wished I could have been more patient with her. I wished I could have laughed her antics off. But there were other children to consider. Other children who were also crippled but who, despite all they'd been served, still believed in the rules of fairness - in not looking at the cards when they weren't supposed to, in accepting the number they'd spun. So, instead, I played anal-retentive and kept this girl in-line and adhering to the rules for the sake of these other children. Regardless I'd wished I'd found another way - a compromise big enough for all of them. Looking back, she wasn't so different from normal children. Normal children test boundaries all the time. The ones who are exceptional are the others - the ones who live by the rules anyway, despite how unfair the rules have already proven themselves to be.

And as if I hadn't already felt bad enough. After we'd disbanded and I was walking across 34th Street to the subway, I realized what a stupid jerk I was. After my kids abandoned Life (not soon enough to my mind), I joined in a game of Uno. This wasn't just regular Uno - this was New York styled Uno, with draw, skip and reverse cards. Much more cutthroat than the Uno I had played as a child. And you know what? I won. Not only did I win, but I then did a victory circle. Stupid stupid stupid. I should have let one of the kids win, DUH!!! Even if I could have played my last card, I didn't have to; nobody else knew what I held. I could have just kept drawing new cards.

So, normally, volunteering with PS has felt like going to the gym - I drag my feet getting there but float out when I leave. This time, even after I left, I hadn't left. I became a punching bag of my own sins. Thank GOD(!!!) that the other volunteers are much, MUCH nicer than I am. They have a softness and gentleness that I need to inhabit more. Sigh. This was supposed to be a funny post. The title above is a quote from Anchorman, from a scene where Will Ferrell is trying to hide an obvious boner from his co-workers. I think it's valid here as well. I mean, I volunteer to cheer up crippled kids and then I wup their asses at cards. What's next? Challenging them to arm wrestle?

Like, don't pretend you're not impressed, okay?

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