Monday, November 21, 2011


I have probably mentioned this before, but I am a part-time crochet and knitting instructor at a local craft superstore. My store got a call that an elderly woman in a local-ish nursing home wanted to take a private lesson, and I said I would be able to do that.

I should preface this story with the fact that I have always wanted to volunteer in a nursing home to teach knitting or crochet. My grandma was basically a shut-in for the last few years of her life, and I know that crocheting was her great lifelong hobby and kept her busy.

None of it went like I had hoped. When the woman called me, she said that she was disappointed that I had a full-time job and couldn't give her lessons during the week. I was able to meet with her the following night, but she complained about everything and was very rude to me. She hated the yarn color, she complained that I am not more available (despite the fact that I was able to meet her the day after she called), she complained about her progress, and complained that it was late. I am sure she is having some issues with dementia, but sometimes I know that she repeated the same questions simply in the hopes of getting the answers she preferred.

Just to get the hell out of there with my sanity (and dignity), I gave her a ball of yarn and a crochet hook from my own personal collection. I did not accept any money for the lesson. On my way to an event on Saturday night, I dropped off some yarn that was more to her color taste. I thought I had basically done my duty.

Then she called me yesterday and left a message that she had forgotten everything and that she needed me to come over again that day. I called her back and told her that I could not come over on such short notice, particularly since she had told me she was not available Sunday, and so I had made other plans. (I also had had four crochet and knitting lessons this weekend.)

She called back and left a message while I was out on a run. When I listened to it, I realized that she was either completely in hysterics or she was trying to elicit my sympathy. "VALERIE? PLEASE COME TOMORROW. PLEASE COME TOMORROW. I'M DESPERATE."

OK, so at this point I was a little freaked out. It was late, so I didn't call her back. Instead, I was treated to a call at 6:40 a.m. today. I must have sounded pretty pissed, because she asked, "Are you angry with me?" Uh yeah, maybe because you're calling at an ungodly hour about something that is in no way an emergency, and because I can't come to you in several hours' notice, and because you are freaking the hell out of me right now?!

I feel bad. I really didn't mean to lose it on an old lady. I think I kept it together pretty well, but I told her that the situation is not working out for me. She needs someone who can give her more attention and who can visit during the day on short notice. I am already feeling overwhelmed with the classes I'm teaching now, which were scheduled months ago, let alone throw in several lessons per week with a rude, mean old lady who lives +30 minutes from my house.

I already reached out to some networks to try to get someone to come help her, but honestly, what am I supposed to say - please, will someone re-teach this mean, unappreciative, demanding lady how to crochet? And will you be available to her on two hours' notice, multiple times per week? Talk about a tough sale.

Anyway, I'm not sure why I posted all this in the blog - it's kind of an uncharacteristic post for me, as well as overly long and ranty. On the one hand, I think I just needed to rant. On the other hand, I do feel bad, because I told her I'd help her, I just had no idea how much help or how demanding (or negative) she'd be. Some of that is not her fault, because I am sure there is a little dementia mixed in there, so that makes me feel bad. But on the other hand, there is really nothing I can do - I can't keep coming to her place multiple times per week. She clearly has expectations (reasonable or not) that I cannot meet.

I suppose this experience has taught me a few things, and writing this out has helped me identify these in my brain. Number one, my time is valuable, and if I'm going to volunteer to teach crochet in a nursing home, I need to do it at one nearby and to focus on ladies who will get something out of it and make me feel good about why I'm doing it. Number two, I need to know when to say no, even if I feel bad or like a failure. This lady's problems are bigger than me, and I'm not doing myself any favors by stringing myself out about it. I always try to help, so it is really hard for me to toss my hands up and say, "This is not my problem!" but that's a skill I need to cultivate.


robynlicious said...

I think your conclusion is dead on. The woman wanted a private lesson but really needs a tutor. Dementia or otherwise, the woman's expectations (unfortunately) are not congruent to her needs. It is perfectly within reason to take care of your needs first. Maybe the home can appeal to some other group to find someone else to help her.

* Valerie * said...

Aww, thanks Robyn. You made me feel better. I called her sister about getting a new instructor, as well as gave her the number of a craft store that does classes near her assisted living facility. Fingers crossed.