Green House Blog

Reclaiming Elderhood

Andrea Tyck is the Wellness Director at Mt San Antonio Gardens, a Life Care Community in Pomona, California.  She is also a Green House Educator and helped to open the first Green House homes in California.

Andrea Tyck, Green House Educator, Mt. San Antonio Gardens, Pomona, CA
Andrea Tyck, Green House Educator, Mt. San Antonio Gardens, Pomona, CA

In Jerry Spinelli’s book Hokey Pokey, Hokey Pokey is a place where there are no adults. Kids are in charge and free to roam.  The main character, Jack, is the de facto leader and is loving his life until things start to change.  A tattoo, present on the bellies of all the inhabitants of Hokey Pokey, begins to fade.  When his bike, the symbol of his power and influence is stolen, he oddly begins to adjust to its absence. And what’s worse is that his enduring disdain for girls and a girl named Jubilee, in particular, is beginning to lose its grip.  She might even become a friend.   In addition Jack begins to sense that he is going to be leaving Hokey Pokey although he doesn’t  know why or how.  Jack tells Jubilee he thinks he is leaving that night.  When she asks “How do you know?” he replies “I don’t. It’s like” – he stares up into her eyes – “I’m on a bike I can’t steer, can’t stop.”  “So….,” she says, “Where to?”  He hangs full weight from her eyes.  “Beats me.”

The book cover explains that it is “a timeless tale of growing up and letting go, of reverence and remembrance of that moment in childhood when the world opens up to possibilities never before imagined.”   Ever since I read it I have been thinking of how the process of children becoming adults might be similar to the process of adults becoming elders.

Dr. Bill Thomas makes a case that elderhood is a distinct part of human development and that part of the process of that development is leaving adulthood. In very broad terms that means moving from a primary focus on doing and generating to embracing the “being-rich responsibilities of making peace, giving wisdom, and creating a legacy.”  In the land of Hokey Pokey, Jack’s transition out of childhood is perceptible but vague.  The reader has a sense of what might be happening to Jack (he is growing up) but the steps are still somewhat confounding.  Might that be similarly true of one’s growth out of adulthood and development into elderhood?  Are there signs that the purposes in your life and the mechanisms by which you enjoy, ponder and resolve things have been transformed?    Are there treasured parts of you or your life that you no longer have (like Jack’s bike) that you realize you are ok without?

The book ends with Jack back in the “real world” preparing to redo his bedroom with his dad to make it less childish.  There is a sense of hope, that all is right.  That the magical world he left behind wistfully has been left for “possibilities never imagined.”  Perhaps the journey into elderhood can also be hopeful, that leaving adulthood is as it should be, and that it is , per Dr. Thomas, a “complex ripening, a richness that is unavailable to those who remain in the fevered grip of adulthood.”


Learning From David Pearce

Eleven years ago, I came to work at the Gardens. At that time David Pearce had already been here 17 years. I knew from my first interview with him that he would make a great boss. During the interview he suddenly remembered something and with my permission, he called the Grounds Dept. to alert them to some leaves that needed removing outside a resident’s window. I was astonished. Here was the Administrator who knew of a particular concern of a resident, cared enough to call about it and reported it using the resident’s name. He knew these residents.

Within a week or so of my first day on the job, David was leaving for a 3 week vacation. When I asked him what he wanted me to focus on while he was away, he said: “I think you should just take time to get to know the residents.” I secretly thought, great, what will I do in the remaining 2 and ½ weeks once I’ve done that? After my arrogance wore off I did exactly as he suggested and it turned out to be a great directive that helped me learn about life at the Gardens and see many things I would’ve missed had I been given a long task list.

Shortly after the return from his vacation, David and I met to talk more about the Wellness Program and he confessed to me that he had a reputation as a micromanager but that he was aware of it and was reforming his ways. Furthermore, he told me I was welcome any time to tell him if he was interfering too much with my work. It was a great equalizing gesture that he repeated many times over the years by giving me permission to disagree with and correct him. He has taken this to the nines when we began working on Green House development and it became clear that his role is to make sure we satisfy regulations that often reinforce institutional practices and my role is to make sure we are true to the model, which often challenges those practices. Instead of letting this create conflict he routinely calls upon the Green House metaphor of the Dragon (institutional practices that put task before person) and, with no ego and much humor, has invited me to be a bold Dragon slayer. Since David announced his retirement I have been reflecting on these and many other interactions with him. The following are highlights of what I have learned from David Pearce:

  • Be Proactive. David is almost famous for this phrase. He encourages staff to call people when answers are needed instead of stewing over the next step.
  • Updating and informing people helps things run smoothly.
  • Build relationships – whether it’s state regulators, residents or fellow staff, taking the time for relationships is always a wise investment.
  • Take Vacation when you can – don’t stockpile it, it’s meant to refresh you.
  • Invite the opinions of others. I used to call David often about Wellness Program development and his almost inevitable response? Why don’t you call this resident or that staff member and see what they can tell you about this. Eventually I cut out the middle man and went directly to the sources.
  • Model what you expect.
  • Invite people to partner with you in your self-improvement – It’s easier to refine yourself if you have helpers.
  • Tell people you trust them David said. He trusted me so often when I didn’t trust myself that I actually started trusting myself.

It has been my privilege to report to such a fine leader. He has reflected back my strengths when I had self-doubt, given wise council judiciously, and challenged me to grow by reminding me over and over again that mistakes are part of the journey.

Thank you David, I will miss you.

The Green House Project would like to thank David Pearce for being a champion of bringing this model of Long Term Care to California, and wishes him luck in his retirement.  We are looking forward to seeing “what’s next”!