When my granddaughter was about 3 years old, we took one of our usual excursions to the mall. It was a place to get some walking in, even on the coldest days, and I had fun selecting new clothes for her and she had fun selecting a new toy (or toys!) for herself. Part of the ritual was always ice cream and some of my favorite memories are of her absolute commitment to finishing every last drip and drop of her beloved mint chocolate chip. On one of these trips the requests for sweet snacks did not stop at ice cream and the answer was “Not this time, you’ve already had ice cream.” She looked at me steadily, hands on her tiny hips, and said “When I get big, I am going to give my kids treats and treats and treats!”
It’s become a phrase we use when holidays or events bring us to place where, indeed, we do have “treats and treats and treats,” to excess and we say it kiddingly. But I’ve more than once thought about the meaning behind those words, what they really mean and how, perhaps, they apply to our lives and the older adults for whom we care.
In the world of a 3-year-old, it’s quite clear that the definition of “treats” was anything that had sugar as the primary ingredient. As we get older, I think that “treats” can take on a very different meaning. What is a treat for us? In my world, a treat is the time I have to spend with loved ones and friends, a treat is having time that isn’t structured or filled with obligations, a treat is having the opportunity to do the things I want to do rather than the things I must do.
What is your definition of a treat? How often do you allow yourself that treat? And, more importantly, do you ever define it as a treat and take a millisecond to appreciate and be grateful for it.
Working with older adults, the whole concept of “treats and treats and treats” takes on a different importance. Our goal is to understand each individual, to be able to define what constitutes a “treat” for each person and to create those opportunities. For some of our elders, a treat is the chance to choose and listen through headphones to music that resonates for them. For others, it’s time spent in conversation or on an outing with others. Still others, for whom disease and/or disability has limited their abilities, it may be the taste of that ice cream on a spoon, pleasure foods bringing pleasure (that treat) in ways that nothing else can.
While “treats and treats and treats” sounds at first blush to be a little self-indulgent, the truth is that we all need to be a little self-indulgent from time to time, to care for ourselves so we can care for others. And in the case of our elders, seems to me that “treats and treats and treats” ought to be part of living every day.