On 28th May, the Irish Carers Association presented its annual Carers and Young Carers Awards. They are soliciting nominations, if not now for 2014, then for the following year because they recognise that people who care are not ordinary, they are extraordinary. On NewstalkFM on Thursday, they interviewed a young feller called Sam Norris, who, with his older sister looks after the other half of his siblings - one with Cohen's Syndrome and another Autistic. He's 16 now and he has to get up earlier than his friends because they don't have to dress, and calm down and feed another person before going to school. Young Sam is in a very obvious sense a better person for having to shoulder this burden. If you reflect on it, he doesn't have to take on the responsibility - he could behave like a typical Western teenager by disappearing up to his own bedroom and, after slamming the door, put on his headphones zone out with music or a video-game. Sam chooses to help someone who needs help and doesn't realise how peculiar this makes him.
Ten or twelve years ago, we had The Beloved's blind, 90 year old grandmother to stay on the farrrm. It was a privilege to have this venerable old lady to stay with us. She wanted to be useful, so we put her on washing the dishes, which was almost more trouble than it was worth because everything had to be stacked up on the counter ready for her to wash. But it was definitely worth it when she volunteered to make the bread. I can't be bothered to knead the dough for ten (eternal) minutes but she knew you got a better product if you put in the effort and it was true. There were a couple of times when the grandmother would leave the kitchen en route for the loo, once she was an inordinately long time over this and one of the girls went out to see what had happened to find their Gt.granny handing herself round and round the hallway unable to find the door leading to the toilet. The girls were small and had their own needs and requirements but knew in their instinctive kindness when someone else needed their help and that this trumped whatever they had on their own agenda.
We tend to treat our children too often as blackbird chicks with their mouths ever agape waiting to be fed in an entirely one way traffic. This is never so clearly apparent as on the child's successive birthdays, when, for at least a dozen years, the infant's mother makes a cake, gives presents and generally makes a fuss over the birthday-child. At no time during the proceedings does anyone acknowledge that, on this very day, a few years previously that mother laboured to deliver the child into this world. Now that's not right.
Accordingly when children give back, it should be acknowledged because in our Western world it is rare. You can nominate someone you know who cares. But that's not really the point, the point is that we, especially tax-payers, should thank people who care for others because they can usually do it more efficiently and with better outcome than the state. Last week I described the work of the Centre for Independent Living in liberating differently-abled people from institutions. It's still cheaper, as well as intrinsically better, to help families look after their own troubled, elderly, or disabled than to transfer the burden of care to an institutional setting. Hats off!