Photos by Anna Haley
Snow is flying. People are screaming.
A girl and four teenage volunteers are getting into a (fake) snow fight in a snow pit on a Sunday morning.
“You wanna come in?!” a volunteer says to another girl, who is watching from the sidelines.
“Noooo!!!” she screams, and just keeps watching as she eats the Chanukah cookie she has decorated.
Other children are eating waffles and ice cream and decorating cookies shaped like dreidels, Stars of David and menorahs with blue and white icing and sprinkles.
This raucous morning goes by the name of Lazy Sunday. It’s the kids’ parents who are relaxing, taking two hours away from their special needs children to run errands or just spend a little time in bed.
Lazy Sunday is sponsored by Chai Lifeline, which supports seriously ill children and their families. Each month, volunteers pick up the children around 8 a.m. and drop them back at home around 10 a.m. During the program, each child has a volunteer to spend one-on-one time with.
“These parents, they’re running to appointments. Not only are they taking care of a sick kid in the hospital, but they’re also taking care of their other kids, running carpools,” said Adi Singerman, program associate for Chai Lifeline Mid-Atlantic. “For them to have these Sunday mornings is really critical just for them to have their sanity.”
Parent Sarah Sandberg, who’s taken advantage of the Lazy Sunday program, said it frames her week.
“I have the time to rest and think about how I’m going to do the rest of my day, or just read a book.”
Sandberg’s 12-year-old son has Crohn’s disease, and they regularly have to drive from Silver Spring where they live to Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore for appointments and treatments. She and her husband work full time and have two other children, so they don’t have much extra time for errands.
“If I have to run to the store Sunday morning, that’s the time I’m doing it,” Sandberg said. On weekdays, doctor’s appointments take precedence.
“When you go to Hopkins, it’s a whole day affair,” Sandberg said. “By the time you get home, it’s dinner time or pickup from school. Your whole day’s gone.”
Michal Cepler, whose children have also participated in Lazy Sunday, uses the time for errands and chores, and for planning with her husband. But sometimes she just needs to sleep in.
“I’m not a morning person,” she said. “I don’t have to jump up and make [the kids] breakfast right now, I can just laze around in bed.”
Cepler’s daughter has high-functioning autism, and her son has tuberous sclerosis complex. Both go to therapy during the week.
Cepler said that after having fun at Lazy Sunday, her children are usually willing to be more flexible.
“I don’t know exactly what goes on, but they come home thrilled,” she said. “The demand on us is less as well, because they sort of got their fix of fun activity for the day.”
Sandberg said she loves that her children without illnesses can participate in the Chai Lifeline activities too, because it creates a support network for all her children.
Said Singerman, “We try to have events and programming not only for the sick child, but for the siblings and the parents. It’s a family going through the sickness as a whole.”
Naomi Merkin, who picked up several children from their homes in the Kemp Mill neighborhood of Silver Spring, said she loves volunteering whenever she can.
“You know the kids are looking forward to something, so [I like] being able to give them that feeling,” Merkin said.
At the recent Winter Wonderland-themed Sunday, held in a private home in Kemp Mill, the kids played Pass the Present, a game like musical freeze. Every time the music stopped, the child holding the present got to unwrap one layer of wrapping paper and keep the little gift that fell out — a deck of cards, drinking glasses and squishy toys.
Cepler said it takes special needs families more time and attention to detail to get things done — so she’s grateful for a couple hours on a Sunday to do that.
“The fact that they have this program and it’s really addressing a different need of the special needs family is really nice.”