May 13, 201301:51 PMAfter Hours
with Jody Glynn Patrick
What trumps Mother’s Day? ‘Three Questions’ on Nana’s Day!
(page 1 of 2)
“That big cloud has a Frankenstein head with a Betty Boop body,” grandson Patrick mumbles, cloud-gazing. We are driving back to Chicago at the end of a weekend spent in Madison; he is riding shotgun in the front seat, a rite of passage for 12-year-olds nowadays. (How things have changed since I was his age, when my mother would throw her arm across my seat and clothesline my neck when she hit the brakes – with or without a lit cigarette in her hand. Thank heaven for today’s seat belts and airbags.)
“I need your advice on something, Nana,” Patrick opens, adding that he’s having (yet another) frustration with a soon-to-be stepbrother. “I can accept it when he’s being a pain just because he’s younger than me. I let that pass without getting mad at him. But sometimes he’s disrespectful on purpose, like saying ‘is that so?’ or ‘whatever’ when I tell him something. That’s getting to be a real irritation, so how can I make him stop doing it?”
“You can’t make him; you can only teach him,” I remind. Even if he is a wisecracker sometimes, the younger boy, 8, adores Patrick and often shadows him. After considering a few options, we decide that whenever the boy says something dismissive, Patrick will tell him that it is a “conversation stopper,” because conversations involve listening as well as talking. Saying words like “whatever” signals boredom, so it’s best to stop talking and separate for a while, with each boy going off to find something more interesting to do. “Tell him you made up that rule to help him, because you don’t want to bore him. Trust me, he’ll lose that habit pretty fast.”
“Thanks, Nana. We’ll set the rule the next time I see him,” Patrick agrees. “Mom can’t get mad at me for helping him be better.”
“I’m proud of you for wanting to fix it instead of fight with him,” I offer. In fact, Patrick has become a much more considerate boy himself this past year. I also commend him for being kind to his younger cousins in Madison over the weekend, complimenting the pictures they colored.
Part of the reason he’s more thoughtful, he says, is because his Catholic school adopted a strict no-bullying policy this past year. “Teachers have zero tolerance for it, so every transgression is met with the severest response,” Patrick explains. “They mean business, too. Since anything mean is considered bullying, the teachers are forcing us all to be nicer people.”
“You’re being bullied into not bullying,” I summarize.
“Exactly,” he sighs. “But give me some more advice about things to do. I like it when we talk like that.”
“Three Questions?” I ask, referring to our favorite Patrick-and-Nana game. He can ask me “most anything” and I’ll try to answer. (It formerly was “anything at all” until he asked a few questions last summer, when we were traveling together in Montana, that caused me to blush mightily and to modify the rules to “anything not having to do with questions you could better ask your dad in private.”)
“Growing up,” he replies. “Like, when I was a kid, I thought adults could do anything they want. Is that still true? I mean, if I work at a job and have money, will I be able to do whatever I want to do, whenever I want to do it?”
“I want to go to Florida right now,” I announce. “I have enough money for a hotel and to buy extra clothes for you and me when we get there, and I have a car and money for gas. I want to take you with me. So I have decided to just stay on the highway, not stop in Chicago, and we’ll go to Florida instead, because that is what I want to do, and I want to do it right now.”
“That’s different,” Patrick says. He argues that Grandpa expects me to come back home tonight, and his mom is expecting him. He misses his dog, Shadow, left behind this weekend. He has school next week and I have to work.
“I can take vacation,” I tell him. “I am supposed to write and to go to three meetings next week, but who cares what other people think I should do? I’m an adult. I can do what I want.”
“But I’m not out of school,” he counters. “I don’t have vacation until June.”
“What do I care? If I take you out of school, your mom will be mad and you’ll be in trouble with your teacher, and Grandpa will be mad, and your dog and my dogs will be lonely, but won’t I be doing what I want?”
“You don’t want people mad at you,” Patrick guesses.
“Bingo,” I agree. “When you are an adult, things turn upside down and inside out. When you are young, you depend on adults. The older you get, the more people depend on you, including your parents. Nothing is more important than earning the love of your family, Patrick – that’s what you really want and need. The older you get, the more being selfish feels bad, not good. You feel good when you get what you want because you do the right things at the right time. That’s what makes you happiest. For example, we probably will go to Florida again together, but we’ll do it when it works for all of us, not just for me. What’s your next question?”