A Patrick and Nana Adventure: Saturday Night Magic

IB Publisher Jody Glynn Patrick blends work and life in this very clear departure from both her column for In Business magazine, and the other bloggers. Awarded national recognition for her previous work as a newspaper columnist, she brings us all back "Closer to Home" with her insights and remembrances. A nice place to be "After Hours." Check back often! Read Full Bio

Abruptly, Patrick stops in his tracks outside the entryway to the hotel’s pool area. He fidgets with his swimming trunks, expressive eyes telegraphing a sudden misery. I understand that we’ve bumped up against an invisible barrier that is nonetheless all too real for him. He’s close enough to the pool to hear kids at play. This sparks a familiar dialogue inside my grandson’s head; one desire urges him forward, another intrinsic and (I fear) louder voice warns him away.

Patrick can’t stand water in his face or loud noises. His body reacts to those assaults and shocks the same way mine does to accidentally chewing a piece of tin foil. Even with the door still closed, we hear exuberant splashing and yelling. This hotel pool is small; noise amplifies and reverberates off the stone walls. Pack 20 kids in there, it sounds like 100, and there’s no avoiding getting splashed.

In the elevator he had said (only half in jest), “Please do your magic, Nana, and make everyone disappear from the pool.” I’d reminded him that real magic (we believe very strongly in it) is an answered prayer – but if a prayer infringes on the rights of others, the answer to the prayer is likely to be “no.” I had reminded him that we also believe that when God refuses to open one door, He might open another, more appropriate door that we don’t anticipate or understand at the moment, giving us a chance to grow a new way. That is the magic of faith.

Now I offer up a prayer of my own, that my growing grandson (10 years old already!) might find his own magic by walking through whatever door God opens for him tonight. I hug him and mentally urge him forward. Can his desire to play in the pool overpower his anxiety of the other children already in the pool?

I know, from long experience, that if he can get beyond the door, he will spend his pool time huddled in a corner, tight up to the ledge, turning away whenever anyone approaches who could splash. When we are alone, he tries to learn to swim and we travel all around the pool. Now he can make the rounds in a five-foot pool himself, and he’s experimenting with getting his face wet, just a little more each time. It will break my heart, but tonight he likely will corner himself again, with all these kids, because he wants to “play” in a pool and say “yes” when his classmates ask if he went swimming at the hotel.

Twice already today, we’ve approached but left without entering. Now he bravely nods and I put our key card in the slot. Together, we open the door.

Unexpectedly, all of the many children playing in the swimming pool are black.

It’s unexpected because we are regular guests at this hotel and this has never happened before. The kids are as surprised and curious about our arrival as we are to see them. They move, almost like one being, gathering at the ledge on the side of the room where I pause to deposit our towels on a metal table. The children line up; a couple of boys I’d guess to be about Patrick’s age hang back, but still all eyes are on us. The sudden quiet, and the focused attention, are disconcerting.

The oldest girl, who appears to be about 14, shouts something to me, but I have a hard time understanding her because of her predominant foreign accent. “Can he swim?” she wants to know.

“No, no he can’t.” I tell her.

“Does he know how to play Marco Polo?” she asks.

Patrick clearly is speechless, bewildered to have questions asked about him. Yet when I raise my eyebrows slightly, he nods almost imperceptibly.

“Yes, he does,” I confirm.

“Good. Then you are Marco,” she says, speaking directly to him for the first time. “Come and play with us.”

He holds back, but she urges him to join them. “I don’t like water in my face,” he finally admits, and she instructs her playmates not to splash around him.

Patrick is not comfortable being Marco, chasing children into deep water with his eyes closed. His inability to swim becomes an obvious game impediment, so the older girl volunteers to be Marco, and he delights in escaping from the other children in turn, even as they make their way (splashing) toward him.

Patrick and new friends playing Marco Polo.

But his not being able to swim still is a handicap. Suddenly, two or three begin yelling at him (the volume in the room has gone up but he hasn’t noticed and has, in fact, contributed to it), and he can’t understand the quick, excited chatter … until a little girl takes off her blue life jacket and tries to hand it to him.

“No, no,” he says, holding his hands up in protest, embarrassed at the thought of putting on a little girl’s life preserver. Could there be a greater humiliation to his budding manhood?

“We will teach you to swim,” the older girl insists. Misunderstanding his reluctance about the vest, she tells him, “We will show you how to put it on.”

The group moves as one again and Patrick is helpless to avoid all of the hands coming at him. He’s scared half out of his wits that he will drown as these insistent children cluster around to help him strap himself into the vest. They then pry his fingers off the ledge to lead him out into deep water. However, despite his wide, frantic eyes, I remain on the sidelines watching, because he has not asked for intervention. We both know that if he nods or speaks to me, I will give it. He is afraid of drowning, yes, I get that. But I know I will not let that happen, so I am not afraid of it, and my calm demeanor reassures him.

All of this he and I understand without words, in the way that he and I understand everything important between us.

Within five minutes, he is swimming with the jacket on. He has to come to the ledge a few times for a towel to get the water off his face, but he goes back in again and again, getting wetter every instance, and tolerating it longer each time.

Patrick gets a swimming lesson.

Thank you, again and again

My heart goes out to these incredibly kind and embracing children, and my gratitude must be evident on my face because they smile up at me, too. They say yes, I can take their picture with Patrick. (Later, I will ask a parent if I can publish them.)

I had noticed that the hotel was hosting a clergy conference, and we’d heard many international dialects spoken in the lobby and in the elevators. I want to know if their parents are clergy and where they are from, and how they were enjoying their stay.

But it isn’t my turn to dial down the volume to ask them boring questions; it’s their turn to holler and splash and just be kids.

A father steps into the room, says something I cannot understand to the oldest girl, and she nods. He leaves again, apparently satisfied that she still has oversight of the children, and everything is under control. She does, and it is. I am amazed at the cooperation and discipline she maintains with even the youngest child.

Twenty minutes or so later, the man returns and calls them out of the pool. We speak briefly, then the children say goodnight, and we say thank you, and they say to enjoy our stay, and I say thank you, thank you, again and again, thank you. Patrick waves goodbye, his face streaming wet. They all shout goodbye to him one last time, and he doesn’t flinch at the noise.

He turns to me after they leave and says, “Nana, did you even notice that I was the only white kid in the whole pool?”

“Yes, I did,” I say, handing him a fresh dry towel. “How did that make you feel?”

“Kind of weird, at first, to be a minority,” he confesses. “I don’t have any black kids in my class at school, so this is the first time I’ve really played with black kids. But then I didn’t feel weird at all because they were so nice to me. I think we’re really all just the same, even though we’re different colors.”

“That’s a really important thing to know deep inside your heart, Patrick.”

We have talked a lot this weekend about different cultures, about why people hate people they don’t even know because of nationality, religion, or skin color, and how sad and wrong that is – discussions many parents and grandparents likely had with children this weekend, in the anticipation of, and aftermath of, the 9/11 anniversary. The children in the pool gave him insights into the richness of experiences with a different race and native culture.

More than just being nice kids, the children in this pool were an answer to a prayer – that the right door would be opened so that Patrick would have a chance to grow in a way that would nourish his soul and quiet his anxieties. And the magical answer this time was “yes.”

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