Making memories: It’s not for sissies.

“Patrick, I want to talk to you about today,” I call softly to my grandson as he practices floating in the shallow end of a hotel swimming pool.

He stops paddling. It is 10:15 p.m., late for a nine-year old. We have just outlasted two women with a gaggle of loud, rowdy kids who were in the pool with us for the last hour. Finally we have the area blessedly to ourselves. The decibel level dropped a few hundred points only moments ago, when the heavy glass door closed behind the last wet-bottomed chick to follow the two waddling mama ducks to the elevator. That’s what the entourage reminded me of, anyway.

I am experienced enough in hotel patterns to expect that a group of giggling high school girls and loud, obnoxious older boys will soon come in through that same door. Someone in their party will be old enough to have bought some alcohol, and they will be celebrating convincing all their parents that they are “sleeping at a friend’s house” tonight. They will be heady with stolen liberty (the best kind), and the girls will climb on the guys’ shoulders. They will squeal as they battle to knock each other over, unaware and uncaring about the frail boy nearby who will try to turn away from the splashes … the shy boy who has trouble handling loud noises.

Patrick has been waiting all evening to find a private corner to practice his swimming without an audience of strangers. My little honey bunny (I’m only allowed to call him endearments like “Dude” aloud now, but he still is my honey bunny) … this boy has been very sick lately, struggling with a pervasive and very serious illness that pediatric specialists are still trying to pin down and control. Today, when he is feeling a little better, we’ve likely overdone it. Between hospital stays and doctor’s appointments, he’s been robbed of a real summer vacation this year, so I tried to squeeze as many of his favorite activities as possible this late fall day — a rare reprieve (a stolen liberty?) when he says he doesn’t need a pill under his tongue to keep his food down.

I instinctively understand how much Patrick enjoys the break — time to just be a kid without the anxiety of waiting for the next unpredictable episode of nausea — but still, I need to interrupt him right now, before the next wave of people intrude. I need to do this while I still have my nerve. It’s important, and something in the tone of my voice snags his full attention.

“What about today, Nana?”

I walk away from him, needing to put a little distance between us. From the deep end of the pool (it is too deep for him to hop/paddle to, certainly), I say, “We did your favorite things today, like I promised, right?”

“Yeah,” he says.

“Yes,” I agree. “First we went to Lambs Farm to play with barnyard animals, and then you had your horseback riding lesson, and then we went to Medieval Times to watch jousting and have dinner in the castle. Now, even though it’s late, you’re swimming. We’re staying in a hotel, and that’s still special for us, too, right?”

“Yeah.”

“We like to do all of these things, so that makes today a really good day. But we didn’t do anything new today, Dude. That’s what’s on my mind. We had already done all of those other things earlier this year. So I’m wondering what will you most remember about today? What’s really different about today?”

(One of the many things I love about my grandson is that he still usually ponders — rather than dismisses — what I say.) He thinks for few moments, his face serious, and then suggests, brightening, “I could remember finding the pinecones at Lambs Farm, or when we pretended I was the captain of our spaceship going into the future, to a time when abandoned machines are waiting to eat humans. That was fun.”

“I think you’ll forget those things soon enough,” I tell him honestly. “But … I don’t think … you’ll soon forget … this….”

And with those words, I take off my glasses, set them on the tiled floor, and cannonball into the swimming pool — fully dressed in bulky sweater and cargo pants and tennis shoes. I am far enough away from him so that he isn’t caught in the resultant gigantic tidal wave. And I think, surfacing in the shockingly chilly water, as I take a ragged, gasping breath, that I’m getting too old for stunts like this. Making memories is getting more and more challenging as this kid is getting older.

“I can’t believe you did that!” he squeals, delighted, clapping his hands.

“That’s the idea,” I gasp. “I had to do something unforgettable to make today truly special for you.” And yes, getting out of a pool while bogged down with heavy wet clothing is harder than diving in, and I do slosh all the way back to our room: a small price to pay to (1) hear his laughter and (2) confuse the teenagers coming into the pool area as we leave it.

What would make today memorable for you, Loyal Reader? That’s my question for you to ponder (or dismiss).

Here’s a crazy suggestion (if you are, in fact, a loyal reader, you already know that I specialize in impulsive and unpredictable acts): If you have a special someone in your life, take them for a long drive one night (ideally after you’ve had a long nap and they have not) and, when they fall asleep, keep driving. Let them wake up the next morning next to an ocean or a mountain. I did that once with my son, when he was a wee one of five, and the look on his face in the morning, when he woke up in the Garden of the Gods in Colorado, well … it’s one of several great memories in my collection.

And one final suggestion: Jump in your own (figurative) pool this Christmas.

Our family purposefully gave the gifts of memories to each other a few years ago. We made a formal rule that we would not give presents of “things” — only memories. One daughter gave us tickets to see Blue Man Group. Our other daughter took her grateful mom on a date, just she and I. After dinner, during what I assumed was the “memory part” of the evening — watching female impersonators at La Baton (a really fun club in Chicago that we both stepped out of our comfort zones to visit) — she confided that she and her husband were going to have a child! That was the actual memory she was presenting me with!

My husband’s present to me was given a few weeks later in January, when he surprised me with a trip to a bed & breakfast in Door County (and we got snowed in — Mother Earth’s gift of a different sort of memory for us). I scheduled his present for delivery in February, the soonest that I could make arrangements to fly in an old friend of his that he hadn’t seen for many years. Was he ever confused when I told him to accompany me to the airport! I think he thought I was going to fly him somewhere. Instead, she stepped off a plane! Surprise! (Could have knocked him over with a feather, I do believe!)

It was our best Christmas ever, though there were the fewest boxes under the tree.

Sometimes the special days you make and give to others become the most lasting memories in your own heart. Something to ponder? I hope so, because that’s my gift to you this year.

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