Recently I asked my 9-year-old grandson to give me an example of what “cool” meant to him. Patrick replied without hesitation: “You want a definition of cool? Okay: During the next out-of-uniform day at my school, I’m going to dress cool. I’m going to wear a black jacket, white shirt, jeans, a hat, sunglasses, and red sneakers, and I’ll strut with my head cocked at a 45-degree angle, and I’ll call people by nicknames.”
Yes, he always talks that way. He’s been off-the-charts quirky (in a good way) all his young life. I call such spontaneous utterances “Patrickisms.”
Every year, I publish a book about Patrick chock-full of Patrickisms and I present it to him for Christmas. It’s always (hands down) his favorite gift. Last year’s books had entries like this: “I never liked Sundays because in the back of my mind I know I have to go to school the next day. It’s like trying to enjoy your last meal before your execution.”
He’s not a big fan of teachers. “They practice mind control,” he confided. “And they think there is only one way to do math. Their way.”
When it started to rain while we were driving on the highway, he remarked, “It was a beautiful day, then Nature had to come and cast its cruelness on us with precipitation.”
He has unique thoughts about religion, too. “Jesus said, ‘The first will be last and the last will be first,'” he reminded me. “So I should probably try to sell my home [to become homeless] if I want to be the first in heaven.” I didn’t remind him that technically he doesn’t own a home yet and his mom might not be ready for such a radical preparation for resurrection.
Patrick is the most deeply philosophical soul I ever met and, at times, he is also the most sarcastic. The mix is quite intriguing to poetic souls like mine. We were destined to be best buddies as well as relatives. And we’ve maintained that relationship because I’m cognizant that buddies should keep their adult judgments to themselves.
He, too, is an author. Patrick has written and illustrated over 30 homemade books that are rich with dialogue, and his latest project is a Blunder Boy cartoon strip. So when I suggested that he is old enough to create real books of his own now, adding that I was ready to help him do that, you would have thought I promised him Disneyland!
Actually, I figured it would help him deal with the fact that his father was soon to leave for an extended trip back to his homeland of Ireland, being unable to find more work in Chicago with his trades union. There is no certain return date and I figured Patrick would need something special to do while his dad is gone, to help fill those sad times, so I suggested he make a book for his dad.
He was wildly excited about the idea and rallied his troops: Aunt Brook bought him a good camera and memory stick. A laptop computer also was donated to the project. I pre-loaded BookSmart software onto it and then created an account for him with Blurb (a book publishing house). To cement the deal, we agreed to launch his new career with a writer’s vacation at a Chicago hotel.
“It’s time,” I announced ceremoniously. “I think you’re ready for this now.”
“They say everything goes around,” Patrick said thoughtfully, “But time doesn’t go around. It leaps out right at you!”
Impromptu projects are nothing new. Patrick & Nana are adventure buddies, as loyal readers know. We got a good start on his book Friday night, and the next morning, over breakfast in the hotel lobby, Patrick remarked, “If I didn’t know better, I’d think your snores last night were trucks downshifting on the highway.”
I decided not to ruin the weekend with a lecture on manners, opting to compliment him instead: “You really do have a good vocabulary, Patrick. Most 9-year-olds don’t even know what words like ‘downshifting’ mean.”
He shushed me and leaned over his waffle to whisper, “There are kids around here, Nana, so keep your voice down or they’ll be crazed with jealousy. And I don’t need someone out to get me today.”
Obviously, my book about Patrick almost writes itself. His new book, however, is a beast of a different variety. After breakfast we went back upstairs to the task of whittling down a cache of 500 photos he’d snapped for his dad’s book. He had taken pictures of everything, including pumpkin seeds, toys, interesting light fixtures, bathrooms, etc.
“Your dad won’t really want a picture of pumpkin seeds, will he? Can’t we just delete that one?”
Patrick gave me the look that clearly signals when we are uncharacteristically out of synch. Turns out that he and his dad ate those seeds together watching the Bears lose to the Packers. How could I be so callous as to think the picture had no meaning?
The silver lining is that he has “an eye,” so the 500 photos are interesting. I know I’m biased, but here are five photos representative of his work. The first one is his father standing outside his apartment; the second is his mother at a family dinner; the third is a picture of oranges at Whole Foods Market in Chicago, where he also took photo four, which is a picture of the express lane lamp. The last is a self-photo, which he intends to use in the book on the last page.
“You’ve got good photography for the book,” I admitted. “But what words are you going to use?”
He clicked through the pages he was creating onscreen, stopping at images of his father’s apartment. He paused and looked at me. I felt for the pad of paper in my back pocket, because he now had a philosophical expression on his face, and I knew whatever he said would probably go into both books, so I offered to take shorthand notes.
“I’m worried about going to sleep at night,” Patrick admitted. “I’m worried about dreaming because of nightmares. Dreams are weird. You know what’s ironic about it? It’s like my spirit is walking in a world of my own thoughts. The dreams are weird, how you think when you’re mentally exhausted and confused.
“In good dreams, I believe your spirit leaves your body and it has nothing to do with your brain, and other people in the dream are other people’s spirits. Your spirit goes up to be together with the other spirits.
“My dad jumps out at me all the time at his apartment when I walk out of the kitchen. I had a nightmare about it. I was in a forest alone … I didn’t mind that part. I was walking up a hill in the forest and my dad jumped out and said ‘Boo!’ and I tumbled down the hill. I woke up then really startled.”
He has taken photos of both his father’s kitchen and his little bed there, so illustrating that sequence would be no problem. I realized then that Paddy is lucky that his book is going to be filled with Patisms, too.
“I’m going to write at the end of his book that I hope he enjoys the book as much as I enjoyed making it,” Patrick said. “But it’s harder than I thought. And it’s not as fun as I thought it would be. Being a real writer is actually hard work.”
“You’re singing to the choir on that one, laddie.”
“Choir…. That reminds me of church, Nana, which reminds me of God, and I was thinking…. You know how God controls the whole world? I’m thinking maybe God needs a little helper.”
“And that little helper would be you?”
“Right,” he beamed.
Lordy, Lordy. If you take him up on that offer, God, school teachers had better really have a good collective bargaining friend in Jesus….
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