Word Play: An ongoing Patrick and Nana adventure

My grandson Patrick, 10, shivered. Glancing at his skinny little goose-fleshed arms, I could see he was cold. We were sitting at the Country Inn this past Sunday at Lamb’s Farm, one of our favorite “get in the muck with the goats and sheep” adventure sites. We had decided to begin with breakfast before going into the barnyard, and the room was rather chilly. “Should we buy you a sweatshirt?” I wondered aloud. The day was hot, but the dining room was over air-conditioned.

“I’m thinking maybe I should just go on the floor, roll up into a ball, and conserve as much body heat as possible,” he replied.

I promptly got out my little notebook to record his words verbatim. Patrick is accustomed to my writing down what we call “Patrick-isms” to record in the book I make for him every Christmas. “That was just a casual comment,” he pointed out. “I don’t think it’s significant enough to record.”

“Okay, I’ll leave it out of the book. I’ll just put it in a blog instead,” I told him.

“Are you suggesting I have an online fan club in Madison that is interested in what I say?” he asked, perking up. (He wants to be famous, though he’s not certain what talent will deliver that status, so he’s working on five projects at this time to achieve mastery and acclaim.)

“Sure,” I said, hoping that was true. “Though when you put it that way, my blog does sound a little lame, eh?”

He thought it over, emotions flitting over his face. Then he put his head in his hands. “Now I have to live up to a reputation of being interesting,” he sighed. “That’s a lot of pressure for a kid…. I hope I am actually up to the challenge of fame.”

Yes, he is. Verbally, at least, if not physically. He had been sick over the weekend (though not to the point of hospitalization, which happens too often). It seems that his body is frail in direct proportion to how strong his personality is, so he’s a force to be reckoned with emotionally, but vulnerable in ways that make us both grateful for our good days together to go off and explore.

I lost some favor in his eyes Sunday, however, because I wanted to dart into the resale shop on the Lamb’s Farm property, too – and he hates stores. When his Aunt Brook arrived later with cousin Alex to join us for a play date on the farm, and asked if he was having fun, Patrick gave her one of his “you’ve-got-to-be-kidding” looks. He replied, “I’ve already spent a week in a gift shop this morning, and now I’ve got to share Nana’s attention with a toddler. Could this day get any better?”

Be careful what you wish for…

Like most children, when Patrick was a wee lad, he was prone to fits of physical rage when frustrated, and we (the women in the family – his mom, his aunt, and me) made it our mission to help him learn to express his dissatisfaction with words versus thrown toys. In retrospect, he’s now mastered throwing words around.

I had asked him, during the weekend, if he wanted to stop at the Irish American Heritage Center in Chicago, which was having an open house. It’s another favorite place of ours. He glanced at the center as we drove by and muttered, “No. I only like open house at my school, because there you can see the pain and suffering I was forced to undergo all those weeks.”

“I’ve been to all of your open houses over the years,” I reminded, “and all I see is the learning that has gone on, and the fun you’ve had making robots and doing your art projects and writing – all of these are things you enjoy.”

“Do you think they put the daily drudgery on the walls for inspection?” he asked pointedly. “No, they only tape up the rare highlights.”

Just the highlights, then

As loyal readers know, Patrick doesn’t have much use for toddlers, which, unfortunately, his cousin Alex is. We’ve tried to convince Patrick that there is value in being the “older brother” to a younger cousin, because he can see him for a few hours and then sign off, unlike having a real sibling. But he isn’t buying it.

His emotional unavailability makes him irresistible to Alex, of course, who only wants to capture the attention of his adored cousin. He wants to hold Patrick’s hand, talk to him, share his toys with him. Anything to snag Patrick’s prized attention! Forget Nana. Forget Mom and Dad. If Patrick is in the room, it’s the Patrick-and-Alex show and another chance to play the ongoing game of emotional hide-and-seek.

A couple weeks ago, Brook and I had the boys at the mall. As we left, Patrick was showing us how fast he could run in new tennis shoes, and Alex chased behind – and tripped at the door, plunging headfirst into the metal kick plate and almost knocking himself out…. with the resultant and expected huge goose egg on his forehead to show for it.

On the way to the nearest emergency room, Patrick showed appropriate concern for his little wailing cousin, at great relief to Brook and me. I made the mistake of expressing appreciation for that fact aloud as we sped toward the hospital.

“I’m comfortable with him being miserable, because of me, to a level of 55,” Patrick replied evenly. “This isn’t my doing. And he’s at about a 67 level of misery, which is too high. You need to get him fixed and we need to get that misery level back in balance.”

An hour later, Alex reached for Patrick’s hand, and Patrick allowed it, though he kept his own fingers straight. “He can hold my hand, because he needs to, to get his misery levels corrected, but I’m not technically holding his hand,” he pointed out.

And so we went down the street toward Brook’s car, all in a row holding hands – sort of, making a perfect picture of a (nearly) normal family. And that image is the highlight I’m leaving on the wall this week.

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