“When I can talk about Dev I can go on forever. They are my number one priority,” says Pat.
Pat isn’t Dev’s birth mother; she’s their Nana and Dev is her everything.
Having, in Pat’s words, made bad choices and chosen the dark side, Dev’s parents are, despite Pat’s cautious efforts, not part of the 13-year-old’s life. Pat has been her grandchild’s caregiver since day one. It’s a role Pat has taken on with formidable love and unwavering devotion. Wishing to stanch the wounds of bad choices and escape the suffering of the dark side, Pat holds Dev close.
“I’ve always, always, always been overprotective with Dev because to me they’re a gift. God gave me a gift so I gotta handle it with kid gloves.”
Pat has made it her mission to make home a safe, stable and loving place for this gift. She has, with care and dedication, built a strong foundation of trust and respect with her grandchild. They show their affection every night before bed, as they compete to express who loves the other most.
“I always say ‘I love you more’ ” says Pat, “and then they go ‘nope, but I loved you first’ and I go ‘I really loved you first’ and they go ‘I loved you before I was in mummy’s tummy’ and then I have to say ‘Oh you got me again.’ ”
“They’re a great kid,” Pat gushes, “I’m not saying they’re a good kid because they’re mine. They’re a great kid. They’re so easy to make happy. They’re very sentimental, they think of others before themself.”
But Pat knows her efforts to shield Dev from hurt and disappointment and defeat will be tested and, possibly, at times even rebuffed as her grandchild enters their teen years and the inevitable pursuit and exploration of independence that come with it.
“I just hate when they get hurt,” Pat says earnestly, “but they have to. Sometimes you can’t be there to fix it and it breaks my heart. Sometimes they have to fix it themself.”
Even though Pat is the first to admit that she can be a little ambitious in her desire to protect her grandchild – or perhaps because of it – she is determined to empower Dev with the tools they need to thrive as an independent adult. To prepare Dev for the endless challenges, both mundane and extraordinary, of grown-up life, she’s worked hard to nurture the youth’s self-sufficiency.
“We like to teach them home skills,” Pat explains.
Growing up, Pat laments that she wasn’t taught many of the practical skills she is now so adamant to pass on to Dev. She remembers struggling and having to learn on the fly how to fend for herself.
“That’s why I need to do this with Dev,” says Pat, “I don’t want them to ever rely on anybody to care for them. I want to make sure they know how to do everything.”
“They can make you a full course meal,” Pat says with pride, and goes on to describe the many dishes, from scalloped potatoes to pork chops, that Dev can prepare.
“For 12 years old they can feed you pretty good,” Pat continues, “They’ve been able to do laundry for quite a few years now. They’re not great at folding but they will keep your house clean and they will cook for you.”
“They’re ready for the real world. They’re the whole package. I got them ready.”
Pat also emphasizes is the importance of school, and of Dev doing their best with the talents they have. Like many parents, Pat admits she would love for Dev to become a doctor and make, in her words, a bajillion dollars, but her focus is on encouraging Dev towards a job that can support them and make them happy.
To Pat, this is key. She always insists that Dev needs to take care of themself first. She knows that, while Dev can count on their Nana, they can ultimately only count on themself.
And, perhaps, CityKidz.
Opening Their World
“Other than home,” says Pat, “CityKidz is their life.”
Even after many years, Pat still remembers how she and Dev first connected with CityKidz. Pat remembers Susan, the neighbourhood CityKidz captain, coming door-to-door and explaining CityKidz to Pat and encouraging her to send Dev.
But Dev was only three at the time and the ever-protective Pat wasn’t comfortable sending her most treasured blessing away with strangers.
“I didn’t know the whole picture of CityKidz,” says Pat, explaining her hesitancy to enroll Dev.
But then, a few years later, some neighbours and parents encouraged Pat to send Dev, promising her it was safe and a really fun time for the kids.
“And so that’s when I said OK, maybe I will give it a chance,” Pat remembers, “and it was the best choice for both of us.”
That first Saturday when Pat saw Dev onto the bus from the parking lot of her subdivision, she was all nerves. She waved to Dev as the bus drove off but, unlike the rest of the parents and caregivers dropping off their kids, Pat didn’t head home after the bus disappeared round the corner. Pat stayed in the parking lot for two hours, waiting and worrying until her grandchild returned. But as Dev hopped off the big red bus a couple hours later, Pat’s anxieties instantly evaporated.
“When they got off of that bus the first time their face was like a Christmas tree,” beams Pat, “They lit up.”
Dev couldn’t stop thanking her Nana for letting them go to CityKidz and talking about the fun time they’d had. They begged their Nana to let them go again and Pat, seeing the light and joy radiating from her grandchild, couldn’t refuse.
“From that day on, CityKidz stole their heart.”
It also opened up their world.
To that point in her life, Nana had been Dev’s everything. The two were inseparable. CityKidz expanded Dev’s small circle of security beyond their home and their Nana and gave them a new safe, dependable and fun place to play and learn and grow.
With CityKidz in their life, Dev grew in confidence. Now, Dev didn’t rely on their Nana to be their everything quite as much, though their love, respect and admiration for their grandmother were anything but diminished. And Pat, despite her deeply protective instincts, had found a trustworthy partner to help love and nurture her precious grandchild towards independence.
And so it went. For the next six years, CityKidz occupied a growing space in Dev’s heart and their life. It was a place in which they felt at ease and at home. The singing and dancing, the stories and lessons never grew old for Dev. Even as they approached their tween years, Dev felt they could be happy in CityKidz forever. But they were growing up, and the time had come for them to take another delicate step towards their future.
“I didn’t think they were gonna be ready for it. Because they were so comfortable with CityKidz,” says Pat, remembering Dev’s transition to our youth mentorship program.
Dev initially confided that they didn’t know if they wanted to go to CityYouth, but Pat encouraged them to give it a try. Their captain, Susan, agreed that Dev should give it a go and if it didn’t feel right, they didn’t have to go again until they felt ready.
“They were nervous,” remembers Pat, “but you know what? They took it like a trooper and they fit in there like a glove.”
Pat appreciated that the leaders knew that the young ones would be nervous their first time and made sure they were comfortable
“That’s a big step for them because it’s their independence,” says Pat.
Speaking with Pat several weeks into the Coronavirus pandemic shutdown, she longs for CityYouth to reopen for Dev.
“They can’t wait ’til it starts back up again. They barely ask about school anymore but they ask about CityYouth. Through this virus when they found out that CityYouth wasn’t accessible to them she withdrew. They were really depressed.”
“No one realizes what CityKidz means to Dev,” emphasizes Pat, “I’m telling you, CityKidz, they need it in their life. It’s their escape. It’s their place away from everything. They need you people,” Pat implores.
Unlike too many people in the 12-year-old’s life, CityKidz has never given up on Dev. Just like their Nana, we never will. Dev and Nana have blessed us with their trust and their unstoppable spirits, and we can’t wait until we can connect, face-to-face, once again.
“This is something that is following Dev,” Pat elaborates, “This is their rock. Their second Nana. It’s something that’s never given up on them and they’re not gonna let it go.”
Dev is still young, and naturally doesn’t yet know themself what they want for their own future, beyond CityKidz.
Pat has all the normal hopes of any caregiver for their child: for them to do well in school, to graduate, to find a job that can support them but also brings them joy and, above all, to be true to themself.
“I just want them to be happy no matter what direction they go in. I just want them to do the best that they can do. Everybody has hopes and dreams for the kid but I just want them to do what makes them happy.”