Monday, September 7, 2015

Happy birthday, Whack-a-doodle!

Last Friday I picked up my pals, Danta and Satish, from school and had a long-awaited play date.  While we were waiting for Satish's class, I teased Danta that since his birthday is a day before mine, I don't really understand how I can be older. 
"Oh, I'll be fifty this year!" he said seriously.  "So that makes me older than you now."
"For real?" I asked.
"Yep...fifty...can you believe it?" he grinned.
I chuckled, bouncing my eyebrows.  "Wow...you look really good for your age."
On the way home, Danta read some amusing children's books out loud and even described the pictures so I could keep my eyes on the road and still imagine the action.  At one point his rendition was incredibly hilarious and I laughed so hard I snorted.  Glancing in the rearview mirror, I saw the look on Satish's face, a humorous mixture of surprise and acceptance that, yes indeed, I am as silly as his younger brother.  And of course, my snorting only brought gales of laughter from Danta, who read with even more expression.
After an afternoon of fun and board games, it was time for me to go home.  At the door, the boys hugged and kissed me, then wished me a nice long weekend.
As I walked toward my car, I heard Danta exclaim, "See you later, Whack-a-doodle!"
I burst into laughter, remembering how he and I had tossed that word around all summer long, weaving it into descriptions of the funny titles we saw at Books a Million, or the huge new stores being built in Perrysburg.  At one point I asked Danta what the word meant to him.
"Oh, you know, something really ridiculous...funny...and of course just a little bit crazy!"
I suppose when Danta branded me with that moniker, I've became an incarnation of all things eccentric...at least in his mind.  Not that I mind one bit.
I waved back and smiled, "See you soon, Mr. Whack-a-doodlie-doo!"

So in honor of my pal's ninth (okay, fiftieth) birthday tomorrow, I thought I'd share a part of my memoir, a chapter entitled "Bedtime", which reveals a little of Danta's naughty side...and a bit of his softer side, too.
No wonder I often tell him we are twins separated at birth...and twenty-four hours...and forty years. 


"Bedtime"

It’s a cold winter night and I’m getting the boys ready for bed.  Danta is brushing his teeth while Satish finishes his bucket bath (“It’s an Indian thing,” he explained.  “To save water.”).          
The boys are getting bigger, but they’re still hesitant to be upstairs alone, particularly after dark.  I don’t mind at all.  More time to spend with them.  More precious time that will soon slip away as they grow older and more independent.  
Earlier Danta had been using the bucket while I sat in the hallway with his big brother, playing “Hangman.”  “Hey, Katie…come look at me!” he gleefully shouted.
I stepped into the bathroom and saw that he had tightly wedged his little body into the bucket that was overflowing with soapy water.  Delighted with his antics, I giggled, “Am I going to need a shoehorn to get you out of there?”
“A what?” he asked, his eyes wide.
Satish came in to see why I was laughing.  His face turned serious.  “Danta!  You need to use that bucket properly!  We don’t have another one and if you break it, Mummy and Papa will have to go to the store and buy one!”
Pressing my lips together, I turned away to squelch my laughter.  Satish was right, of course, but it was still hilarious to see Danta in the bucket, his knees pulled tightly to his chest.  Only he would think to do something so impish.  And naturally, it’s exactly the kind of thing my inner Ramona finds hilarious. 
Now I ask Satish, “Do you want to read tonight…or should I?”
“Did you bring your ‘George and Martha’ books?” he asks, pulling on his pajamas.
“Yep…all of them.”  The boys and I love reading James Marshall’s silly stories about two hippos who are the best of friends.
“Good…let’s read them together!” Satish exclaims.  “I like the one when George loses his tooth.”
I nod.  “And I like the one when Martha sits on George to stop him from eating all his cookies.”
Danta spits toothpaste into the sink with vigor.
“Good one!” I say, congratulating him. 
“Can I read, too?” he asks, wiping his chin.
“Of course!” I beam. “Which one would you like?”
Danta laughs devilishly.  “The one where Martha and George are in the Tunnel of Love and she scares the pants off of him!”
I chuckle.  “Yeah…that’s a good one.”
As I change into my pajamas in the bathroom, the boys bring their blankets and pillows into the guest room where I’ll be sleeping.  Ashoke and Nidhi are out with friends for the evening.  Amita and Leena are away at a Girl Scout event.  I’ve been looking forward to my first sleepover with Satish and Danta for over a month.  They have, too.  Nidhi says they kept asking, “How many days until Katie comes?”
Now I walk into the guest room and see that Satish has made a nest of sleeping bags and fleece blankets on the floor.  Danta is carrying in pillows and tosses them to his brother.  “I get the Mario Brothers!” he reminds Satish.
“I’m going down to get my George and Martha,” Satish says.  “Will you come with me?”
As requested, I had knit Satish a hippo for his birthday and another one for Easter.  Now he has his very own George (complete with a walking cane and bowler hat) and Martha (accessorized with a fancy skirt and red tulip tucked behind her ear).
“I want my lion,” Danta says, referring to the orange and yellow toy I had made him which has a furry mane and cleverly knotted tail.
“Okay…let’s get ‘em,” I say as we head downstairs.
Once they’ve been tucked into bed and we’ve read several stories, Satish yawns.
“Ready to sleep?” I ask.
“Yeah,” he sighs.
I kiss Satish good-night.  “Jai Shri Krishna,” I whisper.  It’s a blessing he’s taught me that Hindus say to their children at bedtime.
“Jai Shri Krishna,” I say, giving Danta a kiss on his temple.
He takes a shuddering breath.  “When’s Mummy coming home?” I hear the tears in his voice.
I knew bedtime would be hard for Danta.  While he’s fine to play and have fun during the day without his mother, nighttime is when he most wants her near.
Glancing at the clock radio, I say, “She should be home in about an hour or so.”
“Is that long?”
“Not really,” I say gently.  “And I’ll be right here.”
I turn on the nightlight, then turn off the lamp.  The room is bathed in the soft, orange glow of a tiny plastic basketball.
I climb into the twin bed and get comfortable.  Satish is well on his way to falling asleep, but I can hear Danta whimpering.
“Mummy,” he softly cries.  “I want Mummy.”
Leaning down to stroke the hair away from his forehead, I whisper, “Do you want to come up here with me until she gets home?”
He nods eagerly.  Leaving his blankets and lion behind, Danta climbs into the small bed and cuddles close.  “Mummy,” he cries again.   
I soothingly rub his head.  “I know you miss Mummy,” I say.  “She’ll be back soon.  And I’m right here…I’m right here.”
Danta soon falls asleep in my arms.

The next morning he’s disappeared and is sleeping in his parents’ room.  Satish lies on the floor curled up with George and Martha, his breathing slow and even.
I wake up leisurely, thankful for this quiet moment.  Thankful for the Sharmas. Thankful for Satish and Danta and the ease with which we love each other.
Thankful that there will be many more bedtimes when we can read and giggle and share stories.  Thankful that these wonderful children are such a treasured part of my life.
Thankful in knowing that they will be…always.

At the end of every yoga class, I guide my students into savasana, a pose in which they practice gradual relaxation.  Often calling this our “yoga dessert,” I tell them that savasana is the gift and the purpose of all the other aspects of the class so that we can come into silence and stillness with greater awareness.  “All roads lead to relaxation pose,” I often say. 
One of my students has a t-shirt with a stick figure lying prone.  The caption reads:  “I’m only here for the savasana.”  And I know exactly what she means.
Seventeen years ago, when I started my own practice, relaxation was the most difficult, yet intriguing part of the class.  It was terrifying to lie quietly among strangers who were inches away from my mat.  Terrifying to close my eyes among men I didn’t know.  Terrifying to go more deeply within my own body to see what memories might still be lurking there.
For the first six weeks, I would dutifully lie down on my mat and try to relax.  Try to close my eyes.   Try to block out the awareness of the man who was snoring next to me.  It was hard, but not impossible.  And even though I struggled with this very fundamental part of yoga, the benefits were still tangible.
I soon felt lighter and more open.  More aware of my body and its ability to both integrate the benefits of the poses and release the tension that had built up between classes.  With each week I saw progress.  I recognized the many rewards of showing up, doing my best, and letting relaxation pose teach me how to be more present with my fear of being still.
It's no surprise that this part of the practice unhinged me when I was younger.  I had always been anxious about sleeping in a room with others, preferring the pitch blackness and silence of my own space.  I feared being crowded.  Being startled.  Being harmed.  For over three years I attended yoga classes, often taking three a week, and worked diligently to melt my apprehension.  Soften my edges.  Open myself to being unguarded in the presence of others.      
For me, allowing the softness of my soul to reveal itself is very complicated.  Perhaps that’s why I write novels…to reveal the inner-workings of my spirit without the risk of personal involvement.  I can peel back the layers of my vulnerability without the messiness of the human experience.

But with Satish and Danta, I am unbound.  With them I am free to relive the childhood experience from their vantage point, from their very vivid insight.   I’ve told Nidhi that Satish, with his proclivity toward the insightful, resonates with who I am now.   But it's Danta’s enthusiasm for the mischievous, for the boisterous and energetic, that most reminds me of the child I used to be.
Satish and I play endless games of Monopoly and Life.  We like to figure out the strategy in order to discern the best way to succeed.  More often than not, when we play Chess, Satish beats me soundly although I can now give him a run for his money. 
Once when he was doing a silly little victory dance, I told him, “I won, too.”
“Nuh-uh,” he said, hopping from one foot to the other.
“Yuh-huh,” I replied.  “I won because I get to spend time with you…and that’s the best prize of all.”
Satish’s eyes softened as he smiled.
Now whenever he wins a game, he’ll remind me, “I know you won, too, Katie.”
I wink.  “Yup.  Do you know why?”
Satish will nod.  “You got to play with me…and that’s as good as winning!  Right?”
“Yes, sir!”

With Danta it’s a little different.  Satish can be pensive, but his little brother is highly chatty, talking endlessly about anything.  From the time Danta was little, he would love to play rhyming games with me.  Once when I was driving him home from school, another driver cut me off.  “Holy moly!” I exclaimed.  “Did you see that, Danta?”
“Holy moly!” he chirped.  “Sholey, coley, boley, joley!”
Glancing at his grinning face in the rear-view mirror, I laughed.  “Zoley, choley, poley, woley!”
Danta scrunched up his features in thought, then brightened.  “Doley, loley, choley, ga-zoley!”
“Wow, you’re good!” I told him.
Verbally quick as lightening, Danta is a joy to watch while he plays “pets” with Satish.  They have a vast collection of stuffed animals that are used for running races and playing farm and a host of other activities.  The boys know exactly who owns which pet despite the fact that they have amassed nearly fifty between them over the years.  And although it’s not necessary, I carefully stitch their initials into the seat of every animal I knit for them.  It still makes me chuckle to watch them check for their “S.S.” and “D.S.” whenever they open a new toy.
I marvel at the way they both have learned to read with great fluency and expression.  This past spring, Danta delighted me with his uproarious rendition of Fox at Work, another James Marshall favorite.  Effortlessly changing voices, he was able to make the characters come alive as an old Indian man, a cowboy, and even a German immigrant.  At one point I laughed so hard, he had to stop.
“Want me to read it again?” Danta grinned.
“Oh, yes!” I exclaimed, holding my stomach.  “You’re so stinkin’ funny, Danta!”
“Stinker, tinker, binker!” he chimed.
Still, Danta is both silly and sensitive…just like me.
He gets anxious when going to new places.  Worries about “what might happen.”  Wants to be reassured that he will be safe, no matter where he is or who he’s with.
It was high praise when Nidhi called to tell me a Danta story.  It seems Nidhi needed to take Amita to a driver’s education class and Danta didn’t want her to leave the house. 
“Why does Amita need to learn how to drive anyway?” he wanted to know.
“What if you have to go to soccer practice?” Nidhi asked him.  “Amita could drive you if I’m busy taking Leena to violin or Satish to his chess lesson and Papa isn’t home from work yet.”
Without missing a beat, Danta replied, “Well, Katie will take me.”
Yes, I love watching little Danta ruggedly chase a soccer ball around the field and deftly make a goal.  He’s a good sport and cheers on his friends, then takes the lead when it’s offered to him.  I sit on the sidelines, taking pictures and cheering him on.
When it’s time to come home, Danta climbs into the backseat of my car where a basket of Beanie Babies and books await him.  Sometimes he writes in a spiral-bound journal that chronicles our adventures around town.  When it’s full, I’ll pass it on to Nidhi for safekeeping and slip another one in its place.  I know we’ll have many more escapades to enjoy as he grows older.  For the seeds we have planted are now growing strong and steady as the years go by.

During the sleepover when I comforted Danta, it was the first time a child had come to me at bedtime for reassurance and safety.  The first time I had cradled a little one so very much like myself.  In many ways, it felt like I was holding my own five-year-old spirit who longed to feel safe in the night.  To feel protected.
To be harbored in love.
For years I've spent time with the Sharmas, playing games, pitching baseballs, reading books, and telling stories.  Listening and laughing and learning even more languages of love.  Although Satish and Danta wouldn’t agree, bedtime is my favorite part of our Monday ritual.  For just as I help to prepare my yoga students for a peaceful relaxation, I cherish the moments cuddling in bed with the boys.  Giggling over the silly books we read.  Gently rubbing their backs as they make their way into dreamland. 
“Jai Shri Krishna,” I whisper as they drift off to sleep. 
And in blessing them…I am infinitely blessed in return.