Sunday, January 31, 2016

A kiss for Kashti

Last Friday I sat in my doctor's outer office waiting for my annual physical.  As I updated the information on my medical forms, couples and families filtered in and out, chittering about due dates, baby weight, and the excitement of an imminent birth.  I sat alone on the other side of the room, completely surprised to feel the sting of being childless.  It's taken a while, but I no longer lament not having babies of my own, and it's been years since a precancerous diagnosis allowed me to re-evaluate my priorities and let go of the life I had planned in order to embrace the life that was waiting for me.  Those of you who know me well know I've done that more than once.
Or twice.
Or three times.
Still, while being surrounded by the energy of excited soon-to-be parents and grandparents, I thought about the weeks of packing before my move to Big Sur.  In the midst of labeling boxes and sorting stuff for Goodwill, I had come across a bin of books that had been stored since my teaching days...books I had kept in the hopes of reading them to a child of my own, my favorite being Maurice Sendak's A Kiss for Little Bear.  When I was little, I had read it over and over again, delighting in how Little Bear draws a picture for his grandmother, then sends it long distance to her house via a host of animals.  Upon receiving such a lovely gift, Grandmother sends a kiss for Little Bear which gets passed among the animals a la "the telephone game", and reaches its final destination, but not without some hilarious mix-ups.
It was back then, in an attempt to lighten the load of moving cross-country, that I finally let go of needing to have a child of my own, so I gave away nearly everything I had been saving...except a couple of hand-knitted sweater sets and a small collection of children's books that were too precious to part with, A Kiss for Little Bear being one of them.   At the time it felt like a freedom and a door opening, even though nothing in Big Sur turned out as I had anticipated.  Still, in the years since my return from California, I've been able to get on with my life in ways both meaningful and heart-opening.
So the unexpected twinge of wanting a child startled me...but this time, only for a moment.

Earlier that morning I was answering emails and received a link to YouTube from a friend who lives in India.  Kashyap and his wife, Kruti, are Satish and Danta's uncle and aunt.  There's no word for "cousin" in their culture, so Kashyap and Kruti's daughter, Kashti, is considered to be my pals' sister...and they are her brothers. 
We met on a sunny Saturday several years ago at the Sharma's where Kashti and I sat near the fireplace, playing with Legos and reading books.  Kashti soon joined my Yoga for Kids class at her Montessori school, so I was blessed to see her every week...and even on the weekends when she joined Satish, Danta, and me for a play date that was always filled with laugher.  One hot, sunny afternoon, everyone came over to my house for an ice cream party and Kashti squealed with delight when she met my kitten, Aditi (which means "Mother of the sun" in Hindi).  
We all celebrated birthdays and Easter, Christmas and Halloween, and everything in-between until it was time for her family to move back to Gujarat in June of 2014.   Since then we've stayed in touch via the Internet and snail mail, but it's not the same as holding Kashti on my lap while reading her a book or singing a song or listening to her tell me a story.  So when Kashyap sent the YouTube video of a now very-grown-up Kashti sharing a creation she had made with Legos (a little house for a black cat just like Aditi), I cried tears of joy to hear her sweet voice, for then and now, she's like a daughter to me. 

While I waited for my turn at the doctor's office, I thought of Kashti...and Satish and Danta and Neela and Amita...children who may not be mine by birth, but are in my life so I can give and receive love that knows no limits -- not even the 7,800 miles between Gujarat and Ohio.   Someday the little sweater sets I've saved will be gifted to the kids, and all of the books are still in rotation in the basket in the backseat of my car so Satish and Danta can enjoy them over and over again.  Alas...I cannot find my copy of A Kiss for Little Bear, so I must have passed it on to a child who loved it as much as I do; otherwise, I would be sending it to my little one across the ocean in India.  
So here's a kiss for Kashti who has opened my heart that much more to the realization that mothering can come in all forms...and while I may not give birth to a baby of my own, I can nurture and love all of the extraordinary children who come into my life.
What an incredible awareness.

With Kashti, June, 2014
You can view her darling video here.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Sweaty guy

On Friday night I was sitting between my pals, Satish and Danta, enjoying  a wonderful dinner of Indian cuisine when Danta asked, "Can you stay and watch Sweaty Guy tonight?"
We were celebrating a belated Christmas, so Danta was excited to pop The Year Without a Santa Claus into the DVD player.  When he was little, he couldn't remember the name of the show, but as the Heat Miser was a memorable character, Danta gave him a brand new nickname.  Thus, Sweaty Guy became the alternate moniker for one of our favorite holiday movies.
"Sure," I nodded.  "I can stay as long as you'd like."
Satish gave me a sly smile.  "Okay...well, only for three years."
I turned to him.  "Oh, how sweet!  Is that all?  How about five?"
"It could be for only three seconds,Satish deadpanned.
I laughed out loud, wistfully acknowledging that my sassy friend will soon be a pre-teenager. 
Later on, after the boys had opened the sweaters I had made for them (in U of M and Michigan State colors), their mother wanted to take a picture of the three of us.
Satish threw his arms around me and beamed, "Let's pretend we like each other!" 
What a joy to see both the little boy he used to be mingled with the young man he's slowly becoming.  It's the first time I've been able to watch the slow, steady progression of growth in children I cherish, and I'm often surprised by how the little changes in both of the boys only make me love them that much more.
Once Danta and Satish had donned their pajamas, they created a little nest on the floor with blankets and pillows, then invited me to join them like I did when they were little.  It's been a couple of years since we've been able to find some downtime to chill out in front of the television, so I enjoyed every single moment, knowing that the years will pass by all-too-soon and someday they'll be more interested in hanging out with their friends.
 I've been delighted to spend more time with the Sharmas this year.  Satish's soccer games are on my winter calendar and I'll be picking him up from school in a couple of weeks to celebrate his eleventh birthday.  Nine-year-old Danta and I enjoy working on puzzles and reading books and making each other laugh until we snort.  His big sister, Neela, and I are looking forward to spending some time together in early February and when the oldest, Amita, comes back from an overseas trip, I'm sure we'll have plenty to talk about. 
The girls are both in high school and busy with band and lacrosse and a host of other activities, so I've spent most of my time over the years with the boys...kicking a soccer ball, teaching them how to play tennis, and shooting baskets in their backyard.  We've played countless games of chess, read dozens of books, and had sleepovers when we talked long past bedtime.  I've driven them to soccer practice and cheered them on during their matches.  As I grew up with sisters who didn't really like to get sweaty, it's been a unique pleasure to enjoy the often rough and tumble world of little boys who don't mind getting dirty.
I don't long as I can clean up afterwards. 

When Danta was in kindergarten, I spent the night when his parents went out for the evening.   After a boisterous day of playing in the snow and a lively evening wrestling in the living room, the fellas were due for a quick clean-up before bedtime.  
Satish and I were sitting in the hallway playing "Hangman" outside of the bathroom while Danta took a bucket bath. ("It's an Indian thing," Satish explained.  "To save water.")  
"Hey, Katie!" Danta exclaimed.  "Come look at me!"
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. 
Later that night when it was time to go to sleep, the boys curled up with their blankets on the floor of the guest room so we could all be together.  Once the lights were turned out, Danta took a shuddering breath, asking,  “When’s Mummy coming home?”
I could instantly hear the tears in his voice, knowing bedtime would be hard for Danta.  While he was fine to play and have fun during the day without his mother, nighttime was when he most wanted her near.
Glancing at the clock radio, I said, “She should be home in about an hour or so.”
“Is that long?”
“Not really,” I told him gently.  “And I’ll be right here.”
I turned on the nightlight and the room was bathed in the soft, orange glow of a tiny plastic basketball.  When I climbed into the twin bed and got comfortable, Satish was well on his way to falling asleep, but I could hear Danta whimpering.
“Mummy,” he softly cried.  “I want Mummy.”
Leaning down to stroke the hair away from his forehead, damp with sweat, I whispered, “Do you want to come up here with me until she gets home?”
He nodded eagerly.  Leaving his blankets and stuffed animals behind, Danta climbed into the small bed and cuddled close.  “Mummy,” he cried again.   
I soothingly rubbed his head.  “I know you miss Mummy,” I whispered.  “She’ll be back soon.  And I’m right here…I’m right here.” 
We whispered about all of the fun we had that day, the snow angels he and Satish had made, the silly snowman whose eyes kept falling off, no matter how many times Danta tried to fix them.  He soon relaxed and fell asleep in my arms, but by morning, had found his way back to his parents' room while Satish and I dozed as sunlight slowly filtered into the room.  I lay there remembering the scrappy little girl I used to be who was often afraid when my mother was gone, who didn't want to be upstairs in our house alone, who was often frightened of the unfamiliar, the inexperienced.  
After all of these years, I find that Danta and I are still very much alike.  Even though we're getting better at sweating through the challenges, it's still a comfort to know that we're surrounded by people who understand us, who don't mind our quirks and silly sense of humor.  Who love us unconditionally, no matter what.
So here's to my little sweaty guy who brings so much joy to my life...and teaches me that to be childlike is a doorway to the divine.

My little sweaty guy, Danta, making snow angels in his backyard.

Saturday, January 2, 2016

Confessions of an outgoing introvert

As the new year dawned yesterday morning, I woke up and did what I've been doing nearly every day since Christmas Eve: exactly nothing.  It's been a wonderful week and a half of peace and quiet, save for the fireworks that woke me up at midnight on January first.  I had been out and about for the better part of New Year's Eve, so after a late dinner, I was in bed by ten-thirty.  I'm no party pooper, just enjoying the best part of wintertime -- sustained silence.
I could get used to not working.  In fact, I've absolutely surprised myself by staying out of my yoga studio and away from the computer for the better part of a week.  This time last year I had already made and wrapped presents for the 2015 holiday season, cleaned the house from top to bottom, and spent a couple dozen hours researching at the library.
But not this year...and the best part is I don't feel guilty at all for fully enjoying my "stay-cation" at home. 

As many of you know, I love, love, love to talk.  In fact, nearly every day this past week, I've had coffee dates with friends and run into folks at the gym where we chat while lifting weights or trotting on the treadmill.  Even complete strangers engage me in curiously fascinating conversations and I come home pondering a host of ideas and opportunities.  I enjoy it all.
But it wears me out.
Over coffee last week, a friend suggested a fascinating book called Quiet:  The Power of Introverts in a World that Can't Stop Talking.  I immediately picked up a copy and have been reading it ever since.  Thoroughly researched and articulately written, the author, Susan Cain, describes me to a "T".  So far, the quote with which I resonate the most is: It's okay to cross the street to avoid making small talk.  Yes, I'm a talker, but I cannot stand talking with someone just to hear myself speak...and vice versa. 
I suppose I've always been this way.  In first grade, I clearly remember talking to Billy Klatt when I was supposed to be finishing a writing assignment.  He was a year older than me and lived a few houses away from mine, so we knew each other better than the other kids in class.  I have no memory of what we were chatting about, but I do remember that he was as interested in talking with me as I was with him, which resulted in Mrs. Bureau assigning us a writing penalty because, even though we kept our voices down, we were supposed to be quiet. 
Even then, I preferred the intimacy of one-on-one conversations to the boisterous back-and-forth on the playground.   While the girls were jumping rope and the boys were playing tag, I sat as far away from the mayhem on a cement cinder-block, writing in a three-ring-notebook, imagining I was Harriet the Spy.  Surprisingly enough, I was joined not by the girls, but by a few quiet boys who made me laugh.  In the classroom, they were shy and didn't raise their hands at all, but with me on the playground, they talked about GI Joes and baseball and how they hoped we wouldn't have to get on the trampoline in gym class because that was the worst:  being up there by yourself while the whole class stood around watching you bounce around and try not to twist your ankle. 
I couldn't agree more.
As time went on, I became know as "Katie the Bookworm" or "Katie the Goody-Goody", which made me want to cloister even more.  Sure, I was friendly and chatty with my friends.  I raised my hand and answered questions in the classroom.  Still, any kind of group setting mortified me.  And sometimes it still does.

It's ironic that I've spent the better part of my adult life in front of a classroom.  I teach and nurture and guide my students.  I listen to their questions, then try to provide a clear answer.  I'm often called upon for advice or suggestions, which is just fine with me...except that it hasn't made me the listener I want to be because I'm always at the ready with a response. 
It's my intention that this year will manifest many things, the greatest of which will be the shedding of what my friend, Kendall, calls "the people I used to be".  In September I'll hit my Chiron return, which means that if I've learned the lessons from the past, I'll be able to move forward into that which I've been imagining for the past decade.  After all I've experienced in the past four years in particular, I'm hopeful that will be the case.  In any event, I'm working toward being a different kind of teacher, allowing the writer in me to move forward and stand side-by-side with the instructor.  For it's in these quiet moments alone in my creativity that I find the greatest solace.  Perhaps then I'll be able to let go of my tendency to have a response for everything and simply listen for the answer inherent in my students' questions.
Yes, I'm an outgoing introvert, but I'm also shifting into someone who now understands she cannot change the world, but can transform my little one day by day...quiet choice by quiet choice.