Last week I did something I swore I'd never do. Yet, persuaded by a couple of little men in my life, I found out that yelling at the television during an action-packed basketball game can be quite cathartic.
On Friday when I picked up Satish and Danta from school, Danta eagerly asked, "Did Mummy give you our message that we want to skip Mr. Freeze and go straight home?"
"Yes," I nodded. "I knew something had to be pretty awesome to miss out on ice cream, but then I remembered it's March Madness."
Danta beamed, "Michigan State is playing Tennessee in the first round and we don't want to miss the second half."
"We'll get there before halftime," I smiled, glancing at the clock on the dashboard.
Danta is a HUGE State fan, so I knew he couldn't wait to get home. Satish was looking forward to the University of Michigan game that night (even though he told me they weren't ranked very high), but to him, any game during March Madness isn't to be missed. Sure enough, the minute I pulled into the driveway and put the car in park, the boys had unbuckled their seatbelts, grabbed their backpacks, then made a mad dash to the front door. Seconds later, the TV was on and we were dismayed to see that State was behind a few points.
"Oh, don't worry about it," I said, unzipping my boots. "They have half a game to go."
Danta made himself a Nutella sandwich while Satish crumbled cookies into a bowl filled with milk. Then we all sat on pins and needles watching the Spartans battle it out with the Blue Raiders. Once his snack was finished, Satish bounced a basketball around the living room to quell his nervous energy, easily sinking shots into a hoop over the doorway to the entrance hall. After a particularly intense play, he stood right in front of the screen with his hands on his hips.
"Hey, Satish!" I said cheerfully. "Move over...I can't see the game." Immediately I thought, Who the heck just said that?
You see, I'm what you'd call a mediocre sports fan. I can take it or leave it, but if people I care about are cheering on their players, I'm right there enjoying their enthusiasm. Still, it was a first to yell at the television as if the players could actually hear me. But Satish's energy was infectious, so soon we were hooting and hollering as the game quickly sprinted toward the last five minutes.
I looked over at Danta and his face darkened as he was more than worried his team might be in trouble. Usually bubbling over with excitement, Danta continued to be uncharacteristically quiet as any hope for a turnover quickly diminished.
"They need to score some three pointers...fast!" Satish said, sinking another basket.
"Yeah!" I cried. "Rebound! Come on! Rebound!"
As the clock ran out, Danta sat on the couch, curling up into a ball. Once the buzzer went off, I glanced at my little pal and saw his chin quiver. Then he covered his face with his hands and rubbed his eyes. I looked to Satish and he shrugged, not knowing what to do. I waited for a moment to see if Danta would say anything, and when he didn't, I crossed the room and sat next to him. As I gently put my arm around his shoulder, I took off his glasses so they wouldn't get in the way of his tears.
For a long time we sat in silence while the post-game interviews dragged on. Danta barely made a sound, but the tears kept falling, so I held him closer and whispered, "It's alright to feel sad. I know how excited you were to watch your team play. To have them lose in the first round...that's got to be hard."
"Yeah," Danta whimpered.
"It's disappointing when you had such high hopes at the beginning and they got crushed so quickly, huh?"
"I know how that feels," I said, kissing the top of his head. "That happened to me recently and I've cried about it, too."
Danta sniffled and wiped his eyes. "Most of the Seniors are graduating, so next year they won't have as good a chance."
Satish nodded solemnly. "Yeah, but some years are team building years, so that's how next season could be. You never know...next year State could be the underdog."
"I'm sure all the Spartans are upset right now," I told Danta. "And so are all the fans of the other top-seeded teams who lost this week. It's been a strange first round."
"Yeah...it's totally messed up everybody's brackets," Satish said sadly. "All these upsets...well, that's why they call it March Madness. Anything can happen."
"Yep, that's the truth," I replied. "Say, speaking of games, Danta...will I see you Satish's soccer game this weekend?"
He shook his head. "I have a game at the same time."
"You do?" I asked. "I should come to yours then because you don't have that many and I've been to all of Satish's."
"You came to the one in Perrysburg," Danta said.
"Yeah, that was when I drove you and your friend and he said I was the craziest woman he'd ever met."
Danta smiled through his tears. "Oh yeah!"
"Did he mean crazy as in really nuts or crazy as in I'm a little strange?" I asked.
"Crazy like you're a weirdo," Danta giggled.
I burst out laughing. "Well, that's alright with me."
"Yeah," Satish chimed in. "'Cause you know weird is the new cool."
I gave Danta a silly smile. "If weird is the new cool, then you and I are coolest people in this whole house."
Danta laughed out loud. "Yeah, we sure are!"
When I was a child, my mother was often exasperated with my incessant shenanigans. If I wasn't chasing my sisters with a fist full of worms, I was arguing with her at the top of my lungs. Or perhaps I was sequestering myself in the basement to read a book while the rest of the family was upstairs watching television. Maybe I was being a sassypants or a smartypants or even a pain in the ass because I was bored, angry, or frustrated.
Mom told me on more than one occasion, "I hope you have a daughter exactly like you someday!"
"Me, too," I sassed back. "Because then I'll understand how she feels and will know how to raise her."
I don't remember how Mom responded to my retort, but I do recall consciously filing that comment into my memory banks and pulling it out whenever I taught a little girl who reminded me of my often-sensitive, sometimes-ornery little self from years gone by. I practiced patience. I let the child speak her mind when she needed to. I often held her on my lap and just let her cry. One year in particular, several girls were my personality doppelgangers and it was sometimes overwhelming to be confronted with a Mini Me in every row of students.
In the end, I didn't really need to give birth to a daughter just like me because I taught dozens of them. And thanks to Lauren, Chelsea, Kayla, Crystal, Samantha, and a host of other incredible little girls, I was given the unique opportunity to meet myself year after year, child after child...moment by moment as they all became like my own kids while they were in my classroom.
What fun that even though I've long since let go of my teaching days, the learning never ends.
Satish is very much like the adult I've evolved into during the past twenty years, but he had me beat when he was four years old and we met in his preschool class. I remember watching him work with younger children, marveling at this kindness, clarity, and sweet sense of humor. Even now I don't really think of him as a kid...he's more like my contemporary and I listen closely to everything he says, for there's never a time when he doesn't come up with a hilarious one-liner or a bit of wisdom that allows me to see the bigger picture.
But Danta's different.
Our birthdays are only one day apart, so it's not all that difficult to understand when he's a chatterbox and it's hard for him to finish is dinner. Or when he has a million and one things he wants to do and has a difficult time choosing what to tackle first. I laugh my butt off when Danta reads stories in hilarious dialects and diligently work with him on tricky puzzles until every single piece is put into place. We yell at the top of our lungs when we're outside playing baseball or soccer or basketball, then have to remember to use our inside voices when we come in for a game of Monopoly.
Danta is sweet and silly and sensitive and unique. We both wear glasses and our hearts on our sleeves. We love books, warm blankets, and long conversations. He's a lively reminder of the little girl I used to be...just in shin guards and short hair. Well, actually he and I are letting our hair grow this year, so there's another thing we have in common.
When Danta was upset about the Spartan's loss and let me hold him while he was crying, I thought about my mother's gentle admonishment that I should have a child just like me. I might not be Danta's mother, but if I had a child, he'd be as close as I could get to a little boy who mirrors so much of who I used to be...and who I can still embody today. Every time we play together, it's as if I become a little girl again, overjoyed to walk hand-in-hand with a kindred spirit so much like myself. Someone who embraces my inner-weirdo and all of my silly quirks. Someone who makes me smile just by being there.
Someone I couldn't love more even if he were my own son.