Monday, June 13, 2016

Double take

Last Friday I went to the eye doctor for a long-overdue checkup.  While registering at the reception desk, I was asked to fill out a few forms, including one for HIPPA.  Writing my full, legal name, I glanced at the question to the right of the line and thought it read “Middle Child  ­­­___ yes   ___ no”. 
Squinting, I laughed.  “Oh, that says minor child, not middle child.  Had to do a double take there.  Man, I really need a new contact prescription!”
“Good thing you’re here, then,” the receptionist cheerfully replied.
 Nodding, I said, “I was wondering why in the world you’d need to know that yes, indeed I am a middle child…or can’t you tell by our brief conversation?”
An hour or so later, I walked out with some pretty amazing new contacts and a pair of glasses on order.  I was delighted that the doctor spared me the dilation process for a couple of weeks as Satish and Danta’s oldest sister, Leena, was graduating from high school that night and I didn’t want to miss the ceremony.  I’m always overly sensitive to light after dilation, and since the graduation was being held outside, I wasn’t sure I’d be able to see anything behind my dark, Jackie Onassis sunglasses. 
Later that evening as I listened to the high school orchestra playing a few selections while guests arrived, I had to look twice at the conductor.  Checking the program, I realized that he was one of my former yoga kids.  Right before the ceremony began I walked over to speak with him.
“Do you recognize me?” I asked, taking off my sunglasses. 
Poom cocked his head, narrowing his eyes.  A long moment passed before he brightened.  “Yoga…?  Right?”  Then he burst into laughter.  “Oh, my gosh!  Katie!”  Hugging me close he said, “It’s great to see you!  How long has it been?”
“Too long,” I replied. 
Moments later the graduates filed in and as I stood near the aisle, I was able to see each one clearly as they passed by.  A lovely young woman looked vaguely familiar, but I couldn’t place her.  Once we were all seated, I glanced at the program, scanning the names of the students.  Once I saw Alafair’s name, I was instantly taken back more than a dozen years to my early days teaching yoga at West Side Montessori.  I had Alafair’s older brother first, then she joined us when she was three.  Now eighteen-years-old, Alafair still has the same gorgeous blue eyes and inquisitive smile…two reasons I lent her uniquely elegant name to a minor character in A Tapestry of Truth
During the ceremony, I was surprised that the keynote speaker, an English and history teacher at Leena’s school, was a former yoga student of mine in the early 2000’s.  Instantly recognizing Tom’s voice, I knew we were in for a real treat, and I wasn’t disappointed.  
After briefly listing the quintessential quotes that appear in most commencement speeches, Tom followed up with, “Here’s the most important thing to remember about life:  it’s not all about you.”  Then he went on to humorously, yet clearly define what he meant.  “Want to know the best way to experience life?  Put your phones down.  The danger of technology is that it makes you think you’re the center of it all…and you’re not.  All that time you spend checking to see how many likes you’ve gotten on a Facebook post or an Instagram picture isn’t what life it about.  Even the word ‘selfie’ reeks of self-centeredness.”
Pulling a flip phone from his pocket, Tom declared, “In my whole life, I’ve probably only sent ten text messages on this thing.”
Ah, a kindred spirit, I thought.
“Want to know who you really are?” he asked the Seniors.  “Live for others.  Find out who others are in order to find out who you are.”

Tom shared another gem, which I’ll write about in a blog later this month, but it was the belief that we should live for others which struck me as incredibly significant.  That…and Tom’s admonition that the Seniors should look back on their academic lives to give high praise and thanks to their early childhood teachers who taught them how to read, write, and tie their shoes. 
I spent most of my twenties and early thirties with first graders, teaching them how to count and color in the lines and clean up after themselves.  Then, in my early forties, I spent some time as a preschool and kindergarten teacher.  Of course I focused on the assigned curriculum, but it was equally important that I impart lessons about how to be a good friend, to take responsibility for their actions, and to be trustworthy.  It was my intention to offer pathways of learning to the whole child, not just their intellect, but their hearts and spirits as well.
These days when I run into a former student, one who is now ten, twelve, or even twenty, they often have to do a double take or have their parent remind them, “This is Yoga Katie”, or “This was your preschool teacher.”
Their eyes light up as they smile in recognition, then they usually say something like, “Remember when you taught me how to breathe like a bunny?” or “Remember when you fell off that stool and just kept right on teaching?  That was so funny!” or “Remember that monkey puppet that taught us handwriting?  It was so cool that he was left-handed just like me!” 
I truly love it when they remember something I taught them, something that’s stuck in their psyche and is now second nature like how to write their name in cursive…or castle their king when playing chess…or say “Good morning” in German.  For it was the tiny moments, the day-to-day experiences that had a culminating effect on each one of them…and me.  They remember sitting in my lap while I dried their eyes.  Laughing until they nearly fell over while I read a hilarious chapter from a Junie B. Jones book.  Sprinting like the wind while I cheered them on at the Pumpkin Run.
I spent what seems like another lifetime living for my students, and in turn, was able to more deeply understand who I am. 

Now that I’m out of the classroom, the only kids I consistently spend time with are Satish and Danta.  The other night while pitching them a few balls, Danta mercilessly teased me as I routinely missed home plate by a mile.
“Aw, Ka-tie!” he shouted while swinging the bat.  “Do over!”
“Yeah, yeah,” I laughed.  “Give me a break…it’s hard to pitch in flip flops.”
“Don’t we have a cubby for you where you keep another pair of shoes?” Satish asked. (We don’t wear shoes in the Sharma’s house, so there’s a wonderful cubby shelf in the garage that stores a host of sneakers, sandals, and the like.)
“Nope,” I replied.  “I mean, yes, there’s a cubby for me, but I only have slippers in there.” 
“Oh well,” Satish shrugged.  “You’re doing the best you can.”
“Yeah!” I smiled.  “You hear that, Danta?  I’m doing the best I can!”
Danta giggled.  “I know, I know…but I still get a do over!”
“Of course!” I said, throwing one in the strike zone. 
Danta swung and smacked it high over Satish’s head.  Then, taking an abbreviated route around some imaginary bases, Danta ran back to “home” and did a little happy dance.
Tossing me the ball, Satish shook his head.  “He always does that.”
“We’re not keeping score, are we?” I asked.
“Nah,” he said, shaking his head.  “We’re just having fun.”
Glancing over my shoulder I had to look twice, for Satish has grown a few inches since last fall.  His face is slowly changing shape and I know in a few short years his voice will deepen.
“I was just thinking how I met you six years ago,” I told him.  “And in six years from now, you’ll be starting your Senior year in high school.”  Then I looked at Danta.  “And you’ll be a Freshman!”
Danta beamed.  “Oh, yeah!”
“Okay, then it’s time for you to stop growing up,” I winked, teasing them.  “I’d love for you to stay little forever.”
“I know, but we can’t,” Danta smiled. 
“Yeah, but we’ll still always have a lot of fun, won’t we?” I replied, gently knocking his shoulder.
“Yep!” he shouted, heading back to home base.
As twilight fell, we played until it was time for me to go home.  Driving back to my little house in the Heartland, I thought once more about how much Danta is like the child I used to be and Satish is like the person I hope to become someday.  So maybe in more ways than one, I am a middle child, happily sandwiched in-between two boys who have shown me how wonderful it is to live for the moments when we can be together...and to know more clearly who I am through their eyes.


With one of my little ones in 2011.