Thursday, January 26, 2017

Turn the page once more

Yesterday was Satish’s twelfth birthday and when I called to wish him a happy one, I happened to be in my office, looking at a photograph that was taken when he was only five.  Grinning impishly at the camera, Satish proudly wears the first of many sweaters I have knit for him, a lovely creation he helped me design.  It’s a bittersweet thing to know that next year he’ll be in junior high.  In six more, he’ll be getting ready to go to college.  But in-between now and then, I’ll enjoy every single Tuesday morning when I get up early to drive him and Danta to school.  Every soccer game.  Every chess match.  Every. Single. Moment.
Here’s a blog to celebrate all the years we’ve been friends…and all the years to come.

Turn the page
Originally published on May 21, 2014

A couple of weeks ago I was driving my little pal, Satish, home from a yoga session.  As many of you know, we met when he was four.  He joined my yoga classes when he was in kindergarten.  And now, as a third grader, Satish has been my stalwart assistant this year.  It's a joy to watch him grow from an apprehensive and shy little fella to a boisterous and hilarious part of our yoga practice.  Whether he's helping with a craft, passing out healthy snacks, or simply tying a little one's sneakers, Satish has been an integral part of our classes.
On the way home, he asked, "Can fourth graders do yoga at West Side?"
I glanced at him in the rear-view mirror.  "No...we've tried to get a class going for the older kids, but it's not been successful."  Seeing the disappointment on his face, I then said, "I know you'll be busy with schoolwork next year, but if you'd like, you're welcome to still assist me."
Satish nodded.  "Let's keep that open as an option."  He then went back to the Harry Potter book he was reading.
The car was silent for a while and every so often, I'd check the rear-view mirror to see his brow furrowed in concentration.  To watch him carefully turn the page of the enormous book whose binding needed repair.  At a stop light, I looked over my shoulder and was startled for a moment.
"Oh man, Satish," I said.  "You've really grown up this year...with your new teeth and your glasses...and you've grown at least three inches.  Where does time go?"
He shrugged and went back to his book.  I went back to keeping my eyes on the road, but for the rest of the ride, I kept thinking about how quickly the past four and half years have flown by.  How I've known Satish through preschool and primary grades.  Through countless haircuts and skinned knees.  Through a host of soccer practices and games.  Guitar lessons.  Watching him learn how to read.  I thought about our marathon Monopoly games.  The way he consistently beats me at chess.
In many ways, I'd love to stop time and simply enjoy him while he's young.  But I know I can't.  

When I was a first grade teacher, my kids would get antsy this time of year.  Summer vacation loomed large and spring fever was a constant diversion.  We'd count down the last ten days on the school calendar, all the while reviewing the year behind us.  I'd often ask my kids what they learned beyond the academics.  Beyond learning how to read and write and count by fives and tens.  Many of them talked about their love of learning a bit of German.  Others enjoyed the field trips to the Toledo Museum of Art and the zoo.  Some commented on how they learned to get along with each other, despite their many differences.  And one child even asked me what I learned from them.
The list is entirely too long to write here.
But I realize now the great sadness for me was letting them go...these six and seven-year-olds who had been in my care.  Sure they'd stop by my classroom in the morning for a hug and a "hello" on their way to second or third grade.  I'd see them at the Pumpkin Run in the fall and the carnival each spring.  But I wouldn't get to watch them grow up.  Not really.  And in many ways, my former students are lodged in my memory as children. 
That is until they "friend" me on Facebook and I witness what seems like an automatic transition into adulthood.  It's almost like ripping off a Band-Aid -- this instant realization that so many years have gone by.

Perhaps that's why I've been reveling in my time with Satish and his little brother, Danta.  I get to watch them grow up, week by week.  Month by month.  Year by year.  I'm right up front to see them lose teeth and write letters to Santa.  I get to drive them to soccer practice and cheer for them at school performances.  Like the flowers I tend in my garden, I get to be a small part in their growth...and I love every single moment. 
On Monday while Danta and I were standing in the field waiting for his practice to start,  I saw a child who looked familiar.  "Hey...that could be one of my kids," I said.
"What kid?" Danta asked.
"One of my former first graders," I explained.  Then I took a closer look.  "Nah...he's too young.  Some of my kids are in their late twenties and early thirties!"
Danta wrinkled his brow.  "How can that work?"
"What do you mean?"
"Well...they get older a lot, but you don't."
I shrugged.  "Every year we each add a number to our age."
"I know that," Danta replied.  "But they get a lot older, and you don't."
"Maybe that's because kids grow and I've been the same height since I was eleven."
Danta shook his head.  "No...what I mean is that they're old and you're not."
I gave him a playful smile.  "Well, thanks for that, pal.  Must be all the yoga I practice."
I've been thinking a lot about my kids this week.  The ones I taught at Heywood Elementary in Troy, Ohio back in the late eighties.  The ones I taught at Greenwood for ten years.  My yoga kids at West Side where I've been since 2000 sharing my love of the practice.  There have been hundreds of little ones I've had the privilege to learn watch grow up right before my eyes.  I've known some of them from the time they were born.  Some of them I've met just this year.  But all of them are a joy and wonder, each child a blessing (sometimes in disguise). 
As I let go of another school year and look forward to a summer of teaching adult classes and writing another novel, I'm also looking forward to tennis lessons with Satish and Danta.  To afternoons fishing with them and my friend, Lisa.  To sleepovers and hours spent playing board games on rainy days.  And in many ways, our fun is just beginning as it changes shape from one form to another.
I'm so very thankful that as my little friends turn the page on another year in their lives, I get to walk along beside them, gently letting go of the things we once did when they were little and opening new doors of wonder that they will walk through in the experience of growing older.
And always I'll keep in mind Danta's wise know that getting older is not a choice, but growing old certainly is.  Perhaps that's the greatest joy in working with children...the opportunity to be child-like and playful at any age.
What an incredible lesson.