Saturday, July 19, 2014

Holding on While Letting Go: Watching 12 years old become 13

I'm watching it happen right in front of me. There is a boy, lanky and lean, like a set of sinews pinned together at key points, and he is moving through a shaft of early morning light, breathing in and raising his arms, stretching his long back, tipping his head back and looking up at the bamboo and grass roof far above his head.

The bugs and birds are singing, the jungle is waking up. The roosters are incessant, but the heat hasn't started yet. The wide teak floor is smooth and cool all around him, as bodies, at least twice his age, move silently all around him.

Oh holy hamstrings, its a good thing he's starting young. Dylan takes Ethan into the next three postures.

When he exhales and moves back, his pointy elbows jut up toward the ceiling like shark teeth and his body, too long for how much strength he has, flops in sections to the mat. 

There is an awkward grace to his entire Surya Namaskar A, but when he jumps forward, he is suddenly light, and free. He looks up as he lands and his bright, clear blue eyes are not twelve but sixteen. He looks like he is watching the horizon from the water, the intensity of those sea colored eyes matching only the happiness that he has discovered while being pushed forward on the wave. 

I knew it was coming. And it's not all the way here, but its creeping in. There are glimmers and glimpses of this big hearted man living in the skin of my giraffe like son. And there are glimmers of the cat that lives inside of him slowly edging out the giraffe. 

It used to be that we would play balance games, but the fun of the game was pretending you were falling down. Yesterday, Ethan took a surfing lesson on the beach in Kuta, Bali. And his instructors, who struggled so valiantly to help Bodhi find himself last summer, looked at me with big eyes and said, "He's really good at this. Ethan should come back. He can take this seriously if he wants to."

And I thought to myself, okay, reign it in, Kate. As excited as I am about that thought, it only matters if Ethan loves it. And one lesson does not show the whole experience. So I walked away and pretended not to care, and thought, Ethan will tell me if he likes it. And Ethan came out of the water smiling and ecstatic and said, "Hey mom, I know what the Gecko meant." 

In Bali, everything is an omen. Bugs that fly near you are spirits, devas, that bring what you need and take what you don't. Geckos are protectors and bearers of good luck, they rarely climb onto a person, but when they do, their thin golden shield spreads around you, blessing you. 

That morning, on the motorbike on the way to breakfast, a young gecko, probably about Ethan's age in gecko years, had appeared, resting on his ankle. He stayed there for the entire ride, Ethan glancing down in wonder at this creature, happily suckered onto his leg. 

Ethan finding his bliss in Bali

"I think I know what the gecko meant, mom. It was about surfing. I'm not sure how, if it meant I would get to go surfing, or find my sport, or realize I was good at surfing or what, but the Gecko was my blessing for surfing."
"So, us, do you want to come tomorrow?" I toss it out there, casually, like whatever. My heart is hoping for him that he has found this. To love a sport like surfing from such a young age... that would mean freedom when he was a big kid. 

He turned, tired and sunburnt and looked at me, surprised. "Could I?"

"Yes, it would mean that you have to get a ride from one of the instructors that lives here and go by yourself to Kuta with him. You'd be by yourself most of the day, because I have to work this week. Would you want to do that?"

He was nodding before I finished talking.

Now I'm sitting in the back of the Ashtanga Yoga Research Center in Bali, which is my very favorite place to practice yoga in the world, because it is my birthplace at the strict hands of Rhada and the gentle smile of Prem, watching Ethan move into Sun Salutation B. My great friend Dylan has become Ethan's first teacher, and it is my job to let that practice be his own. 

I can feel myself hoping he is working hard for his teacher, I can feel myself wanting to want him to take it seriously, because I know what a gift it can become for him, a through line of gentle strength. A community. A base for his physical self and a respite for his mind when he's working a problem in the robotics lab. A haven from his girlfriend and a place to meet one. Because I am not practicing today, I am trying not to watch Ethan as he does or does not do what Dylan is telling him to do.  This is his second class. I am looking down the line too far. Let him be, let him be, let him be. 

Suddenly, Ethan is my young boy again. Does he know what it means to take something seriously? To pay attention? He did this one on his own as well. He came to the shala with me and watched one day, and he thought about it, and then he asked Dylan if he would teach him. 

And he's doing it. I can see his hamstrings, like tight, angry chords, keeping him from reaching the floor, and I can see him not giving up, trying again, and not being that attached at the same time. He's just in there doing yoga, and that's the right way. Whatever way it is, its between Ethan and Dylan, and I have nothing to do with it. They made a pact, and the agreement was a serious one. 

Half Giraffe, Half Cat, all Ethan.

Ethan is taking up the practice of becoming a man. And taking up the Ashtanga practice, well, that is something that many grownups struggle with. When you take up this practice, you take up a daily commitment to this, it becomes a part of your becoming, it becomes as obvious as eating, sleeping, and brushing your teeth. But it never ever becomes easy. 

So Ethan and Dylan had a chat after lunch, and Ethan took up the practice. He took up the practice of doing his homework, of brushing his teeth, of going to sleep when it is sleeping time, of putting down his book, he took up the practice of being responsible for his own things, he took up the practice of being on time, he took up the practice of becoming his own man, he took up the practice of Ashtanga. He signed the contract with Dylan and he is in there working hard and wondering, I am sure, why he signed up. 

And today after class he will realize again just why. After his first day he said, "I don't know why but I feel so good after class! I feel light and free and happy. It was hard, it made the skin on my hands hurt, but I love it."

And after surfing for the first time, "You know I think yoga and surfing go really well together. You press up into up dog, and then you jump up into something from a sun salutation on your board, it feels just like yoga. I think the yoga helps, you know?" I do know. 

And with all of this becoming of a man, at the end of the day, we go to the Ombak Bali film festival to watch the surf movies free on the beach with cold Bintang in our hands (teh botol for the boys), and glinting around Ethan's neck is a heavy silver curl from Drifter Surf Shop in Seminyak, the sign of safe passage over water. We celebrated after our long day with apple pie and coffee. 

I'm sitting there on my hard plastic chair, looking at him, lanky and sun bronzed and confident, a little gnarly sand rash on his bony hip, and wondering, did I miss my chance? Is all the cuddling over? Is he suddenly and irrevocably past a certain point? Did I just watch it happen?

And then he goes running down the beach and throws a toy into the air, and I hear his old silly laugh and I see him trip over a dog, gangly still... I may have a few more months. I don't think I missed it. But I love meeting him as he begins to see who he can be. 

1 comment:

Rowena said...

Awesome post - and my goodness, the yoga helps! (You'll still get the cuddles. You'll always get the cuddles because you're an incredible mother who leaves that door open to them both no matter what. Lucky boys!) xx