Sunday, January 4, 2009

...Never Let it Fade Away

When I was in high school, the elementary school kids from our feeder school used to come up to our school in the wintertime for gym class. (They wanted to play basketball, I suppose?) Anyhow, when the kids were lined up in the breezeway and I had to pass by them on the way to the cafeteria or music class, a distinct sweet smell of innocence emulated from them into my nose. It wasn't like a huge sniff of baby powder or Johnson n Johnson No Tear Shampoo/Conditioner, but more like what a brand new baby smells like when you finally get to hold it for the first time. At the time, I didn't know it was the scent of a newborn since I didn't really know any newborns, but now, having the birth of my three nephews and niece under my belt-having held them just moments, hours old in my arms, I know that scent well. I think I decided that the scent of innocence begins to wear off as we get older, but when condensed-like the group of elementary school children huddled in a group in the breezeway-it's as strong as if holding a brand new baby.

I think of this now because the babies I know are getting older. When Jack-o was born (my cousin Lindsay's son), I watched them baptize him in the church, his reddish dusting of hair soaked to a dark ginger in the holy water. He has since had the most angelic face I have ever seen outside of paintings. There is a crisp, unblemished white to his skin with a blush of pink in his cheeks, clear blue eyes and a mop of dirty blonde hair. He is kind and sweet and funny. He 
has boundless energy. When I spent time with Jack over New Year's Eve and day, he taught me how to play "Crazy Eights;" he beat me at Connect Four about half a dozen times; we played the "You're Getting Warmer" game, tag, and the card games "War" and "Garbage." He piled all of his toys and blankets on me and even shared his two favorite stuffed animals "Puppy" and "Beary," which I'm told is a big deal.

I spent lots of time with Jack talking about school, friends, his role in the wedding, games, family...everything. It broke my heart to say "good-bye" to this little man. He's still only six-the age when he hasn't become mean or jaded, doesn't yet know what's considered "cool" or "uncool," the age when he's still into hanging out and playing innocent games with his Aunt Neesha...the age when he'll let me take pictures of us together like the one to my left and he'll still kiss me and hug me a dozen times when we're together because he's not a pre-teen yet and he's still in the super-affectionate-innocent phase.

Last night was my ten-year-old nephew Milan's night. I was eighteen years-old and at the hospital when he was born. I was still finishing high school when they brought him home and settled, screaming baby and all, into the bedroom next to mine. He was my alarm clock for the last three weeks of my senior year of high school and my first ever nephew. The first to sit in my lap and ask a dozen questions, to eat the whipped cream from the top of my cappuccino, the first to want to jump in bed with me if he was scared...the first for most things you can imagine.

He and my cousins, Gauri and Vidisha (also bridesmaids) came for dinner and Milan got "The Complete Guitar Hero World Tour" as a belated Diwali gift and remarked, "All of my friends wanted this game but none of them got it!" He talked about football players-by name, mind you-and what sports are his favorite to play: football, basketball, lacrosse, soccer. In that order. He told me he "grew out of taekwan do," but was still into "Club Penguin" (an online Second Life-type world of penguins that represent kids that parents have to sign their children up for). He asked me to sign up for Club Penguin so we could "hang out" (which, I guess, means he hasn't entirely outgrown me, right?).

He just got braces and doesn't even mind them. He wants to quit playing the piano, but knows one day he'll be glad he knows how and he's, currently, learning how to play the French horn, as well. Who is this kid??? Although, he never played like Jack does-with cards and dress up. He never had 'blankies' or played the hot/cold game. Instead, he liked train sets and go carts. He's loved birds and has a pet cockatiel named Russ. He's always loved birds.

He used to call all the time to chat or to tell me how Marathi school or a sport he was playing was going. Lately, the calls are less frequent and I lamented to his mother that I thought he was growing out of me now that he's pre-adolescent. She responded, "Oh no. He wants to call you all the time. I just tell him he can't because you're so busy. He'd call every day if I let him." Don't misunderstand, he still calls and leaves me messages on my cell phone sometimes, but now he's started to call me "Aunt Neesha" instead of "Neesha Maushi"-the Indian equivalent of "Aunt" which he grew up calling me. I don't correct him. It probably wouldn't be cool of me to do that and I'm worried about losing my cool in my nephew's eyes already. It's just a matter of time before someone tells him getting a PhD makes his favorite aunt a nerd. Then what will he think of me? My brother Kiran used to say he thought Milan was going to be "a huge dork that gets teased a lot." He has the potential to be a huge, bullied, dork, being brilliant (no exaggeration there) and all, yet he has made a choice that reminds me of the moment in the movie Spanglish when Paz Vega and Adam Sandler are discussing Paz putting her daughter in the same private school his daughter is in. He says that one of two things will happen if she does: she'll either be the weird kid or she'll fashion herself to be like everyone else. They think it's best to root for their children to be the weird ones, but Paz's daughter makes the choice to fashion herself to be like the others and ends up growing more distant from her own mother. 

Before Gauri, Milan's mother, left with him and V last night, I told her, "Next time he wants to call me, just let him. Any time. All the time. I always have time to talk to Mil."

Tonight's child, I can't claim for my own. Nya is in no way related to me, though I've known her since she was two-she's nearly four now. Instead, Nya is the god-daughter of a nurse that used to care for my grandmother. They both came to have dinner with us tonight and have come for holiday dinners in the past.

Nya is quieter than most children and deliberate in what she says and does. She is not liberal with her hugs or affection and when asked if you can have a hug, she will often say "no" unless she likes you. When she does say "yes," don't expect her to hug back, she just means "Yes. You may hug me" and steps into your open arms. 

Since she was two, she has wanted to take pictures with my camera, but until tonight her coordination failed her and the camera would nearly drop out of her hands so we didn't let her do it alone. The fact that she wanted to take pictures so much and was finally able to do so thrilled me. So I gave her my camera and the following is a montage of the photos she took in a five minute span of time. No alterations have been made and no one helped her. I did title them, though, according to what she said about them when we discussed her photos.

Photo One: Dessert and Flowers at the Table, and a Glass of Milk 
Photo Two: A Plate of Num-Num Cookies
Photo Three: an Angel, Some Sheep that Say "Baah," A Horse, Cow, Camel and Donkey

Photo Four: Close-Up on Lance-(the Female Turtle Inappropriately Named)

Photo Five: The Baby
Photo Six: "I Wanted a Picture of You"

They won't stay this way forever, as I can already see based on how they've changed over the last few years, and they certainly won't continue to see the world through close-ups and cares, the way Nya showed me she did, and so I try to get as much "kid-time" in as possible when I'm home, why I give them as many hugs and close sniffs as I can while I'm near them, because one day, they'll be embarrassed by hugs and kisses and they will have learned how to roll their eyes. I get as much of them in and pay as much attention to them as possible because one day, even if I do get them all together and put them in one huddle they won't smell like innocence anymore, their wonderment and opinion of their aunt being cool will have faded and the bloom in their pink cheeks will have rubbed off entirely.

I guess, the point of this blog is: I just don't want to forget how truly innocent and untainted they still are and how lucky I am to have them in my life. That goes for my niece Genevieve and godson Jacob-I just haven't seen them this break.

Happy fourth day of the New Year (going on the fifth!)


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