“I Hate Seeing You Walk”: Thoughts on A Time to Dance by Padma Venkatraman

Teenager Veda Venkat, the star of Padma Venkatraman’s A Time to Dance, believes she excels at only one thing: Bharatanatyam dance. The rhythmic beats of this classical Indian dance speak a magical language to her, changing the way she sees herself. As she explains:

my graceful movements make up for

my incorrectly proportioned face.

I can dance beauty into my body.

Dancing defines Veda to such a degree that when an accident takes away her leg below her knee, it threatens to take away her identity too. A Time to Dance is a lyrical novel, written in verse, that describes the poignant process of healing after a profound loss.

I do not know what it is like to lose a limb, an aspect of the novel that is not #ownvoices, but Veda’s feelings felt realistic to me and even somewhat familiar based on losses I’ve experienced in my life. Veda experiences a range of feelings, from grief to jealousy, as she reestablishes herself as a dancer despite the physical changes she has endured.

She says to her best friend, for example, “I hate seeing you walk.”

This line reminded me of how much I hated the sight of pregnant women after my twin pregnancy ended at 26 weeks, leaving my daughters struggling for their lives in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) for 78 days. It made me feel like a monster to hate looking at pregnant women, but I couldn’t help it. Those feelings only intensified when my next pregnancy resulted in a miscarriage, making me believe my body was irrevocably broken. My final pregnancy ended well over a month early, and my daughter spent a few days in the NICU. It was a better result than we’d ever had before, but still far from what I had hoped.

I hadn’t realized the degree to which I had absorbed my culture’s emphasis on female reproductive capacity–the terribly harmful and inaccurate belief that a woman’s role is to have children–until I just couldn’t achieve it the “right” way. I wondered what was wrong with me.

Those feelings of inadequacy have dissipated, thanks to time and the fact that my three children are now healthy. Looking at my twins now, you’d never know how fragile they once were. As a result, I am in a position to appreciate the silver linings of my family’s tumultuous beginning, and I even look back on our time in the NICU fondly (see Rosy Retrospection & #ReadingEmily). I’ve come a long way since those harrowing days beside my children’s incubators, watching their heart rates fall.

In A Time to Dance, Veda ends up in a similar place, feeling stronger as a result of her loss. To find out how she gets there, please read the book. I highly recommend it.

A Time to Dance is ideal for readers of middle grade and young adult fiction. One of my nine-year-old twins read it four times in a row because she loved it so much.

 

*Recommended by the Huntress of Diverse Books. Thanks, Sinead.

14 thoughts on ““I Hate Seeing You Walk”: Thoughts on A Time to Dance by Padma Venkatraman

  1. Pingback: Review: A Time to Dance – Colorful Book Reviews

  2. “I can dance beauty into my body,” what a lovely line. Thanks for sharing your personal experience. I am so glad your girls have grown strong and healthy and smart!

  3. Thank you for sharing your story. As someone who couldn’t have children, I have had to fight against that expectation in different ways and it’s never easy.

  4. Thank you so much for sharing your story. I’m glad more women are talking about experiences with childbirth and pregnancy that are not necessarily positive. It helps to hear all sides of the story.

  5. My first niece was in the NICU for several weeks. Since I live a long ways away, I only visited her there once, but I remember the hand washing station scared me. You have to wash everywhere and for so long, that I was afraid I was going to do it wrong and kill her. I fed her some milk through a tube in her noise. She was feisty, even as a premie, but I was still very scared. Thanks so much for writing beautiful notes on this book and comparing it to your own feelings and experiences.

    1. I thought the hand washing station was scary too! We had to wash up to our elbows. I ended up being allergic to the soap, resulting in a horrific rash that really felt insulting after everything else we were going through. I hope your niece is doing well now.

  6. Thank you for writing this personal post. I’ve also had a child in the NICU, albeit only for a few days and never in any real danger, but at the time, I hated the pictures of the “at birth/several years later” children that were hanging in the hallways. I was an emotional wreck and couldn’t help thinking “what if my child doesn’t turn out this healthy?” Now, of course, thinking of those pictures just makes me tear up, because every single child who was shown is such a miracle. 🙂 I will look for this book; it does sound as if it deals with grief in a very realistic and relatable way.

    1. Thanks for the comment and for sharing some of your experience. The NICU is such a harrowing experience, whether your child is there for only a few days or for much longer. I was in pretty good shape emotionally when my third daughter spent five days in the NICU, but only because our earlier NICU experience had given me perspective. Our neighbor at that time was a surviving twin, a 25-weeker, and seeing him and his family brought back many hard memories and made me feel so grateful to have had a different experience.

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