Latest Chart: She loves animals thiiiiiiiiiiis much…

May 24, 2018

By Ekta R. Garg

I’ve chronicled here on Growth Chart the deep love Nine has for animals. In the last couple of weeks, we got some shining examples of just how deep that love runs. It’s definitely become a bonding experience for the rest of the family (we’ve shared many eye rolls, no doubt.)

Last week I spotted Nine on her bed reading one of the books in the Animal Inn series by Virginia Vail. For anyone who doesn’t know (or who has a kid animal lover and wants fiction about animals,) the Animal Inn books chronicle the adventures of eighth grader Val as she helps her veterinarian dad in his clinic. The books came out in the mid-1980s and are fairly predictable—they’re aimed at middle grade readers—but Nine loves them. She’s read all 12 books in the series several times.

“I wish Animal Inn was real,” she confessed to me one night in a melancholic mood.

“I know how you feel,” I said. “Sometimes when I read books I love and finish them, I wish they were real too. Like the Narnia books. Every time I’m done with them, I think, ‘Oh, I wish I could go to Narnia.’”

“Yeah, but I didn’t finish the Narnia books,” Nine pointed out. She had this look on her face that said, “What does your example have to do with me?”

“Well, right, but the feeling is still the same,” I said.

“I got bored with one of them.”

“Okay, but we were talking about wishing books were real.”

She sighed. “Yeah, and I wish Animal Inn was.”

She didn’t find any comfort in the fact that all book lovers share this emotion. Instead, she just leaned back into her pillow, no doubt, to nurse her depression that Val and her friends weren’t, in fact, real people.

Another night last week, as we finished dinner, Nine said, “I don’t know why, but I just thought of the time when we were living in the old house and Daddy came home from the hospital and he was sad because one of his patients died.”

I looked at my husband, and he nodded. “Yup, that was a really young woman. She was 23 or 24 and had just had a baby.”

As I washed my hands, Nine came to put her dishes in the kitchen sink.

“Just think about it,” I said, “the doctors train for so long to save lives, and then when someone dies—”

“It’s even more sad when an animal dies,” Nine interrupted with ardor.

I literally had no response to that. I’ve never been a pet person but I have many friends who love their pets dearly, and I have no doubt that when they’ve lost pets it’s a sad event. People often talk about their pets becoming family members, and it’s clear in their faces how much they love them.

It’s a little different when a physician loses a patient.

Clearly, however, Nine didn’t see it that way. It didn’t help that she saw two dead fish over the course of a couple of days as she walked around the man-made lake behind our house with her older sister and dad. I’m sure she had the dead fish on her mind when she made her assertion.

Then, over the weekend, we went to a graduation party for the daughter of some friends of ours. This incredibly accomplished young woman, in addition to so many other achievements, started a pediatric cancer awareness club at her school and kept it going strong through all her years there. The graduate knew a child who had died of cancer, and the school club was her contribution to keeping the memory of her friend strong.

As we drove home from the party, we talked about our friends’ daughter and all she’s done during high school. Eleven and Nine didn’t quite understand the part about the club—it was one of those things people mentioned in brief during their speeches—so we talked a little about that as well as cancer in general.

“It would be great if the kids could come up with a cause like that that they support so strongly,” my husband said.

“I want to raise awareness about lymphosarcoma in dogs and feline leukemia,” Nine piped up from the back.

Her dad glanced at me.

“Feline what?”

“Leukemia,” Eleven replied, “in cats.”

“Where did you hear about those things?”

“In Animal Inn,” Nine explained. “There’s this dog that comes into Val’s dad’s clinic…”

And like that, we were back to the books and wishing they were real.

She’s only nine years old, of course, and still has quite a bit of time to decide what she wants to do with her life. More than once, Nine has expressed interest in working for the National Geographic foundation. If given a choice of anything to watch on TV, she’ll pull up animal documentaries and exclaims at the amazing photography.

There’s also a caveat with animals.

“She’s going to have ten dogs and ten cats when she grows up,” my husband said to me with a groan on Sunday morning.

“No, she won’t,” I said, “because [Nine] doesn’t like it when her hands get dirty. She likes to pet animals, but she wouldn’t put up with all the other stuff that pet owners have to take care of.”

From the time she was young, in fact, Nine had had a mild aversion to dirty hands. She used to cry as a toddler if they got messy. Even now, her napkin at dinnertime is all crumpled by the end. When we eat Indian food, we eat with our hands and she wipes hers no matter how miniscule the drip of gravy or vegetables.

I’m really curious to see how her interests continue to develop as she grows older. For now, though, Nine knows two things for sure: Animal Inn isn’t a real story world, and it beats Narnia by a long shot any day of the week.


Latest Spurts: Serious talks (not really) and forgetting the cereal

May 16, 2018

By Ekta R. Garg

Enjoy these Spurts from the last two weeks, readers!

I detailed last week how we watched the movie Hachi: A Dog’s Tale after several years and Nine managed to get through it without breaking down. In addition to a pretty cute Akita, the film stars Richard Gere and and Joan Allen. Gere plays Parker Wilson, the professor who forms a special bond with Hachi. Allen plays his wife, Cate.

On the night Parker brings Hachi home for the first time, Cate grumbles and complains a little bit about a dog being in the house. At one point not long after, Parker and Cate open the French doors to their den only to find Hachi rolling around in papers scattered everywhere. Cate moans and declares Hachi has destroyed “months of work.”

Parker and Cate continue to talk, but neither of them specify what the work was or why it was so important.

“What is it, though?” Eleven asked.

“A calendar,” Nine quips. “He destroyed a calendar.”

Eleven and I looked at each other.

“Get it?” Nine asked. “Months of work.”

We both groaned a little too.


In addition to our regular breakfast favorites, occasionally I like to pick up a new cereal to make mornings interesting. Last week on my grocery run, I moved down the cereal aisle and spotted Kix. It made me smile and remember how much the girls enjoyed it when they were younger, so I picked up the family-size box and put it in the cart.

The next morning, I took an empty cereal container out of the pantry. It had most recently held Oatmeal Squares, another family favorite, and was ready to be refilled.

“Okay,” I said at breakfast before school, “so what’s everybody’s vote? Should we put the Oatmeal Squares back in the container, or should we put Kix?”

“Oatmeal Squares,” Eleven said. It’s her personal favorite these days.

“Kix,” Nine said.

“[Nine], you always complain about the cereal getting too soggy too fast,” Eleven said, clearly trying to sway her little sister to her side.

“I know, but I still like it,” she said.

“Mamma, what’s your vote?” Eleven asked, turning to me.

I shook my head. “I’m not voting. I’m on the committee of…um…breakfast cereal choices, and we’re asking for everyone’s vote. Then we’ll meet in the afternoon and make a final decision. A vote for your favorite cereal does not mean it’ll get chosen.”

The girls accepted this, and we went off to school. Of course, as often happens with tasks of this nature, it totally slipped my mind. I mean, come on. Cereal.

The next morning, Nine glanced at the containers of cereal and noticed the still-empty one.

“So what did the committee decide for the container?” she asked.

I blinked for a moment, trying to remember what container, what committee, and what it was trying to rule upon.

“Oh!” I said, suddenly remembering, “well, the committee couldn’t come to a consensus, so we need to meet again.”

Eleven tilted her head in my direction and grinned. “You forgot, didn’t you?”

I scoffed. “Forgot? How can you say that? This is a matter the committee takes very seriously.”

“Yup, she forgot,” she said, turning to her sister.

Well, really. I have so many other committees that I’m hosting and comprising. The laundry committee, for instance, needs to have an emergency sit-down.

There’s only so much a mom can do, after all. :>


This morning, one of my worst fears came true.

I overslept.

And this wasn’t a “Oh, the alarm went off, and I accidentally got out of bed 20 minutes later” kind of oversleeping. This was, “My alarm went off an hour ago, leaving me exactly 15 minutes to get up, brush my teeth, make lunches, and drive the kids to school.”

The absolute worst kind. Because it throws off the—entire—morning.

I jolted awake, grabbed my phone, saw what time it was, and actually said, “Oh, crap!” After jumping out of bed and dashing out of our room, I called downstairs to the girls that I’d be down in a couple of minutes. I managed to brush my teeth, comb my hair, and change out of my night clothes before rushing down the stairs.

“What happened, Mamma?” Nine asked.

“I overslept,” I said, pulling out ingredients for sandwiches.

“Well, do you feel more rested now that you got to sleep in?” Eleven asked drily, although she was smiling.

“No,” I said. “I could have sworn my alarm went off, but maybe…I don’t know…”

“Mamma,” Nine said, her tone rising on the second syllable, “I think we’re going to have to have a talk in the car about this.”

I suppressed a smile of my own. It’s a line straight out of my own mouth, on those mornings when the girls wouldn’t move fast enough because they would dilly-dally before school. They’ve gotten much better about it, so the frequency of the “talks” has decreased dramatically. Sometimes, though, they still happen.

“Okay,” I said, my voice contrite, “we can talk in the car.”

The girls didn’t bat an eye as they finished their meal and got ready to leave. In some ways, I guess all those talks and suggesting loudly (or, you know, yelling; whatever) has paid off somewhat. Even if I was late this morning, the kids were ready to move.

Just gotta make sure the alarm is ready to go for tomorrow.

Brand new Chart: Reconciling with the past

May 7, 2018

By Ekta R. Garg

We all have those movies or videos we watched as kids that made a deep impression. One of the earliest for me was Michael Jackson’s Thriller. I loved the music, but watching him turn into a werewolf freaked me out just a little bit.

Twice I watched movies that my parents disapproved of without their knowledge (sorry, Mom and Dad.) The first was Gremlins; the second was Child’s Play. To this day I can’t think of the former without shuddering at the memory of the blender scene or the latter without remembering that creepy doll’s eyes and the way he cocks his head to say, “I thought we were friends to the end.”

[Still shuddering]

I don’t think either Eleven or Nine have seen movies that scared them. I do know that Nine watched a movie she swore off. A movie she said she’d never watch again, that she resisted with the adamant attitude one normally finds in toddlers.

A movie she saw when she was only 5 years old.

For the full story on what happened, you can visit the original Chart. Here’s the short version: At the age of 5, Nine watched the movie Hachi on a road trip and cried because she found it too sad. The movie is based on the true story of the Japanese dog, Hachi, and his owner who was a professor. The professor took the train to work every day, and Hachi would go to the station and wait for the professor to come home. One day the professor died while at work and didn’t come back. Hachi kept going back to the train station anyway for nearly 10 years.

The movie starred Richard Gere and was set in Rhode Island but kept most of the facts the same. It was really well done, and I understood at the time why it affected Nine so much. Our resident animal lover just couldn’t bear the thought of an animal dying, even if it happened due to old age.

She couldn’t bear it so much, in fact, that she refused to watch the film anytime any of us mentioned it. That changed this past weekend, however. Nearly five years after watching it the first time, Nine saw the movie again.

It started when she came downstairs on Sunday after her shower asking permission to watch TV while she waited for lunch. She had a particular movie in mind—The Secret of Kells—which Netflix doesn’t stream. Instead the movie service made several recommendations, one of which was Hachi.

“Why don’t you watch it?” I asked Nine, fully expecting her to dig in her heels yet again.

“Fine, I will,” she said with an ill-concealed grumble.

She surprised me but I didn’t say anything, just went back to the kitchen to continue making lunch. Eleven came downstairs, and I served both girls and myself. We watched the story, making little jokes, indulging ourselves in the running commentary we’ve started providing to almost any film. After we finished eating, the girls rushed through washing their hands so they could settle in front of the TV in the family room. I started collecting dirty dishes and brushing crumbs into the trash.

“Oh, they’re making it look like it’s from Hachi’s point of view,” Eleven remarked.

“No, they’re not,” I said.

“Yes, they are,” she said, intrigued by the subtle but powerful visual choice. “See, this part’s in black and white.”

“Dogs are colorblind,” Nine confirmed for me.

Which I already knew; I just didn’t know the moviemakers had chosen to portray Hachi’s side of the story.

Normally when I make a meal and we all eat, I start cleaning up right away. This time, however, I couldn’t help ignoring the dirty dishes and countertops to sit down and watch the movie. Some parts I remembered; many I didn’t. I kept glancing at Nine, waiting for the same reaction she had nearly five years ago.

The story ended with Hachi’s death and a short explanation of the true story as well as pictures of the real-life Hachi and his owner. Nine didn’t say anything. She just went up to her room. I went back to the kitchen to clean up.

Several minutes later, she came back down to ask me a question. I asked her how she felt about the movie.

“Did it make you sad?” I asked.

She nodded and held up a hand with her index finger and thumb about a half inch apart. “A little.”

“Me too,” I said. “It made me want to cry.”

She smiled in sympathy and bounded back upstairs.

And it did too. The story of the relationship between Hachi and the professor touched my heart in a way that animal movies almost never do. I blinked back a few tears as I washed the dishes, looked out of the kitchen window, and thought about the concept of loyalty and the strength of the love that binds us the tightest.

I also had to sigh with relief. We made it through the film without any tears from Nine this time. She didn’t have to swear it off anymore. We’d finally brought another family-friendly movie back into our lives.

It may seem like such a small thing to be happy about, but Nine faced something that bothered her for years and she came out the other end okay. I’m glad she could see that that’s possible, that the things that freak us out at a young age don’t always have to do so when we’re older. Not that I plan to see Child’s Play anytime soon or anything.

Latest Spurts: Doing favors and Bollywood flicks

April 30, 2018

By Ekta R. Garg

Last week I went into Eleven’s bathroom on a weekday morning to let her know I was headed downstairs to pack lunches. I asked her what kind of sandwich she wanted, and from the other side of the shower curtain she chatted with me for a few moments. Then she asked me something she’s never asked me before.

“Can you do me a favor?”

“Sure,” I said, “what?”

“On my nightstand there’s a green sticky note,” she said. “Can you find a pencil or pen from somewhere in the room and write ‘get soap’ on there?”

“Do you need soap right now?” I asked.

“Sort of.”

“I’ll get you one,” I said and trotted to the linen closet right outside her bedroom. I grabbed the soap and stuck my hand inside the curtain. She grabbed the bar from me.

“Thanks,” she said.

“You’re welcome. See you downstairs.”


It struck me, through this entire exchange, how much Eleven is growing up. Most kids—probably even Nine—would say something along the lines of, “Mamma, I don’t have any soap. What do I do?” They would wait for a parent to fix the problem. Often Eleven still looks to us for those solutions. In this instance, though, she put something on her mental to-do list and was asking me to help her with her physical to-do list.

I guess this is what it means for them to become independent.


We have several Bollywood flicks saved to the DVR, but as with most families we’ve watched those about nine million times, so we’ve begun browsing Amazon and Netflix for options for Friday nights. It’s a little challenging to find newer movies on both streaming services, but there are hundreds of older films. Some of them I’ve seen and my husband hasn’t or vice versa. Some we’ve both seen but not for a long time. It’s fun to explore and revisit that age of Bollywood where family drama was over the top and heroines cried at the drop of a hat.

The kids have gotten really good at predicting what melodramatic scene or reaction will come in a particular filmi situation, which has led to many Friday nights laughing so hard at the movie in question we can’t hear the actors. We’ve also groaned at some of the circumstances that the directors of the 1980s and 1990s dreamed up; truly, there was some serious finagling going on with storylines and plots to make sure situations went in a direction that guaranteed a happily-ever-after.

This past weekend, the movie in question was the 1993 flick Aaina starring Jackie Shroff, Juhi Chawla, and Amrita Singh. I love this movie, for a variety of reasons. The songs were great, and the acting in many scenes was top-notch. More than that, however, the story veers left just when you expect it to veer right. It doesn’t always allow the characters to follow the same tired old tropes of its genre, and I appreciate that so much because of how rare it was for films back then.

Eleven was intrigued by the premise—two sisters spend their lives competing over everything, including a husband—but Nine started complaining the minute we chose the movie.

“I think you’ll really like this one,” I whispered in her ear.

Her face folded into doubt. “Why?”

“Because the little sister wins in the end,” I said with a grin.

She grinned back.

“Okay,” she announced to everyone, “Aaina is now my most favorite film ever.”

She didn’t stick with that assertion all the way through, but she had plenty of fun cheering on Juhi Chawla who plays Reema, the younger sister and the “victim” in the story. Both Eleven and Nine had a ball tearing down Amrita Singh’s character, Roma, in a good-natured way, and they got to file away another little tidbit of Bollywood in their canon of films. Not a bad way to spend a weekend.


Earlier this afternoon I dropped Eleven at her violin lesson, and then Nine and I drove to her cello lesson.

“Another cello lesson,” she said with a sigh. “But I’m not going to complain.”

“What’s wrong?” I asked her.


“You can tell me,” I said. “I promise I won’t get mad.”

“It’s just that cello is so boring,” she said.

“What part of it do you find boring?”

“Everything. The lessons are boring; the music is boring. I don’t enjoy practicing for it like I do for guitar.”

“What if you asked Mr. S. to give you harder music, would that help?” I asked.


“Well, is it that you don’t like the instrument, or is it something in the lessons?”

“I don’t like the instrument,” she said.

“So if you had a chance to quit, you would?” I asked.

“Yeah, but I’m not going to do that, because that would mean all that money for renting the instrument and for the lessons was for nothing.”

I didn’t say anything to that. It impressed me that she was cognizant of the fact that the lessons and her cello do, in fact, cost a fair amount of money. She also acknowledged right away that she had a wonderful teacher, that he was kind and patient and really enjoyed what he did.

Full disclosure? While part of my mind weighed a small measure of disappointment at Nine possibly quitting the cello, another part of me started calculating how much time we could save during the week if Nine did, in fact, stop cello lessons. Her teacher requires her to attend a group lesson once a week (included in the total cost) in addition to the private lesson, so that would mean more than an hour of time back that Nine could spend on homework or other activities. When we add the time it takes to drive to lessons and home, we’re talking about another hour.

Two hours back in our week. Oh, the things we could do with two more hours. It makes me pause.

There’s definitely something to be said for sticking with something even when it gets “boring.” Sometimes “boring” just means we’ve hit a lull. But Nine has taken cello for almost three years now. Has she had a fair enough amount of time with the instrument to make a decision to quit for good?

I don’t know the answer to that. I do know, though, that it’ll most likely come up again, and soon. School will be ending in a few weeks, but I’m already looking at and thinking about August. Scheduling always becomes an exercise in creativity for me, and if have two more hours to play with that would certainly help.

Definitely worth pondering.





Newest Chart: Dress shopping (again)

April 23, 2018

By Ekta R. Garg

I did something recently I never thought—in fact, swore—I would never do.

This past Friday, Eleven attended the spring dance for middle schoolers. When the year started, she said she loved everything about middle school but expressed some apprehension about the dances. I get it. At the age of 11, the thought of dancing with boys is weird. Of course, this could be in part because 11-year-old boys are a little weird themselves. Not bad, by any means. Just…weird.

(And sometimes I wonder whether that weirdness ever wears off.)

However, after the first dance of the year, Eleven couldn’t stop talking about how much fun she had. The school did a wonderful job of dispelling any awkwardness between the kids, and it turned into one big party. Add to that the after-dance party that one of Eleven’s good friends held, and she ended the evening in a flush of excitement and smiles.

When the date was finalized for the spring dance, Eleven couldn’t wait for the eighth graders to announce the theme. The week before the dance, the school went into a four-day weekend and I promised to take Eleven dress shopping. Regular readers of Growth Chart already know that that shopping trip turned into a bust for Eleven but became a surprise success for Nine when we found a sweet dress she could wear for the wedding we’ll attend this summer.

That first round of shopping happened the Friday—exactly one week—before the dance. The next afternoon, I took Eleven shopping again. This time I left Nine at home with her grandfather, reasoning that maybe having my younger child ping-ponging with restlessness might provide a distraction neither Eleven nor I needed. We had less than a week, after all, and while I love our Central Illinois town dearly it can be a little limited on dress selections.

Or, I should say, dress selections that we’d all be comfortable letting Eleven wear. We spent about three hours on that Saturday afternoon trying on dresses that were too short, that had cutouts in the oddest places, and that had huge armholes. The trend for tweens this year, it seems, is to have tops of dresses in net. That would be fine for young girls who don’t wear bras, but for those who do wouldn’t their straps show? Why would we encourage our daughters from an early age to be so sloppy with their look or to be so careless with what they show the world?

I also started to wonder whether the clothes had gotten tagged with the wrong sizing labels or whether, sadly, this was a sign of the growing obesity epidemic we see in our country’s children. I’ve detailed here on the blog how much we’ve struggled with finding clothes for both girls because of their petite body frames, and that point got reiterated on that Saturday. Nothing seemed to fit.

As we closed on that third hour of fruitless shopping, I looked at the time. It was almost 5 p.m., and I told Eleven we’d have to quit for the day. Her frustration had mounted throughout the afternoon until she was spouting most of her end of the conversation in sarcastic digs at the clothes and herself. We’d entered the zone of, “Nothing looks right on me, and this is pointless.”

I knew we had to leave the mall.

So we did. And suddenly Eleven’s anxiety became my own. She had nothing in her closet that she could wear—literally. All the dresses she wore last year had gotten so short they stopped around the middle of her thighs. Moreover, none of them were formal enough for a dance. They were more of the summer casual variety.

That’s when I did something I swore I never would: I decided to shop online for some dresses.

The online shopping option didn’t guarantee anything either, but I knew that I would have a great variety to choose from online versus what we had in our local stores. After some consideration, I decided to go with Macy’s. We have a Macy’s in our mall, so I knew returns wouldn’t be a problem. I just had to find something that I wouldn’t want to return.

On Monday of last week, I carved out time from my writing and editing to look at dresses. I read size charts and zoomed in as much as the website would allow to scrutinize the tops of the dresses to make sure nothing would show. Then, with a great deal of trepidation, I selected three and clicked “Add to cart.”

It may not sound like a big deal for most parents, but I’ve never shopped online for clothes before. Keychains, yes; books, all the time. But clothes? Never. I’ve always said I prefer to go look for clothes myself because I can touch the fabrics and try things on. I can see whether a certain shirt or shorts or a skirt looks right on my body frame.

Back at the very beginning of the shopping expedition, before all the disappointment, Eleven and I had a brief discussion about online shopping, and she agreed with me wholeheartedly. She’s very much a “girly girl.” She loves to try things on, twirling in the dressing room to check the flaring potential of a dress.

I didn’t want to take that away from her. More than that, though, I didn’t want to tell her I was shopping online just in case none of the dresses worked. After the failed shopping excursion that Saturday when she looked at me with anxiety in her face and asked what we would do, I simply told her to let me take a shot at looking for dresses for her.

It wasn’t a lie; I just didn’t tell her where I was looking.

I bought the dresses and waited on pins and needles for them to arrive, which they did on Wednesday. When I pulled them out of the package, I knew right away two of them wouldn’t work. They were too short; they would hit Eleven well above her knee.

The third one—and, ironically, the most expensive one—looked like a dress made for Eleven. The sleeveless net top had a flower pattern stitched into it so nothing could show and then had a sequined belt stitched onto the dress. The bottom flowed in several layers and just begged to be danced in.

As I eyed the dress, it looked like it would fit Eleven like a glove, but she had to come home from school and try it on before we could celebrate. When I picked her up that afternoon, I mentioned in the most casual tone that I’d found a dress for her to try on. That was all.

We got home, and she raced up to her room. She went into her closet with the dress on and came out with a huge grin on her face. Then she twirled.

It fit perfectly, and inwardly I sighed with relief.

I’m not sure whether I would repeat the online shopping experience. I took a huge risk with it just 48 hours before the dance; had this dress not fit, we would have been scrambling to find something halfway suitable. It’s nice to know, though, that I was able to come through for her at the last minute.

Eleven had a wonderful time at the dance. Her best friend invited her to go for a manicure that day after school, and after some careful consideration we agreed to let her go. All the sixth grade girls then converged on our house two hours before the dance started to eat and practice their waltzing. Another close friend invited Eleven to go out for frozen yogurt after the dance ended.

It was a lovely evening for her, and she was certainly dressed to enjoy it. The bonus comes in the fact that not only will Eleven get to wear the dress for the wedding this summer, but also she’ll get to wear it for her upcoming theater performances. The theater troupe, in lieu of doing a full-fledged play, will present the audience with a cabaret of songs from different famous movies and plays.

Eleven will perform “I Could Have Danced All Night” from My Fair Lady. Thanks to that last-minute shopping scramble, she’ll really look the part.

Brand new spurts: Dress shopping and yo-yos

April 13, 2018

By Ekta R. Garg

Last week when we got into the car in the morning, Eleven commented on the rearview mirror.

“What are those buttons on the bottom of the mirror?”

“I can program those buttons for the garage doors,” I explained. “I just haven’t done it yet because we have the garage door openers, and it doesn’t really make sense to have both.”

“But what if someone visits and they need the garage door opener?” she asked.

“We have three,” I said. “One in my car, one in Daddy’s, and then I have another one that’s in the laundry room. When Nani and Nanu came to visit last time, I gave them one.”

“What about Machu?” Nine asked, the ever ardent defender of my younger sister.

“She doesn’t need a garage door opener,” I said with a chuckle. “She can just ride with Nani and Nanu.”

“Mommy!” Nine said in mock horror. “That’s so mean to your little sister!”

“Hey, I do plenty for her, okay? I signed a contract when she was born—”

“We don’t talk about the contract,” Eleven interrupted me, “not in front of the Younger Ones.”

“You can just call me Yo from now on,” Nine quipped. “In fact, you can call me Yo-Yo.”

Eleven burst out laughing. “Okay, you said it, not me.”

All three of us laughed hard, Nine the hardest. From that day it’s been official: younger sisters are Yo-Yos.


Next week the kids will undergo achievement testing. Ever since they’ve entered the school system, we’ve had to deal with this annual chore. And it really is a chore, because even though achievement testing means less homework, by the end of the week they come home with glassy eyes and complaints of missing out on their favorite subjects and revised school day routines.

This year, though, there’s a difference in achievement testing for Eleven. The middle schoolers will be using their tablets and iPads for the testing. Earlier this week one of the middle school advisors sent parents an email with directions on what app to download to the students’ devices.

Now, let’s get one thing clear: I have used Apple products, but I’m wholly a PC girl. It’s just what I’ve used the longest and what I’m most used to. Also, given that I’m an author and an editor, and PC products lend themselves more easily to those professional aims, it makes sense that I would spend more time with my laptop instead of a Mac book.

Eleven, however, has an iPad. When she came home from school, I tried downloading the app. That meant, first, gaining access to the app store, which I couldn’t do because the iPad refused to accept the password I kept typing in. It didn’t matter how carefully I typed it, the app store kept rejecting my password.

I growled at the device and kept trying. Finally I put it down. I had to go downstairs to feed everyone dinner, and I needed a break from (forgive me, Tim Cook) that idiotic, ridiculous, stupid tablet.

Okay. Better now.

I went into the kitchen and started prepping dinner. My husband asked me what I’d been up to, and I shared my frustration with him about not being able to get into the app store. The only recourse I had left was to tell the app store that I “forgot” my password and reset it.

“Can I tell you how much I despise Apple?” I said, registering from my peripheral vision that Nine was walking from the powder room to our small study room/library.

My husband, a wholesale PC guy himself, completely agreed.

I got my mental reprieve, enjoyed dinner with the family, did the dishes and “closed” the kitchen for the night. Then I went back upstairs, this time to my studio, and confronted the app store once again. Within a few minutes, I reset the password then went back downstairs to where Eleven left the iPad charging and logged in without a problem. I downloaded the app and heaved a sigh of relief.

The next morning at breakfast, I told Eleven that I managed to get the app she needed for achievement testing and reminded her that the advisors would be asking the kids to test the app that day.

“So you figured it out, then?” my husband asked.

“Because we know how much you love Apple products, right, Mamma?” Nine said.

I just rolled my eyes.


One of the perks for the middle schoolers of achievement testing week, as Eleven herself pointed out, is the spring middle school dance. Now, normally I wouldn’t bow to social pressure and buy Eleven a new dress; she’s got several nice outfits that would be perfectly fine. Both girls have been invited to be flower girls in a wedding this summer, however, so when Eleven asked if she could get a nice dress for the dance, we compromised on the point that it would have to be a dress that she could use for both the dance and the wedding.

After we struck the deal early last week, Eleven bounced with excitement any time she talked about the dance.

“I can’t wait to go dress shopping!” she said with bright eyes and a wide smile several times over.

The kids had today off from school, so we piled into the car and headed to the mall. Nine kept talking about how much she didn’t want to go dress shopping. She’s a closet princess; she loves to look pretty, but she doesn’t want to admit it. When we pulled into the parking lot of one of the anchor department stores, she asked if we wouldn’t rather go to Dick’s Sporting Goods instead.

In the third store we entered in the mall, we finally found contenders. Because Nine has outgrown most of her dresses, I encouraged her to look at dresses for herself for the wedding and she found one she really liked. She told me right away that she didn’t want a dress with anything sparkly. Instead she chose a soft cream-colored sleeveless dress that has embroidered flowers on the top half of the dress to the waistline.

She took the cream-colored dress and another one into the dressing room. Eleven found one in a sunshine yellow color that she really liked and pulled another one from the rack. The three of us trooped into the dressing room.

Neither of Eleven’s dresses flattered her. Nine’s cream-colored pick fit her as if it were made for her, and her face lit up. I added an extra compliment or two to seal the deal, and she walked out of the fitting room beaming. Eleven got incredibly quiet but did her best to mask her disappointment.

I paid for Nine’s dress and declared it was time for lunch. We went to the food court, and the girls split an entrée. I looked at my watch and hesitated for a moment as they dove into their food.

“Here’s what I think,” I said, watching them eat. “Let’s finish lunch and then go home.”

Eleven opened her mouth in protest but with resignation already in her eyes.

“You have dance class in a couple of hours,” I reminded her, “and you still need to go home and practice your instruments. Let’s go home, you two can practice, you go to dance class, and tomorrow after [Nine]’s cello recital I’ll take you dress shopping again.”

She agreed with a great deal of reluctance. To her credit, she accepted the fact that Nine found a dress—when she didn’t even want to go shopping in the first place—with a fair amount of grace. Nine, to her full credit, handled the entire situation with a rare show of tact.

I told Eleven several times before today that sometimes dress shopping doesn’t go as planned, and she nodded her head with that tween optimism that she and her friends have in abundance. I hope we find a dress soon. We really don’t have a lot of time to do so, but more than that I hated to see Eleven’s disappointment today.

Fingers crossed.

Latest Chart: Searching for solidity

April 5, 2018

By Ekta R. Gar

Last year, when she was in third grade, Nine found out that her teacher would leave at the end of the school year to move out of state. Nine struggled with the news but rallied to organize a surprise bon voyage party with the second grade teacher. The party gave Nine a concrete goal where she could direct the energy from her frustration and confusion at losing someone dear to her, but afterwards she was pretty glum for a couple of months.

We started the school year, and soon enough Nine found herself back in a regular rhythm of homework and friends. I sighed with relief. Surely, I thought, life could go back to normal.

Then the second grade teacher announced that she would move at the end of this school year. That teacher’s daughter is in Nine’s class and is one of Nine’s good friends. The announcement came in the late fall, and when I received the email from the school with the official notification it made me cringe. How would Nine react?

She seemed to handle it much better than she did the news of her beloved teacher moving. While she’s expressed sadness that her friend will leave, I don’t think she’s quite as close to that particular teacher. She’s certainly not thrilled that either are leaving the school family, but she’s certainly handled it better.

Last week we went to the orthodontist for a routine checkup and found out that he’s moving out of state next year. Nine hasn’t exactly enjoyed her orthodontic treatments, but she’s had a wonderful specialist taking care of her. He’s laid back and encouraging, offering advice without making it sound like he’s lecturing the kids. When we first found out that Nine would have to get an expander and then braces and later a retainer, he reassured us every step of the way and at every appointment that all would be well.

This week we received word that the music teacher at school will be leaving. She’s not moving out of town, but she’s decided to pursue other opportunities. I cringed once again when I read the email the other day. We’ve also received word in the last couple of months of friends moving out of state, two families with whom we’ve socialized and enjoyed outings.

“Why is everyone leaving?” Nine asked me this morning in a quiet voice.

“Well, kiddo,” I said, “sometimes life takes us in different directions.”

It’s a horrible answer, I know. It doesn’t really explain anything, and it offers absolutely no comfort. I used up all the platitudes in my arsenal last year when her teacher was moving, and I’m completely out.

I grew up in the same town until I left for college. After getting married, we moved four times in 10 years as my husband pursued his medical training. The kids were too young to form any real attachments to people, and I’m happy that now we’re staying put. I want them to form those attachments that are just as comforting as homemade soup when a person goes away and visits home again.

Nowadays people move more frequently for a better life and harder challenges. It makes sense on a professional level, but I wonder about the personal level. How do our kids form those lifelong friendships if people keep moving?

I can go back to my school in Myrtle Beach today and still visit my fourth grade teacher. All my other teachers have left, true, but I know through social media that many of them stayed on for quite a while after my class graduated. Now, though, even my small, sweet school isn’t impervious to turnover.

Does this have something to do with the day and age we live in? I don’t know the answer to that. I’ve heard of families who stay in the same area for generations, even today. Granted, those are in less urban areas. My husband treats patients every day who come in from smaller towns where the people have never moved. Some of them haven’t even left the state.

As the child of immigrants that’s a fascinating concept to me, because it’s so contrary to my own experiences. I’m deeply grateful for my family and for the depth of life I receive every day as a result of being from another culture. I wonder from time to time, though, what it must be like to say you can trace your family back to the early 1900s, the 1800s, even to the Mayflower. Do those families experience a different version of solidity than I do?

With all the people we know who are moving, solidity seems a little hard to come by these days for Nine. Like I said, I had nothing good to offer her. No Hallmark-worthy wisdom, nothing where sentimental music swelled in the background as we shared a hug and she nodded with a newfound appreciation for life.

I did offer the hug, and I’ll continue to do so. At this point it’s all I have. It may not fix everything or anything, but I do believe it’s a surefire way to make her feel better. Maybe that’s what I focus on for now.