February 8, 2019
By Ekta R. Garg
I’ve entered a whole new decade: 40. I think maybe, just maybe, I might be growing up. I know for a fact my girls are. In the last week, they’ve reminded me that time marches on for everyone.
One night as I went up to say good night, Ten asked me in the dark for the umpteenth time when her aunt (my sister) was going to get married.
“Hopefully soon,” I told her, kissing her on the head.
“I hope I marry a good man,” she said, her voice growing a little sleepy in the dark.
“I think you will,” I said.
“How do you know?”
“Because you’ve got a good heart, and you’re sweet and kind to people.”
“I don’t think I want to have an arranged marriage.”
Hmm. This was new. Ten has mentioned marriage before—most notably in declaring to the family that she married her best friend’s dog—but never before has she announced a preference for how she might meet her future husband.
Of course, it was bedtime.
“Well, I don’t think you need to worry about it right now,” I told her. “You’ve got a long time before you have to think about it.”
She acquiesced pretty easily and burrowed deeper under her blanket.
In all honesty I don’t know what’s making her think of the topic of marriage these days. No doubt, though, that it’s on her mind. Two nights ago, after dinner, she stood up from her chair with a pronouncement.
“I’m going to marry a chef, and he’s going to make good food for me.”
I’m pretty sure she wasn’t commenting on the meal that night. The remark landed right in the middle of the countertop without any introduction or explanation. That’s Ten, though. I imagine the thoughts in her brain to be like those clouds streaming across the sky on a bright summer day. Blink, and they slip past before you realize it.
It’s their direction that intrigues me now. As I said, more and more it’s starting to sound like she’s doing some growing up. But she’s not the only one.
Twelve spent about a week-and-a-half in special sessions with the rest of the middle schoolers on topics related to relationships, the body, and (go ahead, cringe a little) reproductive health. Teachers conducted some sessions with the kids divided by genders and some with all the kids together. We received regular communication from the school about the nature of the assemblies and the gentle reminder to encourage our kids to talk to us.
Before either my husband or I could broach any subjects with Twelve, though, she came to us. The science teacher gave the students a list of questions and allowed the kids to pick a handful. Then they had to come home and interview parents using those questions.
“Mamma, I need to do my parent interview,” Twelve said more than once.
Before she could ask us her questions, though, we had to read a short packet of information. It offered suggestions on how to become “askable” parents—in other words, parents who kids would feel comfortable approaching about all sorts of amazingly embarrassing topics. The suggestions ranged from practicing saying body parts until we could say them without batting an eye to choosing the battles we really wanted to fight with our tweens.
(I wanted to ask whether doing the parent interview fell under the category of “choose your battles,” like choosing whether we even had to do it, but I didn’t think that applied.)
After we both read the information sheets, my husband and I followed Twelve to her bedroom earlier this week and sat down to listen to her questions. Thankfully, they weren’t too bad. They ran along the lines of things like, “When you were growing up, was the topic of reproductive health something you talked about with your parents or was it taboo?” and even as generic as, “What did you worry about when you were my age?”
My husband kept the tone of the talk light by joking around, teasing Twelve when she allegedly gave me more time to talk than him and “accusing” me of answering for him. In between his jibes, though, we answered Twelve’s questions. We talked about how parents in India took a much more conservative approach to the topics of the body and relationships and how talking about them in great detail amounted to a taboo. We also answered truthfully about how neither of us experimented with anything, both of us being good kids who followed the rules even into college when our parents couldn’t monitor our every move.
I took the opportunity to let Twelve know that she could come to me any time about anything.
“And if you don’t feel like talking face to face, you can always write me a note and leave it on my desk or my nightstand,” I said. “I can write back to you or come talk to you, whatever you want.”
“You can come to me too,” my husband added, “but don’t leave any notes on my nightstand. I don’t like clutter.”
Twelve rolled her eyes, but I could see a faint smile in her face too. We’d gotten through the interview, and no one had died of embarrassment or even been overly uncomfortable. In fact, Twelve’s ease with the questions and how she asked them amazed me.
I’m a 40-year-old woman, and I don’t know if I possess that kind of poise yet. But I guess that’s why I say I think I’m growing up. When I get there, I’ll be sure to let everyone—especially the kids—know.