Latest Chart: The fear in planning a birthday party

July 7, 2017

By Ekta R. Garg

Ever since she was three years old, Eleven has been celebrating her birthday with her little sister. Both of them have summer birthdays that are two weeks apart, and when they were younger it was an easy way to save money. Plus, when kids are little, they really can’t argue much. Show them balloons and cake, and they’re happy to go along with whatever else you might propose.

This year, however, because we’re going to be out of town for Eight’s birthday, the girls and I talked about something we’d never broached before: a separate party for Eleven.

“Yes, finally,” Eleven said when I asked them about the idea.

Eight didn’t say anything for a little while. She probably didn’t want to admit just how much it bothered her that her big sister and de facto best friend wanted to separate on something that had always been a “both girls” kind of endeavor. Also, lately, Eleven has begun to assert her feelings in more thoughtful ways. More outspoken ways.

She’s letting us know what she wants.

The entire family tossed around ideas, and eventually we settled on doing a birthday party at home. I smiled and nodded and pretended to get excited as I offered to look up party ideas online. All the while I hoped Eleven didn’t see my apprehension.

This would be the first time we were going to host a party at home, and I really had no idea how to go about entertaining a bunch of kids.

In all the years past, whenever we’ve done parties, we’ve always left the entertainment up to others. The Little Gym and other party places happily gave us the freedom to set up double birthday parties. I went all out to plan amazing gift baskets in lieu of goody bags (spending no more than $5 per basket, no less) and elaborate menus, but I chickened out at the thought of bringing the girls’ friends home. What, I thought, could I possibly do to keep them engaged?

This year, especially, felt like we hit a new milestone. Eleven has become more aware of what other people think. Thankfully she’s in a school with a positive environment and one where the majority of her friends lift her up. She’s never endured any serious bullying, and she’s certainly never had to deal with a “mean girl.”

I’m more aware now than ever before that my older daughter has entered the life stage where little things have begun to matter more. I want to do everything within my power not to embarrass her. I realize that may be impossible. Once she gets deep into her teens, even asking, “How was your day?” in front of her friends may produce an eye roll. But I figure if I can do anything to actively avoid any potential mortification, I will.

I wanted to make sure we planned something fun for Eleven and her friends. Food wasn’t a problem. Again, pizza and cake usually induce smiles and eagerness from anyone. Because Eleven’s birthday was on a Saturday this year, we decided to hold the party on her actual birthday and invited people over from 11 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.

I couldn’t help wondering just what we were going to do for that long.

My trepidation notwithstanding, I Googled things like “ideas for tween birthday party.” Of course, thousands of websites popped up ready to offer advice, and after combing through several of them I made a list of Minute Games. These are games that use common household items and that are timed to be completed in—you guessed it—a minute.

I offered Eleven the idea, and she smiled wide.

“That’s a great idea! Can you show me the games?”

I pulled up the Word doc with the games and we discussed different options. The more we talked, the more I realized that I hadn’t totally bungled this. On a subconscious level, I had used what I knew about my child and come up with a solution that she actually liked.

We talked and planned and shopped for supplies. In the end we came up with six games and a blind auction. These were the games we picked:

Runny Nose, in which kids have to pull out as many tissues as possible from a tissue box in a minute or less (we ended up splitting the kids into pairs and making this a little more complicated by telling one kid to pull out the tissue and passing it to the second kid who had to fold it into a neat square);

Marshmallow Toss, where the kids would be split into pairs and one would toss the marshmallows while the other caught them in a paper cup (we used mini marshmallows, and by the end of the game we had marshmallows all over the floor!);

Stack the Cups, where the kids would have to build a pyramid of plastic cups and then take it all down again (we split the kids into three teams and made it a little more complicated by placing the stacks of cups on one side of the room; one teammate was responsible for running cups back and forth to the others who would have to pass them down the line and let the teammate on the end do the stacking and breakdown; the catch was everyone could only use one hand);

Cereal “Straws,” in which kids would get some Cheerios and see how many Cheerios they could thread onto pipe cleaners (this one ran pretty much as described);

That’s a Wrap, where kids would get a handful of Hershey kisses and see how many they could unwrap in a minute (again, we told the kids they could only use one hand to do the unwrapping, and later on we handed out paper bags so the kids could keep the kisses they unwrapped);

Listen Carefully, in which kids have to listen to a grownup shake a soda can that contains a mystery item (the website suggested nails or screws) and guess what the item is and how many are in the can (we ended up not playing this game because we ran out of time.)

In the blind auction, we handed out fake money to the kids and made them bid on our goody bags. I bought reusable bags in a variety of fun designs and colors and put things like books, fancy water bottles, and small board games inside. Each bag got one item, and no one know what was in each bag. After the auction ended, we gave the kids some time to barter with one another if they wanted to swap bags and prizes.

When all the kids had arrived, I took a minute to welcome everyone and explain the idea of the Minute Games. None of them rolled their eyes. None of them looked bored. In fact, when we asked them to help clean up after the Marshmallow Toss (which we played first so we could get the flying sugar out of the way) they all scrambled to pick up the abundance of marshmallows on the floor.

We played the five games and did the auction, and then everyone ate pizza and cake. After lunch we had about 15 minutes left in the allotted party time and told the kids they could enjoy some free play. And they did. No complaints; no demands.

I was astonished. We’d gotten through the entire party, and everyone was still smiling. No one had complained even once that they had gotten bored, and all the kids seemed to have a good time. Early in the party Eight started to grumble about something small, and I took her aside out of view of everyone else and made sure to let her know I expected her to get involved. We had invited a friend of hers to the party too, so she certainly wasn’t without company, and she just needed to accept it already that this party was about her sister alone.

For a few seconds Eight’s face crumpled in disappointment, but I didn’t have time to listen to her grievances. I sent her right back out to the rest of the group, and her friend called to her and everything was fine again. Even Eight had a good time.

After everyone left, Eleven FaceTimed with her grandparents and they “opened” presents together. Eleven spent the rest of her day sorting out what presents she wanted and what she didn’t, and then she and Eight were together again enjoying the spoils of the party.

That night as I went to give Eleven a good night kiss, I asked her whether she had fun.

“Yup,” she said, and I could hear the smile in her voice.

I was so glad. In the dark, she couldn’t see my face. Otherwise she would have detected that I wasn’t just asking the standard parent question. I genuinely wanted her to approve of what we’d done that morning.

Maybe, then, this is part of what parenting is all about. Putting in the time and effort and energy to engage our children and showing them through our words and actions that we’re doing all we can for their good and their enjoyment. Even with teen angst coming in the future, I have a feeling that starting with the right intentions and following through on those intentions will count for something.

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Latest Spurts: Black-eyed peas and getting hit on the head

June 30, 2017

By Ekta R. Garg

Parents assume that as their kids get older, the children start behaving in a more mature manner. The time of hitting and kicking and screaming to get attention starts to wane. Kids grasp enough of a vocabulary to express what’s bothering them and to articulate how they might come up with a solution.

We assume, I said. And we all know what happens when a person assumes something.

A couple of weeks ago, Eight came downstairs rubbing her head.

“What happened?” I asked.

“Di-Di hit me,” she said.

To her credit, she wasn’t whimpering or crying. Of course, she didn’t look overly thrilled either. I called for (then) Ten and asked for an explanation.

“I didn’t hit her that hard,” (then) Ten said.

“Yes, you did,” Eight argued.

“It was just a joke,” (then) Ten added.

“It doesn’t matter,” I said. “Joke or not, we don’t hit people. What happened?”

I didn’t quite see the furtive glance that jumped from one sister to another, but I felt it. They told a pretty weak story between the two of them of Eight going into her big sister’s room and within minutes (then) Ten just whacking her on the head with this heavy cardboard tube she has. Their story lacked details.

More than that, it lacked conviction.

I told (then) Ten to apologize to her sister and also said she wasn’t allowed to watch TV for the rest of the day. She went upstairs and eventually crossed the hall to Eight’s room to tell her she was sorry. My gut told me, though, that the lack of information meant that Eight had probably started it in some fashion.

***

The next day the kids went to the Y for their swimming lesson, and I stayed at home to prepare lunch. The kids’ aunt and uncle were visiting, and everyone came back chattering about (then) Ten and Eight and their swimming abilities. After showering, though, Eight saw me alone in the kitchen. She approached me, complaint written all over her face.

“Um, I wanted to tell you that when we were going through the locker room to the pool, Di-Di hit me on the arm.”

“Okay,” I said, continuing to put dishes away. “Did you do anything to her?”

I have to say, this child can’t keep a secret. That’s a good thing when it comes to her doing something wrong. Even though you can see it’s killing her to make a confession, she’ll tell you what she did.

“Well, um, I was just singing a song, and she kept asking me to stop, and then she just hit me with the swimming bag to get me to stop singing.”

“When she asked you to stop, why didn’t you?” I said.

“I was just trying to irk her a little bit!” Eight said in her defense.

“So you were trying to irk her, and she told you to stop, and you didn’t listen, and that’s when she hit you with the swimming bag, right?” I said, summing up their interaction.

Eight’s expression changed as she realized she wasn’t going to get much traction with me. Her complaint from the previous day may have garnered her an apology from her big sister, but I also wanted her to know that she’s just as culpable in many—okay, most—cases of “irking” her sister.

The kids, I’ve noticed, have started bickering more. I wonder how things will go in the coming school year once Eleven goes to middle school and Eight starts fourth grade.

***

Beware the pun worthy of a major eyeroll and groan.

As we drove to music yesterday, Eleven said, “Look at those…black-eyed peas? Those flowers.”

“Black-eyed Susans,” I said with a smile.

“They’re black-eyed Susans that look like they have peas growing on them,” Eleven said.

“It’s Susan who got a black eye and then peed on it!” Eight said, just before breaking into a round of giggles.

“How do you even do that?” Eleven asked.

“Like this!” Eight said.

I was watching traffic and didn’t see her demonstration, but clearly it made her laugh even harder.

“How would you…” Eleven said again.

“It’s called logistics, Di-Di,” Eight said, fighting down her laughter so she could talk.

“Weirdo,” Eleven replied with as much affection as tween annoyance.

***

Yesterday at breakfast I got into a mini discussion with Eight about boys and their egos, about how boys talk a big game.

“You know why girls are smarter than boys?” I asked her.

“Why?”

“Because they don’t just yap on and on like boys do,” I said, making a mouth with my hand and opening and closing it. “Girls think about what they’re going to say before they say it.”

“Boys are fine, Mamma,” Eight said with a measure of patience. “They just have a different interpretation than girls do about things.”

“Interpretation?” I asked, feigning ignorance. “What does that mean?”

“It means they understand things differently.”

“Oh, really?” I asked, one hand on a hip.

“Yeah,” she said. “Think about it, if everyone had the same interpretation, the world would be a pretty boring place.”

Well, I certainly can’t argue with logic like that.

Reminders of growing up

June 9, 2017

By Ekta R. Garg

This week I received three tangible signs that brought into sharp focus just how much my older child has grown up.

First, there was the incident with the glasses.

Ten has worn glasses about three years now, and her eyesight has weakened a bit every year since she first went to the optometrist. Interestingly enough, this is one of the few doctor’s appointments I didn’t attend. Ten and Eight’s dad came home early from the hospital and offered to take her, and when my husband pitches in to help I don’t question it.

This year, yet again, Ten’s prescription changed, so off the entire family went to Sam’s to pick out new frames for her. She and Eight spent a few minutes playing with the various frame options, but after a little while Ten, my husband, and I got to the business at hand. Her dad found this pair of frames that were in her favorite color (purple) and looked good on her face, so we made it a unanimous decision and placed our order.

Earlier this week, I got a call from Sam’s that Ten’s glasses had come in. On Wednesday after camp, the kids and I had lunch and then we began our afternoon jaunt to pick up the glasses. Ten had been waiting with a great deal of eagerness ever since we ordered them, as much to get new frames as for the fact that she’d be able to see again, and I was glad the call had come because (quite frankly) I was tired of her asking me.

We got settled in the eye department at the store and the lady took Ten’s glasses out of a locked case. She brought them over and instructed Ten to put them on. Ten dutifully took off the old glasses and put on the new ones.

Suddenly my entire perspective of her shifted.

You would think, since I was there when she picked them out, that I wouldn’t be so shocked when I saw them on her. But these frames and glasses looked so different from the previous two pairs that I had to pull a Mom move on myself. I had to remind myself that it’s not polite to stare, never mind that it would be at my own child.

Her previous two frames, also purple, had curlicues on the arms and little metal hearts. When Ten first got her glasses, they made her look older. With these new frames, she looks grown up. The simple, clean lines of the soft rectangles somehow open up her face in a whole new way for me.

She no longer looks like my little girl who wears glasses; now she looks like a young lady.

The second instance happened after the trip to Sam’s. We stopped in the grocery store to pick up a few supplies for dinner that night. Somehow we got sidetracked, the three of us girls, and we found ourselves looking at new flip flops and sandals. Ten’s old flip flops had started to look like she’d borrowed them from Eight, and even though she’s never complained about the old ones I decided to buy her new ones.

We started in the kids’ department, but we couldn’t find a pair to fit her. Even the kids’ size 5 didn’t do the job. So I steered us to the women’s department, reasoning that surely a 6 would do it. But it didn’t. Neither did a 7.

Inhaling a sigh of resignation, I asked Ten to look for a size 8.

The size 8 just fits her now. In fact, when we came home and everyone collected in the evening on the back patio, my husband wondered aloud whether even the size 8 flip flops were a smidge small. And I looked down at Ten’s feet again.

The size 8 looked fine to me. I did my level best to ignore the fact that they didn’t come from the kids’ department. But my husband couldn’t quite grasp it.

“Did these really come from the women’s department?” he asked, amazed.

I nodded while wondering what exactly this is supposed to mean. I mean, I wear a 7.5. Most of her other shoes run around a 4.5 to 5 in kids. So what do I make of the fact that she’s wearing women’s flip flops too big for even me?

It didn’t help that while we shopped for shoes, Ten looked down at her feet and said, “My feet are just long, that’s all.”

Speaking of things bigger than me, the biggest shock this week came from a piece of string.

At the beginning of fifth grade, all the kids in Ten’s class put together personal mini time capsules. They took paper towel tubes to school and filled them with pieces of paper listing their favorites—books; movies; TV shows; singers; etc.—as well as their thoughts for the school year that had just begun. The teacher also measured each child’s height with a piece of string, cutting the string to match the height and allowing the kids to ball up the string and stuff it in the cardboard tube along with everything else.

Ten brought home the tube with glee.

“Look at this,” she said, pulling out the string. She held it up and let it stretch to its full length. Then she stepped on the bottom tip with her toe and pulled the string taut.

It came just above her chin.

In this one school year, my child has grown five inches.

I wanted to email her teacher and ask whether she might have made a mistake while measuring Ten. It’s not humanly possible for people to grow that much in a year…is it? And, surely, it’s not possible for kids to grow so much, period.

Is it?

I guess I know the answer to that one, really, I do, but I’m afraid to utter it.

Latest Spurts: Sister talk and lots of swag

May 26, 2017

By Ekta R. Garg

Enjoy these Spurts from the last two weeks, readers!

Today is the last day of school, and because of that we’ve talked a lot lately about moving to higher grades. Ten and Eight will be sixth and fourth graders, respectively, this fall. They’ve already thought ahead, though.

One morning at breakfast they were talking about going into the eighth and sixth grades. Now, mind you, technically Ten hasn’t even started middle school yet. But my kids often extrapolate their current lives into the future.

“You’ll be in sixth grade when I’m in eighth,” Ten said.

“That’s when you’ll be doin’ your thang,” Eight said with swag.

As long as neither of them let their pants fall halfway to their shins, they can “do their thang” all they want.

***

Last week I received an Evite from the parents of one of Ten’s classmates. The invitation announced a backyard bash for the fifth graders to celebrate their “graduation” from elementary school. Because Ten gets along so well with the classmate hosting the party, I replied “yes” right away.

Later in the day, when the kids came home from school, I told Ten about the party.

“Finally,” she exclaimed, “someone understands how important this is!”

I didn’t want to give her my spiel about the whole concept of a fifth-grade “graduation,” especially because the family hosting the party is incredibly gracious to do so and really wonderful overall. But I wonder at this eagerness to create milestones out of things that are nothing more than a part of regular life. Like giving kids five dollars for losing a tooth. Why? I don’t get money when I put on my shoes, and putting on shoes is a learned skill. Losing teeth is not.

Instead of saying anything, I just smiled at Ten. The party is slated to be a casual gathering, so I figured I wouldn’t dampen her enthusiasm for it. At least we’re not being asked to get ready to march in to Pomp and Circumstance.

***

Earlier this week Ten and Eight’s school held Moving On Up Day. On this day, kids from every grade spend some time in the grade they’ll enter in the fall. Each child is assigned a “host” from the current class for their time in the new classroom, and kids get a mini course on what to expect come August.

Because Eight has been at the school since kindergarten, she already knew many of the fourth graders. The 4/5 classroom, too, is right across the hall from 2/3, and Eight already knows the fourth-grade teacher fairly well. I didn’t really worry much about how her day would go.

More curious for me was Ten’s entire experience. Even though this is her first year at this school, she has fit in beautifully. She’s always been a social, confident child, so I knew once she got the first-day jitters out of her at the beginning of fifth grade she would be fine and she was. But now we’re talking middle school. Whole new ball game.

So far she’s approached the entire idea of middle school with nonchalance, but the night before Moving On Up Day when I finished saying good night to her at bedtime she stopped me with a question.

“What do you wear in middle school?” she asked.

I have to admit, I was a little slow on the uptake. It didn’t occur to me in the moment why she was asking. But I sat on the edge of bed anyway.

“You just wear what you’ve worn before,” I said, “and anyone who doesn’t want to be your friend because of the way you look or your clothes isn’t a friend worth having anyway.”

She seemed satisfied with my answer, and I realized that maybe some of the nonchalance—just a little bit of it—is as much to bolster her own courage as it is to reassure us that she’ll be fine next year.

***

On Saturday morning after cleaning the breakfast dishes away, I went upstairs to take a shower and stopped at Eight’s room. She’d set up a few of her stuffed animals on the bed, and she was reading to them from a National Geographic book. Most of the other animals sat behind her on her window seat. One, her white horse, lay on top of her panda pillow pet on the floor.

“Oh, what happened to him?” I asked, entering her room.

“He’s sleeping,” she replied.

“Is he okay?”

“Yeah, I just put him to sleep. I had to…what do you call it? Sedate him. Yeah, I had to sedate him.”

“Why, is he sick?”

She grinned, and her impish self shone through.

“No, I just felt like doing it.”

“But…” I didn’t know how to ask the next question or even what to ask, truthfully. “Well, normally doctors sedate a patient if he has to go for surgery or something,” I said finally, trying to give her an ethical out.

“Yeah, I know,” she said, ever the experienced physician’s kid. “I just felt like doing it.”

“Um…okay,” I said. I went down the short hall to Ten’s room.

“Your sister sedated her horse just because she felt like it,” I said in a conspiratorial whisper.

Ten’s eyes got a little wide, but my announcement didn’t seem to faze her as much as it did me. It struck me, again, how well the sisters know each other. She was surprised but not shocked.

“That’s why we don’t want her becoming a doctor,” she said in a low voice. “If she did, the world would go rogue against doctors.”

Hmm. Maybe I should get my husband to stop trying to convince Eight to go into medicine. We don’t need people under sedation “just because.”

***

Last Sunday Eight had a cello recital, and the girls and I ended up going to it alone. Eight’s piece didn’t last too long—about 33 seconds, according to the counter on my cell phone’s video camera—and the entire recital ended after about 20 minutes. We grabbed Eight’s cello, congratulated a few of the students on playing well, and went to the car. In the parking lot, one of Eight’s classmates from her group cello class called, “Good job!”

“You too!” Eight replied politely.

As we got in and got settled into our seatbelts, Eight turned to her sister. “That’s K.”

“Oh,” Ten replied. She turned and looked through the back windshield. “Is she one of those kids?”

“One of what kids?” I asked.

A pause from the backseat.

“Nothing, Mamma,” Eight said.

“What kids?” I repeated.

“Nothing.”

“What do you mean, ‘those kids’?” I asked again.

“Nothing,” Eight replied patiently. “It’s just sister talk.”

I think this is actually the first time the girls have shared something with one another that they haven’t shared with me. I was torn, simultaneously proud of their relationship and as curious as Alice in Wonderland at what they meant. Whatever their code for “those kids,” it’s clearly something that belongs only to the two of them. And in some ways, that’s heartwarming.

Latest Chart: Managing the fallout from disappointment

May 19, 2017

By Ekta R. Garg

Sometimes it’s beyond the scope of parents to help their children manage disappointment. In those cases, thank goodness for teachers. Without them parents would probably end many days transformed into little puddles of parent goo that the kids would have to come home and mop up, and, really, since when have young children been good with mops?

In the last couple of weeks, Eight has had two disappointments. For both of them, I did my best to make her feel better and reassure her. She didn’t find much consolation in my methods. Her teachers, however, made much more progress.

I’ve shared here on Growth Chart how upset Eight got when she found out that her current teacher will move to the East Coast during the summer and how Eight found it within herself to use the energy from her disappointment to organize a surprise party for Mrs. B. Eight wanted to hold the party at our house at the start of the summer, but I suggested moving the party to school before the end of the year so everyone could join in the celebration. She didn’t like that idea.

That night, after I first suggested it, I asked her what upset her so much.

“This is my first time planning something all by myself,” she said tearfully, “and you had to come in and take over.”

Oops.

So I referred her back to the second grade teacher, because Eight’s school uses the combined class model, and explained in an email to the teacher that scheduling the party earlier rather than later might work out better for everyone.

For a couple of days after I first talked to Eight about it, she moped any time we talked about the party. Then I got an email response from the second grade teacher. She talked to Eight, she said, and Eight was totally on board with the idea of moving the party to school.

I don’t know if my suggestion did any good, but I do know that Eight did a 180 on the idea only after the second grade teacher talked to her.

I also don’t know what the second grade teacher said, but clearly she found the right words—and the right combination of them—to make Eight see how, logistically, holding the party at school worked out better for everyone involved. In hindsight, it doesn’t surprise me that the teacher talked Eight around without making Eight feel like she was losing control. This teacher is the mother to a high schooler, a third grader (one of Eight’s classmates,) and a toddler.

Clearly she has way more practice than I do in pivoting on the proverbial dime when the situation demands.

I could say I feel bad that the teacher did what I couldn’t, but, really, I’m more relieved than anything else. Today is the party, and Eight has looked forward to it with all the fervor of a child anticipating Christmas. In the end, that’s all I wanted for her.

***

The second instance of disappointment came at dance class.

We’ve always, intentionally, put the girls in activities they could attend together. It started out years ago when we held double birthday parties for them, since their birthdays are only two weeks apart. It continued in their swimming lessons when we used their closeness in their favor so they could cheer on one another without realizing just how hard they were working on their individual skills.

Essentially, Ten and Eight are best friends, and through the years they’ve gotten used to doing things together. This includes their Irish dance lessons. When they started Irish two years ago, they both enrolled in the same beginner-level class. Then, at the start of this school year, they both auditioned for the next level.

I held my breath for the few days before we found out they’d both moved up. I knew Ten had a pretty good shot of making it. Eight’s moving up was more of a wild card.

Of course, you probably know where this is going. At some point, because Ten is older and more in tune with her dancer self than Eight is, they would end up in different levels. The Irish dance teacher, in a bid to get ahead for the coming summer and fall, decided to hold auditions for the next level two weeks ago.

Ten moved up; Eight did not.

I know they both really enjoy their Irish dance lessons. It’s bouncy enough for Eight. It’s disciplined enough for Ten and gives her a chance to showcase those mile-long legs.

Plus (and maybe this is more me than them…?) it’s just fun to dance.

I got the email about Ten moving up and Eight staying in the same level on a Monday. I sat on the news for a full 24 hours before talking to my husband about it, because I was wracking my brain trying to figure out how to break the news to the kids. I couldn’t come up with anything that ended in smiles all around, so I figured my parent partner-in-crime could conjure a magic spell or two.

Funny thing about partners-in-crime who have science-based professions; they really don’t spend a lot of time conjuring stuff.

I had to tell the kids eventually, though, so I went to Ten first at a moment when she was in her room alone and gave her the good news about her moving up. I also told her I hadn’t given the bad news to her sister yet about staying in the same level. Her face filled with excitement at her advancement, but she agreed to keep it to herself until I talked to Eight.

Which is where I went next. I sat on the floor of her room and pulled her into my lap.

“Ms. E. is really excited about how hard you’ve worked and how much you’ve learned this year,” I said, “but she thinks it would be best for you to stay in the same level for Irish for one more year.”

She stared at me for a minute then pulled away and curled into a ball on the floor.

Don’t ask about Ten, I thought, trying to redirect her thoughts with my awesome mind power. Don’t ask about Ten. Don’t ask about Ten.

“What about Di-Di?”

I guess this is why Mike Wazowski from Monsters, Inc. calls them “telepathetic powers.”

“She moved up,” I said in that same quiet voice.

Eight didn’t say anything after that for several minutes. I asked if she wanted to come back to my lap. She said no, that she’d like to be alone for a little while.

I didn’t leave the room, but I gave her a little time to process what had happened in silence. Ten walked in, saw Eight curled up, and left again. Before I could call for her, she came back, iPad in hand, and started swiping. Within seconds, she had her little sister smiling again over a slideshow she’d made specifically to help Eight feel better.

Her disappointment didn’t completely disappear, however, until she and Ten went to their next dance class. The teacher’s assistants talked to the students about the outcome of auditions. When I came back after dance to pick the girls up, Eight looked much perkier.

“Ms. M. said [Eight] might be able to move up during the year next year,” Ten announced.

Eight nodded with more positivity on the subject than I’d seen from her since I gave her the news. And I haven’t heard her comment on it since. She’s probably still not thrilled about staying in the same level, but at least she’s no longer acutely focused on it either.

Like I said, I’m so grateful for teachers.

Latest Spurts: A full moon and channeling Katniss

May 12, 2017

By Ekta R. Garg

Enjoy these Spurts from the last two weeks, readers!

Eight has finally come around to the idea that her teacher will leave school. That is, she’s no longer stomping around the house and greeting me with whimpers when I go to say good night to her because “everything” in her life is “totally confusing and moving too fast.”

After we talked a few weeks ago in my studio, the two of us scrunched together on my super comfy chair, Eight started to calm down. She stopped acting out as much, and she stopped pointing out the negative in absolutely everything. The most tangible proof of her about-face came last week, however, during Teacher Appreciation Week.

The head of the school sent out an email reminding all parents about the variety of opportunities during the week. One of these opportunities was encouraging our kids to write notes to their teachers. The school manager would collect the notes, organize them, and then present them to the teachers when the week ended.

We had some free time early in the week, so I encouraged the kids to write their notes. Both of them ambled away, and within 15 minutes Eight came back. She handed me her note to Mrs. B. and scampered off again.

I expected the run-of-the-mill “Thank you for being an awesome teacher; I love you” kind of message. Instead I got, in part, the following, parentheses and all:

“Don’t feel guilty leaving… I (knowing you) assure you that you’ll have a future brighter than the full moon on a pitch-black night. You had a different destiny.”

A future brighter than the full moon on a pitch-black night.

Is it considered legally actionable plagiarism if I steal from my own daughter? Wouldn’t I be able to make the case that because I gave birth to her and she has 50 percent my genes and I write for my profession that I’m technically responsible for, and part owner of, any freakishly awesome combination of words she creates creative endeavors?

I truly do not know where these children came from.

*****

Ten isn’t the most athletically inclined child. That is to say, if she tried really hard she could probably be good at sports. But she’s not enamored with the idea of chasing a ball/hitting a ball/doing laps-sprints-really long distances for fun.

Weirdly enough, though, this child really enjoys archery. She’s way too young to read The Hunger Games, but I keep wanting to call her Katniss. And telling her that the odds will most likely be better for her than they ever were for Gale.

The latest offering in P.E., then, really got Ten excited when they spent every P.E. session for a week shooting arrows at targets. On the second day of archery P.E., Ten got into the car and couldn’t help bragging—just a little—that she got close to the bull’s-eye.

“I was the only one who got it that close so many times!” she said, the grin on her face more telling than her words.

“You rule archery, Di-Di!” Eight exclaimed. “You’re the queen!”

I don’t think Katniss ever became queen of Panem, but, hey, it could happen here, right?

*****

Last week Central Illinois got buckets of rain. The kind that makes you forget what the sun looks like. The kind that leaves fields with huge pockets of standing water days later.

Fortunately the rate of rainfall ebbed and flowed a little bit, so we weren’t completely drenched as we moved through the week and from one activity to the next. On Wednesday as we left dance class and went to the car the rain fell in disinterested drips, just below a drizzle. I had folded my umbrella but still pulled my hood over my head, and Eight did the same.

Which, of course, prompted a discussion several minutes long about whether hoods were really necessary and how much we enjoyed wearing them.

“I just don’t like it,” Ten said. “I know some people think it looks dope, but I don’t feel comfortable with it on my head.”

Dope. Right. That’s exactly what I go for when I pull the hood over my head. Has nothing to do with having naturally curly hair and knowing that any amount of moisture that doesn’t come from a shower will create an unwanted crown of hair that no amount of product will control.

*****

From the time that Eight found out Mrs. B. is leaving, she’s been in high gear party-planning mode. If I have to be perfectly honest—and I think Growth Chart is a place where unvarnished honesty belongs—I didn’t even believe the party was real for the first 10 days or so when Eight mentioned it. I really thought she and her friends were playing some elaborate game that was just getting more detailed and creative as time passed.

Eventually, though, when she bugged me for the second or third—or maybe twelfth—time to email the second grade teacher, Mrs. P., to discuss when and where the party was to be held, I started to get the idea that maybe this wasn’t the latest “play pretend” game doing the rounds of the third graders at school.

Apparently this party has way more moving parts than I had originally realized. According to Eight, there is already a decorating a committee, a snacks committee, entertainment (a comedy skit and other acts,) and even a person designated to be the first to jump out and yell “surprise.” The party, Eight informed me with all the sagacity of an experienced planner, would be held at our house, and the second grade teacher had concocted a plan to trick Mrs. B. into coming so she wouldn’t be suspicious at all.

I didn’t want to ruin Eight’s idea by telling her that Mrs. B. has been teaching for longer than Eight’s even been alive and would probably smell something fishy a mile off, so I just nodded in agreement.

Things got sticky in the party planning, however, when W., the student responsible for the solo comedy skit, announced his family was going on vacation soon after school ended. Now not only did I have to contact Mrs. P. about when to hold the party, I also had to contact W.’s mom to ask when they were leaving so we could have enough acts booked to keep the party attendees entertained. All of this, mind you, without a commission.

It occurred to me, then, that it might make more sense to hold the party during school before the year ended so we’d have guaranteed attendees and so the talent would have guaranteed rides. Clearly I’m due for my parenting recertification, because instead of discussing this with Mrs. P. I made the mistake, my first, of asking Eight what she thought of moving the party from early summer to the end of May. I made the second mistake of bringing it up over dinner.

Eight’s face fell, and she started voicing her disgruntlement. We got through the rest of the meal, and Eight, still making a face, got up to put her dishes away. She washed her hands, dried them off, and started walking away to get ready for bed (because, of course, I had to strike out completely with my third mistake and do this on a school night.)

As she walked away, without bothering to turn around, she called over her shoulder, “And just so you know, we are SO not done talking about this!”

Um…aren’t parents supposed to have exclusive rights to that line?

Latest Chart: Learning to let go of someone

April 28, 2017

By Ekta R. Garg

As I mentioned last week, Eight found out a couple of weeks ago that her beloved teacher will move to North Carolina during the summer.

Never mind that the child will move on to the next grade and not even have this same teacher next year. And never mind that even though other teachers she’s had are still at school and now Eight only greets them in passing. She’s decided that her teacher moving has ruined her whole life.

It’s going to be the worst summer ever, according to my younger child. All the awesome summer camps (including one whole week of Hogwarts-related activities as well as two weeks of Lego robotics fun) can’t make up for the fact that Mrs. B. will leave. Not even the fact that we’re taking another big family vacation in July and will be there during Eight’s next birthday can tip the scales back in summer’s favor.

Oh, especially not that. Because when Mrs. B. told the class that she’ll leave town in July, all bets were off. Eight’s birthday was ruined. The trip was ruined. All of summer had already found itself heading down the drain.

With Mrs. B. leaving during July, nothing will ever make the world good again.

Or so says my firecracker of a daughter.

It mystified me initially why she would take this so hard. We’ve talked since this calendar year started about how she’ll be moving up to fourth grade in the fall. While she wasn’t thrilled with the idea of leaving her familiar classroom and Mrs. B. behind, she had started warming up to the idea of going into fourth grade. When I pointed out that she did just fine after leaving Mrs. C. at the end of kindergarten and Mrs. K. at the end of first grade, Eight had to concede that I had a point.

This situation is different, however. First, Mrs. B. was also Eight’s second grade teacher. Toward the middle of the year last year, another teacher in the school announced her retirement. The school did a little moving around of staff and also hired someone to take the place of the teacher retiring. In the staff shuffle, it worked out that Mrs. B. looped up to third grade.

Eight was ecstatic, as were many of her friends, and, of course, Mrs. B. herself. She’s got two little ones of her own at home and cares deeply about her students, so she’s a perfect third grade teacher. When I’ve volunteered at the school, she’s trotted over to me several times brimming with excitement about a new teaching idea or method.

I didn’t always understand all the teaching-related terms she used—I spend most of my days tackling prepositions and fighting head hopping—but I had no trouble interpreting her enthusiasm for doing something more, helping her students get better, finding ways to push them and yet keeping school fun all at the same time.

I thought at first that maybe Eight’s reaction stemmed from the fact that she had the same teacher for two years and had grown more attached to her than her other teachers. Mrs. B. has helped Eight in her academics as well as with small matters of dealing with conflicts with friends. I joke that the two share a mutual admiration society.

As I spent some more time mulling the situation, though, I realized something else.

This was the first time my child would have to say goodbye to someone to whom she’d grown exceptionally close.

Most of you in the parenting fraternity already know (or are beginning to find out) that a child’s world is fairly finite. The questions they ask relate to the fact that, when they’re young, they understand their four walls and the people immediately around them best. They count on the stability and regularity of their familiar routines and loved ones.

When big things change, though—like when we have to move from one state to another—kids get stressed out. Younger children deal with the stress by regressing in their behavior. Some of them will go back to biting or hitting, they often regress in potty training, and some of them will cry more easily.

Eight is old enough to verbalize what’s bothering her, and we’ve worked diligently to explain to her that she does need to verbalize her anger. Hitting and lashing out is for little kids, I tell her often. She has words now. She just needs to use them.

But with something as complex as the process of letting go, a little every time every day, I don’t know if she can fully articulate it.

We went through a spate of about 10 days where Eight got irritated more easily with everyone at home, gave in to her frustration by raising her voice, and became teary eyed more frequently and with more ease than before. In the past I would have probably gone through the entire 10 days before figuring out just why my generally sunny child had suddenly become a perpetual grouch. This time it only took me about two days to get there.

Unfortunately, in this case, there’s not much I can do. There’s not much anyone can do. I explained that to Eight one weekend evening when, after getting in trouble with her father for the umpteenth time, I pulled her into my writing studio and settled her on the comfy chair. We sat side by side, feet propped up on the ottoman, and I explained that I knew she was struggling with Mrs. B. leaving. I also told her that as much as her daddy and I would love to make all the sad and mad feelings go away, we really couldn’t change the situation.

I hated to admit that to my child. I’m her mother. I’m supposed to be the harbinger of all the secrets in the universe (well, at least, all the secrets that an eight-year-old could fathom.) But here I was admitting to my daughter that I didn’t have a solution to make her heartache go away.

Funny enough, Eight seemed to accept what I was saying with a little bit of jaded resignation. It was almost as if she’d already figured out what I was telling her. She just needed to hear it out loud.

We chatted for a while, cuddled there in the chair, and our talk offered her a small turning point. Eight still finds herself getting sad—a few times, when I’ve gone to say good night to her, she’ll tell me that she can’t stop thinking about the fact that Mrs. B. is leaving—but she’s also finding productive ways to turn her sadness around. She and her classmates have begun planning a going away party for the ages, and the second grade teacher has mentioned a few times how proud she is of Eight for using her energy in a positive way.

We continue to have talks about turning negative feelings into positive actions, and Eight is starting to internalize what we’re saying even if she’s having a difficult time putting it into practice. But I do see progress. It makes me sad that she’s losing someone she loves so dearly, but I do know that this experience won’t go wasted.

I just wish I could do something more to help my baby girl feel better.