Newest Chart: Joy and Sadness (or shelter-in-place Weeks 8 through 11)

May 29, 2020

By Ekta R. Garg

We’ve been doing this for 11 weeks now.

Eleven.

I had to look at my calendar to confirm that number, and when I did I realized two things: first, how I’ve slightly neglected Growth Chart. I felt a stab of guilt, because in the weeks I was supposed to post I thought of it with the best of intentions. Then another task would get in the way, or I would let it get in the way, or…something. Parenting is hard at the best of times. During a pandemic, it’s the equivalent of climbing Everest.

I promise to do better.

On a broader level, 11 weeks is almost three months. Am I the only one who still finds that number hard to believe? I mean, we’ve been staying at home, going to school at home, not meeting with friends, not arranging get togethers for almost three months.

I feel like the language around these topics is changing too. Thirteen finished 8th grade yesterday (and, believe me, I will definitely be posting in the coming weeks about what it means to be the mother of a high schooler now.) Earlier this week my husband asked if we should do something to celebrate her graduation from middle school.

This topic actually started back in January. My parents came to visit, and my mom teased Thirteen about throwing a full-blown desi, or Indian, party. Think lots of food, lots of adults standing/sitting around talking about the food, getting all dressed up, and little kids running around the house. All with the soundtrack of Bollywood’s latest hits or the evergreen ones, depending on who’s controlling the music at the moment.

I grew up attending parties like this one and even had a semi-desi party for my high school graduation. I remember that night with a lot of fondness. It was filled with music and singing, a big cake, me coming down the stairs with another family friend, who was also graduating, in our caps and gowns (at my parents’ insistence, even if I felt a little silly,) and my mother crying while I was cutting the cake as if I was going off to war.

I’m a parent myself now, so I get the emotion she felt, but still. I was going to college. Not the front lines. 😀

In any case, it was easy to throw a party. No doubt Mom probably spent days planning the menu and the flow of the evening. But my parents didn’t hesitate. They didn’t wonder, “What if…” or have to contend with the government about whether it made sense to hold a celebratory event.

That night, when my husband asked about the graduation, I hesitated. What could we possibly do? How could we possibly “celebrate” when the most important part of that concept—sharing the joy with other people—wasn’t allowed anymore?

I still don’t have an answer to that question. At the time, I just said we’d think about it, spend some time brainstorming. Come up with some sort of idea.

Our worlds have contracted to those immediately around us in our dwellings. While “family time” is great, the inability to bring others into our lives for good occasions and bad has become almost stifling. The opportunities that arise—attending an author event in a bookstore almost 250 miles away via Zoom—are something of a solace, but they can’t replace person-to-person interaction.

Even as I write that, I know my family is incredibly fortunate to be healthy and safe. There are so many across our country and the world who have had to fight this out alone, either due to personal life choices or being sick and in quarantine or getting stuck in a location due to travel that got upended by COVID-19. It’s hard enough to come to terms with the fact that our world has been like this for 11 weeks now. I can’t even begin to imagine fighting this out with no one else or in unsafe conditions.

In a philosophical way, it almost seems silly or childish—or maybe even selfish—to ask for the opportunity to share exciting moments like graduation from middle school with others. I’m amazed at Thirteen’s poise and good humor during this entire time. She’s disappointed, yes, and she wishes more than ever that she could have finished out the school year with friends, dispensing hugs, slamming locker doors for the “end-of-the-year locker slam” their school does.

Yet, she doesn’t let her intense wish for normalcy sully the good things: weekly Zoom meetings with a dear theater friend. A surprise gift from a classmate who, due to social distancing, didn’t linger long enough to talk, just dropped the gift on our doorstep and then texted from her mom’s car that she’d left something. The plans for a poster to hang on the van, as well as other items to decorate it, for the parade we’ll drive through later today at the school, the first time any of the students have converged on the parking lot en masse since mid-March.

Through the last few weeks, I’ve thought of that moment toward the end of Pixar’s Inside Out when Joy learns that Sadness actually helped create one of Riley’s favorite memories. One of her happiest memories. And, of course, we’ve had conversations about perspective, about keeping our eye on the bigger things, the important things. Safety and health.

Eleven, admittedly, has struggled with this entire concept and situation more, but that’s because she processes emotions and expresses them to a different degree than her big sister. Yet, she, too has found moments to laugh and get involved and make jokes about being stuck at home. Maybe it’s from having a sister who handles herself with poise, consciously and subconsciously, all the time. Maybe it’s because she understands that her sister has had to give up more, as an 8th grader, than she does in 6th grade.

Maybe Joy and Sadness can, and do, work together, so that when we turn the orbs of our memories one way, we experience one side of the event and when we turn them the other way we can appreciate the other side.

Maybe it’s time to get brainstorming in earnest.

Stay-at-home, Weeks 5 through 7

May 1, 2020

By Ekta R. Garg

We’re wrapping up Week 7 of shelter-in-place…I think? Yes, I’m sure that’s right. I just had to squint at the screen, as much to convince myself it’s right as to get over the fact that it’s Week 7.

In the three weeks since I’ve posted, we’ve done a lot of what many of you have done. We’ve watched TV. We’ve ventured outside the house and around the neighborhood. We’ve baked.

Oh my, how we’ve baked. Many of you will remember the cookie experiment. Thirteen has gotten better about reading recipes and evaluating them. Well, okay about reading recipes more than once and then asking my opinion. Maybe. Sort of. She did ask me what I thought of one recipe, of the directions and portion size.

Sorry, I keep getting sidetracked. Has anyone else felt like this recently? You’re in the middle of one task, but you keep getting sidetracked by something else. I promise, I’ll try to stay on topic. For now, anyway.

So, yes, baking. We started out quarantine with the 12 dozen+ cookies. Then we went to brownies that tasted really great, even if they weren’t perfectly smooth and even in shape. Those of you who follow me in Instagram saw the lemon scones. That was actually the second batch of two that got made.

Oh my gosh, they’re yummy. And buttery. And just… (sigh)

Baking. Right. Last weekend it was red velvet cake that didn’t turn red because there wasn’t enough food dye. It didn’t matter. It tasted phenomenal. I think we could just ditch the red and call it velvet cake, it was that good.

Tonight on the menu we have garlic knots. Thirteen really wanted to do something sweet again, but the general consensus in the house was that we need to try something savory for a change. After all, variety is good.

(And I’m still trying to lose some of the baby weight. I know, I know, they’re nowhere near being babies anymore. Now who’s getting distracted?)

In the last few weeks, we’ve seen other interesting developments:

 

**The girls’ school decided, in the interest of the health of the kids, to go to a four-day school week until the end of the year. Unlike many kids who are watching pre-recorded videos and working through packets in independent study, Thirteen and Eleven are in live Zoom classes from 8 to 3. It has its advantages—namely, that they’re occupied and see their friends every day. Of course, there are those times when the internet decides to spaz out, and then I run around doing everything I can to fix it. Fortunately, that hasn’t happened in such a dramatic way after the Great Internet Crash of April 1.

Thirteen cheered when she heard about one less day of school. She is a teen, after all. But Eleven complained a little bit about it. Not much—she’s old enough and smart enough to know why the administration made the decision—but she’s found herself challenged by all the changes in routine since shelter-in-place took effect, and this was just something else upending her routine. Remarkably, she’s transitioned fairly well to the new week. I think, because her body is much more sensitive to fatigue than her older sister’s, she saw the benefit pretty quickly of having a day where she isn’t required to be online all the time.

 

**Eleven’s somewhat easy transition to a four-day week is a huge relief. Around Week 5, she was really starting to get agitated about the entire situation. Who isn’t, after all? We all feel an undercurrent of worry, anxiety, stress, or some combination of the three.

In that week, though, Eleven let out a burst of energy that warranted a punishment.

Here in Central Illinois, spring swings between, well, spring temperatures and winter ones. It can be 72 degrees one day and 45 the next. On one of the more temperate days, everyone was in the back yard in the evening while I made dinner. My husband was trying to get Eleven to kick the soccer ball around with him. Thirteen got up and gave the ball a little tap with one foot, making a self-deprecating joke about her soccer “skills.” She and her dad tried to include Eleven in the joke, but my younger child wasn’t having it.

She charged toward the ball and kicked it extra hard without stopping to consider where it might go. That was right at father’s head. If he hadn’t been facing in her general direction, he said, he wouldn’t have ducked in time.

Eleven apologized profusely, but we decided it wasn’t enough. For the next week, we said, in addition to extra chores, she would have to keep a journal about her feelings. It didn’t matter what she wrote about. She could even complain in the journal that she was bored or that she thought it was silly to write about everything. She agreed, and we came up with a schedule of three writing days a week.

The chores lasted just the one week, but the journal has continued. “Hearing” her written voice is a treat. And the longer she’s kept the journal, I think the more she’s seeing it as an outlet to entertain us. She writes her entry for the day and leaves it on our dressing table for us to read when we can, so the writing definitely tends to lean toward that of entertainment.

The biggest benefit, other than having her own COVID diary, is that her attitude has become more positive. Things that would normally set her off for hours at a time now just bug her for a few minutes. Sometimes they don’t bug her at all.

It’s definitely not a magic tonic, but at least we see progress. That’s worth more than anything.

 

** The other day as I went out for my weekly grocery run, driving to all the places in one afternoon that I would normally spread over the week, I started thinking about summer. Originally, we’d signed up the girls for all sorts of camps. Now, with the exception of one, everything has been canceled.

I wondered what the kids might do during the long, languid days of break. Almost every summer since moving to Illinois, they’ve attended camps of some sort. It’s hard to remember a time when they didn’t have anything lined up for vacation time.

I always stood firm on the fact that the camps would only be half days, and sometimes we’d have gaps of a week between them. The last two summers, the girls went to South Carolina to be with their grandparents and aunt, so that would often take out almost all of August. So, really, the whole idea of summer camp was more summer leisure time. Except we’ve all been stuck in a warped version of “leisure time” since late March.

This made me think of the years we lived in Texas. When we moved there, Thirteen was just about 2, and I was expecting Eleven. We lived there for three years, on a tight budget and trying to come to grips with the punishing Texas heat. That combination led me to create Playroom Summer Camp—basically games and crafts I did with the kids for a couple of hours in the playroom.

We didn’t exactly do particle physics, and when I think of those weeks I can still feel the underlying anxiety that plagued me as the mother of two toddlers. I always felt like I was doing something wrong or was about to do something wrong or that everything would blow up. Occasionally, when I read old Growth Charts from those years, I smile. For some of them, I remember sharing some things but not others, and I can feel the essence of that anxiety in the undertone of my words.

This summer? I don’t know. I’m toying with the idea of making the girls cook with me every day instead of once a week. As for other possible activities, I’ve asked them what they might like to do. That tension, that sensation that everything’s going to blow up, has disappeared. For the most part.

After all, the summer is for them. Well, that, and to keep them occupied. Like how they stay occupied during school. Or while they’re baking scones.

(So yummy…)

 

 

 

 

Latest Chart: Weeks 3 and 4 of sheltering in place

April 10, 2020

By Ekta R. Garg

And we’re one month into shelter-in-place!

Okay, so I know that statement doesn’t warrant an exclamation mark, but, really what else can we all do? I think we should hand out exclamation marks and buckets of glitter to everyone. Go to town, parent friends!

(I know what you’re thinking: you’ll never get the glitter off the floor. Seriously, I think along with finding a vaccine for the coronavirus, we should ask a small team of dedicated scientists to discover the secret behind the way glitter gets into everything. Into. Everything.)

If it sounds like I’m a little punchy, maybe I am. We’ve now spent a month sheltering in place, doing our part toward the greater good of society to help our first responders, healthcare teams, and essential employees work as hard as possible on stopping the spread of COVID-19. Teachers have rewritten lesson plans, restaurants have offered curbside options, and parents have discovered a new facet to the meaning of “parenting.”

Things are no different around our house. The kids have had their highs and their lows during Weeks 3 and 4 of staying at home. Thirteen and Eleven have shown a tremendous amount of resourcefulness and also their ages. Some days I’ve been able to deflect bad moods by distracting them with a joke or redirecting them to a new task. Some days I’ve shared memes or funny videos. A few days I’ve retreated to the writing studio to shed a few tears because I’m a little overwhelmed myself, only to hear someone asking whether I can help with a craft project or science experiment.

In the past two weeks:

*We’ve played Checkers (where Thirteen beat me in four or five games, and I had to muster every brain cell—really—to beat her in two games.) This girl is really, really good at this game.

*We’ve accidentally baked sugar cookies to deliver to six homes (which happens when you don’t read the recipe ahead of time and realize it makes more than 12 dozen—yes, really—bite-sized cookies.) When we ended up with so many, we went the homes of some good friends, put the bags of cookies on their doorsteps, and backed away by about 10 or 15 feet, chatting with friends and their parents from that distance, grateful to see them at all.

*We’ve watched old Bollywood films (much to our children’s chagrin, but much to the delight of all the adults in the house) and watched newer Bollywood films that make us laugh even though we’ve seen our favorite parts too many times to count. Ooh, Ranvir Singh. How we love the way you point out that butter knife in “Dil Dhadakne Do.”

One instance stands out, though, from these past two weeks that shows the paradox that is our current times.

School online has worked almost seamlessly. While we’ve experienced a few tech issues, like most of you, we haven’t had any issues. Not really.

Until Wednesday, April 1.

The night before, I’d stayed up late reading, so I woke up later than I normally do these days. By the time I got up, the kids were tucked into their rooms and there was little sound, so I assumed they were well into their school days already. I went downstairs, made my tea, and brought it back up to the studio to write my book review.

Not long after, Eleven stomped into the studio. She told me the internet had been patchy at best since she first tried to sign into Zoom that morning. The home network kept failing, kicking her out of her classes. Her face showed frustration, embarrassment, and anxiety. Eleven has always worried about what others think of her, and she didn’t want to look bad in front of the teachers and her friends.

I looked at the digital clock on the wall. It was just past 9 a.m. With a sigh, I left the book review on my screen and started trying every DIY trick I knew to get the internet running again.

For almost three hours, I kept at it. I shut down the router, turned it back on again, tried to get a hot spot on my phone so the kids could connect their iPads to it, found the internet running almost reliably on my desktop and tried to do an online chat with Comcast. They just kept rerouting me to the website. When the internet was working on my computer at all, that is.

I had no idea what was wrong, and the way the girls’ anxiety started to level up with each passing half-hour didn’t help.

I managed to email one of the teachers and explain the situation; he emailed back with a kind, patient note saying he understood. I racked my brain. What could I do, what could I try that I hadn’t already?

Then I heard it: ukulele music.

Before the shelter-in-place order, Eleven had brought home a ukulele from school as part of her upcoming music unit for arts this quarter. I went to her room and then to Thirteen’s room and found the two of them playing and singing an original song. They were writing lyrics about the coronavirus, how awful it was, and how it was ruining their day.

And they were laughing.

As much as the sarcasm of the song bugged me, I decided not to fight that battle. They were in better spirits, and that counted more. A last-ditch attempt to find the hotspot on my phone actually worked, so I ran it to Thirteen’s room, plugged it into the wall, and left it there for the rest of the school day. Neither of the girls complained about me interrupting their ukulele concert for two.

I managed to call another expert for help, someone here in town, and he was also very patient as he explained how I needed to fix the internet. Since the hotspot kept working, I decided not to touch anything until the end of the school day. As soon as 3 p.m. came around, I trotted down to the basement and followed the instructions the expert gave me. The internet came back, stronger than ever and steady ever since.

So. If you’re finding yourself in need of a laugh—even if it’s at your own expense—try a ukulele. I have proof it works.

Latest Chart: Weeks 1 and 2 of Shelter-in-Place

March 27, 2020

By Ekta R. Garg

As I sit here writing this, my kids are in school.

No, not that kind of school. The kind where they get to wear regular shirts but pajama bottoms. The kind where they see their teachers’ homes, because everyone’s in a different location but in the same place online.

The kind that separates the majority of the population due to COVID-19.

Last week Thirteen and Eleven were on spring break, but it was a vacation out of the Twilight Zone. On the Friday before their break started, the school had announced it would go exclusively online once we came back from our days off. By then the governor of Illinois, too, had asked everyone to shelter in place.

So that’s what we did last week. And this week. And, now, for the foreseeable future.

Now, mind you, we didn’t have grand spring break plans before all this even started. Our family had no travel plans. I was supposed to go to Louisiana for a wedding, but other than that were going to stay home. Catch up on our sleep. Watch movies. The girls both need hair trims, so I’d earmarked that for vacation. The middle school dance was supposed to be in April, and we’d discussed dress shopping.

We did catch up on sleep and watch movies, but that was the only thing that felt normal.

We didn’t leave the house. On the second or third day, Thirteen received word from some of her classmates of an online chat in Google Hangouts. She spent hours every day talking to her friends, all of them teasing one another and comparing notes on their experiences at home.

Eleven moped a bit when she heard her big sister’s voice ring through the house with excitement. I encouraged her several times to email her friends and video chat with them. They’d all be home, I reasoned, so she had a pretty good chance of catching someone.

Although she did talk to some of them, by the end of the week she’d hit her limit for the whole situation. I think we all breathed a sigh of relief when school started Monday online. Sure, it was weird not making the short drive to the school building, but it was closer to “normal” than last week.

On Monday, at the end of the school day, Eleven came downstairs sparkling with energy. She and Thirteen talked about how organized everything was. Her face exuded relief and gratitude to see her teachers and to follow the same routine she does during the normal school day.

That’s due solely to our amazing administration and teachers; they worked hard all during spring break to make this transition as smooth as possible.

By last night, however, the energy and optimism had diminished. Like the rest of us—like the rest of the world—Eleven is not just tired but weary. She wants to do normal things, and here the definition of normal, as all of you know, is incredibly basic.

Last night during dinner, without even thinking about it, I said, “I was supposed to be in Madison today.”

Madison as in Wisconsin where I go every year for my favorite writers’ conference; I was supposed to be there this week.

And just like that, like a series of blocks tumbling to the ground, we started mentioning in short bursts all the things we were supposed to be doing this week. Eleven took it the hardest. I suppose that’s my fault; I shouldn’t have made the comment about Madison or that Eleven was supposed to be starting her soccer season this week or that both she and Thirteen were supposed to have their school’s quarterly arts showcase last night.

Yeah, now that I’m thinking about it, it definitely was not my finest parenting moment.

“Coach was going to start me as forward,” she said, disappointment in her face and voice. “We were going to send off [all the senior players]. This was going to be their last season.”

The more she let all these things out, the more stunned she looked. It was as if she hadn’t gotten around to counting exactly how many life events had skewed to “abnormal” during this time. I tried to salvage the situation at one point.

“Just yesterday…or was it the day before?” I interrupted myself. “Anyway, I filled out a survey from the park district in which they asked if you could play in May or June or, if they made the season longer in the fall, if you could play. I said yes to everything.”

She seemed a little mollified by that, but not by much, and even as I said the words I knew how hollow the promise sounded.

Thirteen has her share of disappointments too. For the school’s Maker Faire (in which kids learn a new skill or improve an existing one and then do something creative with it,) she was building a dragon. Originally all Maker Faire projects were being completed at school, but when the shelter-in-place order ramped up I brought the dragon’s head home.

But this was no ordinary dragon. He was going to be a major prop in the eighth grade play that the school produces every single year. And Thirteen, our improv-loving actress, was committing her lines and the music to memory as if she were premiering on Broadway.

There was also the middle school dance, her last at this school before she moved on to high school, and the talent show. Not to mention her dance recital has now been postponed indefinitely. In some ways she, should have been more dejected.

Last night, though, she didn’t speak up, and she didn’t seem overly upset by anything. Instead it was Eleven who needed an encouraging word, and we offered many. I could see in my younger child’s face the same questions we’ve all been asking: how long is this going to last? Are we ever going to be able to see our friends face to face again?

When does life go back to being “normal”?

None of us know, of course, but my husband and I reassured Eleven as best we could. He’s got his entire medical career to back him up. I’m a mom, and a former cheerleader to boot, so I have optimism and encouragement in spades. Acknowledging for Eleven that we’re just as worried and anxious as she is for life to go back to normal made her steel herself against what she knew might happen next: the dreaded parent hug.

She finished sweeping the kitchen, which is her chore every night after dinner, and escaped to the solitude of her room. Thirteen finished wiping down the counters and strolled upstairs after her. I washed the dishes and went up to say good night to them both.

Eleven had already fallen asleep, but Thirteen was still awake and I asked her how she was doing.

“Fine,” she said.

“We talked a lot about how [Eleven] is feeling about all this, but we didn’t really talk about what you’re thinking. If you need someone to talk to, you can always come to me.”

“I know,” she said in that quick way teens use to get their parents to stop bugging them.

“Hey, it’s either Daddy or me,” I joked, “and you know what you’re going to get there.”

“Yeah,” she said with a chuckle, “I know.”

This time I heard the sincerity in her voice. She and both Eleven know they can talk to us at any time, about anything. After all, in this time of shelter-in-place, that’s what we have, right? Each other. Time. And, within the confines of our homes, space to talk.

All of us, I know, are eager for this to pass, to get back to life at its regular speed. I’ve had a few moments this week where it’s all overwhelmed me, like it did Eleven. But I’ve also gained a lot of comfort from the fact that when we say “we’re all in this together,” this is one of the few times in history that the “all” is literal.

So let’s stay strong. For each other. For the kids. For the everyone.

Newest post: Bracing for spring break (oh, yeah, and COVID-19)

March 13, 2020

By Ekta R. Garg

Today the state of Illinois announced that all schools, public and private, will remain closed until March 30 due to COVID-19. I wonder, when that decision was being made, whether the people involved realized today was Friday the 13th. I hope it made someone chuckle at least.

All right, so full disclosure here: I actually like it when my kids have time off. Within reason, that is. Summer vacation starts off great, but by the second week of August it starts to feel a little long.

As of right now, Thirteen and Eleven are just happy to start spring break. So far everything’s rolling along in our normal routine. Many of their extracurricular activities for next week are cancelled, but that’s also normal. With a major university here in town, all of the schools and many of the organizations offering activities for kids follow the university’s schedule. If they’re on spring break, everyone’s on spring break.

It’s the “after spring break” part of all this that has me wondering.

The girls’ school announced earlier this week that when the break ends, the school will move to online education for at least two weeks. Even though their teachers will handle everything—the teaching, homework, grading, everything—this feels a little like a homeschool model. Which I know works wonders for some kids and families.

I, however, would probably be terrible at it. The teaching part, that is. It would be too easy to want to skimp on the math and science stuff and dedicate whole weeks to reading and writing. Being literate and knowing how to communicate in the written form is crucial, isn’t it? Do we really need to learn algebra or to look at slides under a microscope?

(Don’t tell the math and science people I said this, by the way.)

Many of my good friends homeschool their children, and I prostrate myself in front of their courage. Their sheer determination to give their kids an education, as it’s formally defined. I know they probably have their challenges, but they’re doing it every single day.

I believe in education, of course. My parents have always said it’s the one treasure you can cash anywhere in the world with a limitless supply. But to teach? Myself? Little kids? Who ask all sorts of questions and seem to want to focus on everything except the one thing you want them to know at the moment?

Would it be terrible if I admitted that sometimes my most favorite time of day is when I’m at home all alone? If I homeschooled my children, not only would I be responsible for imparting knowledge to them but then when school ended they’d just stay. They’d never leave.

Really, to my friends who do it: you guys should be the ones running the world.

I have to say, knowing the kids will be home for a minimum of three weeks actually isn’t so daunting now. Had they been younger, I would have probably gone outside, rain or shine, every single day for about 10 minutes just so I could remember what quiet sounded like. Even as the littles would be knocking on the door from the inside asking what I was doing out there.

Now, though, they’re older and can entertain themselves and one another. (See, parents of littles, this does actually happen. It’s not a myth.) As the girls have gotten older, it’s become more common to find both of them in the same bedroom. Eleven will wander over to her big sister’s room, especially on sunny days because Thirteen gets the late-afternoon sun on her side, and they’ll sit together and read or listen to music. Often they’ll even do chores like fold laundry together. It’s nice to see.

On the other hand, I already know I’ll probably have to ref more than one fight. Experience from summer vacation has taught me this. Experience has also taught me that when I tell the girls to go to their neutral corners, they usually come back after several minutes and shake hands in a truce (well, in the metaphorical sense. And now, with all this COVID-19 stuff going on, do I really want them shaking hands? Hmm, must remember to ping Dr. Sanjay Gupta on Twitter about that one. :D)

I saw a funny meme on Facebook earlier today (if you want to see it for yourself, you can check out my Facebook author page where I shared it. For those of you not on Facebook—Mom and Dad—just enjoy the following description.)

The title of the meme is “Parenting over COVID-19 spring break,” and it’s a split screen. On the left is a picture of Julie Andrews in Mary Poppins when she’s in the nursery singing “A Spoonful of Sugar.” She’s holding a robin on her finger and has a huge smile. Above her it says, “Day One.” On the right is a picture of Carol Burnett in Annie as Miss Hannigan in her nightie holding two liquor bottles looking like an absolute wreck. Above her it says, “Day Fifty.”

You laugh, but I wonder how many of us will feel like that in a few weeks.

Today, though, everything’s normal. Everything’s going by our regular routine. We’ve officially started spring break, and the kids are looking forward to a week of watching their favorite movies, hanging out in their sweat pants, and doing normal things like getting their hair trimmed and meeting friends.

And even during this national crisis, we can still be normal. Think about it, if we all stay prepared, don’t panic, and remember to extend kindness to everyone (even if that just means a smile and a kind word, because, really, we can still do that even if we can’t hug one another,) we’ll get through this. Another great meme on Facebook said that this crisis was temporary, but we’d always remember how people treated us. Just take that into consideration.

Even if it means sitting outside in the rain every day for 10 minutes (and don’t forget to do some deep breathing; that helps too.)

 

 

Latest Chart: The quiet revolution…

February 28, 2020

By Ekta R. Garg

In the movies, revolutions always seem dramatic. Someone declares war on a person or an entity or even an entire government. There’s a lot of fist pumping, feverish painting of sandwich boards, and montages of marches. At the end, the protagonist shares tearful hugs with those nearest and dearest to him/her. Occasionally the plot allows for forgiveness of the antagonist.

No one ever told me that revolutions don’t have to be so…well, loud. Sometimes they can creep into a house without anyone even realizing it. The protagonist makes one small change and then another and another. Before you know it, things start to look really different.

Our story begins with a feisty eleven-year-old not afraid to express her opinions, and she has many of them. Particularly where clothes and fashion are involved. The backstory will reveal that time and again the protagonist has declared herself to be uninterested in how she dresses. Once or twice the word “tomboy” has even been used. She wears her laid-back attitude like a badge of honor.

This makes even more sense when we consider one of the supporting characters of the tale: the teenage older sister. This sister has, from her earliest years, loved dressing up and looking pretty. During her first haircut at the age of three, she grinned at her mother from the booster seat of the chair in which she sat, the drape covering her toes and hanging so low she looked like a sweet face on top of a funnel. Her grin held excitement, pride, and the first hints of maturity. She knew she was getting a haircut, and she couldn’t wait for the results.

Now, a decade later, the older sister takes pride in how she looks. Her sense of style is well-defined, even if her mother hasn’t quite learned the elements that comprise that definition yet. As in, if the two go shopping together, the mother will hold up a piece of clothing and nine times out of ten the teenager will respond either by rolling her eyes or by blinking rapidly in mock horror.

All that to say, the teenager has dominated the world of dressing well and fashion in the house.

Until now.

In the last six months, a change has crept across the stage as quietly as a fog rolls in. One day it’s just there, and you wonder how you could have missed it. Now it’s becoming denser, and it doesn’t seem to be dispersing any time soon.

*****

Last summer Thirteen began exploring her style choices (within financial reason) with more intention and understanding of what she likes and doesn’t like. In the beginning, Eleven would watch her big sister and then declare for all and sundry that she “doesn’t care” or thinks “fashion is dumb” or any one of a number of other phrases. She’s always been a jeans/shorts and t-shirt girl, this one.

This attitude has formulated in the last few years, and we got used to the tussles with Eleven on the nights when we needed to get dressed for a formal event. She’d pout and complain and throw dagger eyes and then sigh and throw her hands in the air and comply. Not exactly the formula for a successful start to an evening, but it worked. More or less.

Since the end of the summer, though, she’s become less vocal about her dislike for dressing up. Looking back, I can pinpoint when the change happened to the day even if I don’t understand why. My sister-in-law celebrated her silver wedding anniversary in August and threw a big party to celebrate. As part of the festivities, my sister-in-law graciously hired a makeup artist and hair stylist to help family members get ready on the day of the party.

Thirteen was practically bouncing with joy when she heard about the arrangements. Eleven whined and complained. The grownups shook their heads at her.

Then, on the day of the party, she declared in a confident voice laden with just a hint of uncertainty that she’d like to get her hair styled too. She went on to ask for makeup. I turned away so she couldn’t see my jaw drop. At one point, when she wasn’t looking, I turned to Thirteen and literally asked, “What’s going on here?”

Thirteen’s eyes had gotten wide with as much shock as I felt, and she shook her head.

“I don’t know,” she said.

“Well, don’t say anything to her,” I replied in a low tone.

At the time I thought it might be a one-time indulgence on Eleven’s part. She saw all the other women getting gussied up and decided to join the fun. Good for her, I thought, and didn’t bring it up too many times after the party.

In these sorts of matters, I’ve discovered it’s better to approach my younger child like I would an animal in the wild: with caution and slow, quiet movements.

When school started, Eleven reverted back to her typical comfortable clothes. Yet I’ve noticed her looking at Thirteen’s outfits with more interest. In the last couple of months, she’s complimented her sister in the morning when Thirteen comes down to breakfast. Once she looked at what her sister was wearing and asked, “I wonder what I would look like in that.”

Last week I went upstairs and caught sight of her standing in front of her dressing table mirror. She didn’t see me, so I watched as she pulled all of her long hair over one shoulder. She took a second to assess the results, and I moved down the passageway before she caught me spying and got embarrassed.

This week she decided to try different hairstyles, and here is where the story takes an interesting turn.

Thirteen has always taken great pride in how she dresses, does her hair, and paints her nails when she knows she has a special event or a performance coming up. Now her little sister has chosen to emulate some of her hairstyles. Thirteen’s discomfort with her sister encroaching on her territory is obvious in the second glances she gives her sister and the sideways suggestions that she might want to try a different way of doing her hair.

Through most of sixth grade, Thirteen went to school with a pair of long pigtails. It became her signature look, one she maintained throughout the year. Yesterday Eleven announced she wanted to try pigtails. Thirteen made a half-hearted attempt to talk her sister out of it, and I tamped down her efforts.

“It’s not like you have a copyright on hairstyles,” Eleven said in an even tone to Thirteen.

After breakfast today I helped Eleven part her hair and do the pigtails, and as we got into the car Thirteen started pointing out that their friends in school kept saying how the two of them looked alike. She made a note for Eleven of a hair bump in one place. She told Eleven that if the pigtails bothered her, she could always pull them out and do a low ponytail—Eleven’s signature look.

“Enough,” I told Thirteen. “I don’t want to hear you say anything about [Eleven’s] hair now. Not a single comment or suggestion. She’s free to do what she wants.”

The car became quiet for about 60 seconds, and then Eleven changed the topic of conversation. After a moment or two, Thirteen joined in. I let the issue go as well.

Because revolutions don’t have to be big, loud declarations of how one person is going to change the world. Sometimes they can be quiet movements, small gestures. They can be tendrils of self-confidence unfurling toward the sun, ready to grow and take deeper root until a person feels so grounded they don’t have to worry about anyone else’s opinion at all.

And that story is just as compelling as any other.

 

Brand new Chart: Let’s talk about love…

February 14, 2020

By Ekta R. Garg

Today is a day to celebrate love, in all its forms. Valentine’s Day is often associated with romantic love, but I’m glad more and more people are using it as a day to recognize the ones they feel close to no matter what the relationship. Of course, not everyone feels like they need a special day to show they love someone. Not everyone feels comfortable showing their emotions at all.

Take Eleven, for instance. This child always has a joke on hand, is ready to act as “the funny one” when the occasion presents itself (or the mood strikes her.) The minute the conversation veers into emotional territory, though, she begins to fidget. Her tone of voice gets flat, and she avoids eye contact. At some point she’ll laugh in an embarrassed way or try to shrug off the conversation. It’s only in the last couple of years she’s become more comfortable with the tight hugs I ask for in the mornings after she wakes up.

So imagine my surprise when we got into a conversation a few days ago about how some middle schoolers seem to have a new crush every week, and she volunteered an opinion.

“I think Di-Di would be the kind of person who wouldn’t have a crush for just a little while,” she said.

It’s times like these I’m so glad the kids are used to me focusing on the road and not offering them any sort of facial reaction. It gives me a chance to think through my responses. Of course, it’s a little harder now that they can sit in the front passenger seat. Still, I get a chance to process what I’m going to say. Because, you know, traffic. I’m not stalling at all.

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“I mean, I think if she’s going to have a crush, it’s going to last a long time,” she explained. “Like, she would take it seriously. She’d tell the boy, ‘You’re sticking around. You’re not going anywhere.’”

“I can see that,” I said. “Of course, that means that if he broke her heart, she’d be devastated.”

“If he did that,” she replied, her tone becoming fierce, “I’d have to hurt him.”

We’d have to hurt him,” I said.

“In some very unpleasant places for boys,” she added, the ferocity carrying over. “I’d hurt him in some very unpleasant places.”

I didn’t know quite what to say to that. Should I have been proud that she felt so protective of her big sister or worried that she was threatening bodily harm to any boy who dared to leave her sister crying? I decided to go with the former.

“It would be terrible if he broke up with her just to go with some other girl,” Eleven said after a few quiet minutes. “Then I’d have to hurt him and the other girl.”

“Oh, but why would you want to do that to the poor girl?” I said.

“I’d hurt him so that it would last the rest of his life,” she said, ignoring my question.

“How about just for a year?” I said.

“Ten years,” she bargained.

“No, I think a year is long enough. And you don’t need to hurt the girl,” I went on. “The fact that you’d hurt the boy is good enough.”

“Yeah, I guess so,” she conceded. “But he better be careful.”

We didn’t talk about it the rest of the way home, our conversation instead turning to other things. But her bold loyalty to her older sister surprised me. Not so much that she felt that way, I suppose. We often tell people we meet that the girls are best friends, and it really is the truth.

I think what surprised me was Eleven’s answer to the question of someone hurting her sister. She’d hurt that person back, plain and simple. Despite her getting older and understanding that the world is comprised of layers and not black and white answers, her thoughts in this case really were black and white.

Not that I advocate violence, but this child doesn’t talk about her feelings. She would rather make a joke or avoid the conversation altogether. She gets irritated when pressed on the topic.

It reminds me, again, that love comes in a variety of forms and expressions. It doesn’t always require big bouquets of flowers or long letters proclaiming one’s affections for another. Sometimes it can just be a promise to beat up the hypothetical guy who would theoretically break your sister’s heart. Promise made, hands dusted, love declared. Now on to something else.

 

 

 

 

 

Latest Chart: Marking the passage of time

January 10, 2020

By Ekta R. Garg

In the day-to-day efforts of parenting, we often forget that our kids are growing up too. We spend so much time working on schedules, talking to teachers, and coordinating play dates that it becomes easy to miss the little indicators that our kids aren’t little anymore. Of course, sometimes the indicators come by way of a phone call, of a claim of responsibility.

Because my husband had to work during Christmas, we decided to leave for our family vacation a few days before the new year. The start of the holiday break for us, then, was relaxed. The girls slept in, and I took my time to plan and pack for the trip.

On the first Monday of their vacation Thirteen, Eleven, and I drove to their dentist appointment, I suggested to the kids they take out their clothes the next day for our travels. I gave them an idea of how many outfits they needed as well as other essentials, and then the conversation went to a bevy of other topics. We laughed, we joked with one another, they groaned good-naturedly about having to get their teeth cleaned (over Christmas break, no less!), and we went on with our day.

The next day I left the kids at home so I could run errands by myself. These errands took me from one location in town to another. They involved final elements of a Christmas present, a small amount of grocery, a few regular supplies for the house, and some other minor things I’d added to my running list. It was the kind of day that sent my mind in about six different directions all at the same time. Preparing for a trip often does.

As I made my way to the checkout counter in the grocery store, my cell phone rang. I pulled it out of my purse and saw the word “Home” on the caller ID. As I swiped the screen to answer the call, I stopped pushing the cart and stood still. The girls had never called me before while I was on an errand run.

“Hello?” I said.

“Hi, Mamma,” Thirteen said.

Her voice sounded normal, and I know there’s nothing worse than causing alarm in someone over the phone. Especially when there’s nothing to be alarmed about, for either party. I kept my voice light.

“Hey, kiddo,” I said. “What’s up?”

She and Eleven had decided to pull out their clothes for the trip, she said. They wanted to know what kind of weather they should plan for. Did I have any idea what the temperatures in Myrtle Beach would be like?

“Why don’t you check on it?” I suggested.

“She’s saying to check the weather,” Thirteen said, her voice turning away from the phone. “Just pull it up on your iPad.”

“Anything else?” I asked.

“Nope, that’s it.”

“Okay,” I said, maintaining that nonchalant tone. “I’m almost done here at the grocery store. I just have one more stop after this, then I’ll be home and we can have lunch, okay?”

“Okay,” she said cheerfully.

“I love you.”

“Love you too.”

I swiped the screen to end the call, impressed with my teen’s thoughtfulness and, quite frankly, the fact that she remembered at all. In times past, I’ve had to ask the girls several times to perform these types of tasks for me. I’d remind them, nudge them, and, yes, even yell on occasion. In all these years, I truly ever thought about the day when the kids would come to me on their own and say they were ready to fulfill a request and just needed further information to do so.

We’re at the start of a new year and a new decade. In the next 10 years, provided we’re blessed with a life free from major challenges, I’ll go from being a mom of two middle schoolers to a mom of two teens and then of two college students. The girls will be considering careers and may discover love; they might even have their hearts broken a time or two. It’s a little mind boggling to consider when I think about how I was more than halfway through the last decade before even becoming a mother in the first place.

Parents often say it, but it’s true: where does the time go?

Latest Spurts: Fake food and wookies

December 27, 2019

By Ekta R. Garg

Enjoy these Spurts from the last two weeks, readers!

Last week, on Monday, we woke up to a couple of inches of snow. After breakfast, as I stood in the mudroom waiting for the girls to pull on jackets and shoes for school, I planted my feet into a pair of ankle-length boots. Eleven looked at the boots, glanced at the bathrobe I still wore, and looked down again.

“Nice shoes, Mamma,” she said.

“I like to be prepared,” I explained, “in case I ever have to get out of the car and trudge through the snow.”

Thirteen took a closer look at my shoes and smirked.

“Are you going to zip them up?”

“No, I figure if I get stuck somewhere, I can take half a second to zip them.”

“What if the police are chasing you?” Eleven asked.

“Then I’ll just bring them back here. You know. Offer them coffee.”

“All she said was, ‘nice shoes’,” Thirteen murmured, “and we get a whole story.”

“All right, let’s move it along.”

*****

Eleven likes a challenge. She also, these days, loves Star Wars and everything to do with the series. Somewhere online she found out about an artist named James Raiz who sketched an enormous mural, in ink, including almost single character important to the franchise.

Then she said she wanted to duplicate it.

When she first mentioned the mural, I did my parental duty: I nodded and smiled like it says to in my contract. One day last week, I asked her to show it to me. In between chopping vegetables and stirring pots on the stove, I took a look at she planned to draw.

My mouth dropped open, but I didn’t want her to mistake my shock for disapproval.

“That’s amazing,” I said. “Look at the level of detail.”

She pulled up a YouTube video of Raiz describing his love for Star Wars, his reasoning for wanting to create the mural, how he planned it, and (in a time lapse) the production and completion of it. I waved my husband over so he could see the final product. He was as impressed as I was, more so by the fact that our child wants to duplicate it.

“That’s really ambitious,” he said.

“Well, I’m a Slytherin,” she said. “I have lots of ambitiousness. Ambitious-ocity! I have ambitious-ocity.”

“That’s not a word,” I told her.

“Yes, it is,” she said, “because I’m a Slytherin and that’s what I have.”

I don’t know what J.K. Rowling and George Lucas would have to say about their universes crossing like that, but all righty then.

*****

I consider myself a pretty good cook, so it came as quite the amusing shock to me that last month the girls declared that all the food I make for them is fake food. The height of irony comes in the fact that they’re complaining about the fact that I don’t serve them processed meals with loads of preservatives, trans fat, or high fructose corn syrup. I take the meals we enjoy in restaurants or on vacations and try to replicate them or at least create something, from scratch, that tastes as good and is nutritious.

If anything, my food is more “real” than some of the stuff available on the market.

I explained this to them; they maintain their opinion.

The discussion of real versus fake food comes up in all sorts of places. Last week, before school got out, the drama teacher invited over the students who have stayed after school and come in on weekends to help out with costumes and sets. She cooked dinner for them, and they played games and got to socialize.

The next morning, I asked the girls what the teacher, Mrs. C., made for dinner.

“Chicken noodle soup,” Thirteen said with a sigh that comes from enjoying comfort food. “And she used real noodles, not the fake ones you do.”

Given that it’s been ages since I’ve made chicken soup, I wanted to protest. Of course, I figured that would just bring forth another complaint about why I hadn’t made the soup in so long. That would be followed by an objection from Eleven that she doesn’t even like soups very much to begin with, and why do we have to eat them during the winter months anyway. (Never mind that there’s nothing quite so warming, and, yes, nutritious, as a large bowl of soup from scratch.)

I’m officially the mother to two middle schoolers; I can’t win either way.

*****

For the past two years, Thirteen has complained good-naturedly about the science teacher, Ms. S. The assignments, Thirteen maintains, are boring, and why did they have to learn about tuberculosis and do experiments and research papers at home anyway? Not to mention that Ms. S. is the type of teacher who’s a stickler for grammar on her papers; misplace commas, and she’ll count it incomplete until all the requisite commas are in their right places.

Shortly after school started, Thirteen and Eleven came home with dread on their faces.

“What happened?” I asked.

“Science.”

“What do you mean?”

Turns out that Ms. S. was scheduled for knee replacement surgery and had assigned subs to carry the load for the two months she would be out. The subs had worked with Ms. S. extensively in the past and had a reputation for being as strict as her. The excitement the kids had at having substitute teachers for an extended period of time was dimmed by who the substitutes were.

At the end of the week last week, I went to say good night to Thirteen, and in the dark she sighed.

“I miss Ms. S.,” she said.

I didn’t know what to say for a minute. “You what?”

“I miss Ms. S.,” she said. “Ms. A.’s so strict.”

I was glad it was dark and she couldn’t see me smile. I offered the standard parental platitudes of how the subs would only be around for a little while longer, but they didn’t seem to comfort her much. Thirteen has said many times in the last two years how she wished Ms. S. would take it easy. I guess it’s true what they say: be careful what you wish for.

*****

One of our agendas for this Christmas break was to watch movies. Lots and lots of them. Eleven wanted to watch the Star Wars movies on the DVR to prep for the newest one in theaters. We started with the original trilogy, despite her mild complaint at watching the movies out of chronological order. I’ve seen the original ones several times before and knew they would be a good gateway into the Star Wars universe, so I overruled her vote to start with Episode 1.

Last night as we watched The Return of the Jedi, we couldn’t help giggling over the wookies. Given that Eleven considers herself a bear, she was tickled pink about the bear-like features of these cuddly creatures. As they waddled around and did their best to fight against the Storm Troopers to help Han Solo and Leia in the movie’s climax (often striking themselves or one another in the process,) we laughed so hard our eyes watered.

At one point, two wookies get knocked to the forest floor by a laser blast. They both lie on the ground for a moment; then one gets up and drags on the arm of his friend, still flat. The friend doesn’t get up, and the first wookie gets to his knees to check on the second one. He bends down and puts his face to his friend’s arm as if in an affectionate kiss.

The girls and I “aww”’ed immediately.

“I hope he’s okay,” I said about the unconscious wookie.

“He’s okay,” Eleven said in a bid of hope. “He’s gotta be okay. Nothing’s wrong with him.”

“I’m going to write a fanfic about those two,” Thirteen said, her eyes filled with compassion. “I’m going to write about how they’re friends.”

“And when you do, they’re both going to be okay,” Eleven said.

 

 

 

Latest Chart: Enough

December 13, 2019

By Ekta R. Garg

We’re in that time of year when people talk about goodwill. Goodwill toward the less fortunate; goodwill toward those who hold opinions in direct opposition to one’s own. Dozens of holiday movies through the years have offered audiences a wide of range of emotions when estranged family members show one another goodwill and reunite.

I suppose it’s going to sound a little strange, then, that this week I encouraged one of my children to hold back her goodwill.

On Monday morning, I looked Eleven straight in the eye and said, “If [that classmate] tries to talk to you, just walk away.”

“Just walk away?” she repeated, eyes widening a little.

“Yes,” I said. “If you have a disagreement with someone once or twice, then it makes sense to try to stay and work it out. But sometimes, when you’ve tried everything you can and it’s not working, you have permission to leave the situation.”

“I don’t want to be rude.”

“I’m not telling you to be rude,” I said. “I’m not giving you permission to be mean or act out against [that classmate]. Just walk away. Don’t let anyone have the power to force you to stay and listen to things you don’t want to.”

She seemed fascinated and challenged—and a little relieved—that I gave her that advice.

*****

Here’s what led up to this.

The classmate in the conversation above has been with Eleven since kindergarten. In their first two years of school together, the kids were great pals. Eleven often cited this classmate as a “best friend.”

In second grade, this classmate’s personality began to change. Eleven started coming home with stories of how the classmate would say rude things or exclude Eleven from playing with others. S/he would ignore Eleven for a few days at a stretch and then suddenly want to be friends again.

I know my daughter isn’t perfect. She’s got a deep sense of compassion for her friends and is always trying to sort out problems for them. She also has a temper like quicksilver, and while we’ve worked actively with her to think before she reacts there are still days she barks first and asks questions later.

With this classmate, however, the teachers confirmed that almost every single time the child in question had no cause to treat Eleven the way s/he did. Eleven did all she could to extend goodwill to the classmate. The classmate accepted it on some days and rebuffed it with force on others.

The classmate’s behavior with other kids changed as well, but somehow s/he singled out Eleven. Eleven became frustrated, unable to process why her friend changed and wondered what she could do about it. We spent many hours through fourth and fifth grade coaching Eleven. At one point last year, we even told her to keep social interactions to a minimum. Cordial but not so involved.

The estrangement, the mixed messages, the passive aggressive actions continued. Eleven’s frustration mounted. She started to say she didn’t look forward to school anymore. My husband and I questioned Eleven repeatedly and in a variety of ways to make sure that altercations didn’t go beyond verbal ones, and they didn’t, but they upset Eleven anyway.

Thirteen and Eleven go to a small school, and the size has its perks. The camaraderie most of the students and teachers share reassures families, and it makes the school an attractive educational institution in town. Of course, the downside is that if you want to get away from someone it’s much harder.

At the end of summer, Eleven’s droopy demeanor toward the subject of school baffled us. When we asked her about it, she said she loved her school and couldn’t wait to see the teachers and start middle school. She just didn’t want to have to deal with this classmate anymore.

We reiterated the approach from last year: keep social interactions to a minimum. Don’t sit with the classmate at lunch. If s/he approaches Eleven at lunchtime or recess, find a reason to get out of the situation as fast as possible.

The classmate began to “lean on” Eleven at the start of the school year for “emotional support,” but the passive aggression continued. Some days the classmate was happy-go-lucky with Eleven, calling her by cute nicknames and trying to chit-chat. Other days s/he ordered Eleven to leave—as in, “I need to talk to N., go away.”

“What did you do?” I asked Eleven when this happened two weeks ago.

“What could I do?” Eleven said wearily. “I didn’t want to be rude, so I left.”

Then we discovered that the classmate and Eleven were exchanging emails. Eleven, it seemed, still held out hope that the classmate would go back to being his/her old self. The best friend she remembered from kindergarten and first grade. That’s why she began responding to the messages.

It didn’t work, of course. The emails left Eleven upset, confused, and emotionally drained. When we discovered them, we told Eleven to delete the classmate’s phone number, because the classmate was responding from a cell phone.

The function of technology in this case was a blessing. Because the classmate was using a phone instead of emailing in the traditional way, Eleven was required to download each message. After we told her to delete the emails and not to respond to the classmate ever again, she pointed out that in the event the classmate did send a message she wouldn’t have to read it. She could just delete it.

At the outset, Eleven was upset about our interference with the emailing. There were tears and loud words. Then, as we continued to talk and sort through why she was doing what she was, she started to see the sense of what we were telling her.

Enough is enough, I thought.

Eleven’s dad and I agreed that this time there wouldn’t be polite words. Eleven wouldn’t go to school and offer the classmate a congenial nod or listen semi-patiently to another story or outburst. This time there would be a marked difference.

*****

We live in a world where it’s becoming increasingly difficult to tell one another what we think. Thanks to social media, everyone’s sense of entitlement on the right to their own opinions has increased a thousand-fold. So instead of coming right to the point and saying that a person’s words are hurtful—or that a child is doing badly in school, or that an employee is underperforming, or that a patient’s medical condition is largely due to the bad choices that person is making—instead of saying any of these things, we duck our heads and tolerate each other’s opinions.

The trouble with this kind of tolerance, I believe, is that it leads to another type tolerance: the kind where we implicitly give people permission to say and do whatever they want and not suffer consequences.

*****

I don’t like confrontation any more than the next person. I want my children to grow up to be healthy, well-adjusted, kind people. But if they compromise on the first two traits, will they ever truly exhibit the third? If they’re willing to let people say whatever they want and tolerate it, when all the while their own hearts and minds are crumpling in pain, how do they develop true kindness? If people treat them horribly, how will Thirteen and Eleven maintain any hope and optimism for themselves or the people in their lives who love them and wish them well?

*****

“Just walk away?” Eleven asked. “Don’t say anything?”

“Don’t say anything,” I told her. “When you’ve reached that limit, it’s really okay to just leave.”

I saw something small in her eyes then: the spark of her self-confidence flickered a little brighter. She straightened her back. That relief, as I said before, appeared in her face and demeanor.

I hope that by encouraging her to be kind to herself, she’ll be able to dole it out to the people who will receive it and return it in spades.