Brand new Spurts: The boomerang effect and driving fast

October 4, 2019

By Ekta R. Garg

Enjoy these Spurts from the last two weeks, readers!

A couple of weeks ago, my husband and I had to switch cars for the day. I drive a Honda Odyssey, which I absolutely adore. He drives a BMW. Which I love and hate all at the same time.

The BMW needed to go to the dealership for service, and I’ve had bad experiences with the dealership here in town. So any time it needs any oil change or anything else, I take the car to another dealership about 45 minutes away. With the drive there and back and the actual service time, that means the car has to stay with me for the whole day.

On this particular Friday, the kids loaded into the BMW before school and I fumbled for a minute with some of the controls.

“I don’t like driving this car,” I muttered.

“Why?” Thirteen asked.

“It just makes me a little nervous,” I said. “It’s an expensive car, and I’m always a little worried about doing something to it. And…”

“And?” Eleven prompted.

“Well,” I said sheepishly, “it goes from zero to sixty in, like, three seconds. And that’s really fun to do. So…”

We turned onto the main road outside our neighborhood, and I revved the engine just enough to pick up speed.

“You want to drive faster right now, don’t you?” Thirteen asked.

I grinned. “Little bit.”

“Yeah, here’s Mommy getting pulled over for speeding on the way to school,” Eleven joked, which would be quite the accomplishment considering we live a total of 1.1 miles away.

“That’s why I don’t like driving this car,” I said.

The girls continued to rib me all the way to the main entrance of the school. As they got out, Eleven called out a reprimand to drive properly. I pulled the car onto the main road again, revved the engine just a little more, and smiled.

*****

For anyone who hasn’t listened to the radio lately, collaborations seem to be the new thing. Ed Sheeran’s doing it with everyone under the sun. Katy Perry, Taylor Swift, Justin Bieber—they’re all singing in all sorts of combinations with different artists.

One day as we were driving home, we were listening to the song called Eastside that features the talents of Benny Blanco, Khalid, and Halsey. (And the fact that I had to Google the song to get all three singers’ names right tells you how up to date I am with the singers of today.) Thirteen and Eleven didn’t seem to mind it all too much, although Thirteen kept talking about how creepy Halsey’s voice sounded.

“Who wants to go to the east side with her anyway?” Eleven said in a huff.

“Yeah, and why the east side?” Thirteen murmured. “What’s wrong with the west side?”

“Well, they’ve got their own story,” I quipped.

Thirteen groaned loud and long.

“That’s a terrible joke,” she said.

“Hey, I think it was pretty clever,” I replied.

She just shook her head at me. I thought she’d appreciate it more, being a theater kid and all. I’m still pretty proud of it myself, actually.

*****

Last week the entire middle school went on an overnight camping trip together. In the weeks leading up to the trip, the grades spent time preparing skits to perform for everyone. Eleven came home more than once expressing her frustration with the lack of seriousness on the part of the other sixth graders. They didn’t seem to spend too much time worrying about their lines, it seemed, and it didn’t help that it felt like they never had enough time to practice.

“If they’re not taking responsibility for it, then do something,” Thirteen suggested one morning before school. “You can rehearse before school, at recess, in advisory. Do something about not getting enough time to practice.”

Eleven rolled her eyes at her sister’s advice. Part of her, I know, appreciated it. Part of her wished that her big sister didn’t seem to have the answer to everything.

The refrain I’ve drummed into the kids’ heads is, “Smart girls find a way to fix the problem.” It’s nice to know that Thirteen has taken that to heart. Now if only Eleven wouldn’t scoff every time her big sister reminded her of it.

*****

They say that a person only fully understands the difficulties of parenting when s/he becomes a parent. The longer I’m a parent myself, the more I appreciate my own mom and dad. I often think about the kinds of challenges they navigated with my sister and me. There’s the issue of parenting in general, and then they had the added challenge of steering us in a culture and country that they adopted as home but that wasn’t their birthplace.

My husband and I talk occasionally about how people without kids can’t fully grasp the speed bumps that trip us up. And certainly the kids can’t grasp them either. How can they, when they’re the cause of those speed bumps?

Occasionally, though, the boomerang comes back around sooner than anyone expects.

Eleven is the notorious early riser of the two girls, taking after her father and grandfather. Thirteen doesn’t get out of bed with ease; it generally takes her a little longer in the morning. I can commiserate, because I know exactly how she feels. While adulting requires early mornings sometimes, they’re not my most favorite.

In an interesting twist, though, once Thirteen is awake she moves fast. Eleven will wake up early, shower, get dressed, and come downstairs by 7:30. We aim to leave every morning by 8 a.m. for school. She can still find a way to be late.

Eleven’s freshest first thing in the morning, and she loves to chat. Her train of thought skips along from one subject to the next at lightning speed, and because she has a lot to say she’ll often just stand in the kitchen and talk. And talk. And talk. I have to remind her to keep moving on her way to get her breakfast or to keep eating it.

Yesterday morning, Thirteen came down after Eleven, as she often does, ate her breakfast, went back upstairs to brush her teeth, and came back down to see her sister still eating. At that point, Eleven decided she had to go pee. She left her breakfast and went to the bathroom.

“She gets down here before me,” Thirteen said, “and yet we’re still late for school.”

I suppressed a knowing grin. “This is exactly what it was like when you were in sixth grade. That’s why I yelled so much. And then I stopped yelling.”

“Yeah,” she said in that half-teasing voice of hers, “because now your favorite child’s in sixth grade.”

“No, I stopped yelling when you were halfway through sixth grade, because I realized it didn’t accomplish anything,” I said honestly.

She pondered this for a bit, and I smiled into my mug of tea. I don’t know if she remembers the yelling; she didn’t say one way or the other. But I know she understands now why I did it.

Gotta love that boomerang. Looking for it to swing back around again soon. Maybe this time on just how much we spend on the kids.

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Newest Chart: When parenting boomerangs

September 20, 2019

By Ekta R. Garg

Two weeks ago, on the day after Labor Day, I woke up with a sore throat. No problem, I thought. When the seasons change here in Central Illinois, we expect a day or two of scratchiness.

On Wednesday of that week the scratchiness had disappeared, and congestion had arrived. Again, I didn’t bat an eye. Okay, so I would come down with a cold. Not fun but certainly nothing to worry about.

Then came Thursday. The day I woke up feeling like a truck had run over me. Twice.

Because my husband had to go to the clinic later that morning, he volunteered to take the kids to school. I followed the three of them to the mudroom and watched them put on shoes and pick up backpacks. Then I opened my mouth to bid the girls goodbye.

“Have a good—”

“Go sit down,” Thirteen interrupted with full-on teen stubbornness.

“I will, I just—”

“We love you too; go sit,” she repeated.

“I know, but—”

“We love you, we’ll have a good day, see you after school, there,” Eleven piped up behind her sister. “Go, Mamma. Take it easy.”

I looked at my husband.

“What has the world come to?” I asked, feigning shock. “Do you see the way the kids are ordering me around?”

He pecked a kiss on my forehead and reiterated what the kids told me. In essence, all three of them were banishing me to the sofa for the day. Since they outvoted me, I had no choice but to listen and was grateful to do so.

I spent that day catching up on HGTV and a movie or two. When it came time for dinner, we ordered Chinese. My husband and Eleven picked it up on the way home from soccer practice, and I watched them walk in with the takeout containers from the couch.

In a move rare for me, I didn’t get up to serve anyone. Instead, I let Thirteen come to me. She pulled a little side table to me.

“What do you want to eat?” she asked me and filled a plate per my requests then brought it to me.

“When you get all better, I’m sanitizing everything,” she said, picking up the remote a little gingerly. She set it on the coffee table and went to the island counter to join her sister and father for their own dinner. After a few minutes, when she saw my plate empty, she refilled it for me.

On Friday, though I didn’t know it was possible, I felt even worse. I also woke up with a temperature, which the girls monitored with me during the day. That evening when I announced the fever had dropped, they both cheered.

Throughout the weekend and all of last week, the girls went out of their way to take care of me. Eleven asked repeatedly if she could help with household chores not normally her responsibility. Thirteen made sure I stayed comfortable on my sofa spot for the week. Both of them took turns teasing me in the most good-natured fashion, gentle but still funny.

Last Thursday I felt good enough to do some small tasks, which took me to sorting through the mail right around the time the girls would come home from school. As he had done many times, my husband stepped up (despite starting to feel a little icky himself three days earlier) and brought the kids home. I happened to be standing at the small counter close to the mudroom where we drop mail and other items when everyone walked in

“Oh my gosh!” Thirteen exclaimed, taking a dramatic two steps back. “Oh my gosh!”

“What?” I asked, pretending not to know why she was reacting that way.

“What is happening here?” Eleven asked, tacking on to her sister’s performance with her eyes wide. “What’s going on?”

“What?” I asked again.

Thirteen put a hand to her chest in Victorian fashion, and both girls proceeded to go upstairs to their rooms to wash up. I just shook my head at all the silliness and went back to the sofa. By the time they came back down, I felt depleted of the little bit of energy I’d spent during the day. I went back to the sofa.

“What was going on before?” I asked Thirteen.

“I have no idea what you’re talking about,” she said, our family’s code for taking the Fifth Amendment.

I suppressed a smile, a signal for me that I really was feeling better.

Since Monday we’ve all gone back to our normal routines. My husband recovered from his laryngitis. I’m almost back to a hundred percent after the cough/cold/flu I endured.

This morning, Thirteen came downstairs for breakfast before school.

“My throat feels a little scratchy,” she said.

I held up a finger to her. “No. I forbid it. You can’t.”

She rolled her eyes.

“It’s all you guys’s fault,” she said, glancing at me and her dad.

“What did we do?” my husband asked.

The ribbing continued, and Thirteen took a handful of cough drops to school just in case. I hope it’s just the run-of-the-mill, fall-season throat scratchiness and nothing more serious. From recent experience, I know how miserable the more serious version can make a person. But the girls have shown me that they know exactly what to expect if one of them does get sick, because they took such good care of me.

Sometimes when parents are in the thick of actual act of parenting, we don’t know if what we’re doing is making a difference. If what we’re trying to teach the kids is actually sticking. Weeks like this offer me reassurance that it is.

Latest Chart: Annoying your kids and finding Dinah

August 16, 2019

By Ekta R. Garg

I stared from the dock at the lake. The placid green-blue water reminded me of the Caribbean, but no Caribbean country featured a collection of tall peaks circling the water. The sweeping mountain range gazed down, offering a vista of a glacier the color of a summer morning peering over the top of the range as if it wanted to play hide-and-seek.

With a little help, some gentle coaxing, and minimal instructions from the friendly (and I’d definitely say optimistic) gentleman running the dock, I climbed into a canoe with a paddle. He seemed to have no trouble whatsoever believing that I could not only paddle the small boat but also make it to a destination and back to the dock. On purpose.

Maybe it was the scenery around me that defined “picture-postcard perfect.” Since arriving in Norway, I’d had trouble holding on to the stresses of my life back home. How could I, when the mountains invited me to take a seat by their side and just let myself be? Everywhere we looked, everywhere we walked, the scenery and the people greeted us with a benevolence that seemed to come from a storybook. How would it feel to uncurl my fist and let all my worries slip through my fingers?

“We’re not making any progress.”

I suppressed a sigh. Maybe it wasn’t so hard to find an ounce of that stress. Especially with a tween and a teen in the same boat as me.

After the nice man at the dock pushed us off, we all started to paddle. The first few attempts took us in literal circles. We’d done some mild white water rafting earlier in the week during the first part of our tour, so I tried to remember what the rafting guide told us to do and paddle according to those instructions.

It didn’t work very well. The girls continued to let loose their complaints into the air above us, and it baffled me for a minute whether the valley was the right place for them to do so. The serenity of the Norwegian landscape had muted my daily frustrations. Hadn’t they felt its magic too?

“This is hard.”

“Here, why don’t we paddle on opposite sides?” I suggested from the back of the canoe. “[Eleven], you and I will paddle on the same side, and, [Thirteen], you paddle on the opposite side from [Eleven]. And it’s your job to make sure you paddle in the same rhythm as her.”

The girls fell into a better cadence of paddling. After 10 or 12 strokes, though, they lost it again. Eleven couldn’t see this at all, of course, since she sat at the front. Thirteen either hadn’t seen it or was concentrating too hard on paddling to care.

Without warning, without saying another word, I started to sing.

“I’ve been working on the railroad, all the livelong day! I’ve been working on the railroad, just to pass the time away!”

“What is that?” Eleven asked as if she’d smelled something rotten.

“Where did you learn that song?” Thirteen asked, her tone expressing her eyeroll.

I stopped singing. “In school. It’s a really old song people used to sing for jobs like…well, working on the railroad. You know, when you needed to follow a certain rhythm to do your work. Can’t you hear the whistle blowing, to rise up so early in the morning? Can’t you hear the captain shouting…”

A rut opened in my memory for a moment. I knew the next few words involved a woman’s name, but I couldn’t for the life of me remember what it was. So I fumbled through that part and kept going.

The girls groaned, audibly, but I noticed that their paddling got a little better.

We made it to the miniscule beach about a half mile away from the dock and the boathouse—just far enough to admire our progress but not so far as to exhaust us. We explored the shore for a bit, ducking past a low-hanging tree, following the curve of the short shoreline around to where another member of our tour group had graciously pulled in our boat when we’d arrived. The beach was more like a mini island, explored in a couple of minutes, a small resting spot for anyone who had an inclination to paddle deeper into the valley later.

About 10 minutes after we arrived, one of the tour guides zipped close to us in a motorized boat to let us know that lunch would be served soon and we needed to head back. Once again the girls and I relied on our fellow travelers to push us into the water; they were from Florida and spent as much free time as they could engaging in aquatic outings, so the dad of the family there had no trouble giving the canoe a nudge after we’d all settled with our paddles.

We started paddling, and I started singing.

“I’ve been working on the railroad, all the livelong day! I’ve been working on the railroad…”

“Oh no,” Eleven said with a loud groan.

“Not this again,” her big sister echoed with chagrin. “You know people can hear you, right?”

I broke off my own singing. “So what? I don’t have a bad voice. I can sing in tune.”

My memory clicked into place just then, and the name came back to me.

“Dinah, blow your horn! Dinah, won’t you blow, Dinah, won’t you blow, Dinah, won’t you blow your ho-o-orn!”

“There’s more?” Eleven asked, incredulous at the tempo change.

“This is distracting!” Thirteen said in a loud voice over mine.

“Maybe that’s the point,” I replied in a speaking voice.

Neither of them had a response for that comment.

I started singing again. I kept singing, noticing that the paddling had fallen into sync much faster on our trip back. In fact, we had little trouble keeping ourselves in a fairly straight line as we worked to get back to shore.

I sang through “I’ll Be Working on the Railroad” another time or two just to annoy the kids—yes, I admit it, that was the bigger draw—before dropping my voice to a volume meant more for myself to sing through the title track of “The Sound of Music.” I couldn’t help it: in a moment like this, I understand what would inspire Maria Von Trapp to let loose on those hills. They did feel alive to me.

The glacier, the valley, that lake, and the Caribbean blue-green water made me grateful for music. For the opportunity to travel. And, yes, even for kids who get annoyed with their parents.

Latest Chart: She loves animals thiiiiiiiiiiis much…

May 24, 2018

By Ekta R. Garg

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I got bored with one of them.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Her dad glanced at me.

“Feline what?”

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

“Where did you hear about those things?”

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

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

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

There’s also a caveat with animals.

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

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

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

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

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

May 16, 2018

By Ekta R. Garg

Enjoy these Spurts from the last two weeks, readers!

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

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

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

“What is it, though?” Eleven asked.

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

Eleven and I looked at each other.

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

We both groaned a little too.

***

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

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

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

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

“Kix,” Nine said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

This morning, one of my worst fears came true.

I overslept.

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

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

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

“What happened, Mamma?” Nine asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Brand new Chart: Reconciling with the past

May 7, 2018

By Ekta R. Garg

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

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

[Still shuddering]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“No, they’re not,” I said.

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

“Dogs are colorblind,” Nine confirmed for me.

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

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

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

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

“Did it make you sad?” I asked.

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

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

She smiled in sympathy and bounded back upstairs.

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

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

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

Latest Spurts: Doing favors and Bollywood flicks

April 30, 2018

By Ekta R. Garg

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

“Can you do me a favor?”

“Sure,” I said, “what?”

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

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

“Sort of.”

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

“Thanks,” she said.

“You’re welcome. See you downstairs.”

“Okay.”

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

Her face folded into doubt. “Why?”

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

She grinned back.

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

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

***

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

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

“What’s wrong?” I asked her.

“Nothing.”

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

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

“What part of it do you find boring?”

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

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

“No.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Definitely worth pondering.