Newest Spurts: Looking dope and being daft

September 22, 2017

By Ekta R. Garg

Enjoy these Spurts from the last two weeks, readers!

One day Eleven got into quite a punchy mood as we drove to the Y for the girls’ swimming lesson. She started singing silly songs in the car, and by the time we parked and started walking to the entrance of the YMCA she added a funny dance to go with the snog. Nine watched her big sister for a few minutes then turned to me.

“She’s really quite daft,” she said in all seriousness.

Yes. I have one child who’s daft and another who knows exactly how to use the word. All we’re missing is some dancing penguins and Julie Andrews talking about being “practically perfect in every way.”

All in a British accent, of course. Care for a spot of tea, mum?

***

Often the kids will encounter things at school but don’t always have the presence of mind to tell me about them. Sometimes extracurricular activities get in the way. Sometimes they forget due to other conversations we have. As a result, I’ve gotten quite used to the kids dropping random information into our time together.

Like last week at breakfast. Eleven began describing how two of her friends at school told her, without any judgment whatsoever, that she’s “unhealthily skinny.” Before I could say anything, Eleven made it completely clear that her friends weren’t making fun of her. They weren’t speaking in a condescending tone. They made the observation more in a matter-of-fact sort of way.

My older child is willowy. She’s about as tall as me now, has legs that go on for miles, and a fairly straight frame. We’ve talked often about her body image, and I’ve reinforced for her over and over again that as long as she’s eating right and getting enough exercise it doesn’t matter how her body looks.

I didn’t have to say any of that this time, though. Eleven rounded out the story with the observation that when one of the friends who made the “skinny” comment darted away to join a game at P.E., the other one turned to her and said, “But I think you’re beautiful too.”

“I just beamed at her,” Eleven said to me.

I could see the clarity in her eyes about the incident. She believed her friend’s compliment, and it didn’t really bother her much about what the girls said before. I hope this means we’re at the start of her accepting herself for how she looks.

It’ll certainly save us a lot of trouble in the years ahead.

***

Earlier this week I got in the car to pick up the kids from school and realized I’d left my sunglasses in the house. I grabbed an old pair of my husband’s sunglasses and put the car in gear. When I got to school, I saw that Nine had already come out to the car pickup line, but Eleven hadn’t yet.

“Di-Di’s coming,” Nine announced as she sat in the car. “She just had to get something out of her locker.”

I opened the windows, parked the car, and turned it off. Nine and I chatted about her day, and I asked the standard after-school questions about homework, whether she’d eaten her lunch, etc. Nine answered dutifully. Then after a minute or two, she said, “Mamma, can I be honest with you?”

“I always want you to be honest with me, no matter what,” I said, wondering where this was going to lead. The girls, as I’ve said, surprise me all the time.

“Those sunglasses don’t look nice on you,” she replied. “I know you might think you’re looking dope and everything, but you’re not.”

“And what does that mean, ‘looking dope’?” I asked, fighting a smile.

“You know, cool and stuff.”

I resisted the urge to look at myself in the mirror. The sunglasses are old, a pity pair my husband bought to act as temporary sunglasses while he found the perfect ones. They’re black—like, Tom Cruise in the ‘90s black—and tapered at the corners of the eyes to give a sleek biker look.

In other words, to look dope.

“You don’t think I look cool?” I said, pretending to be offended.

“Well, you do, but the sunglasses don’t,” Nine said.

Good. As long as we’ve established that I am, in fact, dope. Or all that. Or whatever.

Advertisements

Latest Chart: A wedding and firsts

September 15, 2017

By Ekta R. Garg

Last weekend the girls and I attended a wedding, which turned into an evening of firsts for us.

A year ago, their Irish dance teacher announced her engagement with glee to all of her dance classes. Then she announced that she would invite all of her students to attend and that she wanted them to perform at the wedding. I didn’t know quite what to make of that, but I joined in the girls’ excitement at attending Ms. E.’s ceremony.

Our first “first” of the day: Eleven and Nine wondered aloud what to wear. Having been in and attended several weddings through the years, I settled on a dress to fit the request for semi-formal attire. When Eleven put on a skirt and t-shirt, I gently directed her back to her closet. Surprisingly Nine picked out a sweet dress with blue lace over a layer of hot pink on the first try that fit the bill. Eleven came out in a shin-length black dress with ruffled cap sleeves and white accents and a ruffled hem, and we were ready to move on to hair. After we spruced up, we got in the car and started driving.

The wedding was about an hour-and-a-half away, so I let the girls pick out a couple of movies for the drive. A second “first”: I listened to the DVD of Pixar shorts and let the girls talk me through some of the more visual parts as I drove. We chatted about the mini films, and I got to experience them with Eleven and Nine as we laughed and talked about the scenes we liked best.

We got to the wedding venue a few minutes before the ceremony began and each picked up a stem with bells attached to one end for our third “first”: shaking the bells when the ceremony ended.

The wedding party took their places, and we watched Ms. E. come down the aisle in her white gown and veil on the arm of her father. Everyone attending the wedding stayed standing as the pastor made his opening remarks, and the girls couldn’t see so when we sat down I pulled Nine in my lap to help boost her a little bit. We listened to the pastor talk about love and commitment, about the gravity of these ideas and the necessity of them in a marriage.

Then we saw our next “first”: before the bride and groom took their formal vows, we watched as Ms. E. grabbed her phone from her maid of honor and snapped a quick selfie with her husband-to-be. It startled me, for sure, that she would interrupt her own wedding for the photo, but I also found it oddly sweet. Ms. E. laughed in that way that only pure happiness can bring before scrolling on her phone for the vows she’d written, and the wedding got back to its regularly scheduled program.

Several minutes later the ceremony ended, and we shook the bells as Ms. E. and her new husband came back down the aisle. Then we followed the rest of the crowd into the hall for the reception, found our tables, and encountered our next “first”: the interminable wait between the end of the wedding and the start of the reception.

The bar was open enough to allow for unlimited beers (which I don’t drink at all) and unlimited sodas, and the bartender said Shirley Temples—my drink of choice—counted as a soda. So I asked for one and wound my way back to the table in the far corner of the hall around the dancefloor where Eleven and some of the other students amused themselves by dancing around to the generic music the DJ played and Nine hovered at the edge of the floor.

The girls came back to their spots at the table next to mine to take a quick break, and Eleven asked what I was drinking. I told her, and she asked what went into a Shirley Temple. I explained the ingredients, and she asked for a sip, which led to our next “first” that evening: the first time Eleven tried a Shirley Temple.

Eventually the wedding party arrived and we got to enjoy a variety of speeches and dinner. Some of the older Irish students did end up performing, and then came the announcement that Ms. E. would perform. She got on the dancefloor with three of her students immediately around her holding up her dress so we could see her feet. Lo and behold, she’d changed out of whatever shoes she’d worn with her wedding dress into Irish hard shoes. The music started, and we saw another “first”: a bride performing Irish dance at her own wedding.

(She looked thrilled and probably didn’t even hear the wedding guest behind me murmur that if Ms. E. jumped any harder she’d fall right out of her dress.)

The DJ eventually announced that the dancefloor would open up soon, and I knew we’d have to experience our last “first” of the night: leaving without dancing a single dance with the rest of the attendees. Admittedly, that was a hard one for me. I enjoy dancing enough that I hesitated, but I also knew I had to get the girls back home. We pulled out of the parking lot around 9:15, and the girls asked for Disney’s version of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe on the way home. Once again they watched and I listened, this time to Peter, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy encounter Narnia for the first time.

At different points during the evening, the girls found their attention wavering. When they had to wait for their dinner or conversation lagged because we ended up sitting with people we didn’t know. But Eleven and Nine also got to participate in the bouquet toss and watched the garter toss with a great deal of amusement. We all became part of the frenzy of the photographer’s crazy idea to get the bride and groom to go from table to table in under three minutes so he could capture the newlyweds with everyone who came to the wedding. Just before we walked out the door, we got to wish Ms. E. in a private moment in which we gave her a round of hugs and saw her face flushed with excitement and joy from the day.

The drive may have been a little long, but I’m glad the girls got to go to their first wedding. I enjoyed sharing it with them, and I can’t wait to do it again. Next time, though, I definitely want to stay for the dancing.

 

Latest Spurts: The “boring” eclipse and burgeoning feet

August 25, 2017

By Ekta R. Garg

Enjoy these Spurts from the last two weeks, readers!

Almost like clockwork, the kids outgrow their shoes every six months or so. Last week I took Eleven and Nine for new running shoes that they can wear to P.E. We entered Payless and then slowed down. A sales associate approached us and asked whether we needed any help, so I told her I wanted to buy shoes for Eleven.

“Would you like me to measure her feet?” she asked.

I figured it didn’t hurt. The last time we bought shoes, Eleven wore a child’s size 5 or thereabouts. How much could her size have changed since then? The sales lady brought a child’s shoe sizer and asked Eleven to place her foot in it.

“Well, she doesn’t fit the kids’ sizes anymore,” the woman said. “Let me just go and get the women’s sizer.”

The girls and I looked at each other for the 30 seconds it took her to switch out the sizing tool. How big could Eleven’s feet be? The woman came back and asked Eleven to put her foot in the metal plate with hash marks on the side.

“Okay, I would put her at…an eight-and-a-half,” the woman said. “Let me show you where those are.”

I have to admit, her little announcement stunned me. How was it possible, I thought, that my eleven-year-old now wears a larger shoe size than me? Surely the woman must have made a mistake. We’d get to the rack of shoes marked “8.5” and discover that Eleven’s feet slid out of them.

We went to the women’s sizes and found the 8.5 shoes. I asked Eleven to pick out a pair she liked, and after some minor negotiation she pulled out a box. She took out one shoe and pushed her foot into it.

It fit perfectly.

“Put on the other one,” I said, not quite believing what I was seeing.

She put on the other shoe and walked up and down the aisle. I watched and listened as she oohed and aahed over the memory foam in the shoes. She wiggled her toes and had no problem doing so.

The sales associate came back and asked if we had found what we wanted. I was almost afraid to ask her to size Nine for shoes, but I did anyway and the woman brought the children’s sizing tool again. Fortunately Nine is still a size 3 in kids’ shoes, so I didn’t exactly go into complete shock.

But my older child. My…middle schooler. She’s wearing women’s shoes. What next?

***

Like so many other schools across the country, the kids’ school had activities planned for the eclipse on Monday. The school provided all the students with glasses to watch the event, and because we were in the path for about 94 percent coverage I think Nine was expecting a more dramatic outcome. Around here the daylight got somewhat dim, but we didn’t see nearly the approach to twilight that those in the path of totality saw.

After school I asked the kids what they thought about the eclipse. Nine made her discontent with the entire episode known pretty quick.

“It was boring,” she said right away. “Nothing happened.”

When we got home, she tossed her eclipse glasses on the countertop. I didn’t say anything about them. I wanted to give her a little bit of time to get over the “boring” events of the day. Even if she didn’t realize it, what she’d witnessed that day was a pretty big deal.

Later that evening, I suggested she take the glasses up to her room.

“But why? I’m not going to use them again. I just want to recycle them.”

“Don’t recycle them,” I said. “Just throw them into a drawer and use them for the next eclipse.”

“I don’t need them.”

We went back and forth on it, but she wouldn’t budge. The conversation ended in a stalemate with Nine scowling at me as she went up to her room for bed.

Yesterday I received an email from the school asking for any unwanted eclipse glasses. The school will turn them into Astronomers Without Borders so the organization can pass the glasses on to underprivileged kids for the next eclipse. I showed Nine the email, and she beamed. She even put Eleven’s eclipse glasses in her own backpack to drop them in the collection box this morning.

Even if the eclipse itself was boring for Nine, at least she gets to help someone because of it. And maybe, years from now, she’ll remember this event as a time when she got to view something special and perform a small act of charity through something that touches us all.

***

Eleven has always been my little fashionista. As she’s getting older, I’m still buying all her clothes for her but letting her decide how to mix and match various outfits. Earlier this week we talked through the logistics of her wearing a skirt or dress on a non-P.E. day.

The next morning she came down in one of her new favorite t-shirts that states, “I’d rather be reading.” The style of the shirt, with its round neckline and somewhat looser fitting, suggests a more casual look. Eleven paired it with a black skirt that has thin white horizontal stripes.

I glanced at her while making lunches for her and Nine.

“I don’t know if this goes together,” she said, sitting down for her breakfast.

“I think it looks okay,” I said, trying to stay neutral.

“You can tell me if you don’t like my outfit,” she said matter-of-factly, “it’s okay.”

“Well, it’s not that,” I said. “I just wouldn’t have thought about putting those two things together.”

Her eyebrows furrowed in thought. I looked at the clock.

“You still have time to change if you want,” I said.

She shook her head. “No, I’m okay.”

I nodded and put fruit and snacks in the lunchboxes. It’s true, I wouldn’t have paired the shirt and skirt with one another. As long as she’s modestly dressed and doesn’t come down the stairs looking completely outlandish, though, I’m comfortable letting Eleven make her own choices when it comes to her clothes. It’s only through a little bit of trial and error that she’ll find out what works for her and what doesn’t.

That’s part of what being a tween is all about, right? Finding one’s way in the world. Most of the time people think that applies to the big life questions, but I say it applies just as much to clothes and one’s sense of style too.

Newest Spurts: rioting against risotto and dealing with lint

August 4, 2017

By Ekta R. Garg

Enjoy these Spurts from the last two weeks, readers!

Lately the kids have been bugging me to let them help more with chores. I don’t know whether it’s because my children are strange or because this is that sweet spot most people talk about with their kids. You know, after the tedium of diapers and stopping to examine every single bug on the sidewalk but before the nightmare of slamming doors and being told how awful we are as parents.

Regardless, I’m making the most of it.

One day last week Eleven wouldn’t let the idea go, so I told her to take the clothes out of the washer and put them in the dryer. I explained the trick of giving each item of clothing a little shake before tossing it into the dryer to help it dry that much faster. Then I told her about the lint trap and how it needed to be checked.

“Do you know what lint is?” I asked, realizing its dishwater grayness can sometimes freak people out.

“Oh, yeah,” she replied immediately. “I’ve seen enough episodes of Full House. Danny Tanner, lint—I know all about it.”

Who said 1990s sitcoms were all froth and no substance?

***

Earlier this week we arrived at the YMCA for camp, and the kids started climbing out of the car. Eleven grabbed her snack bag and water bottle. Nine grabbed her snack bag and made for the door.

“Water bottle,” Eleven called out.

“Just bring it,” I told her. “I know it’s her responsibility to remember it, but as a big sister it’s your responsibility to help out your little sister when you can.”

She didn’t say anything as we walked toward the sliding door entrance of the building.

“Of course, eventually the younger siblings learn to take care of their own things,” I said. “Then us older siblings keep doing things for them anyway, just to annoy them.”

“Anything that annoys her is good,” Eleven quipped.

“You know that the younger ones usually want to annoy their older siblings too,” I said.

“I know.”

Good. As long as we’re square on that. Don’t want anyone telling me later that they weren’t warned.

***

Like many parents who own the duty of meal planning, sometimes I get stuck for new ideas. Occasionally I have random items left in my fridge from other meals and want to try something new with them. Earlier this week the item was orange marmalade, not a favorite by a long stretch in our house, and I decided to tackle a couple of Rachael Ray’s recipes.

Rachael and I—or, her shows and I, at least—go way back, all the way to the earliest days of my marriage, and I own several of her cookbooks. I’ve made many dishes from the books to varying degrees of success. Sometimes it’s as much about trying a new technique as anything else.

The orange marmalade made its way into an orange-balsamic glaze for some turkey breasts, and Rachael suggested a lemon risotto to go with it. I’d never made risotto before, although I’ve watched her and other TV chefs do it, so I figured this was a good chance to try something new. Broaden my own skills, as it were. I added a side of steamed green beans and decided to call it a meal.

The turkey came together really well. The green beans came in a steam-ready bag from the store, so they came out fast. The risotto took the longest, which surprised me. I knew it would take a while, but Rachael called it at about 18 minutes. I found myself standing there for almost 45, still stirring and waiting for all the liquid to absorb (although I did bump up the quantity in her recipe, so that’s why it took so long.)

When we sat down to eat, I got a thumbs up on the green beans and the turkey. The risotto? Not so much.

“It’s okay,” Nine said, trying to hide just how much she really didn’t like it.

“Yeah, it’s okay,” Eleven said.

Maybe there wasn’t enough lemon zest? I don’t know. My husband asked me how I made it, and I described the process of adding liquid a little at a time and stirring it and waiting for it to evaporate before adding the next ladle of liquid.

Eleven looked down at her plate and back at me. “Well, now I feel bad.”

I shook my head. “Don’t. That’s how we learn, right? We try new things, and some of them go well and some don’t.”

Neither of the girls said much about the meal after that, but I could see in their faces that they appreciated how much time and effort had gone into making it. I hope they can see this as a positive experience. Sometimes you only learn by doing; just reading about it or watching others doesn’t cut it.

***

This afternoon Eleven, Nine, and I got into the car to drive to the other side of the neighborhood to drop Nine off at a friend’s house. As we made our way, I spotted a turtle plodding its way down the street. I slowed down so the kids could see it.

“Mamma, we have to move it to the side of the road!” Nine, our resident animal lover, said.

“How are we going to do that?” I asked.

“Yeah, how?” Eleven asked.

“We have to pick it up!” Nine said.

“What if it bites you?” Eleven asked.

“I’ll hold it far away from me. Please, Mamma, we don’t want cars to hit it.”

I have to admit, even as I slowed the car down, stopped it, and put it in Reverse, a thousand conflicting thoughts ran through my mind. The desire for the greater good—“Helping animals helps the environment!” “Be kind to all creatures!” “Show compassion to those less fortunate than us!”—battled with the common-sense approach that infiltrates a parent’s life—“The turtle could have diseases!” “People driving down the street will get mad at us for blocking the road!” “What if the turtle bits off your leg?”

Well…maybe not common sense all the time.

As soon as I put the car in Park, though, Nine unbuckled her seat belt and opened the car door. To her credit, she didn’t make a beeline to the turtle right away. She eyeballed the street to make sure no one was driving like a crazy person. By this time one car had come to a stop behind me, and an oncoming car had stopped to see what we were up to.

I opened my own door and got halfway out. Nine made her way to the turtle, which had started to figure out that all was not right with its world. It had already pulled three legs into its shell, and by the time Nine approached it the fourth leg and its head had tucked inside its mobile home too. I exchanged a look with the lady behind me, and she smiled back.

Nine turned back to me. “Can you help me?”

She must have seen my own hesitation, because she turned right back around, picked up the shell a little gingerly, and walked it across the street. She placed it in the grass in front of a home and trotted back to the car. As soon as she got in, I hit the button for the sliding door to shut.

“Make sure you scrub your hands really well when you get to A.’s house,” I said.

“I will,” she said, and even without looking at her I could hear the smile.

We spend many hours watching documentaries of fascinating places and creatures. I’m glad that Nine got the chance to exercise her love for animals today.

 

 

Latest Chart: How a tape deck got us on the Titanic

July 28, 2017

By Ekta R. Garg

Who knew that a cassette player could inspire a discussion about the Titanic?

At the start of the summer, I bought a cassette player for my studio. You know, the kind with the little black handle and the CD player built into the top. Of course, this tape deck also comes with a jack where you can plug in an mP3 player, but I can ignore it and still play my music retro style.

I finally got around to addressing the tape player. Eleven has been bugging me all week to let her help with household chores more, so I invited her to go into the basement with me to grab the box of tapes I knew I’d stashed down there when we first moved in last year.

“Why do you need tape?” she asked, when I told her I was going down to get one.

“Not tape,” I said, “A tape. As in, a cassette.”

“I have tape in my room,” Nine said, trailing along.

“Not that kind of tape,” I said, although I caught the grin that told me she was being facetious.

I pulled out the box and Eleven offered to carry it upstairs for me, even though it was a little heavy. At the last minute, I looked in the plastic tub with CDs and decided to grab one to check the quality of the CD player. I pondered my choices for a few minutes then pulled out the soundtrack for the movie Titanic.

“Oh, no,” Nine said, “not that. Why do you want to listen to something so sad?”

My girls, of course, have never listened to the soundtrack of the film. They may have heard it in passing, but they’ve never opened the CD case in anticipation of the dulcet tones of what the ship meant with Leo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet falling in love on it. For me, however, the Titanic CD holds many fond memories.

Even though I really wanted to play the CD, at the last minute I couldn’t resist the allure of the tape deck and pulled out a cassette instead. One of the best things about technology from the 1980s and 1990s is that it’s pretty straightforward. Even today, you just open it up and plug it in. That’s pretty much it. Nothing fancy to program; no novel-length instructions to read.

After listening to one of my most favorite Hindi songs (Kay Sera Sera from the Anil Kapoor-Madhuri Dixit film Pukar, in case you’re wondering,) talk turned back to the Titanic and how its story related to the movie.

“Isn’t it sad?” Nine wanted to know.

“Well, the story of the ship is sad, but the music is lovely,” I said. “It really sounds like what the ship would.”

Somehow that sparked a conversation that brought in elements of the movie and the actual sinking, weaving the two in a narrative that lasted for almost 20 minutes. The girls wanted to know about the story of the film, and I gave them the short version. They were intrigued by the fact that Rose, Kate Winslet’s character, was engaged to one person and falls in love with another.

“He didn’t treat her well,” I said of Rose’s fiancé.

“Yeah, well, men take advantage of their wives because they think they’re weak,” Nine said pragmatically.

I thought for a moment about answering her, but then Eleven piped up.

“What was her fiance’s name?”

I tried to remember Billy Zane’s character’s name (Cal,) but for the life of me I couldn’t at the time.

“I don’t know,” I finally said.

“Bob,” Eleven said. “He’s Bob the Builder.”

The three of us giggled, and then I went on with the story of Rose and Jack. We talked about the class difference between the two and the fact that Cal, Rose’s fiancé, survives in the end while Jack dies.

“But why?” Nine said. “You would think the bad guy would die in the end.”

“I know,” I said, “but he and Rose don’t end up together.”

I described the scene at the end where Rose hides from Cal so that she doesn’t have to leave the dock with him.

“Yes, see, Bob used to build part-time,” Eleven explained, “but being with Rose distracted him from building. When he didn’t find Rose, that’s when he started doing it full time and became…”

“Bob the Builder!” we all finished in a chorus.

I shared the excitement of the Oscar awards when Titanic came out and how the makeup department got a special nod for its work, particularly toward the end of the film when all the bodies of the dead passengers are shown just floating in the water. Our conversation continued in the car as we made our way to the Y for the kids’ half day of camp.

“But what was so special about the makeup?” Nine asked.

I explained how a body bloated by water takes on a different visage and that the makeup department most likely had to do some serious research so their work would appear realistic when the time came to shoot those scenes. That led us down a short rabbit trail about plausibility in a story, both film and written, and how an audience is willing to believe almost anything if it’s presented in a way that makes sense within the larger story world.

As we chatted, I remembered all of a sudden that a writing client of mind had written a pretty compelling novel about the Titanic to coincide with the hundredth anniversary of the ship’s sinking. I shared that story in brief with the girls as well. The more we talked, the more details of the movie, my client’s book, and the general popularity of the story of the ill-fated ship came back. It struck me, as we left the house for camp, that the movie itself is now almost 20 years old.

Because Eleven and Nine have no emotional attachment to James Cameron’s film, they were able to joke around about how Rose might have wanted to be free of all the men in her life anyway. We also had time and space for more inquisitive lines of thought as Nine wondered aloud what would have happened to Rose, Jack, and everyone else if the Titanic hadn’t sunk. Of course, the answer to that was an easy one: the movie, most likely, wouldn’t have been made.

After dropping the girls at camp, I continued to think about Titanic, the ship that inspired the movie, and my client’s book. I emailed the client later to ask about her novel, and I spent part of the day reminiscing about what the soundtrack meant to me. It’s been an interesting couple of weeks pondering the past, and today’s discussion is proof positive that while we never know what parenting will bring us on a day-to-day basis we know it’ll always surprise us.

Latest Spurts: Residual bacteria and a donkey for a best friend

July 21, 2017

By Ekta R. Garg

Two weeks ago, our family boarded a plane to embark on an adventure. We visited the beautiful, gracious country of Greece and for 10 days enjoyed the hospitality and immense historical value of one of the oldest civilizations in the world. Of course, for me, the parenting adventures didn’t stop, particularly where my younger child is concerned.

Enjoy these special vacation Spurts, readers!

*****

One of the teens in our tour group would arrive on the bus every single morning with her hair done in an intricate style. Sometimes it was a single complicated braid; other times it was two. Occasionally she even did a braid that wrapped around the back of her head and over her shoulder.

I mentioned to Nine how much I liked the teen’s hair, and Nine encouraged me to tell the girl.

“I will,” I said.

“Make sure you don’t procrastinate about it,” she advised.

“What does procrastinate mean?” I asked.

“It means you put off stuff until you end up having to do things in one tiny day,” she said, cupping her hands to show the small quantity of a single 24-hour period. “I mean, night takes up some time too. Why would you do that?”

And there you go. The next time I’m working on a story and my attention drifts, I know who to call to get me back on task. Even if my hair isn’t nicely braided.

***

Because we took this vacation as part of a tour group, many of our meals were included. That meant we didn’t have to worry about hunting for a place to have breakfast every morning. We could just trot down to the main restaurant of the hotel and sample the offerings of the buffet. The hotels would typically offer a wide array of pastries, fresh fruit, meats and cheeses, a hot bar where we could get eggs cooked to order, and juices, milk, and tea and coffee.

Needless to say, it’s unlike breakfast during our normal routine at home. I didn’t realize just how much the girls had started enjoying the full spread until one of the last mornings of our vacation. Nine looked at me and grinned over her plate of cheese wedges and a juicy nectarine.

“I don’t think I’m going to be able to get used to eating cereal for breakfast again when we go home,” she said.

I have to say, after having polite waiters remember my choice of tea in the morning, I rather enjoyed being spoiled myself.

***

On our last full day in Greece, we had the opportunity to visit a tiny village and walk through it. Part of the experience was meeting the mayor of the village—which comprises of 12 residents—and the mayor introduced us to many of the residents of his tiny town as well as the others that form the consortium of 96 people under his watchful eye. These residents shared fresh vegetables from their gardens with us, cooked for us, and allowed us to partake in their lives for a day.

One of the residents made a deep impression on Nine. His name was Mihalis. The donkey.

She first met him was when he “greeted” our bus. Everyone in the group got to take pictures with Mihalis, but Nine lingered after the picture session. She stroked his fur, and when she looked back at me her face cracked into a smile that made her eyes gleam.

The guide taking the pictures asked if she’d like to take a ride on the donkey later, and I said yes. I knew her face would light up again when she got to mount the saddle, and it did. But I didn’t know just how much she enjoyed the donkey’s company until about an hour or two later.

During the cheese-making and coffee sampling portion of the afternoon, Nine spotted Mihalis tied to a fence not too far away. She left the group and went back to him. As she grasped his short mane, she stroked his nose. Then she came back and asked me to follow her.

“I’m singing to him,” she said. “See, I hold him on his neck here, and I pet his nose, and I’m singing in his ear. He even twitched his ear closer to me so he could hear me.”

I wanted to laugh, not to make fun of her but because she was just so darn cute, but I didn’t.

“That’s very nice of you,” I said. “I’m sure he’s really enjoying it.”

Later, after we sat on the bus to go back to the hotel, Nine stopped by my seat and said, “Mihalis and I are besties now.”

“Great,” her dad said to me once she’d gone to her spot with the other kids in the back. “We come all the way to Greece, and she falls in love with the donkey. We could have found donkeys in Illinois.”

I guess we could have. But they wouldn’t have been Greek donkeys. And they may not have tilted their ears to listen to Nine sing.

***

This Monday I did six loads of laundry, but I didn’t get around to folding most of it until Tuesday. With the time difference between Europe and here, I woke up early on Tuesday—around 5:30—and puttered around the house for a little while. After drinking a big mug of tea, I went to the guest room where we had dumped all the clean clothes.

Nine, ever my early bird, followed me, chattering the whole way. I asked her if she would help with the laundry and she nodded. I told her to sit on the floor.

“Here, can you help me fold your clothes?” I asked.

“Okay,” she said, sitting not too far away. As I reached for a pair of underwear, though, she crumpled her face.

“Ew, underwear!”

“They’re clean,” I said.

“No, they’re not!” she replied.

“Yes, they are,” I said.

“But people’s butts have been in them.”

“They just came out of the laundry yesterday.”

“Still,” she said in an expert tone, “they have residual bacteria in them.”

Considering I’d already been up for more than two hours and it wasn’t even 8 a.m., I decided not to argue. Instead, I assigned her another laundry task and set her to splitting up clothes into different piles for ironing.

“Residual bacterial,” she stage-whispered in a dramatic way.

I just rolled my eyes.

Latest Chart: The fear in planning a birthday party

July 7, 2017

By Ekta R. Garg

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

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

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

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

She’s letting us know what she wants.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I offered Eleven the idea, and she smiled wide.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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