Latest Chart: You think you’re a negotiator? You haven’t met a teenager.

April 23, 2021

By Ekta R. Garg

People think that political candidates have to be great negotiators, and often they do. They have to figure out how to balance the demands of their constituents with their own goals, maybe their own personal ambitions for power. Their tactical abilities don’t hold a candle to a teenager on a mission, though.

The following has become a running joke—at least, I consider it a joke—for Fourteen and me any time I’m driving her places.

“Do you want me to put in the directions to Starbucks?” she asks, gesturing to the GPS screen.

“Nope.”

“Why not?”

“Because we’re not going to Starbucks.”

“But we’ve got time.”

“School starts in twenty minutes, so, no, we don’t have time.”

“But it’s so close by.”

“Nope.”

“But you could get a treat for yourself, Mamma. Anything you like, you can get.”

“That’s really generous of you, but no.”

The context might change a little—we might be driving to her violin teacher’s house where they have lessons in the teacher’s back yard socially distanced, say, or to her dance class where she and four other students share a huge dance studio the space of two bedrooms. On the rare occasion I do use the GPS, she’ll tell me I’m spelling “Starbucks” wrong as I input street names. She’s even “failed” my driving several times as I drive right past the coffee joint instead of turning into the parking lot.

The argument, however, is always the same. Take me to Starbucks. Buy me a treat.

In case you’re wondering, no, I’m not in the habit of taking my children to Starbucks much. We’ve stopped there during road trips a few times for a cup of tea and to use the bathroom. There was the infamous episode with Twelve, when she was in preschool and still gaining confidence in using the bathroom like a big girl, when she made me stop there every day for a week after school just so she could pee. She never even asked for something to eat. She just wanted to stop in this one particular Starbucks on the way home.

Now, however, thanks to visits to Myrtle Beach with the grandparents and the girls’ close friends (who are really more like honorary cousins) who live there, Starbucks is high on the priority list for my 14-year-old.

This week she tried to sweeten the ask by including her sister. Yesterday, after picking Fourteen up at school, I had to make a quick stop at the grocery store near home. We had just enough time for me to go to the store, grab the one vegetable I needed to make dinner, and then get in the car and drive to Twelve’s school in time to pick her up after track club.

“Are we going to Starbucks?” Fourteen asked after we chatted for a few minutes about her day.

“No.”

“Why not?”

“Because I have a lot to do at home,” I said.

“What do you have to do?”

I cited the two magazine articles I still had to write plus a few other tasks.

“So wouldn’t getting some Starbucks help?” she asked. “Just think, it’ll make your work so much nicer.”

“No.”

“Oh, come on,” she said in a teasing tone. “You know you want to.”

“Not really,” I countered. “I really just want to go home and write my articles and finish my day. Plus, it’s not even on the way.”

“That’s okay, [Twelve] won’t mind if we’re a few minutes late to pick her up.”

“You really think so?” I asked wryly. “How would she feel if you got Starbucks and she didn’t?”

“So get her something too,” she said. “She’s your favorite child anyway. Don’t you want to make your favorite child happy?”

“She’s not my favorite,” I said automatically, “I love you both equally, and I’m still not going to Starbucks.”

In truth, I really was tired, and I could feel my resolve slipping a little. If we’d actually driven by a Starbucks on the way, I would have probably at least considered stopping, not because I wanted to give Fourteen a treat but because she was wearing me down a little bit. In a rare moment of fatigue, I knew I would have considered giving in to her just to make her stop begging.

The trouble was that I knew it wouldn’t stop her completely; she’d just again start after week or two.

(Toddlers and teenagers; really, someone has to find a way to bottle that quality and monetize it.)

We arrived at the grocery store, and I told her she could stay in the car. As I walked toward the entrance and put on my mask, I decided to let my teen’s persistence wear me down a little anyway. I wouldn’t go to Starbucks for her, but I could make a peace offering.

I grabbed the vegetable I needed then wandered to the bakery section of the store. After perusing the choices for a couple of minutes and glancing at my watch, I picked up a box of eight snickerdoodles. Within minutes I’d zipped through the self-checkout area and made my way back to the car.

As I got back into the driver’s seat, I handed her the grocery bag and told her to look inside. Her eyes lit up when she saw the little box. Feeling my firm hold slip even further, I told her she could have two right then.

She has a snack after school every day anyway, and I knew when she went home she’d have a glass of milk. I figured the cookies could count as the snack part of her after-school routine.

We got to Twelve’s school several minutes early and sat in the pickup line talking as we waited. I turned off the car and watched as Fourteen pulled her second cookie from the box. Without a reminder or any admonishment, she closed the box right away and put it down.

I stared at the box for a minute then retrieved it from her lap and opened it.

“What are you doing?” she asked.

I pulled out the first of my own two snickerdoodles.

“Having a treat,” I said.

I might be (mostly) impervious to teen begging, but even I need a little fun every now and again, right? And hopefully this will put off the constant requests to stop at Starbucks. For a week or so anyway.

Latest Chart: “Going back in time…”

March 26, 2021

By Ekta R. Garg

This week I got a blip from the past.

On Monday, after months of a hybrid online/in-person school schedule, Twelve went back in person for good. I dropped her off that morning with what I presume was a huge smile on her face. Her mask covered her mouth, but I could hear the excitement in her voice.

When I went back to school at the end of her day, she did this weird hobble-hop movement to the car. Her tone still held the excitement of the day—the fact that she could see her classmates and teachers face to face again; going to her locker; not having to whine about internet issues—but she informed me that she sprained her right ankle. Apparently, the teachers thought it was a good idea to take advantage of the beautiful weather in the afternoon and took the entire middle school to the enormous field behind the building to play Capture the Flag.

It actually was a fantastic idea. Twelve, though, couldn’t enjoy more than five minutes. That was her estimation, anyway, of how long she chased after one of her friends when her foot twisted in a strange way and she fell to the ground.

I don’t think she absorbed what a sprained ankle meant beyond the fact that she couldn’t put any weight on it whatsoever. We got home, and I instructed her to stay put as I trotted around to the passenger side of the car. With one arm slung across my shoulders for support, she hopped from the garage into the mudroom. I trotted back out and grabbed her school things from the car.

The short version of this story is that Twelve spent Tuesday and Wednesday at home attending school from a comfy chair and ottoman set. By Wednesday afternoon, she could put some weight back on her right foot. She was limping, but she was mobile.

She was also antsy.

“I have to go back to school,” she said Wednesday evening. “I can’t stay home another day. This is driving me crazy.”

The longer version of this story is that for a couple of days, my baby girl needed me again in a way she hadn’t in a long time. After school on Monday, I supervised while she butt-scooted up the stairs to her room so she could change out of her school clothes and into her PJs. I watched her as she made her way back down the stairs the same way, and then I became an animate crutch for her across the first floor of the house whether that meant going to the kitchen for a snack or hopping to the bathroom in the opposite direction.

On Tuesday morning, for the first time in probably five years, I helped her out of the shower. Granted, I kept my eyes closed when the shower curtain scraped open that morning (Talk about mad mom skills. Have you ever tried to help a kid stand up from the tub and coach them on how to get out of it when you can’t see what they’re doing? Not exactly the easiest task in the world.)

Once she was comfortably standing on one foot, I turned my back to her, opened my eyes, and kept talking to her as we discussed her day. I had to hang around to help her hop into her bedroom so she could get dressed and then supervise yet again when she did the butt-scoot to go downstairs. Then it was hopping all the way across the house to our home study where she settled herself with her device, all of her school books and papers spread out around her, and an ice pack for her ankle that her daddy had wrapped in an ace bandage before going to work.

Throughout the day I checked on her, and she tolerated my hovering with a great deal of patience. I think, though, that it bothered her a little bit. Twelve doesn’t like being the center of attention, and she really hates asking for help. That quality can be a double-edged sword. On the one hand, she’ll never sit around waiting for other people to make things happen for her. On the other, if she’s in a tough spot and can’t manage something on her own she may refuse to acknowledge that. She might not even recognize it.

For the first time in a long time, Twelve needed me on a physical level. I’d forgotten, almost, how that felt: to care for a child’s tangible requirements. Bathroom stops; meals; packing up a bag. As is the case with all kids, at some point both Fourteen and Twelve started doing most of these things for themselves. Eventually they’ll take over all of them.

Their needs now are different: emotional; mental; psychological. Especially in this last year. When they were babies, I thought, naively, that nothing could be as hard as waking up night after night for 3 a.m. feedings/diaper changes or trying to figure out exactly what they meant when they were crying and couldn’t talk yet. Now I know that while those things were physically demanding, the physical demands have their own place in terms of how hard things are. Raising teens and tweens is a whole different level of difficulty.

Of course, this is Twelve. My wiggle-worm. Even she jokes about how she can’t sit still for long, and that extends into her independent mind and spirit. By late on Tuesday, she started pulling away from me, wanting to hop all by herself across the house. I don’t know if she was embarrassed that her mother had to help her, or she was impatient to get better again. Maybe she wanted to get over this little hurdle so she could course correct and go back to school in person. It’s probably a mix of all three.

I get that and I don’t. We hear about people having babies or I go to a store and see baby clothes, and I’m truly astounded that my children—my 5’6.5” teen and my 5’3” tween—could ever have been that small. Surely not them, I think. It feels like they came to us fully formed with their humor and snark and maturity that pops up at the most surprising of times.

With all the challenges that parenting poses and how this last year has pushed us, at times, to our limits, it was kind of nice to have to think only about the small things this week. To only have to worry about refilling an ice pack or moving a rug out of the way so Twelve didn’t slip on it. Little things that, as young parents, meant the world would end if we didn’t get them right.

Now we know better, of course. Now we can make jokes about these challenges, even chide Twelve not to move too fast when she went back to school yesterday. And she can give me an eye roll and a “I know” with a tinge of tween angst and remind us that they don’t stay little for long.

Newest Chart: Let’s be mad at the parents now (or maybe not; anger is futile anyway)

February 26, 2021

By Ekta R. Garg

One of the absolute pleasures of the kids being so close in age is watching them bond. They tease one another, they often walk through the house with arms slung over one another’s shoulders, and they’re in one another’s rooms more often than in their own. (Fourteen would argue her sister is more guilty of this, but I’ve seen the teen enter the tween’s room many times too. :>)

Fourteen often jokes about leaving her sister behind or doing the 21st-century equivalent of selling her to gypsies. I know she’s joking…most of the time. When we brought Twelve home from the hospital, my now-teenager plopped herself on the floor—all of a self-assured 2 years old at the time—and demanded with plaintive cries that we give her the baby. The video and pictures from that time show a child growing exasperated with the adults around her. Why, you can see her thinking, did they not get it?

Twelve, of course, adores her older sister. Oh, she complains about her. Makes fun of her. Rolls her eyes in melodramatic fashion as she states just how melodramatic Fourteen is being. But there’s no doubt that she’d follow her sister to the ends of the earth.

In the last year, then, we’ve started relying on Fourteen to help smooth ruffled feathers when Twelve gets upset about something. She may not realize this, but as time goes on we plan to use her more and more as the buffer. The mediator.

The person privileged enough to listen to Twelve’s bellyaching.

A prime example of this happened earlier this week. The temperatures were lovely for February—sunny and in the 30s—and Twelve was in school in person (at her school they go three weeks online, one week face to face.) My social child loves her friends, and even though she spends a fair amount of time chatting with them online on a regular basis, she values most the time she gets when she can see them without the barrier of a screen.

On Tuesday, as Twelve tells it, during study hall she went outside with her friends. They ran around for a little while and then hung out and talked. When I picked her up from school, she was as chatty as a magpie. Her normal self, when she’s had a great day.

A few hours later, her mood had turned upside down. She spent hours doing her homework and was clearly frustrated with it. She worked with a friend over via video chat, which helped, but she had a pile of things left on her to-do list. Not everything required the friend’s help, and not everything was even that hard or due the next day. But they were time consuming.

I finally dragged her away from her backpack just as she was packing it up almost three hours after she started.

“Why don’t you come and watch TV with us for a little bit?”

“I have to practice my cello,” she said in a sullen tone.

“I know, but you’ve been working ever since you came home. Just take a break for a little bit. You can practice after dinner.”

“After dinner?” she asked as if I’d told her to spend the rest of the night walking on her hands instead of her feet.

“Yes, after dinner. You only have to practice it for ten minutes for the practice challenge, right?”

“Right.”

“So, ten minutes is nothing. Come watch TV, eat dinner, and then go practice. You’ll feel a lot better, trust me.”

She sighed, she rolled her eyes, she mentioned how she didn’t like doing things “like that,” but she came with me.

The practice challenge, by the way, is a challenge her cello teacher sets for all his students every February. Basically, he challenges the kids to practice for 10 minutes every day of the month. At the end, the kids who complete it get a little certificate. It’s more about the bragging rights, though, which he highly encourages (in a healthy way.)

Normally one to practice for 20 minutes about three or four times a week, February is the time when Twelve gets away with less practice time on days like these. If she can do the full 20, great. If not, she hits her 10 minutes and calls it a day.

She complains about practicing the cello at all, but she knows that doesn’t get very far with us. So she’s made it a part of her routine, and she has a set order of when she likes to do things. Generally we don’t push her to change her methods too much. She gets good grades and gets her practicing done consistently. On days like this one, though, when she was clearly in need of some time away from school things and needed to do something fun, I push her out of the comfort zone of her routine and nudge her to interrupt the cycle of frustration.

She came and watched TV with the family for about 30 minutes; then it was time for dinner. As we ate, my husband asked Twelve about the day and whether she had any study hall time in which she could have worked on some of her homework. She got a little defensive, saying she really needed the time with her friends.

I’d hoped that TV and eating would help shift her mood, and it did a little but not by much. After she put her plate in the sink, she muttered about needing to practice and made her way upstairs. Fourteen just shook her head.

“That’s why she should use her study hall time to work on homework,” she said. “I do. I work on homework and spend time with my friends and get my stuff done and have fun all in the same day.”

“Maybe you can talk to her,” I suggested.

“She’ll listen more if she hears it from you,” my husband added.

“I did,” Fourteen said, sensing right away that her sister’s homework issue was about to become her problem.

“Try again,” I said.

She didn’t respond, and I figured she’d pull the favorite teen excuse “Oh-I-forgot-to-do-that” if I asked her about it later. I decided to go ahead with doing the dishes and cleaning up the kitchen. I’m a firm believer in the fact that we give our problems our all in trying to solve them, but on some days the best way to solve them is just to go to bed and start over the next day.

Everyone else drifted to their rooms, and the girls’ lights turned off. I finished cleaning up and shut off the kitchen lights then went to Twelve’s room to say good night. I got a stiff “good night” in return. Fourteen was a little more jovial.

When I went to our room, my husband grinned and handed me a note card.

“Look what I found on the floor,” he said.

I read it, not sure at first what I was looking at. Someone had written messages on it; some were in pencil, some in ink. The handwriting was different between the two, and I realized what had happened.

In addition to all the other inside jokes and things they share, the girls set up a mail system between their rooms. Fourteen has a little mailbox with an actual flag that someone gave her as part of a Christmas gift. Twelve has a tiny stocking on her wall. They leave one another messages in the mailbox and stocking from time to time, and although I knew they did this I’d never seen one of the messages. Until now.

The exchange went like this. The spelling and syntax are all original; I haven’t changed anything. (And if you’re wondering about the first line, Twelve decided on a whim to learn Spanish using Duolingo.)

“I’m sorry. I just had a no bueno day, and I feel bad, so, yeah.”

“That’s alright.”

“I just had a day of confusing emotions and now I can’t decide how I feel.”

“Our parents made me tell you about the study hall thing.”

“Huh.”

“I said I didn’t want to. You can guess what happened.”

“Well, now I’m mad at them. Great. Juuust great.”

“Anger is futile. Don’t worry be happy.”

I laughed out loud. Really, I did. But it wasn’t a mean laugh, and only a small part of it was, “Oh, they’re funny.” It was mostly a delighted one. Because it’s moments like these that tell me we’re doing something right. We’re helping these girls bind ties so tight that no matter where they go or what kind of day they have, they’ll always be there for one another. And even their parents, who they’ll probably get mad at, can’t stop them from supporting each other.

Latest Chart: Christmas wishes

December 25, 2020

By Ekta R. Garg

In a year full of so much strife, pain, and loss, it seems like a luxury to have a day of joy and laughter. Yet today has been just that. In the movie version of 2020, Christmas this year has been the part of the film that offers a respite after the buildup of drama. It’s been a day full of the idyllic scenes that make the Hallmark Channel so famous.

We’ve had the copious presents under the tree; some of them were practical items (sweatshirts) and others were indulgences (a Harry Potter bracelet for Fourteen; a hoodie with Megan Rapinoe and Alex Morgan on it for Twelve.) We’ve spent the afternoon playing board games that involved loud protests about when it counts for someone to yell “Uno!” and bursts of giggles about ridiculous clues given during Taboo. We’ve even shared some Christmas chocolate, an occasional treat and indulgence indeed.

This week leading up to Christmas Day has had its fair share of typical holiday moments too. We decided on the day the kids’ break started that we’d watch a movie every single day. To combat drawn-out discussions about what to watch, each family member got to choose three movies and write the names on individual slips. Every day, we’ve taken turns drawing the slips and have dutifully sat to watch one another’s choices amid groans and grins (depending on how much we liked that day’s feature film.) By the end of break, we will have watched 15 movies—a marathon that is a record for us.

Fourteen put her best acting skills to use for the past three weeks, insisting that I must have been the one to place a mystery gift under the tree when she knew very well it was her dad who put it there. (In fact, she was the one who wrapped it for him.) She demanded on a daily basis that I “confess” to being the Secret Santa, even going so far as to say I could “confide” in her and that we didn’t have to tell anyone else that I’d done so. In this house, she’d easily win an Oscar for her pitch perfect performance. Not once did she drop the character of “impetuous, impatient teenager wanting answers immediately.”

In a burst of bravery, Twelve decided to ask her friend group what pictures they’d like her to draw for them as Christmas presents. She ended up drawing 11 pictures, and they ran the gamut from How to Train Your Dragon characters to snowy scenes of a home in winter. She wanted to do a good job, and she began working on the pictures in late November. With online school keeping her busy, she finished the pictures last weekend. We decided the best way to make sure the pictures got to all her friends on time was to hand deliver them. The excitement Twelve experienced in seeing her friends face to face at a social distance in the last two days totally eclipsed her embarrassment in sharing her drawings with everyone.

My own contribution to this holiday break has been challenging myself with a variety of new and fun meals to make. I’ve spent more than my fair share of hours planning, cooking, and washing dishes afterward. It’s been a delight, though, to hear the sighs of pleasure at the table and the demands that I replicate the meal of the moment. More than once, Fourteen has said, “Make more right now.”

In this week and especially on a day like today, it’s easy to forget the challenges we’ve experienced this year. Is that okay? I don’t know. My husband and I have spent most days this year trying to guide, coach, goad, chide, encourage, and, on occasion, reprimand the kids as they’ve encountered the unexpected. We’ve talked multiple times about how we’re living through a historical event and how reading about history in an article or watching a documentary about it is much easier. Even today FaceTime and phone calls reminded us how we’re separated from our extended family because of the pandemic.

Yet, after this year, today seems like a full dose of normalcy. The kind that doesn’t need a follow-up dose three weeks later. It’s allowed us to exhale and smile with relief afterward.

The new year is a week away. We have no idea what 2021 will bring us. After this year, I think we’ve all learned to make the most of days like today. The days when we can treasure one another from start to finish.

Maybe that’s one of the lessons we’re meant to learn from the pandemic; maybe we won’t rush through the precious moments so much anymore. We’ll live through every moment—really live through it, as opposed to styling it or capturing it or rushing through it. We’ll live the moments and create the memories we keep talking about. The kind of memories filmmakers rely on for inspiration in their blockbusters.

I hope you all experienced peace and love today. I hope the new year brings you prosperity and good health. More than anything, I hope 2021 brings you moments to remember.

Latest Chart: Where efficiency meets embarrassment

October 30, 2020

By Ekta R. Garg

Parents of teens and tweens everywhere, congratulate me. I’ve managed to embarrass both of my children with a single act. And all it took was saying yes to an opportunity.

More than two years ago, a magazine started in our part of town that’s meant for the residents here. It’s not for the entire town, mind you. Nor does it go to the sister town that’s a stone’s throw away. It’s just meant for a couple of dozen neighborhoods as well as the apartment complexes around us.

The magazine shares news of our local library, my book reviews, and information about local events. The main feature article every month, though, is a family from around here. The family appears on the cover and on the multi-page spread inside. You get softball information like favorite hobbies and vacations taken as well as what jobs the main couple hold and where the kids go to school.

Since my book reviews have been appearing in the magazine for a while now, I have occasional contact with the main feature writer and the publisher. In the middle of the summer, the publisher and I chatted on the phone about a variety of topics related to the magazine: how to add varied content, for example. I have a master’s degree in magazine publishing, so for me this conversation was a natural fit.

And, truly, it was kind of like coming home. I’m deeply grateful for all the amazing writing/editing/publishing opportunities I’ve been given and continue to get through the years, but I miss working with a team on a longstanding imprint. There’s something inherently satisfying about putting together a publication that is well-edited, well-written, and engages its target audience, and doing it on a regular cycle.

We talked in broad terms about what kind of contributions I might be able to make to the magazine but left it open-ended for now. Then, at some point in that conversation, the publisher asked me if our family would like to be the feature family for an upcoming issue. I said yes without batting an eye. After all, the magazine, as I said, is strictly local, and it doesn’t even go to everyone here in the area.

My father-in-law is generally happy to go along with whatever the majority of the family does, but I knew the magazine story might be a little bit of a hard sell to my husband. He works hard and is proud of all he’s accomplished, but he doesn’t like a lot of attention for it. Twelve is exactly the same way. Despite the deep drive she possesses to work on her art, she’s ultimately conflicted about sharing it.

On an intellectual level, she loves the idea of people seeing what she’s created. Emotionally and psychologically—and, let’s be honest, physically—she squirms whenever she gets compliments for her art. It makes her visibly uncomfortable. Like any creative person, she wants to be recognized but she doesn’t want the applause or the overflow of compliments.

I’m still not sure how that squares away in real life, but in her brain it does.

I figured that Fourteen might be a little fidgety with it all, because her hair or outfit might not cooperate on the day of the photo shoot, and she seemed a little embarrassed that something we get in the mail regularly would now feature her and her family. Her embarrassment was the vague sort that most teens feel, though, so I didn’t pay it much mind. I thought the photo shoot itself would be enough to buoy her spirits.

On the day of the shoot, before the photographer arrived at our house, I heard plenty of groaning and complaining.

“Why do we have to do this again?”

“Why can’t I just wear what I’m wearing?”

“How long is this going to take?”

“It’s too windy out there; we’ll all blow away. Oh, well, I guess we can’t take the pictures!”

“We’re going to look dumb standing in front of our house getting our pictures taken.”

“I hope no one sees us out there when the photographer comes.”

“Why do we have to wear long sleeves? It’s so hot outside!”

(The easy answer to that one, by the way, is that magazines are always planning two to three issues out. The photographer was taking pictures of us at the end of the summer for the November issue; we had to look fall’ish to fit the other content in the magazine.)

“I have a headache.”

“My face looks terrible.”

And on and on.

The photographer surprised all of us by finishing her work in about 15 minutes. I was a little surprised, and worried, that the pictures wouldn’t turn out. Everyone else ran inside the house in glee, happy to be done with the whole thing.

When it came time to provide content for the story about our family, no one seemed interesting in answering the questions the writer sent me. I shrugged and answered them myself. Soon enough, the magazine story became “out of sight, out of mind.”

Weeks later (as in, earlier this month,) the publisher let me know the issues had been printed and volunteered to drop off copies. He came, and we chatted some more about the magazine. He also complimented me on the pictures, which made me even more eager to see them. They turned out incredibly well, and I knew our extended family would be excited.

The immediate family, however…

“We’re on the cover?” Twelve exclaimed when she came home from school.

“That’s the whole point of this,” I explained patiently.

Groans filled the air above us.

A day or so later, I sent the publisher an email to thank him for taking the time to come drop the magazine copies at our house. In his response he complimented me again on the pictures and story and mentioned the November issue would “drop” into mailboxes within a day or so.

I figured it was best not to say anything about that; while we were showing our copy to my family on FaceTime, I let slip that thousands of homes would be getting it. My parents and sister were delighted. The exclamations of everyone on this side of the screen could have made it crack.

That was all before our friends start getting the magazine, of course.

“People at the hospital have been texting me all day,” my husband said with mild chagrin the day after it came in the mail.

“I made the mistake of mentioning it to my friends on our chat, and now they’re going to go ask their parents about it,” Fourteen said, covering her face with a hand. “My outfit is amazing, but my expression is horrible.”

Twelve came home from school in a huff. “A sixth grader was complimenting me on how our house looks. You did this, Mamma. You.”

Yes, I did this. I’ve always prided myself on efficiency in my tasks, and I managed to embarrass almost everyone in the family in one fell swoop. I think I can say my job as mom of teen and tween is accomplished for this month.

It’s so nice when minimal effort yields maximum result.

Newest Chart: I thought they stayed little forever…

June 26, 2020

By Ekta R. Garg

I blinked and became a mother.

I blinked and became a mother again.

I blinked and am the mother of a 14-year-old.

Is it just me, or does 14 sound more grown up? Hear me out on this. I think there are age markers where the kids are no longer kids. When they’re 5, we think, “Oh, so sweet, s/he’s just in kindergarten.” But then 6 rolls around, and suddenly they’re in elementary school.

They hit 10, and we think, “Wow, s/he’s still a kid.” But suddenly they turn 12, and they’re on the verge of becoming a teenager.

And now that I’m the mother of a 14-year-old, it’s become glaringly obvious to me that in four years I’ll be the mother of a college freshman.

Okay, wait a second. Maybe I need to back up. I need to think of Fourteen as she is now and not that far into the future.

In many ways, she’s still a little girl. Already this summer I have had to give this child a hand to get out of bed, because she’d rather loll away her summer vacation instead of getting up at a decent hour in the morning. I’ve stood next to her, kissing her on the cheek several times in succession, calling her bluff every morning when she’s “sleeping” but not acting convincingly enough like it, and reaching under the comforter to pull her pajama shirt down in a gentle manner after it’s ridden up overnight.

I stroke her hair and sing stupid songs that I invent on the spot, and, when nothing else works, reach under the comforter again for her mile-long longs and swing them, again with the same gentleness I used when she was a baby, toward the floor. Her legs are so long that even this move doesn’t provide her body with upward momentum. Instead, she rubs her eyes and, after a few seconds, holds out her hands to me so I can pull her up. With a yawn, and suffering from extreme bedhead, she pads to the bathroom and shuts the door.

It’s when she shuts the door that I know she’s a teenager and not a little kid. Privacy, please, she’s saying with that one small gesture. I need a minute, and I need it alone.

I’ve seen these small shifts in other areas too. Although we bought Fourteen’s birthday cake (well, birthday brownies, but that’s beside the point,) she’s made it clear since the start of the summer that she’s going to bake her sister’s cake when it’s Eleven’s birthday. As a reward for pitching in to clean the house, we bought her a small succulent and a tiny cactus. A friend dropped off another succulent at our doorstep for her, and she’s keeping a close eye on all three plants in her room. She even went so far as to re-pot them herself when it became clear they needed it.

And she’s become quite savvy in her comebacks. Earlier today when she and Eleven and I were laughing our way through a game of Liar, she caught me lying about how many cards I’d put down.

“I know your tells,” she said.

“Really?” I asked. “What are they?”

“Wha—no. That’s not how this works. I’m not going to tell you, otherwise you’re going to try not to do them.”

She’s also become more tolerant and, in some ways, more lenient with her younger sister. On the days that aren’t too hot, the girls have taken to walking around the neighborhood for about 30 minutes. They use their alone time to dissect TV shows. I’m sure there’s also some complaining about “the parents” that goes on too. But I don’t mind. They’re bonding, and Fourteen leads the way in that.

“I’m a hoarder,” Eleven declares when I’m helping her clean out her closet, and I know she says and does this because her big sister has a strong connection with objects from various events and memorable dates. If either my husband or I tease Eleven about something, there’s a 50-50 shot she’ll get offended. If Fourteen jokes with Eleven, my younger daughter’s face cracks into a smile that then usually erupts in a laugh.

Fourteen doesn’t order her sister to leave her room; instead, the girls will fold their laundry together. And that game of Liar from earlier today? By the time I joined them, they’d already been playing for more than 30 minutes. The only reason I got in on the fun was because they were laughing so hard and getting so crazy that Fourteen, her eyes wide in dramatic fashion, begged me to join them.

“She’s crazy,” she stage-whispered of her younger sister, knowing and probably betting on the fact that Eleven was listening around the corner.

This older child of mine, bit by bit, is turning into a responsible young woman. She cares deeply for her friends, and she doesn’t hesitate to take the lead when asked. Most of the time, too, she’s in a sunny mood. None of that melodramatic teenage darkness for her, thank you, as she mocks teens who behave that way.

“[Eleven] is more of a teenager than I am,” she says with a roll of her eyes, and it’s true. On some days my younger child’s mood bounces like a ping pong ball, and it’s hard to predict when and where the bounce will go.

Of course, Fourteen is still a teenager. We have to remind her every week to clean her room. If a conversation doesn’t engage her directly, she’ll often drift off into her own thoughts and have to be brought back to Earth. If she’s got a plan for something on her own—painting her nails before a socially-distanced meeting with her friends—she’ll go after it without anyone reminding her, but try to get her to do the same for something we asked her to do and her face goes blank as she blinks once or twice.

“I forgot,” she’ll say; another one is, “I don’t know.”

That’s one of her tells, the classic “I don’t know” that translates to “I didn’t do it” or “I’m not interested and am annoyed you’re making me.”

Still a teen. Still at home for four more years. Always mine.

I love this kid.

 

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.

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: The teenage angst is real

January 31, 2020

By Ekta R. Garg

Parents of teens, congratulate me: I’ve officially become one of you.

When our older child added the dreaded “teen” to the end of her age, I was kind of curious what would happen. We’ve all read about those mood swings, those irrational outbursts. The shrugging off of love and affection one day and the hugs that won’t stop the next.

Up until now, Thirteen was handling teendom pretty well. We noticed her getting a little edgy, but we knew we could also chalk that up to a change in hormones. Plus the stress of middle school.

Then came the day of The Rubberbands on the Braces.

Just before school started this year, Thirteen got braces. At the beginning of this month, at a regular orthodontic checkup, the doctor told us it was time to add rubberbands to the routine. Thirteen had to wear them at all times, except for when she was eating or brushing her teeth. The hygienist gave her a handy little tool to put the rubberbands on her wires, and she made sure Thirteen practiced a few times before we left the office.

Then came The Next Morning.

(Sound melodramatic yet? What can I say, I’m the mother of a teen now. Melodrama is clearly an option.)

Thirteen, in her usual dreamy-eyed sort of way, sauntered downstairs for breakfast. She ate her cereal without batting an eye at the clock. Meanwhile, I was pretending that it didn’t bother me that we were getting late. I was doing that whole nonchalant, “It’s your school day, not mine” routine.

(Can we be honest? It always bothers us more than it bothers the kids. Can’t wait until they become parents so I can laugh at them for this one.)

I reminded Thirteen that she needed to brush her teeth after breakfast (another bone of contention between us, but, whatever) and replace her rubberbands. She resisted at first. Said she had a system. Had it all worked out. She was totally chill about the way she’d handle this newest addition to her morning routine.

I told her that the rubberbands weren’t an option. No, she couldn’t wait until after lunch to put them on. Yes, she needed to do it now. No, she couldn’t skip brushing her teeth.

She stomped (quite impressively, I have to say) up the stairs and brushed her teeth. Then she stomped back downstairs and headed to the powder room. For reasons known only to herself, she’s decided to store her rubberbands and the handy tool in there.

(Could I have argued that point? Sure, but why add more drama to the morning? We were already approaching the “melo” line.)

Thirteen started to take her sweet time to put on the rubberband, and I…kind of…lost it.

(Remember that whole thing with the clock? Yes, we were definitely running late by this point.)

To be fair (mostly to me,) I kept my tone pretty even at first.

“[Thirteen], you need to hustle,” I called across the house. “We’re going to be late.”

“I am,” she said.

Another minute or two rolled by. I know this, because I was obsessing over the clock. Eleven was peeping at me from the mudroom, her eyes getting fractionally bigger as the minutes ticked past.

“[Thirteen], what’s taking you so long?”

“This is hard,” she said, a whining edge encroaching her tone.

“Well, maybe if you hadn’t spent all your time listening to the radio this morning, you would have moved faster and you would have been down here in time to do this,” I said. “Get moving!”

(This is where my voice got a little louder and Eleven’s eyes a little wider.)

“I’m giving you sixty seconds,” I yelled—yes, at this point we could definitely call it a full-blown yell—“otherwise you’re going to be punished for wasting time.”

“I’m doing it!” she screamed back.

Yes, she screamed. Not in that small child “why-is-my-mom-bothering-me” kind of scream but in that “you’re-such-a-pain-and-you-don’t-understand-anything-about-my-life” kind of scream. Her tone challenged me and leveled the communication playing field. You know what I’m talking about: that moment when you’ve gone from towering over your child in your mode of instruction to looking at them eye-to-eye because all of a sudden they have opinions too.

(Or, in my case, looking slightly up. Thirteen is now taller than me by a few inches. It’s a little disconcerting, to say the least.)

“I don’t appreciate your tone,” I yelled back. “Now get moving!”

Which she did, eventually. And, of course, I did what every veteran parent of a teen does: I lectured her in the car during the 1.1-mile drive to school. Eleven’s shock had abated just a touch, but she still looked like she wanted to let her jaw drop open.

There are lots of drawbacks to yelling at your teen first thing in the morning. I’ll admit, I felt terrible. I don’t like starting my day with so much tension, and I certainly don’t like sending the kids to school with that kind of conflict weighing on them.

There are also some perks, though, to getting this out of the way in the morning. By the time the girls got home from school, they were both their normal sunny selves. They’d had the space of an entire day to distract them and, probably, make them even forget the harsh words from that morning.

Later that evening, when we were trading stories over dinner about our day, Eleven’s eyes got wide again.

“You need to tell Daddy what happened,” she said with a smirk but also an air of disbelief. Sort of like a, “I still can’t believe we did that this morning.”

Well, Daddy, here you go. Now you know what happened. And now you also know that we’re officially parents of a teenager.

Someone please tell me the screaming matches get a little quieter from here on out…?

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.