Latest Chart: A (pending) lifetime adventure

December 8, 2017

By Ekta R. Garg

Growing up, I lived a duality. My parents migrated to the U.S. from India in the 1970s in order to make a better life for themselves. Their choice determined the course of the lives of my sister and me.

We relished PBJs as much as rajma-chawal (kidney beans in a tomato-based gravy and Basmati rice.) We listened to Michael Jackson and Whitney Houston as well as Kishore Kumar and Asha Bhosle (famous singers for Hindi films.) We slipped into our jeans for a casual weekend at home or got all dressed up to go to a formal function in a lehenga (a formal outfit consisting of a blouse and a long skirt, coupled with a long scarf, all in bright colors and with embellishments and embroidery.)

Us girls also grew up going to India every three or so years to visit family. My grandparents and aunts and uncles seemed like doting elders who would chuckle at our rudimentary attempts at speaking Hindi and marvel that we loved Bollywood films as much as any kid in India. For my parents, however, those people were their parents and their siblings; the people who held their childhood memories and experiences dear.

My sister and I grew to love our extended family as much as our parents did. After all, there were so many cousins who were about our age, and regardless of culture or language a cup of ice cream still tasted just as good no matter what country we ate it in. We built the foundation for a lifetime commitment to these people that drove almost as deep as what our parents experienced.

Almost 15 years ago, I married someone who was born and raised in India. An immigrant. The immigrant experience is nothing new to me, so when I took those vows I assumed that part of my life would be the same as it was when I was growing up.

Some things haven’t changed. I still love rajma-chawal and have since learned to make a mean chicken piccata as well. My husband and I bond over Adele’s dulcet tones even as we use Pandora to listen to the latest Bollywood songs. I still love my jeans for a casual day out, but I’ve long since graduated to wearing a sari for a really formal occasion.

So, a duality, with its caveats. My children have grown up with this duality as well but in weaker concentrations. Due to my husband’s intense training and minimal vacation time through all the years he studied to become an electrophysiologist, we haven’t been back to India. In almost 15 years.

The pull for us to go had also weakened, however, because both of us can easily visit our parents and siblings here in this country. We don’t board flights and lose almost two days before arriving at our destination. We get onto a plane after breakfast and arrive well before dinner. While my extended family has asked repeatedly through the years when we were coming to visit, the circumstances haven’t always lent themselves to allowing for a trip back.

Sometimes, then, you have to bend circumstances to what you need them to be. After months of discussing and hypothesizing about a variety of scenarios, we booked flights to India. The kids have never been, and they don’t know quite what to think.

When asked by her father what she felt about going to India, Eleven answered, “Underwhelmed.”

When I chatted with Nine about our trip, she said, “I know this is going to sound weird, but I just don’t like it when people pinch my cheeks.”

Our kids are smart and conscientious about the environment; their brows furrow when we talk about the dramatic pollution in New Delhi, which will act as our home base for the time we’ll be there.

We’ve also shared some giggles about the trip. Just after the school year started, one morning as we drove to school I explained that we would meet a lot of people and get offered more food than one could possibly consume.

“So, basically, our trip to India is going to be an all-you-can-eat-and-meet buffet,” Eleven quipped, and she and her sister and I broke into laughter.

This past weekend, I described various members of my mom’s family and their natures; the common factor between everyone on my mom’s side is that they all love to chat and can do so for extended periods of time on a variety of subjects.

“Tell us more about the talk-a-lot gang,” Eleven said, fighting a smile.

I’ve repeatedly told the kids that the only stupid question is the one not asked; nothing they wonder or worry about is off limits to discuss. I’ve also tried to share my own ways of handling a trip to India.

“When in doubt, just smile and nod,” I said. “Just be polite.”

“Just smile and wave, boys,” Nine quoted the penguins from Madagascar. “Smile and wave.”

“But, wait,” Eleven went on, and I opened my mouth already to combat what she would ask next; I didn’t beat her to it.

“What if they ask you a question like, ‘Are you from Minnesota?’” She answered her own query with a slightly maniacal smile and nod.

“But I thought you were from Illinois,” Nine said, jumping on the imaginary conversation.

Both girls nodded and smiled.

“But you’re from Minnesota too?” Eleven said.

Nods and smiles again.

“Are you from somewhere in between?” she went on.

Nodding and smiling.

“Okay, so you’re from Nodsville.”

I relented with an eyeroll. “Okay, so maybe just smile politely.”

We’ve also had sobering chats about the amount of poverty we’ll probably see, the dust that seems to pervade every home no matter just how hard people there fight to keep it clean, and the challenges of the sheer population and traffic and navigating it all. I’m really not sure just what the kids will think and feel when we go to India, although I know they’ll share their thoughts and ideas without reservation when they feel ready to do so.

I’m excited to see all my relatives, to reconnect to that other part of my life and to share those people with the girls. It’s another piece of the “puzzle” that kids always think their parents’ lives are. For me it’s a reminder of the good things of that duality that I’ve experienced my entire life.

And no matter what happens, I know one thing for sure: it’ll be some kind of adventure.

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Latest Chart: Earning a place in the spotlight

December 1, 2017

By Ekta R. Garg

From the time she was young, Eleven has loved the stage. I still remember seeing her perform with her kindergarten class when we lived in Salt Lake City. She stood there, as proud as a peacock, chest puffed out, eyes bright, singing with a gusto that some of her classmates couldn’t match.

(All right, peanut gallery, enough razzing me with your snide “I-have-no-idea-where-she-got-that-from” comments!)

For the past few years, she’s acted with a local children’s theater group. The director chooses shows with small casts, generally about 20 to 25 kids, and the kids rehearse on and perform a tiny stage in the heart of our tiny downtown. Eleven has played Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz, a vampire in We Are Monsters, and a fun reiteration of herself in Where’s My Spotlight?.

This past spring the director and main drama teacher wanted Eleven to join the newest show, but the final performance clashed with the girls’ dance recital. So we had to forego both the spring show and the summer camps (because of other camps and our trip to Greece.) When the school year started, the director of the children’s troupe sent out a general call for the kids who have acted under her tutelage. Unfortunately the newest show will be on December 17, and we aren’t in town.

Eleven did her best to mask her disappointment—she would miss the chance to perform again as well as the chance to work with this upbeat, encouraging director—but she handled it with a fair amount of grace. My brain, of course, kicked into overdrive. If not with the children’s theater group, then how else could we give Eleven the chance to do some acting this fall?

The answer came from our park district, which produces some great children’s plays for two age groups. The first is for 3rd to 5th graders, and the second group is comprised of 4th to 8th graders. The plays go up in our local artsy theater, much bigger and more serious than where the children’s theater group performs. Eleven and Nine have been on that stage the last two years because of their dance recitals (also through the park district,) so we weren’t worried about the scope of the stage.

The park district announced that the fall play for the older set would be James and the Giant Peach Jr. The catalog laid out the specifics: kids registered and then auditioned for parts. The director promised that everyone who registered would get a part, but she made it clear that she would play fair with casting. A big role in a previous show, with the park district or anyone else, didn’t guarantee a large role in this one.

I’ll admit, we went into this a little naively. Everyone in our family assumed that Eleven, with her visible, tangible love for the stage and her acting experience (we had to fill out a questionnaire that asked about it,) would get something to do in the show that had some meat. We didn’t expect her to have a major speaking part, but a part that helped her natural talents shine would surely be reasonable to expect.

Forget about the meat; Eleven barely got a spoonful of gravy.

I don’t say that with any malice or ill will, however. As it turned out, Eleven got several roles in the show. Many of the scenes called for crowds—a lady of the garden guild in one scene; a seagull in another—and Eleven, like so many other children, received the assignment to fill those scenes in the background.

“Hey, Mamma,” she asked one afternoon as she sat in the kitchen drinking a glass of milk, “do you want to hear my lines for the show?”

I almost asked what she meant; I didn’t think she had any speaking roles at all. When I heard the dramatic pause, though, I understood. My child was being facetious.

Her overt disappointment didn’t last too long, however. It couldn’t. The show had a demanding rehearsal schedule, and after the first few weeks Eleven didn’t have enough energy to waste on silly sentiments.

The cast rehearsed three days a week. On Tuesdays and Thursdays they went from 6 p.m. to 8:30; on Saturdays they practiced from 12:30 to 3 p.m. We knew all this going into the registration process and had a few discussions about whether this trying schedule would make sense to impose on Eleven. She agreed to it without hesitation before auditions. Any opportunity to get on stage, in her mind, was worth the late (for her) dinners and nights.

On the upside, the kids rehearsed for just five weeks before opening night. The park district offers plays four times for the attending public: on a Thursday night, a Friday night, a Saturday matinee, and a final show on Saturday night. This time the shows happened one week before Thanksgiving. We didn’t attend opening night, but we did go to the Friday night show.

The level of the kids’ preparation and talent surprised me. The set pieces I’d helped to paint (owing to the requirement for all parents to put in 10 hours of volunteer time) brightened up the monochromatic stage, and the kids, all of them, sang and danced their hearts out. Our family spent most of the play tracking the scenes in the playbill when we knew Eleven would appear and then poked and prodded and whispered to one another when she did. We waved at her the few times we thought she looked in her direction, and I even blew her a few quiet kisses.

Her eyes still shone with excitement as she danced and sang with the others, although the light had gotten a little dimmer. The rehearsal schedule had demanded a little more from her than she realized she had to give. This child of mine never admits she’s ready for bed, but during the month of October and as we got into November I heard her say more than once, “I’m tired.”

After the matinee on Saturday, Eleven had a few hours to come home and relax. My husband, seeing her fatigue, said, “You know, you don’t have to go do the final show tonight.”

My college-age nephew had flown in to spend Thanksgiving week with us, and he looked at my husband in mock horror.

“But the show can’t go on without her,” he said, his loyalty to his young cousin unwavering.

“Uh, yeah, actually, it can,” Eleven said with a wry smile. “They probably wouldn’t notice I wasn’t there.”

We all had to laugh at that one, as much for the veracity of her statement as for the good-natured way she’d said it. She hadn’t gotten a main part or a supporting role or even a speaking part at all, but Eleven had found a way to leave her disappointment somewhere backstage for the greater good. Given everything else, at least she’d gotten to revel in the spotlight once again.

A few days after the show ended and once Thanksgiving break began, I asked Eleven about her experience.

“It was really good,” she replied right away.

“Do you think you’d want to do another show with the park district?” I asked.

“Yeah,” she said, “but maybe in the summer.”

My heart smiled. I’m still not sure how I feel about the difficult rehearsal schedule the park district puts in place, but we got through it. We shared a new experience, one that Eleven might talk about years from now wherever she might end up and especially if theater is still a part of her life in her teens or later. In hindsight, it offered Eleven an opportunity to see what “life balance” means in a tangible sense. That’s definitely a skill she can use even if she never goes to another audition again.

Latest Spurts: It’s all in the lingo

November 10, 2017

By Ekta R. Garg

Enjoy these fun lingo-based Spurts from the last two weeks, readers!

In the last few weeks, Nine has had a little trouble staying up to speed during her morning routine. I’ve cajoled, complained, lectured, and begged. Finally I broke down and asked her how I could help. At the end of it all, I figure the girls have a few insights into how to fix some of their challenges.

Nine asked for a timer.

“But you can’t hear it in the shower, can you?” I asked. I wasn’t about to risk putting any devices in the bathroom with this child; her showers make hot yoga rooms feel like igloos.

“No, but just knowing it’s there will help me,” she said.

I agreed, and we started using a timer in the mornings. One day last week, I took my husband’s tablet to her room and set the clock to count down the shower. I watched Nine move around her room, picking out her clothes, putting her deodorant and socks and other items on the bed, getting ready to get ready for the day.

“Do you want the timer for when you take out your stuff?” I asked.

“No, just for the shower,” she said. “That’s when I lollygag. I don’t do any lollygagging when I’m taking out my clothes.”

Didn’t know that Nine knew she was lollygagging at all.

***

My writing studio was built over the garage, so I don’t have conventional windows. Instead I have these lovely skylights, and one of them gives me a view of the roofline. When the weather is nice, sometimes I’ll see birds perched on the topmost point of our home. Last week the girls and I pulled into the driveway in the afternoon and saw a heron on top of the house.

“Ooh, look!” Nine, our resident animal lover, exclaimed.

“You can probably get a really good look at him from the studio,” I told the kids.

They raced inside and washed their hands as fast as they could. Eleven made it into my studio first, and she murmured how beautiful the bird as if she didn’t want to scare him away by speaking in a loud voice. My husband, home early from work, came down the hall from our bedroom and joined us.

“Daddy, look, there’s a heron on top of the house!” Eleven said.

“A hair? What?” he asked, teasing her.

“Yes, Daddy, a hare,” Eleven said, quick on the turnabout. “There’s a bunny rabbit sitting up there. Come look.”

Her father didn’t have a good comeback for that one. Score one for the tween.

***

It’s funny how sometimes we just take it for granted that our kids’ preferences will stay the same. Occasionally this spills into their abilities as well. We forget, literally, that they can do more than they were able to do, say, a year ago. Or four years ago.

One day after school we got into a lively conversation about juice boxes for lunch.

“A. had Capri Sun at lunch today,” Eleven declared. “How come we never get Capri Sun?”

“You know, when I was a kid, that’s all I used to drink,” I said, “but you two told me it was hard to get the straw in the pouch.”

“Yeah, when I was seven,” Eleven said, grinning.

Right. When she was 7. Which she’s not anymore. Duh.

“I think it’s still hard,” Nine, my staunch supporter and diplomat, responded.

I guess I just forgot to ask Eleven whether she wanted to give Capri Sun juice pouches another try.

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.

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.