Latest Spurts: Getting haircuts and achieving world peace with Fruit Loops

August 30, 2019

By Ekta R. Garg

Enjoy these Spurts from the past few weeks, readers!

Last week before school started, I took the girls on an errand run. We had several things to do that day, including haircuts before school started and picking up some groceries. Along the way we chatted about the haircuts in particular.

For the last few years, Thirteen has enjoyed having long hair. She’s styled it a variety of ways, and relished its length halfway down her back. Earlier in the summer, though, she floated the idea of cutting it to her shoulders.

I didn’t say anything at the time. Kids have ideas and then change their minds. Also, between getting ready for our Norway trip and working on my novel, I didn’t want to spend time or energy on anything not crucial to either. I knew we’d have about five days before the kids started school to parse out the details on any potential hairstyle changes.

The girls went to Myrtle Beach to visit their grandparents, and when Thirteen came back she still wanted to get her hair cut. She’d already enlisted her grandmother as moral support for the idea. The only hurdle she had to cross was convincing her father.

In all honesty, I didn’t think he’d agree. Imagine my amazement when he did just that. As we drove to Great Clips last week, we discussed the conversation in the car.

“I still can’t believe Daddy agreed to let you cut your hair,” Eleven remarked.

“Yeah, well,” Thirteen said with a sigh, “he said I can only do it this one time. I can’t ever cut it again after this.”

“Why does it even matter to him?” Eleven said with her trademark bluntness. “I don’t get it. I mean, it’s not like it’s his hair.”

“Yeah,” Thirteen echoed.

“Well, in India, long hair is a sign of beauty,” I said. “Daddy grew up there, and culturally that’s what long hair stands for. It’s normal for him.”

“That’s weird,” Eleven declared.

“Maybe for you,” I said, “but there are so many cultures where people do things that we think are weird but they think are beautiful. In Africa people wear those rings around their necks to make their necks longer. In China people used to think small feet on women were beautiful, and they would break the feet of young girls and bind them so that their feet looked little.”

“Yeah, Mamma, I get it.”

“So, just like that, in India, long hair is a sign of beauty, and we don’t necessarily have to agree with it, but we do have to respect Daddy’s opinions and ideas, even if we don’t like them.”

“Maybe he’s just jealous because he can’t go for a haircut,” Thirteen mused about her father’s minimal hair.

We shared a laugh on that one, but I hope the main message got across.

*****

After the haircuts, we made our way to Sam’s to pick up a few items in bulk for the new school year like Capri Sun and favorite cereals that were running out. Our Sam’s club changed its layout in the last few weeks, so I had to make my way down most of the main aisles to get my bearings. The girls followed along and commented on all the foods we don’t eat.

“It’s so unfair,” Eleven said after the third or fourth item we crossed that we wouldn’t buy, “I don’t understand why we can’t try some of these things just once. Just once, and we’d never ask for them again.”

“It doesn’t work that way,” I said. “Once you’ll have them, you’ll want them again.”

“Yeah, but you’ve had most of them.”

Okay, so maybe not most, but it’s true that when it came to food choices my parents weren’t as stringent on what we did or didn’t eat as my husband. Of course, when I was a kid, food nutrition labels didn’t exist as we know them today. The FDA began mandatory labeling of food packages in 1990; before that time, some foods came labeled but not all did. And because I grew up as the child of immigrants, the kinds of foods we were eating were automatically different than most households.

All that to say that the conversations we have in this country today about protein, fat, and salt didn’t exist when I was growing up. People didn’t have all this information, so we ate with more pleasure and less guilt. Of course, I couldn’t express this last part to the kids, but I did remind them about the food labeling.

“We know, Mamma,” Eleven said in a sullen tone.

For the rest of the shopping trip through Sam’s, she hung back and didn’t say much. When it came time to pay, I directed the cart to the self check-out stand. Thirteen scurried forward to help load groceries into the cart after I scanned them.

“And what is [Eleven] doing?” she asked.

“She’s back here sulking because she can’t have Fruit Loops and Little Debbie Oatmeal Pies,” I said.

I turned to my younger daughter, and she cracked a smile. She couldn’t help it, even though she really wanted to hold onto that grumpiness. After a minute or two, she started helping with the groceries too.

Maybe this is the key to world peace. Forget diplomacy. Just offer everyone Fruit Loops.

*****

The first day of school was a half day, so the kids came home and ate their lunch. On the second day of school, I went to wish Eleven a good morning and found her grinning. I gave her a hug and asked what was making her so happy.

“We get to sit at the middle school tables,” she said, referring to herself and the other sixth graders, “and not because the middle schoolers are gone on the camp-out or a field trip or something. It’s because we are middle schoolers now.”

I couldn’t help grinning back at her myself. I remember what it felt like to cross the threshold from one major part of the school to another. The excitement that we were growing up and like the “big kids” now, although I know Eleven would never quite put it that way. I hope her excitement for middle school stays through these first few weeks.

*****

On Monday as I pulled into the school’s drop-off line in the morning, we spotted one of the new sixth graders.

“There’s A.,” I said.

“Oh, yeah,” Thirteen commented. “You know, her mom walked her into advisory on the first day.”

“Yeah,” Eleven added, “and she looked a little embarrassed.”

“Yeah,” Thirteen said, “she did.”

Before I could even open my mouth to tease the girls about walking them in, Thirteen turned to open the car door.

“It’s okay, Mamma, you don’t have to walk us inside,” she said with one foot out of the car.

“Are you sure?” I asked.

“Yeah, really,” she said and got out; Eleven was two steps behind her.

I had just enough time to get in a “Bye, love you!” before she shut the door. Not that I would have walked her in. But since she’s a teenager, I should at least get the pleasure of torturing her with the possibility, right?

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Latest Chart: Annoying your kids and finding Dinah

August 16, 2019

By Ekta R. Garg

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

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

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

“We’re not making any progress.”

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

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

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

“This is hard.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We started paddling, and I started singing.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Neither of them had a response for that comment.

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

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

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

Latest Chart: If you do the crime…

June 14, 2019

By Ekta R. Garg

Bailiff: “All rise. The Twelfth Court of Parenthood is now in session. The honorable Judge So Ciety presiding.”

Judge: “You may be seated. Bailiff, please swear in the jury.”

Bailiff: “Please raise your right hand. Do you solemnly swear or affirm that you will read this case and render a true verdict and a fair sentence as to this defendant?”

Jury: “…”

Bailiff: “Your honor, I do believe the medium used for this case today may prevent the jury from affirming their intention.”

Judge: “That’s fine. Unless there are any negative statements expressed in the comments section below, we’ll proceed with the assumption that the jury will agree with the verdict reached. Bailiff, please announce the case for today.”

Bailiff: “The case for today is the People versus Ekta Garg. The crime alleged: bribery for keeping her children quiet about enduring a chamber music workshop in the second week of June.”

Judge: “Is the prosecution ready?”

Prosecuting attorney stands: “Ready, your honor.”

Judge: “Is the defense ready? Ms. Garg, do you not have a defense attorney? You know that under our judicial system, you’re entitled to one and that one will be provided if you cannot secure your own.”

Defendant: “I realize that, your honor, and thank you. I just think I’m able to present my own defense in this case.”

Judge: “Well, then, let the case begin with the prosecution.”

Prosecutor stands, buttons jacket: “Yes, your honor. The prosecution calls Ekta Garg, mother of Twelve and Ten.”

Defendant walks across courtroom, enters witness box.

Bailiff approaches: “Do you swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help you God?”

Defendant: “I do.”

Prosecutor approaches the witness stand: “Ms. Garg, did you sign your children up for a chamber music workshop earlier this year?”

Defendant: “I did, yes.”

Prosecutor: “And why did you do that?”

Defendant: “My younger daughter’s cello teacher had been asking us for a couple of years to sign the girls up for the workshop. He thought it would be a good experience for them.”

Prosecutor: “And are you in the habit of following parenting advice from people not the parents of your children?”

Defendant: “Objection.”

Judge: “…”

Defendant: “…”

Judge: “Ms. Garg, you have to explain why you’re objecting to the prosecution’s question.”

Defendant: “Oh, um…well, I didn’t like his tone.”

Judge: “You didn’t…like…his tone? That’s not even a real objection.”

Prosecutor: “It’s okay, your honor, I’ll rephrase. Ms. Garg, when making decisions for your children, do you give any weight to the advice from others?”

Defendant considers the question: “Sometimes. If I think that person has good intentions.”

Prosecutor: “Uh huh. And you thought that the cello teacher of your daughter, Ten, had good intentions when suggesting this chamber music workshop.”

Defendant: “Yes.”

Prosecutor: “Did you know when you signed your daughters up for the workshop that it was six hours long every day for five days a week?”

Defendant: “I did, yes.”

Prosecutor: “Yet you signed them up anyway. You didn’t think thirty hours of music instruction was excessive?”

Defendant shrugs: “I was going based off what Mr. S. recommended. I had no idea that they would be doing nothing but music for five of the six hours a day.”

Prosecutor: “Ms. Garg, what was your daughters’ reaction on the morning of the first day of the workshop?”

Defendant: “Twelve kept saying, ‘I don’t want to go to this camp. I don’t want to go to this camp.’ Ten said, ‘I know it’ll probably be horrible, but I’m still a little optimistic.’”

Prosecutor: “Do your daughters normally protest so vociferously when you sign them up for things?”

Defendant: “Well, no. In fact, Twelve’s the one who is usually pretty easy going. She’s more of an optimist, so she usually finds something good to say about activities and such. I was actually expecting the opposite from the two of them—that Twelve would say she was optimistic and Ten would keep whining about not going.”

Prosecutor: “And do you often put your children in situations that cause them to whine?”

Defendant: “Objection. I know this one; it’s leading the witness.”

Judge: “Sustained.”

Prosecutor: “I’ll rephrase. Ms. Garg, when you picked the girls up after the workshop, were they still protesting?”

Defendant squirms: “Well, no. Actually, they didn’t talk. At all.”

Prosecutor: “I see. Did you try to ask them about their day, see what they might be thinking?”

Defendant: “I always do. In fact, I usually do it both going to an activity and coming home. Like that morning, I’d told them that I was going to offer them a bribe if they stopped complaining—”

Prosecutor: “No further questions, your honor. This witness has just admitted her guilt in court. The prosecution rests.”

Prosecutor walks back to table, unbuttons jacket, sits down.

Defendant: “No, wait! I didn’t mean bribe as in I was going to do something illegal or make them do something illegal. It’s more of a trade. You know, the kind where you give kids something to make them happy so that they’re more likely to do it again.”

Judge: “Ms. Garg, that’s what we call a Pavlovian response. Or, as the prosecutor pointed out, a bribe.”

Defendant shakes head: “You don’t get it. My daughters are incredibly smart and well-read. If I offered them something without naming it for what it was, they’d call me out on it. I figured I’d just get ahead of the situation and tell them upfront that I was bribing them.”

Judge: “If you were so convinced that this music workshop was such a good idea, why did you need to bribe them in the first place? Why not tell them, as confident parents usually do, that they don’t have a choice? A ‘you get what you get, and you don’t throw a fit’ sort of thing?”

Defendant sighs: “Because, your honor, about ninety-five percent of the time, that’s exactly the response I give them. They pout and complain and, yes, even whine, about stuff, and my husband and I stand firm. But this music workshop was the first time they were doing anything like this, and I recognized that it was a major challenge for both girls. They’re really good kids, and I told them that, but I also wanted to show them my appreciation in actions for their willingness to endure it.”

Judge leans in, curious: “So what bribes, or trades as it were, did you offer them?”

Defendant: “Well, in the last couple of months each of the girls had asked for a specific book. My first thought was that I would get them the books for their birthdays, but then I decided it might be nice to surprise them on the first day of this workshop when they came home. And originally that was all I was going to do.”

Judge: “Then what happened?”

Defendant: “When they came home that day, they were both kind of frustrated with themselves for struggling with the music as well as tired. Playing instruments for hours at a stretch without much of a break is a huge task, especially for kids who only practice those instruments, at the most, thirty minutes a day.”

Judge: “Wait, your girls practice every day?”

Defendant nods: “Sometimes they miss a day, you know, during the school year if they’ve got a lot of homework or something. We try to space out practice time so that it doesn’t overwhelm them. I’d say during school they practice four days a week, but during the summer it has to be every single day.”

Judge: “Including the days of the workshop?”

Defendant shakes head: “We gave them the week off. When they came home, they were allowed to just take it easy. I didn’t even make them do their summer math homework.”

Prosecutor, from table: “That’s actually pretty nice.”

Judge: “You said you had only planned to use the books as a bribe. What happened to change that?”

Defendant: “On the second day when they came home, they both looked pretty dejected and Twelve complained that her shoulder hurt from holding up the violin for so many hours. I went into the pantry to get ingredients to start making dinner and saw some jellybeans there and grabbed a few. I hid them in my hands and told the girls each to pick a hand, and they saw the jellybeans and were happy. They started smiling again. That’s when I got the idea to get them little things during the week. Only to make them happy, your honor. It wasn’t for any other reason.”

Judge: “And what other items did you use to bribe your daughters, Ms. Garg?”

Defendant counting on her fingers: “Let’s see: two plushy mini pillows, Hershey’s candy bars, and lunch from Panera.”

Prosecutor, from table: “What did they get from Panera?”

Judge peering over his glasses at prosecution: “How is that relevant to the case, counselor?”

Prosecutor shrugs: “It’s almost lunchtime, and I’m hungry.”

Judge rolls eyes: “So, Ms. Garg, you contend that these weren’t bribes, because your children knew exactly what you were doing, is that correct?”

Defendant nods: “That’s correct, your honor.”

Judge: “And you were only doing it to make your children happy?”

Defendant: “Correct. Like I said, they’re pretty good kids. Once in a while, I like to give them little treats for that reason. It’s not too often, but it makes them happy. When they’re happy, I’m happy.”

Judge looking at prosecutor’s table: “Sounds like you were right to say the case is closed, counselor. In fact, I find that the case should be dropped altogether.”

Prosecutor jumps to feet: “But, your honor—”

Judge: “The only thing the defendant has done is try to take a challenging situation and make her children happy as they got through it. Can you really argue that’s a bad thing?”

Prosecutor: “But, your honor, she admitted to the crime!”

Judge shakes head: “The only crime I see here is a mother going overboard to be a good mom. I hereby declare this case dismissed.”

Judge bangs gavel: “Court is adjourned.”

Defendant: “One last thing, your honor?”

Judge: “What is it, Ms. Garg?”

Defendant: “I’m kind of hungry too. How about Panera?”

Judge to prosecutor: “Counselor?”

Prosecutor sighs: “Oh, all right. But only if I can get their mac and cheese.”

Latest Spurts: Calling the Avengers and testing perfume

May 24, 2019

By Ekta R. Garg

Enjoy these Spurts from the last month, readers!

Driving home from music one day, Twelve and I heard a commercial for a company called Scentbird that sends a customer custom-picked scents. The DJ talked about what a hefty investment a perfume is and how choosing one without knowing its scent may not go well because a person may not like what they bought.

“Isn’t why they have…?” I said.

“Testers,” Twelve added, finishing my sentence and shaking her head. “That’s what the testers are for.”

As we continued listening to the ad, we heard the company name again: “Scentbird”.

“I never thought of birds being aromatic in any way,” I said to Twelve.

“Baby chicks stink,” she said. “That doesn’t exactly bode well for their company, does it?”

***

Earlier this week as we left school, Twelve asked, “Are we going to be in town for July 31?”

“Um, no,” I said, “why?”

“Because that’s Harry’s birthday.”

I frowned a little. She didn’t have any friends in school or outside of it named Harry. Did she actually mean—

“Who?” I asked.

“Harry,” she said. “Harry Potter.”

Just as I tried to come up with a response, she added, “June 5 is Draco’s birthday.”

“That’s the one I would celebrate,” Ten piped up from the back. “I wouldn’t celebrate Harry’s. Actually, I would celebrate it but as a funeral.”

“Such a Dursley,” Twelve said with a shake of her head, referring to Harry’s horrible aunt and uncle in the books.

I guess it beats Twelve having an unusual attachment to a teenybopper celebrity. Or, you know. Draco Malfoy.

***

With school wrapping up this week, the kids were deep in the throes of signing yearbooks. Both Ten and Twelve have been signing books of one another’s friends. Ten described her thought process behind signing the yearbook of one of Twelve’s BFFs who also participates in the same youth theater group as Twelve.

“I wanted to write ‘I enjoy watching you on and off stage’ in N.’s yearbook,” Ten explained, “but I thought that would be a little creepy.”

“N., I love watching you sleep at night,” Twelve said in a sickly sweet voice. “I just come right up to your bedroom window.”

We all laughed, open-hearted and open-mouthed, with me doubling over the steering wheel as we waited at a stoplight.

“I love the new pajamas,” Twelve went on, and her sister bounced in the seat behind her in an effort to control her laughter.

“Are those new bed sheets?” I chimed in.

Just then a man in a tattered t-shirt and with green hair crossed the street in front of the car, and we laughed even harder. It’s a good thing he didn’t see us. We probably looked strange, a mother and two girls cracking up at a red light.

***

Since beginning work in earnest on my novel at the beginning of my month, I’ve talked more about it with the kids. I first shared the story idea with them last year on a family trip to Niagara Falls. In the last year, as I’ve gained more clarity about the book, I’ve talked about it in more concrete terms and ideas with the girls; they in turn have asked questions and offered their own suggestions for the story.

Not all of the ideas are viable.

Ten asked me about the main climax, and I explained a little about the fictional kingdom of Linden that I’ve created and the fight between the king and his enemy.

“You should just have one of the Avengers come in and flatten the whole kingdom,” she said.

“But…but what about the good guys?” I said. “We don’t want to kill everybody.”

“Oh, it’s fine,” Ten said with a wave of her hand. “You don’t need them. The Avengers. That’s what you need.”

I sputtered through the beginning of an explanation about not being able to publish unsolicited fan fiction, but she ignored me.

Later, as Twelve asked me whether I’d solved a particular story problem, Ten inserted herself (in this case literally by sticking her head between her sister and me) and asked, “Is this going to get published all over the world?”

“Um, I hope so,” I said.

“Is it going to sell a million copies?”

“I hope so.”

“Are you going to have a bunch of authors saying good stuff about it on the cover?”

“Um, I hope so.”

She considered my answers. “All righty then.”

Maybe it’s as simple as that.

All righty then.

Newest Spurts: Recovering (or not) from grief and moving out (or not) for college

April 26, 2019

By Ekta R. Garg

Enjoy these Spurts from the last month, readers!

During a recent weekend, as I moved around in the kitchen to make lunch, I went between the stove and the kitchen counter several times. Ten meandered into the traffic pattern I’d established. Because this child of mine is just a touch accident-prone, I try to steer clear of her when there’s hot liquid or over-sized pans involved.

“Move,” I said as she crossed my path yet again. “Out.”

She moseyed to the end of the counter and watched with an impish grin as I came to put dishes down.

“But, Mamma,” she said, innocence personified, “I can’t do that until college.”

It took me a moment to understand what she meant, and when I did I realized I didn’t have a good enough response.

These kids, I tell you. They’re getting the better of me every single week.

***

On Monday Ten came downstairs humming snatches of the song Don’t Stop Believing by the 1980s group Journey.

“What made you think of that song?” I asked her as I made sandwiches for lunches.

“It’s my go-to song when I have no other song in my head,” she said.

Oh. I didn’t know we were supposed to have certain songs for those times. You know, when we don’t have other songs on a loop in our brains.

***

A few weeks ago as I drove Ten to a friend’s house, we talked about people living to old age.

“Bade Papa was 97 when he died,” I said about my maternal grandfather who just passed away in November; I almost managed to get through the sentence without a hitch.

My daughter sat in silence for a beat.

“How are you doing with all that?” she asked.

“With what?”

“You know, the fact that he…died. Are you better?”

I suppressed a sigh. “I don’t think it’s necessarily something you get better from. Grief is more like something you learn to live with over time. You just get used to it being a part of your life, and you learn to accept every day that that person isn’t there anymore.”

“I know how that feels,” she said evenly.

I knew she was thinking about her beloved third grade teacher who moved away at the end of that school year. The teacher left because of an incredible job opportunity for her husband, but Ten treated the entire situation almost as if it were a bigger finality. And though she’s adjusted to the idea that Mrs. B. no longer lives in town, she still misses her with a ferocity that she expresses at the most unexpected times. I’m glad she’s learning to manage her feelings better, but I still hate that she had to endure saying goodbye to someone she loves.

***

In recent weeks, Ten’s love-hate relationship with her cello has mellowed out to something between the two extremes. Maybe it’s because she spends all of her highest and lowest emotions on the soccer field and comes home more able to look at life even-keeled. Maybe she’s actually starting to admit that she likes the cello more than she ever let on. (I’m kind of hoping for the latter, although I realize the former is the likelier scenario.)

Earlier today when I picked up the kids from school, we pulled out of the parking lot and headed in the director of the cello teacher’s studio. The kids chatted about what they’d done in school. Ten had a mini field trip where she learned survival techniques (the “light-a-fire-from-scratch/use-a-compass-to-figure-out-where-you’re-going” kind.) Twelve spent part of the day walking the school grounds with her classmates as they picked up stray trash.

“I think I’m deaf in one ear, it was so windy today,” she said, tugging on her earlobe a bit.

I agreed. Temperatures here in Central Illinois have increased to a lovely spring-like mid-60s, but when the wind speeds hit 30 mph, even that 65-degree weather can feel chilly. Not to mention the difficulty in performing simple tasks, like keeping a hat on your head or even walking down the street.

“You know, I’m kind of looking forward to the cello recital tomorrow,” Ten said out of the blue.

I did a double-take and sneaked a glance to my right at Twelve; she looked just as startled.

“That’s good,” I said in a mild tone. “What’s making you look forward to it?”

She mentioned the name of a piece that some of the kids would be playing in a group, and I voiced some inconsequential agreement.

“I definitely think I’m going deaf in one ear now,” Twelve murmured.

Neither of us said anything more to Ten about it. We both know that to make a “big deal” about any of her thoughts will only incite a defensive response. But it’s nice, like I said, to know that she’s slowly coming around to the cello. A good life, I believe, includes a variety of experiences, and this could be part of Ten’s mix.

Latest Chart: Parents, dig in your heels!

April 12, 2019

By Ekta R. Garg

In movies about struggles between tweens and their parents, the director usually includes a few showdowns. These can either be staring matches between the kids and the grownups or heated words exchanged. There’s almost always some sort of resolution (positive or negative) toward the end of the story.

The director never shows the agonizing days and hours in between showdowns. I guess it doesn’t make for as compelling viewing. Even if we watch a moving picture medium to be informed, ultimately we also want something that takes us away from reality.

In real life sometimes the showdowns end in a satisfying resolution for the parents, sometimes not. Case in point for the former: Ten’s soccer playing. She’s always harbored an interest in the sport, kicking the ball around in the back yard, watching the World Cup last year with fascination and eagerness, insisting that we sign her up to join the soccer team at school.

The school soccer season goes for around seven weeks in the fall. When Ten first asked to sign up for soccer, it was springtime more than two years ago. Soccer at school had ended, but our park district had just begun signups for their teams. What if I signed her up for the park district soccer program?

She came back with a resounding no. She didn’t want to play for anyone else. Only the school team. We discussed it, argued about it, butted heads on it. I’m not necessarily proud of this, but in the end she wore me down and I agreed. She wouldn’t sign up for the park district soccer team.

I could only argue with this child so many times. There are other things the kids need to do and so many other things I want to do. There aren’t enough hours in the day for me to drill down into every issue the kids and I disagree about. Some are essential to daily life and how they shape up as people; some are not.

Of course, this adamant stance against the park district soccer program didn’t curb Ten’s complaints that she didn’t get to play soccer. This child is old enough and mature enough to understand the progression of time. She got the fact that (by this time) with school out for the summer, there would be no school soccer. Like an irrational two-year-old, however, she continued to complain that she didn’t get any time on a field in a formal capacity.

At one point, my husband and I discussed the topic more than we discussed our retirement plans. Should we force Ten to play for the park district? Should we let her wait until school started? Should we encourage her to focus her energy somewhere else?

Eventually we decided to butt heads with our younger child yet again. This time, however, we would hold firm. She wanted to play soccer? She had to play for the park district when the school soccer season was off-cycle.

With plenty of exaggerated sighs and eye-rolls (and at one point literally dragging her feet as we got ready to leave,) Ten agreed. Well, she didn’t agree so much as just give in. This time we wore her down.

Do we sound like horrible parents for forcing our child to do something she expressed in no uncertain terms she absolutely does not want to do?

I don’t know yet. Even though I was one of those parents doing the forcing, I’m still trying to answer the question. Moreover, I’m trying to understand what that answer means for the future.

A few weeks ago, Ten got ready for her first soccer practice. Her dad took her, and I took Twelve to a school function. Halfway through the function I realized it had begun raining. Hard. As in, pouring. I immediately had two thoughts.

Ten’s going to be incredibly upset at getting all wet and probably muddy.

Ten’s going to be thrilled at practicing soccer in the downpour.

When she came home, her mile-wide grin told me which thought proved true.

All complaints about joining the park district’s soccer program washed into the city storm drains with the rain that night. Ten took a hairpin turn and couldn’t stop talking about the coach, about her excitement, about getting ready for her first match. The only semi-negative factor she could find was that she didn’t know any of the girls on the team. A few of them have played together before, and she felt a little left out.

Well, then, we told her, try to talk to some of the girls. Try to become friends with them. You have to get to know them, because a soccer team works best on the herd mentality, which works best when everyone knows everyone else.

Yesterday when Ten clamored into the car after practice, the first thing out of her mouth was, “I made a new friend on the team today.” She chattered the entire way home about her teammates, the one she got to know a little bit yesterday, and how that girl was friends with two of the other teammates Ten had gotten to know. Today on the way to her cello lesson, she said, “I’m so excited about the events of yesterday that they’ll get me through cello today.”

Her cello lessons are the other active area of a showdown with her. The thing is, she’s good at the cello. She jokes around with her cello teacher. She gives her classmates excellent suggestions during their critique time in their group lessons. She even offered to play the cello in the small band she’s formed with some of her friends and practices music for the band songs.

At one point, Ten admitted that the real problem she had with the cello was the lack of freedom. She’s still learning many of the essentials to playing the instrument, so she can’t experiment much. Her teacher, by the way, has given her considerable leeway in this area. When she tells him that she’s spent part of her week practicing her band music and less time on the music he’s assigned, he doesn’t bat an eye. He just requests in a gentle manner that she pay attention to her assignments too.

We convinced her with soccer to trust our judgment, and now she’s eager to pull on her cleats before every practice. My hope, truly, is that she’ll trust our judgment on the cello too. Maybe, years from now, we’ll be able to laugh over these showdowns, and I’ll get to gloat—just a little, mind you—that we won both of them.

Latest Spurts: Total bias and tricking the Starbucks baristas

March 22, 2019

By Ekta R. Garg

Enjoy these Spurts from the last couple of weeks, readers!

The funny instances of Starbucks baristas misspelling and mispronouncing names have been well documented on social media. When Twelve and her classmates went on a field trip recently, they had some free time after lunch and went into Starbucks. Twelve and her friends thought it would be fun to give the baristas fake names, and she gave the name “Sunny.”

“They spelled it with a Y instead of an I, but that’s okay,” she told us afterward in describing the encounter.

“It was a fake name!” I exclaimed. “What does it matter how they spell it?”

She looked at me in mock horror. “It matters!”

I just shook my head.

“I bet at Starbucks they ask people to spell stuff, and if they get it right, Starbucks is like, ‘Um, no,’” she replied. “I could work at Starbucks, but my spelling is too good.”

As a former spelling bee champ, I have to say that I don’t think spelling well is ever a bad thing.

***

Every summer the kids attend a variety of half-day camps. They’ve done everything from a Harry Potter-themed camp to one that allows them to use the public transportation in our town to explore our little city. The whole purpose of enrolling the kids in these activities is to expose them to different ideas and topics, help them meet new friends, and keep them out of one another’s hair.

The fact that they stay out of my hair for half a day is just a perk.

Of course, all this sounds great in theory. What it amounts to in reality is me negotiating what camps the kids should and can do every summer. They enjoy the activities their school offers and often insist they just want to stick with school stuff. We’re fortunate to live in a town that offers a myriad of options. With the university here, the choices for older kids get really interesting. Then there’s other schools, the YMCA, and even the park district.

This year, we wanted the kids to try something in addition to a school camp; of course, a discussion ensued on this issue.

My husband and I spent about 15 minutes talking to the girls about the value and virtue of trying new things. We reminded them that they were privileged to have all these options; neither of us had ever gotten to explore in this way. They could make new friends and stretch their current skills.

When we all came to an agreement about what camps they would do, Twelve leaned toward me.

“That was a looong talk,” she said.

“Oh, sweetie, guess what?” I said. “They only get longer as you get older.”

She inhaled long and deep; maybe the threat of long talks will be enough to keep her from doing stuff that would require them in the future.

***

Every year for Valentine’s Day, I get the girls a little gift. I started doing this several years ago in an active bid to make the day special for them. I also thought it would be nice for us to share the day; in a few years, they’ll be out of the house but I want them to have a non-birthday/non-Christmas holiday to anticipate with delight.

This year, since both girls needed new bathrobes, I bought them each one. I was quite proud of the fact that I found both of them on clearance and that Twelve’s came in a plushy lavender color (and purple is her favorite color, so double win there.) Ten’s was red, a leftover from the Christmas season, so it has white stars on it.

It also has a hood with bear ears.

Ever since receiving the bathrobe, she’s “transformed” into a bear. Or some human-animal hybrid version. So our bear doesn’t hibernate, but she does speak in some weird gibberish that’s supposed to be bear language.

It doesn’t help that Twelve has gotten into the act wholeheartedly. She’s begun addressing Ten exclusively as Bear. Many of the silly little impromptu games they create involve Bear doing something. Twelve will even climb up the stairs halfway and pat her legs, the same way you’d do for a pet.

“Come on, Bear!” she calls to Ten. “Come on!”

Ten then proceeds to climb up the stairs bear-style: on all fours.

Sometimes, though, Twelve’s tween self comes through; this happened last week when she accused me of being responsible for “creating” the bear.

“It’s all your fault,” she said. “You bought her the bear suit.”

“No, I bought her a bathrobe,” I said. “You encouraged her by all the stuff you do. You’ve practically turned into her bear trainer!”

Twelve shook her head. “Nope. You bought the bear suit. It’s your fault.”

But, really, can it be my fault after all?

***

Twelve’s theater group has been working hard on a Beatles medley that will soon go “on tour” around our town. In addition to the medley, though, they’re also going to play some theater games for the entertainment of the audience. Because of the need to think on their feet, the theater director suggested the kids come and take part in a family-friendly improv night in their little theater. They go on right before a small improv group that graciously gave up their earlier start time so the kids could get some more improv practice in. At the end of their improv sessions, the adult improv actors get on stage and do a few fun games with the kids.

By the time their semester ends, the kids will have had four opportunities to work with the adult improv actors. Because of her dance commitments, Twelve couldn’t attend the first two improv nights. Last week, however, she finally got her chance.

We were thoroughly entertained by Twelve and the other child actors. Improv is a tough skill to master; it requires coming up with a response and then enacting it convincingly in performance mode, all within a matter of seconds. While all the kids we watched that night have done excellent jobs in the various plays and other rehearsed performances, it became obvious as their hour-long show progressed that some of the kids were much better at improv than others.

When we came home that night, I leaned in toward Twelve in conspiratorial fashion.

“Can I tell you a secret?” I said.

“What?” she asked as she pulled off her boots in the mudroom.

“I thought you were the best one on stage.”

She grinned at me. “You have to say that.”

“Well, maybe, but I also really believe it.”

She shook her head good-naturedly at my bias, but, hey, what can I say? I am biased. I’ve got a budding improv star right under my own roof.