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.

Latest Chart: Mirror images

October 27, 2017

By Ekta R. Garg

Sometimes life events have an incredibly funny way of going around and coming back again.

An opportunity has dropped into Eleven’s lap that we never expected, and it bears a great deal of resemblance to an experience I had the good fortune to enjoy in my childhood. As with me, the opportunity involves travel. She and I didn’t exactly have the same reaction to our respective adventures, but more on that in a minute.

When I was 11 years old, the company my father worked for got bought be a Japanese company. This was in those days when Japan held all the answers to all things tech, and because my father spent the majority of his career in research and development he spent a lot of time there. The Japanese company bought the American company that employed my father and in true Japanese style instituted a cultural exchange program for the children of employees.

Anyone interested in going on the two-week trip was asked to write an essay detailing what traveling to Japan meant to him or her. I don’t remember exactly what I wrote, but I do remember kind of bluffing my way through the essay. More than anything I was curious about whether I’d “win” the opportunity to join the group. That competitive spirit I harbored as a child came out in full force on this one.

The office must have had more entrants than expected, because in the end they held a lottery to choose the names of the travelers. My name got pulled out of the hat along with others from our area, and a few months later I boarded a plane with 29 other American kids and 10 chaperones to visit Japan. Our trip included large cities and a few small towns. We got to participate in a home stay and saw performances of traditional Japanese dances and other arts. We ate and shopped and immersed ourselves in another culture for those two weeks.

I missed home with a longing that made the core of myself ache. I didn’t always eat my fill because I didn’t necessarily like the food offered. But when I came back, my view of the world had changed forever.

Last week, Eleven and Nine’s school emailed a flyer to middle school parents. The social studies and literature/writing workshop teachers have planned a trip to Europe for next summer. The plan is to visit Germany for about five days and then go to Poland for three to visit sites important to World War II, including Auschwitz. The trip is only for middle schoolers, and while the teachers have no objection to parents tagging along they’re fully prepared to host the students themselves.

Eleven would have the chance to travel to a part of the world far away from us and to experience a culture different from her own. She has an opportunity to visit sites that irrevocably transformed the way people all across the world looked at humanity. She could spend almost 10 days with her classmates and test the waters for future travels.

Like I said, life, coming back around. A little strange. Almost freaky, if I have to be outright honest.

When we first found out about the trip, we discussed the possibility of going on the trip as a family. I checked with the teachers, and they’re more than happy for us to join the tour. Eleven got really excited about the idea. With trips the Central Europe and Greece under their belts, the travel bug has bitten both girls (Nine’s utter detestation of air travel, thanks to her motion sickness, notwithstanding.)

After an evening information meeting with the chaperoning teachers, though, we started tossing around the idea of Eleven going on the trip without us. Just her and her teachers and other students. Like I did when I went to Japan.

Eleven shook her head right away. I barely had the words out of my mouth before she said, “No.” I encouraged her to think about it.

“I’m not saying you absolutely have to go,” I said, “but I am saying don’t shut down the idea. Just think about it. Let your brain kind of noodle over it for a few days.”

My husband and I both spent a few minutes extolling the positives of this kind of trip, and I reminded Eleven that at least she knew the people going on the trip pretty well. I barely knew any of the kids or the chaperones on my Japan trip, because they came from all over the country. Eleven agreed to think about it, but her reluctance rolled off her in waves.

For the record, I hate the idea. But I’m willing to talk about it, to consider it. Even just talking about it, I think, is an important exercise in middle school parenting.

As my kids have gotten older, I’ve often thought back to my time in Japan. I remember it with a great deal of fondness, even awe. But I also wonder how my parents had the gumption to let me go so far away, at the age of 11, with other kids and adults. Were my mom and dad just much braver than I am? Maybe the world wasn’t quite such a dangerous place…or maybe, because at that time there was no Internet for the general public, we just didn’t have information on all the dangers.

I don’t know what’s going to happen next June. The deadline for a down payment for the Europe trip is in the second week of November, so I’m sure I’ll be sharing whatever decision we end up making. It’s easy, of course, to make the safe choice. I just don’t know yet whether that’s the way we’re going to go. It’s not the way my parents went, and I admire more and more their guts in raising my sister and me.

Guts; yup. That’s about right. I keep saying I’m not a middle school parent because I can’t possibly be old enough to be one, but…maybe I’m finally finding the guts to start thinking about being one.

Special Spurts: Reflecting on an Experience

October 13, 2017

By Ekta R. Garg

There is a time and place for dressing up sentences and paragraphs with prettiness, but sometimes it’s better to come straight to the point. In the interest of keeping drama to a minimum, today is one of those times to drive straight to the heart of the matter.

Two weeks ago, our family got into a car accident.

Physically, everyone is fine. No one suffered any major injuries. Both girls complained about elbow pain the night it happened, and Eleven had pain in her neck—I’m guessing from a mild case of whiplash—that has finally gotten better. Because I was driving and the car that collided with us hit our front driver-side wheel, the steering wheel and side curtain airbags deployed and hit me in the face and on the side of my head. I still feel some pain from that when I wash my face. But we’re still okay. Physically.

In every other way, however, this has been an Experience.

Following is a few tidbits from the last two weeks as we’ve tried to process various aspects and moments of the accident.

***

The accident happened on a Thursday evening. The next night we collected in the family room, as we do every Friday night, for dinner and a movie. I’d spent the entire day talking to the insurance company as we slowly, painfully, worked through the particulars associated with this type of event, so I welcomed the opportunity to do something normal. I stood at the stove cooking dinner, listening to the TV, allowing the sounds of that normalcy to soothe me.

Nine got up from her spot on the sofa and hurried to me.

“I’m still scared,” she said, anxiety creasing her forehead.

“I know,” I said in a low tone. “Me too. And it’s okay to be scared.”

She looked at me but didn’t say anything. I think she just wanted confirmation that I wasn’t feeding her a parent line, that I meant what I said. Something in my face must have given her the reassurance she needed, because she scampered back to her place on the sofa.

***

The next day we all drove together in our other car, and the discussion turned to air bags.

Nine, of course, started with her own questions first. She wanted to know about how air bags worked and why there weren’t air bags for the middle seat passenger. That started a discussion on seatbelts, especially for the middle seat.

As the girls get older, I find myself using the Socratic method with them more and more when we talk through situations both real and theoretical. Despite the fact that it meant we had to brainstorm a situation we’d just lived—an accident—I described to Nine what a car goes through when it gets hit from behind.

“When we’re sitting in the car, we’re moving forward even though it feels like we’re sitting still,” I said. “If we get hit from behind and you’re not wearing your seatbelt, you’re still moving forward. And what happens then?”

“I’d go flying forward and hit the dashboard,” she said, thinking it over.

“And there’s no airbag here to stop you,” I explained, “because of all the stuff here on the dash.”

She nodded, understanding the implications and the possibilities behind a lack of safety. Her fear had dimmed somewhat, and even though we had to talk around what had happened—the reality of the airbags actually deploying, our car being struck by another vehicle at a considerable speed—Nine appreciated the information. Information, as they say, is power. In this case, empowerment.

***

As I drive around town, I’ve become more sensitive to the traffic. Our town isn’t huge, by any means. “Rush hour” here constitutes of enough vehicles on the road increasing a 15-minute drive to 20 minutes. But somehow having those extra cars moving ahead and behind of me makes the road feel a little claustrophobic.

I’m not the only who noticed this, though.

“There are so many cars on the road,” Nine has murmured several times since we’ve gone from activities to home.

There are. But we still have to move around them and with them. So every day that we’re safe on the road means every day that the cars stop closing in around us.

***

Enough time has passed, however, that we’ve started to see a little bit of humor in some aspects of the accident.

One morning this week as we drove to school, I pulled out of the driveway and turned down a street in our neighborhood to approach the main street.

“Yay, we turned safely!” Nine exclaimed, the pleasure fully evident in her voice. “Sorry, Mamma, I’m just happy.”

“You don’t have to apologize,” I said. “I’m happy about turning safely too.”

“So are we going to cheer every time we turn safely?” Eleven said impishly. “Do you walk around school doing that?”

Nine giggled. “Yup. When I walk down the hall and I go around the corner, I say, ‘Yay for turning safely!’”

Both of them giggled; later that day when they got into the car after school, Eleven asked her sister about her navigation around the school.

“All day long, I kept cheering for turning safely,” Nine said, giggling again.

Since that morning, we’ve been able to laugh about turning safely. We’ve been able to talk about the accident without wincing so much. The kids’ TV viewing is fairly restricted, so they haven’t seen any movies or shows with accidents in them. I have, and it’s tough to get through for those few moments. I know that fear, that split-second impact of the return of the memory of the accident, will fade with time.

My husband said that even though he wished the accident had never happened, maybe the kids will remember it when they get old enough to drive themselves. Maybe the memory of that day will make them consider their choices carefully when they get behind the wheel. It’s possible they’ll drive within speed limits and wait to answer the phone or any texts until they’ve arrived at their destination. Hopefully they’ll check the road three times before crossing an intersection when they want to turn left.

More than anything, I hope the memory of this remains a single one.

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.