February 8, 2018
By Ekta R. Garg
Enjoy these Spurts from the last two weeks, readers!
A couple of years ago, it struck me that the kids don’t get to read comic strips the way I did when I was growing up. I have distinct memories of sitting with my family on Sunday morning, bickering with my sister over who got the comics section of the paper, giggling over the latest exploits of Beetle Bailey or the kids in Family Circus. When I saw the box set of Calvin and Hobbes comic strips, I knew Eleven and Nine would get a kick out of the six-year-old and his stuffed tiger who becomes real when no one’s looking.
The girls have since read the four-volume set several times and enjoyed them. The books have become a de facto option when they don’t have anything new on hand to read. They’ve exclaimed at Calvin’s sophisticated vocabulary and rolled their eyes when he tortures Suzie. More than anything, they grin from ear to ear no matter how many times they enjoy his capers.
As a kid I didn’t know how much comic strip creators used their little stories to mirror real life. Now, though, I understand that idea better. When Nine started asking at bedtime whether we’d set the alarm for the house, I couldn’t guess the random question had come from. I should have known better; after all, this child has been mine for nine-and-a-half years. Nothing with her is random.
“Calvin’s house got broken into,” she told me one night as I kissed her on the head.
I blinked in the semi-darkness. “What?”
“In Calvin and Hobbes, Calvin and his family go away for a wedding, and Calvin leaves Hobbes behind. When they come back, they realize their house got broken into, and Calvin’s scared because he can’t find Hobbes anywhere. He thinks the robbers took Hobbes.”
And that, right there, is the power of the written word. We’ve told the kids about the alarm system, of course, showed them how we turn it on and off. They know it’s there to alert us and law enforcement authorities about a possible break-in. But it wasn’t until Nine read it in a comic strip that the concept really took root in her head.
We’ve done all we can to reassure her, and she doesn’t seem overly worried. But it definitely makes me pause when I think about how much the kids notice when we’re not looking.
In Nine’s literature and writing class at school, they’ve learned about different genres. A couple of weeks ago, as I drove her to her dance class, Nine told me how they would tackle memoirs next.
“We each have to pick a memory and write about it,” she said from behind me.
“Oh, wow, that sounds interesting.”
“I was thinking…” she started, then paused. “I was thinking, if you wouldn’t be offended, that I wanted to write about the accident.”
I didn’t say anything for a moment but didn’t stay quiet too long. I didn’t want her to interpret my silence as any sort of offense. It’s been a little more than four months since the car wreck, but it certainly hasn’t left me. I realized the kids may still be noodling over it too.
“I’m not offended at all,” I said. “In fact, I think writing is a great way to work through things. I know it helps me feel better about tough situations.”
Satisfied with my answer, Nine turned the conversation in a completely different direction. This week, when she brought her memoir to me to edit, I paused again before reading it. My younger child’s sense of storytelling is advanced for her age, I feel, and I knew I would get her purest impressions on the page.
She wrote about the accident in a fairly straightforward manner. What I didn’t know, however, until I read her account, was that she saw the car that hit us as it raced down the road in our direction. My memories of the accident are of me inching into the road one minute and the loudness of the air bags and the horn blaring the next. Nine actually saw the vehicle before it made impact with our car.
I also didn’t know that in the moments just after we got hit, she reached across the seat for her sister’s hand. Contrary to what the movies and TV show, neither Eleven nor Nine screamed or started crying right away. Both kids stayed silent during and after the impact. I can picture Nine’s hand, though, stretching in the short distance between them and Eleven folding it in her own.
Despite the scary incident, Nine still managed to end her memoir on a somewhat positive note. Her sadness mounted as she watched the truck tow our van away and she saw other people driving around our accident as if it didn’t matter. In the end, though, she said our safety mattered more than anything else.
I hope writing it out—seeing it on the page like that, with the power that words have—will help her in the long run.
On Monday of this week, the girls got a little bit of a scare. They got left behind, and no one was at fault. For almost 30 minutes, though, they had to wonder what would happen to them.
Normally on Mondays we go straight from school to music lessons and then art lessons. Art ends at 5:30, and then we drive home. Because their art and music lessons are in the adjacent town, we usually don’t get home until almost 6.
My husband works in that adjacent town, and the hospital is close to where the girls have their lessons, so often we tag team. I drop the kids off, and he’ll bring them home. This Monday, too, he called to say that he would finish early enough to do the same. I took the kids to music then drove them to art, told them their dad would bring them home, reminded them to have fun and that I loved them, and left.
Monday was an exceptionally cold day here, so I got home around 4:45 and took my time changing into some warm pajamas and making a cup of tea. I knew what I wanted to make for dinner (turkey burgers and fries,) and it’s a fairly easy dish to make, so I figured I would enjoy my tea with the latest episode of The Big Bang Theory on the DVR, then get up around 5:45 to start forming the burger patties and cooking them.
At 5:30 my cell phone rang. The caller ID showed my husband calling. My pulse picked up. In the time it took me to swipe the screen and put the phone to my ear, I knew something had happened.
My husband apologized and said he was stuck in a case. He couldn’t pick up the kids. I looked at the clock at again: 5:32.
Art ends at 5:30.
I told my husband not to worry about it, pulled on my long socks under my pajama pants, and rushed down the stairs. I had my tea mug in my hand, so I left it in the kitchen, yanked on my long coat, and left.
My number one goal as I drive around town is to stay safe; ever since the accident, the awareness of that thought has increased tenfold. I didn’t speed; I didn’t race through any yellow lights. I did, however, keep looking at the clock and begging it to hold on to each minute.
It didn’t bother me at all that my husband got stuck in the hospital. His job is to save lives. If he’s working late, it means he’s working extra hard to help someone. But I worried about the kids. I worried because I knew they would worry. If, as I told him later, he’d told me, even 15 minutes earlier, that he couldn’t make it, I would have gotten back in the car and picked up the girls. I would have arrived about five minutes after art class ended, something that’s happened often, and they wouldn’t have thought twice about it. We would all have gotten in the car and probably picked up the conversation we were having before I dropped them off.
Of course, as I drove to their teacher’s art studio, I had absolutely no recollection of that conversation. I just wanted to get to my children.
I reached the art studio at 5:50. Both girls turned to me with a mix of emotions on their faces: anxiety; relief; inquiry.
I apologized profusely to the art teacher, and she was truly understanding. Then I apologized to the kids, who didn’t say a word. I explained what happened to them, but they still didn’t say anything. When I offered Nine a hug, she just looked at me.
We got back into the car, and I tried, several times, to engage both kids in conversation. Nine, my ever talkative child, answered in single syllables. Eleven didn’t bother with even that much.
My husband called as we drove home, and I told him I had the kids, that they were okay but upset. Still, neither of them said anything.
It took about 45 minutes after we got home for the ice between us to thaw. The girls went straight upstairs to get started on their homework. Eventually that evening they started talking to me again, but I still felt terrible.
I made them worry. Isn’t it usually supposed to be the other way around?