Latest Spurts: Challenges for us

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.

Anger.

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?

 

 

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Latest Chart: What birthdays mean

February 1, 2018

By Ekta R. Garg

Middle school’s been hard.

Not for Eleven. She loves having her own locker. She gets along with her friends really well, and while there is a little bit of girl drama she’s stayed out of it so far. Her teachers challenge her where she needs to be challenged and encourage her where she’s doing well. And she’s gotten to participate in some great activities open only to middle schoolers.

No, the person the struggling with middle school is Nine.

*****

“The bake sale is next week,” Eleven reminded me last Thursday when she got in the car after school.

“Okay, you don’t have to make a big deal about it,” Nine replied.

*****

“We had a lot of fun at the Field Museum,” Eleven said Monday evening after a field trip to Chicago that day. “There were tons of animals there.”

Nine ducked her chin and concentrated on her dinner, studiously not asking about the animals (her most favorite thing in the entire universe.)

*****

“Can I please go to E.’s sleepover?” Eleven asked a few weeks ago.

“I don’t think it’s fair that I didn’t get invited,” Nine said in a plaintive voice as I tucked her into bed that night.

*****

A lot of people ask me how Eleven and Nine get along, and my standard response is that they’re best friends. They participate in many activities together; they spend quite a bit of time together at home. They have a whole game that they created that only the two of them understand, which includes its own lexicon.

They also fight at the drop of a hat. In this last year, each girl has gone out of her way to annoy her sister with things she knows will annoy her. Both of them have brought grievances to me of things that were not in their own favor and therefore instantly “unfair.”

And then there’s middle school.

Now, granted, the girls go to the same school already. We all drive to school together. They walk into and out of the building together every day. They even have lunch at the same time.

But middle school offers a divide between them in a way that nothing else can. Early in the school year the middle schoolers went on a camp-out, an overnight venture about an hour away from town. In the days leading up to the camp-out, Nine pouted around the house a little. On the actual day of the camp-out, when she came home from school, her excitement hit almost a fever pitch.

Any outsider would have bought the line about her being thrilled her sister was gone for the night. And I let her think I bought it too. But there was a tinge of desperation at the edge of her voice that didn’t come from excitement.

What I can’t quite explain to Nine is this: it may seem like a big gap right now, those two years between her sister and her. For a few years, it will be a gap. Eleven will go on and do things no child in this family has ever done before, because she’s the first child we’ve ever had. Everything with, for, and because of her will be a first for all of us. We may not sit on our knees a few feet away from her anymore with arms outstretched, encouraging a first step across the family room floor, but all of her endeavors carry that same weight and sense of wonderment for us when she does venture forward on her own.

Those first steps—those first experiences—will fill that gap eventually. When they’re both adults, it won’t be a gap anymore. It will transform into a stepping stone, something they can each use to cross the threshold into one another’s lives to reminisce about the similarities and the differences in their experiences.

When I went on the camp-out, we made spaghetti and meatballs.

We picked hot dogs, but they were kind of yucky; your class definitely had the better idea with the pasta.

In the meantime, Nine, ever my temperamental child, has become even more sensitive to the “cool” things her sister gets to do. She gets irritated a little more easily, and she mopes a little longer over situations. We’ve talked, and talked, and talked about individual circumstances. We’re still trying to figure out how to handle the cumulative effect of what she’s feeling.

She may not realize this now, and it’s certainly not something I can articulate for her in a way she will understand, but this, too, is a first for all of us: how to deal with one child feeling left out while the other one moves ahead. To Eleven’s credit, not once has she ever lorded her new experiences over her little sister. She simply shares her excitement, and it bubbles and sparkles like a glass of champagne.

Of course, Nine has never liked carbonated drinks.

At my age, birthdays have become a time of reflection. A time to sit and ponder just how blessed I am and how I want to try to share the blessings by helping others. At the age of nine years old, however, with an older sister who has begun venturing into territories previously unexplored, birthdays might signal a widening divide. We’re trying our level best to help Nine see that there is a way across that break; she can cross it. All of us, though, are still looking for the entrance to the bridge.

Latest Spurts: Weird, pathetic kids and more

January 26, 2018

By Ekta R. Garg

Enjoy these Spurts from the last two weeks, readers!

My kids are so weird sometimes.

Earlier this week as we drove home from activities after school, the girls got into a discussion about the documentary Madness in the Desert. It details the challenges and trials of the cast and crew during the making of the blockbuster Hindi film Lagaan. As a quick recap, the movie shows the (fictional) story about villagers in 1800s India who accept a challenge from the ruling British soldiers to participate in a cricket match; if the villagers win the match, they don’t have to pay their taxes for three years.

(And anyone who has Netflix needs to watch the movie now. It’s phenomenal.)

In any case, the kids recently watched the documentary about the making of the movie and were sharing some of the facts with me. Some of them I already knew, like how the crew had to overcome the intense challenge of making actors look like A-list cricket players (not all actors know how to play the game on a world-class level; go figure.) During filming, though, one of the British actors dislocated his shoulder while shooting the match sequences.

“Mamma, is it possible to dislocate other parts of your body?” Nine asked.

“Yeah,” I replied, “anything that’s in a socket, like your arm, your hip—”

“Your eye,” Eleven interjected. “Here, let me try.”

“Di-Di, blink really fast, and you’ll be able to do it!” Nine exclaimed.

There was a pause in the conversation. Then Eleven said, “I’m blinking, but nothing’s happening!”

They dissolved into a fit of giggles. I pulled the car into the garage and rolled my own eyes.

My kids are so weird.

*****

Another conversation came up in the car on the way home from an activity. The kids told me about a student in their art class who didn’t listen when the teacher asked her in a polite tone to sit down. The student’s instant response was, “No.”

“She was so disrespectful,” Nine said.

“Yeah, why would her parents let her talk like that?” Eleven asked.

I wanted to be careful in answering. Whenever the kids bring up these types of questions, I always stay as neutral as possible while remaining truthful. There are a hundred factors that go into these kinds of situations, and it’s hard to answer the why without knowing more about the what.

“Well, different parents have different rules on things,” I said finally.

“You and Daddy don’t let anything slide,” Eleven said.

“That’s because we want both of you to grow up to be kind, courteous, empathetic—”

Pathetic?” Nine exclaimed.

“Yes,” I said, chuckling, “our goal is for you to be pathetic.”

“Hey!”

Eleven had started laughing by this point, but even though Nine got the joke right away she didn’t find it as amusing as her sister did.

“I said empathetic,” I went on.

“Okay, then, that’s better,” Nine said.

*****

Last Thursday I picked up Nine from dance class, and we chatted as we walked back to the car. She told me about the only boy in her class and the conversation the two of them had that day. When she mentioned his name was Romeo, I smiled.

“Is that really his name?” I asked.

“Yeah, why, is that a problem?” she asked, and I could hear the rise in her voice that only comes from fierce loyalty to her friends.

“No,” I replied in a mild tone, “I just didn’t know that people actually name their kids that.”

“People name their kids Juliet all the time,” she said.

Point Nine.

*****

On Monday we normally go straight from school to drop Eleven at her violin lesson and then Nine at her cello lesson. This week and next, however, Eleven’s teacher is out of town, so we drove to Nine’s lesson and got there a little early. Both girls settled in the comfortable couches in the waiting area of the cello teacher’s studio to get started on their homework.

I had my computer with me and started reading a new partial manuscript sent to me by one of my writers. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Nine shift in her seat and glanced at her. We exchanged a smile, and just then she dropped her eraser.

She knelt to the floor to get it and then sat back in her seat. Eleven glanced up and gave her an enthusiastic wave, as if they hadn’t been sitting less than five feet from one another the whole time. Or had ridden from school together.

Nine widened her eyes, filled her cheeks with air like a puffer fish, then raised her eraser in exaggerated slow-mo is if she was going to throw it at her sister. Eleven pretended to get scared and hid her face behind her hands. I heaved a huge sigh and went back to the manuscript.

Have I said that my kids are weird?

 

Newest Chart: The double standard

January 19, 2018

By Ekta R. Garg

Last weekend Eleven got to experience a first: her first sleepover. By some crazy coincidence, Nine will also experience the same first this coming weekend. Both girls practically ripple with excitement when they talk about these parties of their respective friends.

When we first had the kids my husband and I never imagined that the fact of letting our children spend the night in someone else’s home would become a point of discussion. It got me thinking about the larger picture here: things we were allowed to do that we emphatically don’t let our children pursue.

The sleepover question first came up when Nine got invited to one a couple of years ago. My husband issued a “no” right away, and I agreed with him. Our reasons for agreeing differed. I thought Nine was too young at the time. Her father said he liked the girls to be home at night. Sleepovers are mostly a Western concept. The idea of a celebration that constitutes solely of sending one’s children to a friend’s home for the night has slowly migrated to other places, but my husband didn’t grow up with it in India and didn’t feel comfortable with it.

As I said, I agreed with him at the time for a different reason. At that time I didn’t tell the kids that I’d had my own first sleepover around 8 or 9. They were still young enough that I could fool them with the information I withheld.

Of course, that didn’t last too long.

We finally broke down and let Eleven go on our first sleepover this past weekend because one of her best friends was hosting a spend-the-night party to celebrate turning 12. We know the family fairly well and knew Eleven would be in good hands. Another bonus: the birthday girl doesn’t have her own cell phone. That may seem like a silly qualifier, but in this day and age of the terrors of the internet parents have to face all sorts of situations that we know for sure our parents didn’t face. (After all, this isn’t the “I-walked-uphill-in-the-snow-both-ways-to-school” kind of argument we’re having here.)

Parenting tries the steeliest of decisions you’ll make. It’s so easy to decide on something before you have kids, to form an opinion or even be judgmental, but so much harder to know what’s right and wrong when you’re in the situation. I’ll admit, I had a little crisis of conscience when the kids asked me whether I was allowed to participate in sleepovers as a kid (whether as hostess or attendant) and I had to say yes.

I suppose I could have lied, but Eleven and Nine know how to FaceTime my parents.

Nine, too, is going to celebrate a birthday this weekend, and we know the family well enough to know she’ll have a great time. They also live in our neighborhood. If she gets scared in the middle of the night, going to pick her up won’t be a lengthy process (definitely a factor to consider considering the frigid temperatures and all the snow we’ve had recently.)

Some days I feel a little bad about the fact that there are things I did as a kid that I won’t even consider letting my own children do. I would spend hours at their ages biking around the neighborhood and would often cross the street to our neighbors’ home to play with their daughters. There were the sleepovers, of course, and I had my fair share of Happy Meals.

Now, though, I wouldn’t dream of letting Eleven and Nine walk through the neighborhood to their friends’ houses without a chaperone. If they mount their bikes, my husband rides close behind them. And the only time my kids have ever been to McDonalds is to get bottles of milk as part of an afternoon snack that I would have stashed in my bag beforehand.

Does all this sound ridiculous? I wonder that too. Once I took Nine to the skating rink for a birthday party, and several of us moms stood around chatting as the kids skated. Some of the less steady kids wore helmets, and the skating rink provided walkers on wheels for the skaters who felt like they really needed some extra help.

A natural break came in our conversation, and we turned towards the kids. One of the moms looked at the kids in helmets and walkers and half turned back toward us.

“I wonder if using those things actually makes the kids more scared,” she commented.

I looked at the kids again and realized just how insightful her observation was. We work so hard to protect our kids from everything that sometimes it’s possible we overdo it. Do all these measures we put into place give our children the subconscious idea that they should just go ahead and be scared of what they’re approaching even before they get there?

Would it be so awful if I let Eleven and Nine walk to the neighbors’ house? What about letting them just play in the backyard? It’s fenced in, after all.

Of course, that fence is open-ended on one side. It’s metal and designed to keep the hordes of Canadian geese out of our backyard. Anyone can glance over and see who’s there and who’s not. This fence is nothing like the tall wooden privacy fence we had around our backyard in Texas when Eleven was then two years old and Nine was (in the beginning) a newborn and eventually started toddling around back there. That fence went all the way around the yard and only had one exit that we could lock with a padlock when we left town. Our current fence is nothing like that, and my kids are older now. More appealing prey, I would imagine, for someone with perverse tendencies.

And just like that, I’m back to making sure the kids are chaperoned everywhere.

One of my favorite memories from childhood is riding my bike around the neighborhood after it rained. I would aim for the puddles with the challenge being to lift my feet from the pedals just as the wheels swished through the standing water. Sometimes I did this with those friends who lived across the street, but I also went by myself.

Like so many kids growing up in the 1980s, I did my fair share of door-to-door visits trying to sell candy bars as part of my school’s fundraiser. Again, I would go alone. The only edict Mom and Dad gave me was to make sure I came back before dark.

And then there were the sleepovers.

Now…now I can’t seem to make myself let go. Eleven and Nine will fight me on it, and on many issues I will let them win. But on others…it’s a crisis of conscience, as I said. Which is why we note going to a sleepover as a major milestone.

Latest Spurts: A glimpse into our India trip

January 12, 2018

By Ekta R. Garg

(Enjoy these special India-themed Spurts from our recent vacation there!)

Life in India epitomizes paradox. Where people stay up to date on the latest trends in the West and navigate their smart phones with aplomb, certain elements of the “old” India still remain. Those elements, in fact, not only function as part of daily life there. They help drive it forward.

Take the vegetable sellers who walk the streets of the neighborhoods. These men (for they’re almost always men) call out their wares as loud as they can while they push their flat wooden carts up and down the dusty thoroughfares between rows of houses. Housewives send out their servants to stop a vegetable seller for choices that will eventually end up in that day’s meals. It’s much easier to stop the cart right outside your home, say, than it is to walk or drive to the nearest outdoor market.

The vegetable sellers start early in the morning, and in all the years I visited India as a child the calls to action of these small-business owners would rouse me from my sleep. By the second or third day of my trip, though, the squeaks of the carts and the complacent declarations of the vegetable sellers turned into white noise. There are so many people in India that a person learns to tune out the non-essentials pretty quickly.

Eleven and Nine, however, had never experienced anything like this. Their definition of shopping for vegetables means something vastly different. Maybe that, and the sounds of the sheer population, arrested Nine’s attention.

The first couple of mornings she found the vegetable seller’s calls a novelty. By the third morning, she had begun to complain. The noise, putting it mildly, bothered her.

Again?” she would say as she heard the man call out what he had to offer that day. “Seriously?”

Of course, by then, her curiosity had gotten piqued too. She couldn’t help asking questions, something we encouraged both kids to do during their entire trip. When we explained who was calling out and why, Nine formulated her own business plan.

“I’m going to sell karele,” she said, referring to the Indian bitter gourd used as a main component of a typical North Indian meal. “I’ll sell them at 10 K-G for 8 rupees.”

We all chuckled at her declaration. She’d caught on, of course, to the metric system used there for everything. What made us smile, though, was the price she wanted to charge. The going rate these days in India, according to our family members, is around 100 rupees for about half a kilogram of vegetables. If Nine proceeded with her idea, we told her, she’d put the vegetable seller in that block and probably for about six blocks around out of business.

“Then maybe he won’t be so loud anymore,” she said with satisfaction.

*****

While Eleven isn’t really a big sports fan, Nine enjoys watching a good game of basketball. And even Eleven will make exceptions. Both kids get into seasonal sports tournaments, like the Olympics or the World Cup. It’s easy, here in the U.S. with our surplus of resources and coaches, to find a sport to root for.

Maybe that’s why India’s singular passion for cricket stands out. Other sports get a cursory nod of acknowledgement, but from the smallest open-air dhabas (roadside stalls) to the most elegant of restaurants, cricket dominates the conversation any time a person mentions a national pastime. Indian field hockey experienced a revival with Shah Rukh Khan’s 2007 film Chak De India!, but the country still eats, breathes, and sleeps cricket.

One night during we went to my aunt and uncle’s house for dinner. My relatives have known me since I was a baby, and I’ve visited their home many times through the years so I felt at ease. The girls didn’t know quite how to behave, but when their 11-year-old second cousin (my cousin’s daughter) settled with a snack in front of the TV to watch India play Sri Lanka in a match Eleven and Nine sat with her.

Soon enough they grasped the basics of the game, which at its core is a little like baseball: use a bat to hit a ball and score runs. The strategy, the concept of overs versus innings, and having two batters instead of just one took a little longer to understand. One thing, though, became clear pretty quickly: we were cheering for India, and we wanted the Indian team to beat Sri Lanka.

After about 30 minutes of watching the match, we were all cheering the players like pros. Eleven kept calculating the score out loud—“If they just score three sixers during this over, we’ll be ahead”—and it didn’t hurt that Sri Lanka’s team was markedly weaker than India’s. When a team displays its prowess on a field with such ease, rooting for the players becomes simpler.

My aunt came in half a dozen times with almost as many complaints about how we were focusing more on the match and not letting the kids concentrate on their food, but I could see satisfaction beneath her façade. Sports, like music or art, transcend language and cultural barriers. Before we arrived in India, all of my family members kept asking what the kids would like to do, see, and eat while we were there. My aunt saw that even something as simple as a bat and ball allowed for Eleven and Nine to slip into the family as much as a more extravagant excursion might.

*****

When I was a kid, going to India presented a host of challenges. One of the biggest came in the form of taking a shower. We don’t think much about it here in the States. Turn on a tap; watch the water stream from a showerhead into a bathtub. Step under said water stream; lather; rinse; repeat.

For years, however, the majority of Indians showered in a completely different way. Due to the need for caution with the amount of water available (and also, I suspect, to conserve resources, which is actually a pretty common-sense way to go about it,) people in India would use the separate hot and cold taps in the bathing area of their bathrooms to fill a large bucket with water. Then they would either sit on a little plastic bench or even crouch on the floor as they used a smaller plastic container (about the size of a soup mug and often in a color to match the large bucket) to scoop the water over their bodies. Lather; rinse; repeat, all really fast, because even with warm water you start to feel cold soon after the water hits the bathroom floor.

My sister and I would find ourselves charmed by this way of bathing for the first day during our trips back to India. By the second day we’d share with one another just how much we missed our standing showers back home. It bound us to one another, which, I guess, in a roundabout sort of way accomplished the “family bonding” of our India trips (although I suppose our parents meant bonding with other family members when they talked about that part.)

In recent years, however, a revolution of sorts has happened. More and more people have begun to renovate their bathrooms specifically to include standing showers. Part of that could have to do with the steep increase in the economy in India and the influx of cash. People there have begun to travel more. Traveling more means increased exposure to other parts of the world, which probably means coming home with a mindset to make their own houses over.

Many homes in India now include standing showers, which delighted me this time to no end. After years of perfecting the art of a bucket shower—half a bucket if you don’t need to wash your hair; three-quarters of a full bucket if you do—I didn’t have to worry about how to get Eleven and Nine clean during our trip. Of course, some homes still have the old-fashioned way of showering. This included my maternal grandfather’s house.

The bathroom that my husband and the girls and I shared had a standing shower in it. The other bathrooms didn’t. One day we were trying to prod Eleven and Nine along to get ready, and we came to a conclusion: if we wanted to get out of the house during daylight, one of the girls would have to use the bathroom with the bucket shower system to bathe.

Eleven and Nine’s heads swung toward one another as they had a silent conversation about who would undergo the ordeal. After a minute or two, Nine sighed in melodramatic fashion.

Fine,” she said, “I’ll do it.”

My husband went with her to talk her through it and hand her all her clothes when she was done. After about 30 minutes, Nine, bathed and dressed, came back to the room with our luggage in it. She plopped her stuff on the bed.

“I am never doing that again,” she declared with finality.

I had to giggle. Eleven laughed a little too. Of course, her amusement only lasted until the next day when we found ourselves in the same predicament.

“Di-Di should take a shower with the bucket today,” Nine said, with a hint of glee. “I had to go there yesterday.”

The girls know we always play fair, and Nine was right. If she had to take a bucket shower the previous day, then Eleven was next. Eleven tried to plead her case, but it was a weak one. She grabbed her clothes and shower essentials and headed to the bathroom.

“So how was it?” Nine asked, goading her sister into collusion on her own opinion.

Ever the cool middle schooler, with a shrug Eleven said, “It wasn’t that big of a deal.”

Not that that meant she’d be happy to do it again. But in a way, this was one of the reasons for us to take the kids to India in the first place, so that they would see how people live on a daily basis. They do get a little bit of exposure from Bollywood films, but movies usually highlight the most glamourous parts of a place. Taking Eleven and Nine to our relatives’ homes gave them an opportunity to see how much was different from the movies and how much was similar to their own lives.

*****

For the most part, I think the kids had a pretty positive experience visiting India. As the child of immigrants, I know I’ve always had a little bit of a complicated relationship with the country of my cultural heritage. I suspect as Eleven and Nine get older, they’ll experience the same thing.

Like all relationships worth having, though, there will always be complications. There will always be ups and downs. There will always be positives and negative. In the end, this relationship the girls and I share with India definitely enhances and enriches our lives in a way no other relationship can. For that, more than any other thing, the trip was worth it.

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.

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.