Latest Chart: Weeks 1 and 2 of Shelter-in-Place

March 27, 2020

By Ekta R. Garg

As I sit here writing this, my kids are in school.

No, not that kind of school. The kind where they get to wear regular shirts but pajama bottoms. The kind where they see their teachers’ homes, because everyone’s in a different location but in the same place online.

The kind that separates the majority of the population due to COVID-19.

Last week Thirteen and Eleven were on spring break, but it was a vacation out of the Twilight Zone. On the Friday before their break started, the school had announced it would go exclusively online once we came back from our days off. By then the governor of Illinois, too, had asked everyone to shelter in place.

So that’s what we did last week. And this week. And, now, for the foreseeable future.

Now, mind you, we didn’t have grand spring break plans before all this even started. Our family had no travel plans. I was supposed to go to Louisiana for a wedding, but other than that were going to stay home. Catch up on our sleep. Watch movies. The girls both need hair trims, so I’d earmarked that for vacation. The middle school dance was supposed to be in April, and we’d discussed dress shopping.

We did catch up on sleep and watch movies, but that was the only thing that felt normal.

We didn’t leave the house. On the second or third day, Thirteen received word from some of her classmates of an online chat in Google Hangouts. She spent hours every day talking to her friends, all of them teasing one another and comparing notes on their experiences at home.

Eleven moped a bit when she heard her big sister’s voice ring through the house with excitement. I encouraged her several times to email her friends and video chat with them. They’d all be home, I reasoned, so she had a pretty good chance of catching someone.

Although she did talk to some of them, by the end of the week she’d hit her limit for the whole situation. I think we all breathed a sigh of relief when school started Monday online. Sure, it was weird not making the short drive to the school building, but it was closer to “normal” than last week.

On Monday, at the end of the school day, Eleven came downstairs sparkling with energy. She and Thirteen talked about how organized everything was. Her face exuded relief and gratitude to see her teachers and to follow the same routine she does during the normal school day.

That’s due solely to our amazing administration and teachers; they worked hard all during spring break to make this transition as smooth as possible.

By last night, however, the energy and optimism had diminished. Like the rest of us—like the rest of the world—Eleven is not just tired but weary. She wants to do normal things, and here the definition of normal, as all of you know, is incredibly basic.

Last night during dinner, without even thinking about it, I said, “I was supposed to be in Madison today.”

Madison as in Wisconsin where I go every year for my favorite writers’ conference; I was supposed to be there this week.

And just like that, like a series of blocks tumbling to the ground, we started mentioning in short bursts all the things we were supposed to be doing this week. Eleven took it the hardest. I suppose that’s my fault; I shouldn’t have made the comment about Madison or that Eleven was supposed to be starting her soccer season this week or that both she and Thirteen were supposed to have their school’s quarterly arts showcase last night.

Yeah, now that I’m thinking about it, it definitely was not my finest parenting moment.

“Coach was going to start me as forward,” she said, disappointment in her face and voice. “We were going to send off [all the senior players]. This was going to be their last season.”

The more she let all these things out, the more stunned she looked. It was as if she hadn’t gotten around to counting exactly how many life events had skewed to “abnormal” during this time. I tried to salvage the situation at one point.

“Just yesterday…or was it the day before?” I interrupted myself. “Anyway, I filled out a survey from the park district in which they asked if you could play in May or June or, if they made the season longer in the fall, if you could play. I said yes to everything.”

She seemed a little mollified by that, but not by much, and even as I said the words I knew how hollow the promise sounded.

Thirteen has her share of disappointments too. For the school’s Maker Faire (in which kids learn a new skill or improve an existing one and then do something creative with it,) she was building a dragon. Originally all Maker Faire projects were being completed at school, but when the shelter-in-place order ramped up I brought the dragon’s head home.

But this was no ordinary dragon. He was going to be a major prop in the eighth grade play that the school produces every single year. And Thirteen, our improv-loving actress, was committing her lines and the music to memory as if she were premiering on Broadway.

There was also the middle school dance, her last at this school before she moved on to high school, and the talent show. Not to mention her dance recital has now been postponed indefinitely. In some ways she, should have been more dejected.

Last night, though, she didn’t speak up, and she didn’t seem overly upset by anything. Instead it was Eleven who needed an encouraging word, and we offered many. I could see in my younger child’s face the same questions we’ve all been asking: how long is this going to last? Are we ever going to be able to see our friends face to face again?

When does life go back to being “normal”?

None of us know, of course, but my husband and I reassured Eleven as best we could. He’s got his entire medical career to back him up. I’m a mom, and a former cheerleader to boot, so I have optimism and encouragement in spades. Acknowledging for Eleven that we’re just as worried and anxious as she is for life to go back to normal made her steel herself against what she knew might happen next: the dreaded parent hug.

She finished sweeping the kitchen, which is her chore every night after dinner, and escaped to the solitude of her room. Thirteen finished wiping down the counters and strolled upstairs after her. I washed the dishes and went up to say good night to them both.

Eleven had already fallen asleep, but Thirteen was still awake and I asked her how she was doing.

“Fine,” she said.

“We talked a lot about how [Eleven] is feeling about all this, but we didn’t really talk about what you’re thinking. If you need someone to talk to, you can always come to me.”

“I know,” she said in that quick way teens use to get their parents to stop bugging them.

“Hey, it’s either Daddy or me,” I joked, “and you know what you’re going to get there.”

“Yeah,” she said with a chuckle, “I know.”

This time I heard the sincerity in her voice. She and both Eleven know they can talk to us at any time, about anything. After all, in this time of shelter-in-place, that’s what we have, right? Each other. Time. And, within the confines of our homes, space to talk.

All of us, I know, are eager for this to pass, to get back to life at its regular speed. I’ve had a few moments this week where it’s all overwhelmed me, like it did Eleven. But I’ve also gained a lot of comfort from the fact that when we say “we’re all in this together,” this is one of the few times in history that the “all” is literal.

So let’s stay strong. For each other. For the kids. For the everyone.

Newest post: Bracing for spring break (oh, yeah, and COVID-19)

March 13, 2020

By Ekta R. Garg

Today the state of Illinois announced that all schools, public and private, will remain closed until March 30 due to COVID-19. I wonder, when that decision was being made, whether the people involved realized today was Friday the 13th. I hope it made someone chuckle at least.

All right, so full disclosure here: I actually like it when my kids have time off. Within reason, that is. Summer vacation starts off great, but by the second week of August it starts to feel a little long.

As of right now, Thirteen and Eleven are just happy to start spring break. So far everything’s rolling along in our normal routine. Many of their extracurricular activities for next week are cancelled, but that’s also normal. With a major university here in town, all of the schools and many of the organizations offering activities for kids follow the university’s schedule. If they’re on spring break, everyone’s on spring break.

It’s the “after spring break” part of all this that has me wondering.

The girls’ school announced earlier this week that when the break ends, the school will move to online education for at least two weeks. Even though their teachers will handle everything—the teaching, homework, grading, everything—this feels a little like a homeschool model. Which I know works wonders for some kids and families.

I, however, would probably be terrible at it. The teaching part, that is. It would be too easy to want to skimp on the math and science stuff and dedicate whole weeks to reading and writing. Being literate and knowing how to communicate in the written form is crucial, isn’t it? Do we really need to learn algebra or to look at slides under a microscope?

(Don’t tell the math and science people I said this, by the way.)

Many of my good friends homeschool their children, and I prostrate myself in front of their courage. Their sheer determination to give their kids an education, as it’s formally defined. I know they probably have their challenges, but they’re doing it every single day.

I believe in education, of course. My parents have always said it’s the one treasure you can cash anywhere in the world with a limitless supply. But to teach? Myself? Little kids? Who ask all sorts of questions and seem to want to focus on everything except the one thing you want them to know at the moment?

Would it be terrible if I admitted that sometimes my most favorite time of day is when I’m at home all alone? If I homeschooled my children, not only would I be responsible for imparting knowledge to them but then when school ended they’d just stay. They’d never leave.

Really, to my friends who do it: you guys should be the ones running the world.

I have to say, knowing the kids will be home for a minimum of three weeks actually isn’t so daunting now. Had they been younger, I would have probably gone outside, rain or shine, every single day for about 10 minutes just so I could remember what quiet sounded like. Even as the littles would be knocking on the door from the inside asking what I was doing out there.

Now, though, they’re older and can entertain themselves and one another. (See, parents of littles, this does actually happen. It’s not a myth.) As the girls have gotten older, it’s become more common to find both of them in the same bedroom. Eleven will wander over to her big sister’s room, especially on sunny days because Thirteen gets the late-afternoon sun on her side, and they’ll sit together and read or listen to music. Often they’ll even do chores like fold laundry together. It’s nice to see.

On the other hand, I already know I’ll probably have to ref more than one fight. Experience from summer vacation has taught me this. Experience has also taught me that when I tell the girls to go to their neutral corners, they usually come back after several minutes and shake hands in a truce (well, in the metaphorical sense. And now, with all this COVID-19 stuff going on, do I really want them shaking hands? Hmm, must remember to ping Dr. Sanjay Gupta on Twitter about that one. :D)

I saw a funny meme on Facebook earlier today (if you want to see it for yourself, you can check out my Facebook author page where I shared it. For those of you not on Facebook—Mom and Dad—just enjoy the following description.)

The title of the meme is “Parenting over COVID-19 spring break,” and it’s a split screen. On the left is a picture of Julie Andrews in Mary Poppins when she’s in the nursery singing “A Spoonful of Sugar.” She’s holding a robin on her finger and has a huge smile. Above her it says, “Day One.” On the right is a picture of Carol Burnett in Annie as Miss Hannigan in her nightie holding two liquor bottles looking like an absolute wreck. Above her it says, “Day Fifty.”

You laugh, but I wonder how many of us will feel like that in a few weeks.

Today, though, everything’s normal. Everything’s going by our regular routine. We’ve officially started spring break, and the kids are looking forward to a week of watching their favorite movies, hanging out in their sweat pants, and doing normal things like getting their hair trimmed and meeting friends.

And even during this national crisis, we can still be normal. Think about it, if we all stay prepared, don’t panic, and remember to extend kindness to everyone (even if that just means a smile and a kind word, because, really, we can still do that even if we can’t hug one another,) we’ll get through this. Another great meme on Facebook said that this crisis was temporary, but we’d always remember how people treated us. Just take that into consideration.

Even if it means sitting outside in the rain every day for 10 minutes (and don’t forget to do some deep breathing; that helps too.)

 

 

Latest Chart: The quiet revolution…

February 28, 2020

By Ekta R. Garg

In the movies, revolutions always seem dramatic. Someone declares war on a person or an entity or even an entire government. There’s a lot of fist pumping, feverish painting of sandwich boards, and montages of marches. At the end, the protagonist shares tearful hugs with those nearest and dearest to him/her. Occasionally the plot allows for forgiveness of the antagonist.

No one ever told me that revolutions don’t have to be so…well, loud. Sometimes they can creep into a house without anyone even realizing it. The protagonist makes one small change and then another and another. Before you know it, things start to look really different.

Our story begins with a feisty eleven-year-old not afraid to express her opinions, and she has many of them. Particularly where clothes and fashion are involved. The backstory will reveal that time and again the protagonist has declared herself to be uninterested in how she dresses. Once or twice the word “tomboy” has even been used. She wears her laid-back attitude like a badge of honor.

This makes even more sense when we consider one of the supporting characters of the tale: the teenage older sister. This sister has, from her earliest years, loved dressing up and looking pretty. During her first haircut at the age of three, she grinned at her mother from the booster seat of the chair in which she sat, the drape covering her toes and hanging so low she looked like a sweet face on top of a funnel. Her grin held excitement, pride, and the first hints of maturity. She knew she was getting a haircut, and she couldn’t wait for the results.

Now, a decade later, the older sister takes pride in how she looks. Her sense of style is well-defined, even if her mother hasn’t quite learned the elements that comprise that definition yet. As in, if the two go shopping together, the mother will hold up a piece of clothing and nine times out of ten the teenager will respond either by rolling her eyes or by blinking rapidly in mock horror.

All that to say, the teenager has dominated the world of dressing well and fashion in the house.

Until now.

In the last six months, a change has crept across the stage as quietly as a fog rolls in. One day it’s just there, and you wonder how you could have missed it. Now it’s becoming denser, and it doesn’t seem to be dispersing any time soon.

*****

Last summer Thirteen began exploring her style choices (within financial reason) with more intention and understanding of what she likes and doesn’t like. In the beginning, Eleven would watch her big sister and then declare for all and sundry that she “doesn’t care” or thinks “fashion is dumb” or any one of a number of other phrases. She’s always been a jeans/shorts and t-shirt girl, this one.

This attitude has formulated in the last few years, and we got used to the tussles with Eleven on the nights when we needed to get dressed for a formal event. She’d pout and complain and throw dagger eyes and then sigh and throw her hands in the air and comply. Not exactly the formula for a successful start to an evening, but it worked. More or less.

Since the end of the summer, though, she’s become less vocal about her dislike for dressing up. Looking back, I can pinpoint when the change happened to the day even if I don’t understand why. My sister-in-law celebrated her silver wedding anniversary in August and threw a big party to celebrate. As part of the festivities, my sister-in-law graciously hired a makeup artist and hair stylist to help family members get ready on the day of the party.

Thirteen was practically bouncing with joy when she heard about the arrangements. Eleven whined and complained. The grownups shook their heads at her.

Then, on the day of the party, she declared in a confident voice laden with just a hint of uncertainty that she’d like to get her hair styled too. She went on to ask for makeup. I turned away so she couldn’t see my jaw drop. At one point, when she wasn’t looking, I turned to Thirteen and literally asked, “What’s going on here?”

Thirteen’s eyes had gotten wide with as much shock as I felt, and she shook her head.

“I don’t know,” she said.

“Well, don’t say anything to her,” I replied in a low tone.

At the time I thought it might be a one-time indulgence on Eleven’s part. She saw all the other women getting gussied up and decided to join the fun. Good for her, I thought, and didn’t bring it up too many times after the party.

In these sorts of matters, I’ve discovered it’s better to approach my younger child like I would an animal in the wild: with caution and slow, quiet movements.

When school started, Eleven reverted back to her typical comfortable clothes. Yet I’ve noticed her looking at Thirteen’s outfits with more interest. In the last couple of months, she’s complimented her sister in the morning when Thirteen comes down to breakfast. Once she looked at what her sister was wearing and asked, “I wonder what I would look like in that.”

Last week I went upstairs and caught sight of her standing in front of her dressing table mirror. She didn’t see me, so I watched as she pulled all of her long hair over one shoulder. She took a second to assess the results, and I moved down the passageway before she caught me spying and got embarrassed.

This week she decided to try different hairstyles, and here is where the story takes an interesting turn.

Thirteen has always taken great pride in how she dresses, does her hair, and paints her nails when she knows she has a special event or a performance coming up. Now her little sister has chosen to emulate some of her hairstyles. Thirteen’s discomfort with her sister encroaching on her territory is obvious in the second glances she gives her sister and the sideways suggestions that she might want to try a different way of doing her hair.

Through most of sixth grade, Thirteen went to school with a pair of long pigtails. It became her signature look, one she maintained throughout the year. Yesterday Eleven announced she wanted to try pigtails. Thirteen made a half-hearted attempt to talk her sister out of it, and I tamped down her efforts.

“It’s not like you have a copyright on hairstyles,” Eleven said in an even tone to Thirteen.

After breakfast today I helped Eleven part her hair and do the pigtails, and as we got into the car Thirteen started pointing out that their friends in school kept saying how the two of them looked alike. She made a note for Eleven of a hair bump in one place. She told Eleven that if the pigtails bothered her, she could always pull them out and do a low ponytail—Eleven’s signature look.

“Enough,” I told Thirteen. “I don’t want to hear you say anything about [Eleven’s] hair now. Not a single comment or suggestion. She’s free to do what she wants.”

The car became quiet for about 60 seconds, and then Eleven changed the topic of conversation. After a moment or two, Thirteen joined in. I let the issue go as well.

Because revolutions don’t have to be big, loud declarations of how one person is going to change the world. Sometimes they can be quiet movements, small gestures. They can be tendrils of self-confidence unfurling toward the sun, ready to grow and take deeper root until a person feels so grounded they don’t have to worry about anyone else’s opinion at all.

And that story is just as compelling as any other.

 

Brand new Chart: Let’s talk about love…

February 14, 2020

By Ekta R. Garg

Today is a day to celebrate love, in all its forms. Valentine’s Day is often associated with romantic love, but I’m glad more and more people are using it as a day to recognize the ones they feel close to no matter what the relationship. Of course, not everyone feels like they need a special day to show they love someone. Not everyone feels comfortable showing their emotions at all.

Take Eleven, for instance. This child always has a joke on hand, is ready to act as “the funny one” when the occasion presents itself (or the mood strikes her.) The minute the conversation veers into emotional territory, though, she begins to fidget. Her tone of voice gets flat, and she avoids eye contact. At some point she’ll laugh in an embarrassed way or try to shrug off the conversation. It’s only in the last couple of years she’s become more comfortable with the tight hugs I ask for in the mornings after she wakes up.

So imagine my surprise when we got into a conversation a few days ago about how some middle schoolers seem to have a new crush every week, and she volunteered an opinion.

“I think Di-Di would be the kind of person who wouldn’t have a crush for just a little while,” she said.

It’s times like these I’m so glad the kids are used to me focusing on the road and not offering them any sort of facial reaction. It gives me a chance to think through my responses. Of course, it’s a little harder now that they can sit in the front passenger seat. Still, I get a chance to process what I’m going to say. Because, you know, traffic. I’m not stalling at all.

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“I mean, I think if she’s going to have a crush, it’s going to last a long time,” she explained. “Like, she would take it seriously. She’d tell the boy, ‘You’re sticking around. You’re not going anywhere.’”

“I can see that,” I said. “Of course, that means that if he broke her heart, she’d be devastated.”

“If he did that,” she replied, her tone becoming fierce, “I’d have to hurt him.”

We’d have to hurt him,” I said.

“In some very unpleasant places for boys,” she added, the ferocity carrying over. “I’d hurt him in some very unpleasant places.”

I didn’t know quite what to say to that. Should I have been proud that she felt so protective of her big sister or worried that she was threatening bodily harm to any boy who dared to leave her sister crying? I decided to go with the former.

“It would be terrible if he broke up with her just to go with some other girl,” Eleven said after a few quiet minutes. “Then I’d have to hurt him and the other girl.”

“Oh, but why would you want to do that to the poor girl?” I said.

“I’d hurt him so that it would last the rest of his life,” she said, ignoring my question.

“How about just for a year?” I said.

“Ten years,” she bargained.

“No, I think a year is long enough. And you don’t need to hurt the girl,” I went on. “The fact that you’d hurt the boy is good enough.”

“Yeah, I guess so,” she conceded. “But he better be careful.”

We didn’t talk about it the rest of the way home, our conversation instead turning to other things. But her bold loyalty to her older sister surprised me. Not so much that she felt that way, I suppose. We often tell people we meet that the girls are best friends, and it really is the truth.

I think what surprised me was Eleven’s answer to the question of someone hurting her sister. She’d hurt that person back, plain and simple. Despite her getting older and understanding that the world is comprised of layers and not black and white answers, her thoughts in this case really were black and white.

Not that I advocate violence, but this child doesn’t talk about her feelings. She would rather make a joke or avoid the conversation altogether. She gets irritated when pressed on the topic.

It reminds me, again, that love comes in a variety of forms and expressions. It doesn’t always require big bouquets of flowers or long letters proclaiming one’s affections for another. Sometimes it can just be a promise to beat up the hypothetical guy who would theoretically break your sister’s heart. Promise made, hands dusted, love declared. Now on to something else.

 

 

 

 

 

Latest Chart: The teenage angst is real

January 31, 2020

By Ekta R. Garg

Parents of teens, congratulate me: I’ve officially become one of you.

When our older child added the dreaded “teen” to the end of her age, I was kind of curious what would happen. We’ve all read about those mood swings, those irrational outbursts. The shrugging off of love and affection one day and the hugs that won’t stop the next.

Up until now, Thirteen was handling teendom pretty well. We noticed her getting a little edgy, but we knew we could also chalk that up to a change in hormones. Plus the stress of middle school.

Then came the day of The Rubberbands on the Braces.

Just before school started this year, Thirteen got braces. At the beginning of this month, at a regular orthodontic checkup, the doctor told us it was time to add rubberbands to the routine. Thirteen had to wear them at all times, except for when she was eating or brushing her teeth. The hygienist gave her a handy little tool to put the rubberbands on her wires, and she made sure Thirteen practiced a few times before we left the office.

Then came The Next Morning.

(Sound melodramatic yet? What can I say, I’m the mother of a teen now. Melodrama is clearly an option.)

Thirteen, in her usual dreamy-eyed sort of way, sauntered downstairs for breakfast. She ate her cereal without batting an eye at the clock. Meanwhile, I was pretending that it didn’t bother me that we were getting late. I was doing that whole nonchalant, “It’s your school day, not mine” routine.

(Can we be honest? It always bothers us more than it bothers the kids. Can’t wait until they become parents so I can laugh at them for this one.)

I reminded Thirteen that she needed to brush her teeth after breakfast (another bone of contention between us, but, whatever) and replace her rubberbands. She resisted at first. Said she had a system. Had it all worked out. She was totally chill about the way she’d handle this newest addition to her morning routine.

I told her that the rubberbands weren’t an option. No, she couldn’t wait until after lunch to put them on. Yes, she needed to do it now. No, she couldn’t skip brushing her teeth.

She stomped (quite impressively, I have to say) up the stairs and brushed her teeth. Then she stomped back downstairs and headed to the powder room. For reasons known only to herself, she’s decided to store her rubberbands and the handy tool in there.

(Could I have argued that point? Sure, but why add more drama to the morning? We were already approaching the “melo” line.)

Thirteen started to take her sweet time to put on the rubberband, and I…kind of…lost it.

(Remember that whole thing with the clock? Yes, we were definitely running late by this point.)

To be fair (mostly to me,) I kept my tone pretty even at first.

“[Thirteen], you need to hustle,” I called across the house. “We’re going to be late.”

“I am,” she said.

Another minute or two rolled by. I know this, because I was obsessing over the clock. Eleven was peeping at me from the mudroom, her eyes getting fractionally bigger as the minutes ticked past.

“[Thirteen], what’s taking you so long?”

“This is hard,” she said, a whining edge encroaching her tone.

“Well, maybe if you hadn’t spent all your time listening to the radio this morning, you would have moved faster and you would have been down here in time to do this,” I said. “Get moving!”

(This is where my voice got a little louder and Eleven’s eyes a little wider.)

“I’m giving you sixty seconds,” I yelled—yes, at this point we could definitely call it a full-blown yell—“otherwise you’re going to be punished for wasting time.”

“I’m doing it!” she screamed back.

Yes, she screamed. Not in that small child “why-is-my-mom-bothering-me” kind of scream but in that “you’re-such-a-pain-and-you-don’t-understand-anything-about-my-life” kind of scream. Her tone challenged me and leveled the communication playing field. You know what I’m talking about: that moment when you’ve gone from towering over your child in your mode of instruction to looking at them eye-to-eye because all of a sudden they have opinions too.

(Or, in my case, looking slightly up. Thirteen is now taller than me by a few inches. It’s a little disconcerting, to say the least.)

“I don’t appreciate your tone,” I yelled back. “Now get moving!”

Which she did, eventually. And, of course, I did what every veteran parent of a teen does: I lectured her in the car during the 1.1-mile drive to school. Eleven’s shock had abated just a touch, but she still looked like she wanted to let her jaw drop open.

There are lots of drawbacks to yelling at your teen first thing in the morning. I’ll admit, I felt terrible. I don’t like starting my day with so much tension, and I certainly don’t like sending the kids to school with that kind of conflict weighing on them.

There are also some perks, though, to getting this out of the way in the morning. By the time the girls got home from school, they were both their normal sunny selves. They’d had the space of an entire day to distract them and, probably, make them even forget the harsh words from that morning.

Later that evening, when we were trading stories over dinner about our day, Eleven’s eyes got wide again.

“You need to tell Daddy what happened,” she said with a smirk but also an air of disbelief. Sort of like a, “I still can’t believe we did that this morning.”

Well, Daddy, here you go. Now you know what happened. And now you also know that we’re officially parents of a teenager.

Someone please tell me the screaming matches get a little quieter from here on out…?

Latest Chart: Marking the passage of time

January 10, 2020

By Ekta R. Garg

In the day-to-day efforts of parenting, we often forget that our kids are growing up too. We spend so much time working on schedules, talking to teachers, and coordinating play dates that it becomes easy to miss the little indicators that our kids aren’t little anymore. Of course, sometimes the indicators come by way of a phone call, of a claim of responsibility.

Because my husband had to work during Christmas, we decided to leave for our family vacation a few days before the new year. The start of the holiday break for us, then, was relaxed. The girls slept in, and I took my time to plan and pack for the trip.

On the first Monday of their vacation Thirteen, Eleven, and I drove to their dentist appointment, I suggested to the kids they take out their clothes the next day for our travels. I gave them an idea of how many outfits they needed as well as other essentials, and then the conversation went to a bevy of other topics. We laughed, we joked with one another, they groaned good-naturedly about having to get their teeth cleaned (over Christmas break, no less!), and we went on with our day.

The next day I left the kids at home so I could run errands by myself. These errands took me from one location in town to another. They involved final elements of a Christmas present, a small amount of grocery, a few regular supplies for the house, and some other minor things I’d added to my running list. It was the kind of day that sent my mind in about six different directions all at the same time. Preparing for a trip often does.

As I made my way to the checkout counter in the grocery store, my cell phone rang. I pulled it out of my purse and saw the word “Home” on the caller ID. As I swiped the screen to answer the call, I stopped pushing the cart and stood still. The girls had never called me before while I was on an errand run.

“Hello?” I said.

“Hi, Mamma,” Thirteen said.

Her voice sounded normal, and I know there’s nothing worse than causing alarm in someone over the phone. Especially when there’s nothing to be alarmed about, for either party. I kept my voice light.

“Hey, kiddo,” I said. “What’s up?”

She and Eleven had decided to pull out their clothes for the trip, she said. They wanted to know what kind of weather they should plan for. Did I have any idea what the temperatures in Myrtle Beach would be like?

“Why don’t you check on it?” I suggested.

“She’s saying to check the weather,” Thirteen said, her voice turning away from the phone. “Just pull it up on your iPad.”

“Anything else?” I asked.

“Nope, that’s it.”

“Okay,” I said, maintaining that nonchalant tone. “I’m almost done here at the grocery store. I just have one more stop after this, then I’ll be home and we can have lunch, okay?”

“Okay,” she said cheerfully.

“I love you.”

“Love you too.”

I swiped the screen to end the call, impressed with my teen’s thoughtfulness and, quite frankly, the fact that she remembered at all. In times past, I’ve had to ask the girls several times to perform these types of tasks for me. I’d remind them, nudge them, and, yes, even yell on occasion. In all these years, I truly ever thought about the day when the kids would come to me on their own and say they were ready to fulfill a request and just needed further information to do so.

We’re at the start of a new year and a new decade. In the next 10 years, provided we’re blessed with a life free from major challenges, I’ll go from being a mom of two middle schoolers to a mom of two teens and then of two college students. The girls will be considering careers and may discover love; they might even have their hearts broken a time or two. It’s a little mind boggling to consider when I think about how I was more than halfway through the last decade before even becoming a mother in the first place.

Parents often say it, but it’s true: where does the time go?

Latest Spurts: Fake food and wookies

December 27, 2019

By Ekta R. Garg

Enjoy these Spurts from the last two weeks, readers!

Last week, on Monday, we woke up to a couple of inches of snow. After breakfast, as I stood in the mudroom waiting for the girls to pull on jackets and shoes for school, I planted my feet into a pair of ankle-length boots. Eleven looked at the boots, glanced at the bathrobe I still wore, and looked down again.

“Nice shoes, Mamma,” she said.

“I like to be prepared,” I explained, “in case I ever have to get out of the car and trudge through the snow.”

Thirteen took a closer look at my shoes and smirked.

“Are you going to zip them up?”

“No, I figure if I get stuck somewhere, I can take half a second to zip them.”

“What if the police are chasing you?” Eleven asked.

“Then I’ll just bring them back here. You know. Offer them coffee.”

“All she said was, ‘nice shoes’,” Thirteen murmured, “and we get a whole story.”

“All right, let’s move it along.”

*****

Eleven likes a challenge. She also, these days, loves Star Wars and everything to do with the series. Somewhere online she found out about an artist named James Raiz who sketched an enormous mural, in ink, including almost single character important to the franchise.

Then she said she wanted to duplicate it.

When she first mentioned the mural, I did my parental duty: I nodded and smiled like it says to in my contract. One day last week, I asked her to show it to me. In between chopping vegetables and stirring pots on the stove, I took a look at she planned to draw.

My mouth dropped open, but I didn’t want her to mistake my shock for disapproval.

“That’s amazing,” I said. “Look at the level of detail.”

She pulled up a YouTube video of Raiz describing his love for Star Wars, his reasoning for wanting to create the mural, how he planned it, and (in a time lapse) the production and completion of it. I waved my husband over so he could see the final product. He was as impressed as I was, more so by the fact that our child wants to duplicate it.

“That’s really ambitious,” he said.

“Well, I’m a Slytherin,” she said. “I have lots of ambitiousness. Ambitious-ocity! I have ambitious-ocity.”

“That’s not a word,” I told her.

“Yes, it is,” she said, “because I’m a Slytherin and that’s what I have.”

I don’t know what J.K. Rowling and George Lucas would have to say about their universes crossing like that, but all righty then.

*****

I consider myself a pretty good cook, so it came as quite the amusing shock to me that last month the girls declared that all the food I make for them is fake food. The height of irony comes in the fact that they’re complaining about the fact that I don’t serve them processed meals with loads of preservatives, trans fat, or high fructose corn syrup. I take the meals we enjoy in restaurants or on vacations and try to replicate them or at least create something, from scratch, that tastes as good and is nutritious.

If anything, my food is more “real” than some of the stuff available on the market.

I explained this to them; they maintain their opinion.

The discussion of real versus fake food comes up in all sorts of places. Last week, before school got out, the drama teacher invited over the students who have stayed after school and come in on weekends to help out with costumes and sets. She cooked dinner for them, and they played games and got to socialize.

The next morning, I asked the girls what the teacher, Mrs. C., made for dinner.

“Chicken noodle soup,” Thirteen said with a sigh that comes from enjoying comfort food. “And she used real noodles, not the fake ones you do.”

Given that it’s been ages since I’ve made chicken soup, I wanted to protest. Of course, I figured that would just bring forth another complaint about why I hadn’t made the soup in so long. That would be followed by an objection from Eleven that she doesn’t even like soups very much to begin with, and why do we have to eat them during the winter months anyway. (Never mind that there’s nothing quite so warming, and, yes, nutritious, as a large bowl of soup from scratch.)

I’m officially the mother to two middle schoolers; I can’t win either way.

*****

For the past two years, Thirteen has complained good-naturedly about the science teacher, Ms. S. The assignments, Thirteen maintains, are boring, and why did they have to learn about tuberculosis and do experiments and research papers at home anyway? Not to mention that Ms. S. is the type of teacher who’s a stickler for grammar on her papers; misplace commas, and she’ll count it incomplete until all the requisite commas are in their right places.

Shortly after school started, Thirteen and Eleven came home with dread on their faces.

“What happened?” I asked.

“Science.”

“What do you mean?”

Turns out that Ms. S. was scheduled for knee replacement surgery and had assigned subs to carry the load for the two months she would be out. The subs had worked with Ms. S. extensively in the past and had a reputation for being as strict as her. The excitement the kids had at having substitute teachers for an extended period of time was dimmed by who the substitutes were.

At the end of the week last week, I went to say good night to Thirteen, and in the dark she sighed.

“I miss Ms. S.,” she said.

I didn’t know what to say for a minute. “You what?”

“I miss Ms. S.,” she said. “Ms. A.’s so strict.”

I was glad it was dark and she couldn’t see me smile. I offered the standard parental platitudes of how the subs would only be around for a little while longer, but they didn’t seem to comfort her much. Thirteen has said many times in the last two years how she wished Ms. S. would take it easy. I guess it’s true what they say: be careful what you wish for.

*****

One of our agendas for this Christmas break was to watch movies. Lots and lots of them. Eleven wanted to watch the Star Wars movies on the DVR to prep for the newest one in theaters. We started with the original trilogy, despite her mild complaint at watching the movies out of chronological order. I’ve seen the original ones several times before and knew they would be a good gateway into the Star Wars universe, so I overruled her vote to start with Episode 1.

Last night as we watched The Return of the Jedi, we couldn’t help giggling over the wookies. Given that Eleven considers herself a bear, she was tickled pink about the bear-like features of these cuddly creatures. As they waddled around and did their best to fight against the Storm Troopers to help Han Solo and Leia in the movie’s climax (often striking themselves or one another in the process,) we laughed so hard our eyes watered.

At one point, two wookies get knocked to the forest floor by a laser blast. They both lie on the ground for a moment; then one gets up and drags on the arm of his friend, still flat. The friend doesn’t get up, and the first wookie gets to his knees to check on the second one. He bends down and puts his face to his friend’s arm as if in an affectionate kiss.

The girls and I “aww”’ed immediately.

“I hope he’s okay,” I said about the unconscious wookie.

“He’s okay,” Eleven said in a bid of hope. “He’s gotta be okay. Nothing’s wrong with him.”

“I’m going to write a fanfic about those two,” Thirteen said, her eyes filled with compassion. “I’m going to write about how they’re friends.”

“And when you do, they’re both going to be okay,” Eleven said.