Newest Spurts: rioting against risotto and dealing with lint

August 4, 2017

By Ekta R. Garg

Enjoy these Spurts from the last two weeks, readers!

Lately the kids have been bugging me to let them help more with chores. I don’t know whether it’s because my children are strange or because this is that sweet spot most people talk about with their kids. You know, after the tedium of diapers and stopping to examine every single bug on the sidewalk but before the nightmare of slamming doors and being told how awful we are as parents.

Regardless, I’m making the most of it.

One day last week Eleven wouldn’t let the idea go, so I told her to take the clothes out of the washer and put them in the dryer. I explained the trick of giving each item of clothing a little shake before tossing it into the dryer to help it dry that much faster. Then I told her about the lint trap and how it needed to be checked.

“Do you know what lint is?” I asked, realizing its dishwater grayness can sometimes freak people out.

“Oh, yeah,” she replied immediately. “I’ve seen enough episodes of Full House. Danny Tanner, lint—I know all about it.”

Who said 1990s sitcoms were all froth and no substance?

***

Earlier this week we arrived at the YMCA for camp, and the kids started climbing out of the car. Eleven grabbed her snack bag and water bottle. Nine grabbed her snack bag and made for the door.

“Water bottle,” Eleven called out.

“Just bring it,” I told her. “I know it’s her responsibility to remember it, but as a big sister it’s your responsibility to help out your little sister when you can.”

She didn’t say anything as we walked toward the sliding door entrance of the building.

“Of course, eventually the younger siblings learn to take care of their own things,” I said. “Then us older siblings keep doing things for them anyway, just to annoy them.”

“Anything that annoys her is good,” Eleven quipped.

“You know that the younger ones usually want to annoy their older siblings too,” I said.

“I know.”

Good. As long as we’re square on that. Don’t want anyone telling me later that they weren’t warned.

***

Like many parents who own the duty of meal planning, sometimes I get stuck for new ideas. Occasionally I have random items left in my fridge from other meals and want to try something new with them. Earlier this week the item was orange marmalade, not a favorite by a long stretch in our house, and I decided to tackle a couple of Rachael Ray’s recipes.

Rachael and I—or, her shows and I, at least—go way back, all the way to the earliest days of my marriage, and I own several of her cookbooks. I’ve made many dishes from the books to varying degrees of success. Sometimes it’s as much about trying a new technique as anything else.

The orange marmalade made its way into an orange-balsamic glaze for some turkey breasts, and Rachael suggested a lemon risotto to go with it. I’d never made risotto before, although I’ve watched her and other TV chefs do it, so I figured this was a good chance to try something new. Broaden my own skills, as it were. I added a side of steamed green beans and decided to call it a meal.

The turkey came together really well. The green beans came in a steam-ready bag from the store, so they came out fast. The risotto took the longest, which surprised me. I knew it would take a while, but Rachael called it at about 18 minutes. I found myself standing there for almost 45, still stirring and waiting for all the liquid to absorb (although I did bump up the quantity in her recipe, so that’s why it took so long.)

When we sat down to eat, I got a thumbs up on the green beans and the turkey. The risotto? Not so much.

“It’s okay,” Nine said, trying to hide just how much she really didn’t like it.

“Yeah, it’s okay,” Eleven said.

Maybe there wasn’t enough lemon zest? I don’t know. My husband asked me how I made it, and I described the process of adding liquid a little at a time and stirring it and waiting for it to evaporate before adding the next ladle of liquid.

Eleven looked down at her plate and back at me. “Well, now I feel bad.”

I shook my head. “Don’t. That’s how we learn, right? We try new things, and some of them go well and some don’t.”

Neither of the girls said much about the meal after that, but I could see in their faces that they appreciated how much time and effort had gone into making it. I hope they can see this as a positive experience. Sometimes you only learn by doing; just reading about it or watching others doesn’t cut it.

***

This afternoon Eleven, Nine, and I got into the car to drive to the other side of the neighborhood to drop Nine off at a friend’s house. As we made our way, I spotted a turtle plodding its way down the street. I slowed down so the kids could see it.

“Mamma, we have to move it to the side of the road!” Nine, our resident animal lover, said.

“How are we going to do that?” I asked.

“Yeah, how?” Eleven asked.

“We have to pick it up!” Nine said.

“What if it bites you?” Eleven asked.

“I’ll hold it far away from me. Please, Mamma, we don’t want cars to hit it.”

I have to admit, even as I slowed the car down, stopped it, and put it in Reverse, a thousand conflicting thoughts ran through my mind. The desire for the greater good—“Helping animals helps the environment!” “Be kind to all creatures!” “Show compassion to those less fortunate than us!”—battled with the common-sense approach that infiltrates a parent’s life—“The turtle could have diseases!” “People driving down the street will get mad at us for blocking the road!” “What if the turtle bits off your leg?”

Well…maybe not common sense all the time.

As soon as I put the car in Park, though, Nine unbuckled her seat belt and opened the car door. To her credit, she didn’t make a beeline to the turtle right away. She eyeballed the street to make sure no one was driving like a crazy person. By this time one car had come to a stop behind me, and an oncoming car had stopped to see what we were up to.

I opened my own door and got halfway out. Nine made her way to the turtle, which had started to figure out that all was not right with its world. It had already pulled three legs into its shell, and by the time Nine approached it the fourth leg and its head had tucked inside its mobile home too. I exchanged a look with the lady behind me, and she smiled back.

Nine turned back to me. “Can you help me?”

She must have seen my own hesitation, because she turned right back around, picked up the shell a little gingerly, and walked it across the street. She placed it in the grass in front of a home and trotted back to the car. As soon as she got in, I hit the button for the sliding door to shut.

“Make sure you scrub your hands really well when you get to A.’s house,” I said.

“I will,” she said, and even without looking at her I could hear the smile.

We spend many hours watching documentaries of fascinating places and creatures. I’m glad that Nine got the chance to exercise her love for animals today.

 

 

Latest Chart: How a tape deck got us on the Titanic

July 28, 2017

By Ekta R. Garg

Who knew that a cassette player could inspire a discussion about the Titanic?

At the start of the summer, I bought a cassette player for my studio. You know, the kind with the little black handle and the CD player built into the top. Of course, this tape deck also comes with a jack where you can plug in an mP3 player, but I can ignore it and still play my music retro style.

I finally got around to addressing the tape player. Eleven has been bugging me all week to let her help with household chores more, so I invited her to go into the basement with me to grab the box of tapes I knew I’d stashed down there when we first moved in last year.

“Why do you need tape?” she asked, when I told her I was going down to get one.

“Not tape,” I said, “A tape. As in, a cassette.”

“I have tape in my room,” Nine said, trailing along.

“Not that kind of tape,” I said, although I caught the grin that told me she was being facetious.

I pulled out the box and Eleven offered to carry it upstairs for me, even though it was a little heavy. At the last minute, I looked in the plastic tub with CDs and decided to grab one to check the quality of the CD player. I pondered my choices for a few minutes then pulled out the soundtrack for the movie Titanic.

“Oh, no,” Nine said, “not that. Why do you want to listen to something so sad?”

My girls, of course, have never listened to the soundtrack of the film. They may have heard it in passing, but they’ve never opened the CD case in anticipation of the dulcet tones of what the ship meant with Leo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet falling in love on it. For me, however, the Titanic CD holds many fond memories.

Even though I really wanted to play the CD, at the last minute I couldn’t resist the allure of the tape deck and pulled out a cassette instead. One of the best things about technology from the 1980s and 1990s is that it’s pretty straightforward. Even today, you just open it up and plug it in. That’s pretty much it. Nothing fancy to program; no novel-length instructions to read.

After listening to one of my most favorite Hindi songs (Kay Sera Sera from the Anil Kapoor-Madhuri Dixit film Pukar, in case you’re wondering,) talk turned back to the Titanic and how its story related to the movie.

“Isn’t it sad?” Nine wanted to know.

“Well, the story of the ship is sad, but the music is lovely,” I said. “It really sounds like what the ship would.”

Somehow that sparked a conversation that brought in elements of the movie and the actual sinking, weaving the two in a narrative that lasted for almost 20 minutes. The girls wanted to know about the story of the film, and I gave them the short version. They were intrigued by the fact that Rose, Kate Winslet’s character, was engaged to one person and falls in love with another.

“He didn’t treat her well,” I said of Rose’s fiancé.

“Yeah, well, men take advantage of their wives because they think they’re weak,” Nine said pragmatically.

I thought for a moment about answering her, but then Eleven piped up.

“What was her fiance’s name?”

I tried to remember Billy Zane’s character’s name (Cal,) but for the life of me I couldn’t at the time.

“I don’t know,” I finally said.

“Bob,” Eleven said. “He’s Bob the Builder.”

The three of us giggled, and then I went on with the story of Rose and Jack. We talked about the class difference between the two and the fact that Cal, Rose’s fiancé, survives in the end while Jack dies.

“But why?” Nine said. “You would think the bad guy would die in the end.”

“I know,” I said, “but he and Rose don’t end up together.”

I described the scene at the end where Rose hides from Cal so that she doesn’t have to leave the dock with him.

“Yes, see, Bob used to build part-time,” Eleven explained, “but being with Rose distracted him from building. When he didn’t find Rose, that’s when he started doing it full time and became…”

“Bob the Builder!” we all finished in a chorus.

I shared the excitement of the Oscar awards when Titanic came out and how the makeup department got a special nod for its work, particularly toward the end of the film when all the bodies of the dead passengers are shown just floating in the water. Our conversation continued in the car as we made our way to the Y for the kids’ half day of camp.

“But what was so special about the makeup?” Nine asked.

I explained how a body bloated by water takes on a different visage and that the makeup department most likely had to do some serious research so their work would appear realistic when the time came to shoot those scenes. That led us down a short rabbit trail about plausibility in a story, both film and written, and how an audience is willing to believe almost anything if it’s presented in a way that makes sense within the larger story world.

As we chatted, I remembered all of a sudden that a writing client of mind had written a pretty compelling novel about the Titanic to coincide with the hundredth anniversary of the ship’s sinking. I shared that story in brief with the girls as well. The more we talked, the more details of the movie, my client’s book, and the general popularity of the story of the ill-fated ship came back. It struck me, as we left the house for camp, that the movie itself is now almost 20 years old.

Because Eleven and Nine have no emotional attachment to James Cameron’s film, they were able to joke around about how Rose might have wanted to be free of all the men in her life anyway. We also had time and space for more inquisitive lines of thought as Nine wondered aloud what would have happened to Rose, Jack, and everyone else if the Titanic hadn’t sunk. Of course, the answer to that was an easy one: the movie, most likely, wouldn’t have been made.

After dropping the girls at camp, I continued to think about Titanic, the ship that inspired the movie, and my client’s book. I emailed the client later to ask about her novel, and I spent part of the day reminiscing about what the soundtrack meant to me. It’s been an interesting couple of weeks pondering the past, and today’s discussion is proof positive that while we never know what parenting will bring us on a day-to-day basis we know it’ll always surprise us.

Latest Spurts: Residual bacteria and a donkey for a best friend

July 21, 2017

By Ekta R. Garg

Two weeks ago, our family boarded a plane to embark on an adventure. We visited the beautiful, gracious country of Greece and for 10 days enjoyed the hospitality and immense historical value of one of the oldest civilizations in the world. Of course, for me, the parenting adventures didn’t stop, particularly where my younger child is concerned.

Enjoy these special vacation Spurts, readers!

*****

One of the teens in our tour group would arrive on the bus every single morning with her hair done in an intricate style. Sometimes it was a single complicated braid; other times it was two. Occasionally she even did a braid that wrapped around the back of her head and over her shoulder.

I mentioned to Nine how much I liked the teen’s hair, and Nine encouraged me to tell the girl.

“I will,” I said.

“Make sure you don’t procrastinate about it,” she advised.

“What does procrastinate mean?” I asked.

“It means you put off stuff until you end up having to do things in one tiny day,” she said, cupping her hands to show the small quantity of a single 24-hour period. “I mean, night takes up some time too. Why would you do that?”

And there you go. The next time I’m working on a story and my attention drifts, I know who to call to get me back on task. Even if my hair isn’t nicely braided.

***

Because we took this vacation as part of a tour group, many of our meals were included. That meant we didn’t have to worry about hunting for a place to have breakfast every morning. We could just trot down to the main restaurant of the hotel and sample the offerings of the buffet. The hotels would typically offer a wide array of pastries, fresh fruit, meats and cheeses, a hot bar where we could get eggs cooked to order, and juices, milk, and tea and coffee.

Needless to say, it’s unlike breakfast during our normal routine at home. I didn’t realize just how much the girls had started enjoying the full spread until one of the last mornings of our vacation. Nine looked at me and grinned over her plate of cheese wedges and a juicy nectarine.

“I don’t think I’m going to be able to get used to eating cereal for breakfast again when we go home,” she said.

I have to say, after having polite waiters remember my choice of tea in the morning, I rather enjoyed being spoiled myself.

***

On our last full day in Greece, we had the opportunity to visit a tiny village and walk through it. Part of the experience was meeting the mayor of the village—which comprises of 12 residents—and the mayor introduced us to many of the residents of his tiny town as well as the others that form the consortium of 96 people under his watchful eye. These residents shared fresh vegetables from their gardens with us, cooked for us, and allowed us to partake in their lives for a day.

One of the residents made a deep impression on Nine. His name was Mihalis. The donkey.

She first met him was when he “greeted” our bus. Everyone in the group got to take pictures with Mihalis, but Nine lingered after the picture session. She stroked his fur, and when she looked back at me her face cracked into a smile that made her eyes gleam.

The guide taking the pictures asked if she’d like to take a ride on the donkey later, and I said yes. I knew her face would light up again when she got to mount the saddle, and it did. But I didn’t know just how much she enjoyed the donkey’s company until about an hour or two later.

During the cheese-making and coffee sampling portion of the afternoon, Nine spotted Mihalis tied to a fence not too far away. She left the group and went back to him. As she grasped his short mane, she stroked his nose. Then she came back and asked me to follow her.

“I’m singing to him,” she said. “See, I hold him on his neck here, and I pet his nose, and I’m singing in his ear. He even twitched his ear closer to me so he could hear me.”

I wanted to laugh, not to make fun of her but because she was just so darn cute, but I didn’t.

“That’s very nice of you,” I said. “I’m sure he’s really enjoying it.”

Later, after we sat on the bus to go back to the hotel, Nine stopped by my seat and said, “Mihalis and I are besties now.”

“Great,” her dad said to me once she’d gone to her spot with the other kids in the back. “We come all the way to Greece, and she falls in love with the donkey. We could have found donkeys in Illinois.”

I guess we could have. But they wouldn’t have been Greek donkeys. And they may not have tilted their ears to listen to Nine sing.

***

This Monday I did six loads of laundry, but I didn’t get around to folding most of it until Tuesday. With the time difference between Europe and here, I woke up early on Tuesday—around 5:30—and puttered around the house for a little while. After drinking a big mug of tea, I went to the guest room where we had dumped all the clean clothes.

Nine, ever my early bird, followed me, chattering the whole way. I asked her if she would help with the laundry and she nodded. I told her to sit on the floor.

“Here, can you help me fold your clothes?” I asked.

“Okay,” she said, sitting not too far away. As I reached for a pair of underwear, though, she crumpled her face.

“Ew, underwear!”

“They’re clean,” I said.

“No, they’re not!” she replied.

“Yes, they are,” I said.

“But people’s butts have been in them.”

“They just came out of the laundry yesterday.”

“Still,” she said in an expert tone, “they have residual bacteria in them.”

Considering I’d already been up for more than two hours and it wasn’t even 8 a.m., I decided not to argue. Instead, I assigned her another laundry task and set her to splitting up clothes into different piles for ironing.

“Residual bacterial,” she stage-whispered in a dramatic way.

I just rolled my eyes.

Latest Chart: The fear in planning a birthday party

July 7, 2017

By Ekta R. Garg

Ever since she was three years old, Eleven has been celebrating her birthday with her little sister. Both of them have summer birthdays that are two weeks apart, and when they were younger it was an easy way to save money. Plus, when kids are little, they really can’t argue much. Show them balloons and cake, and they’re happy to go along with whatever else you might propose.

This year, however, because we’re going to be out of town for Eight’s birthday, the girls and I talked about something we’d never broached before: a separate party for Eleven.

“Yes, finally,” Eleven said when I asked them about the idea.

Eight didn’t say anything for a little while. She probably didn’t want to admit just how much it bothered her that her big sister and de facto best friend wanted to separate on something that had always been a “both girls” kind of endeavor. Also, lately, Eleven has begun to assert her feelings in more thoughtful ways. More outspoken ways.

She’s letting us know what she wants.

The entire family tossed around ideas, and eventually we settled on doing a birthday party at home. I smiled and nodded and pretended to get excited as I offered to look up party ideas online. All the while I hoped Eleven didn’t see my apprehension.

This would be the first time we were going to host a party at home, and I really had no idea how to go about entertaining a bunch of kids.

In all the years past, whenever we’ve done parties, we’ve always left the entertainment up to others. The Little Gym and other party places happily gave us the freedom to set up double birthday parties. I went all out to plan amazing gift baskets in lieu of goody bags (spending no more than $5 per basket, no less) and elaborate menus, but I chickened out at the thought of bringing the girls’ friends home. What, I thought, could I possibly do to keep them engaged?

This year, especially, felt like we hit a new milestone. Eleven has become more aware of what other people think. Thankfully she’s in a school with a positive environment and one where the majority of her friends lift her up. She’s never endured any serious bullying, and she’s certainly never had to deal with a “mean girl.”

I’m more aware now than ever before that my older daughter has entered the life stage where little things have begun to matter more. I want to do everything within my power not to embarrass her. I realize that may be impossible. Once she gets deep into her teens, even asking, “How was your day?” in front of her friends may produce an eye roll. But I figure if I can do anything to actively avoid any potential mortification, I will.

I wanted to make sure we planned something fun for Eleven and her friends. Food wasn’t a problem. Again, pizza and cake usually induce smiles and eagerness from anyone. Because Eleven’s birthday was on a Saturday this year, we decided to hold the party on her actual birthday and invited people over from 11 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.

I couldn’t help wondering just what we were going to do for that long.

My trepidation notwithstanding, I Googled things like “ideas for tween birthday party.” Of course, thousands of websites popped up ready to offer advice, and after combing through several of them I made a list of Minute Games. These are games that use common household items and that are timed to be completed in—you guessed it—a minute.

I offered Eleven the idea, and she smiled wide.

“That’s a great idea! Can you show me the games?”

I pulled up the Word doc with the games and we discussed different options. The more we talked, the more I realized that I hadn’t totally bungled this. On a subconscious level, I had used what I knew about my child and come up with a solution that she actually liked.

We talked and planned and shopped for supplies. In the end we came up with six games and a blind auction. These were the games we picked:

Runny Nose, in which kids have to pull out as many tissues as possible from a tissue box in a minute or less (we ended up splitting the kids into pairs and making this a little more complicated by telling one kid to pull out the tissue and passing it to the second kid who had to fold it into a neat square);

Marshmallow Toss, where the kids would be split into pairs and one would toss the marshmallows while the other caught them in a paper cup (we used mini marshmallows, and by the end of the game we had marshmallows all over the floor!);

Stack the Cups, where the kids would have to build a pyramid of plastic cups and then take it all down again (we split the kids into three teams and made it a little more complicated by placing the stacks of cups on one side of the room; one teammate was responsible for running cups back and forth to the others who would have to pass them down the line and let the teammate on the end do the stacking and breakdown; the catch was everyone could only use one hand);

Cereal “Straws,” in which kids would get some Cheerios and see how many Cheerios they could thread onto pipe cleaners (this one ran pretty much as described);

That’s a Wrap, where kids would get a handful of Hershey kisses and see how many they could unwrap in a minute (again, we told the kids they could only use one hand to do the unwrapping, and later on we handed out paper bags so the kids could keep the kisses they unwrapped);

Listen Carefully, in which kids have to listen to a grownup shake a soda can that contains a mystery item (the website suggested nails or screws) and guess what the item is and how many are in the can (we ended up not playing this game because we ran out of time.)

In the blind auction, we handed out fake money to the kids and made them bid on our goody bags. I bought reusable bags in a variety of fun designs and colors and put things like books, fancy water bottles, and small board games inside. Each bag got one item, and no one know what was in each bag. After the auction ended, we gave the kids some time to barter with one another if they wanted to swap bags and prizes.

When all the kids had arrived, I took a minute to welcome everyone and explain the idea of the Minute Games. None of them rolled their eyes. None of them looked bored. In fact, when we asked them to help clean up after the Marshmallow Toss (which we played first so we could get the flying sugar out of the way) they all scrambled to pick up the abundance of marshmallows on the floor.

We played the five games and did the auction, and then everyone ate pizza and cake. After lunch we had about 15 minutes left in the allotted party time and told the kids they could enjoy some free play. And they did. No complaints; no demands.

I was astonished. We’d gotten through the entire party, and everyone was still smiling. No one had complained even once that they had gotten bored, and all the kids seemed to have a good time. Early in the party Eight started to grumble about something small, and I took her aside out of view of everyone else and made sure to let her know I expected her to get involved. We had invited a friend of hers to the party too, so she certainly wasn’t without company, and she just needed to accept it already that this party was about her sister alone.

For a few seconds Eight’s face crumpled in disappointment, but I didn’t have time to listen to her grievances. I sent her right back out to the rest of the group, and her friend called to her and everything was fine again. Even Eight had a good time.

After everyone left, Eleven FaceTimed with her grandparents and they “opened” presents together. Eleven spent the rest of her day sorting out what presents she wanted and what she didn’t, and then she and Eight were together again enjoying the spoils of the party.

That night as I went to give Eleven a good night kiss, I asked her whether she had fun.

“Yup,” she said, and I could hear the smile in her voice.

I was so glad. In the dark, she couldn’t see my face. Otherwise she would have detected that I wasn’t just asking the standard parent question. I genuinely wanted her to approve of what we’d done that morning.

Maybe, then, this is part of what parenting is all about. Putting in the time and effort and energy to engage our children and showing them through our words and actions that we’re doing all we can for their good and their enjoyment. Even with teen angst coming in the future, I have a feeling that starting with the right intentions and following through on those intentions will count for something.

Latest Spurts: Black-eyed peas and getting hit on the head

June 30, 2017

By Ekta R. Garg

Parents assume that as their kids get older, the children start behaving in a more mature manner. The time of hitting and kicking and screaming to get attention starts to wane. Kids grasp enough of a vocabulary to express what’s bothering them and to articulate how they might come up with a solution.

We assume, I said. And we all know what happens when a person assumes something.

A couple of weeks ago, Eight came downstairs rubbing her head.

“What happened?” I asked.

“Di-Di hit me,” she said.

To her credit, she wasn’t whimpering or crying. Of course, she didn’t look overly thrilled either. I called for (then) Ten and asked for an explanation.

“I didn’t hit her that hard,” (then) Ten said.

“Yes, you did,” Eight argued.

“It was just a joke,” (then) Ten added.

“It doesn’t matter,” I said. “Joke or not, we don’t hit people. What happened?”

I didn’t quite see the furtive glance that jumped from one sister to another, but I felt it. They told a pretty weak story between the two of them of Eight going into her big sister’s room and within minutes (then) Ten just whacking her on the head with this heavy cardboard tube she has. Their story lacked details.

More than that, it lacked conviction.

I told (then) Ten to apologize to her sister and also said she wasn’t allowed to watch TV for the rest of the day. She went upstairs and eventually crossed the hall to Eight’s room to tell her she was sorry. My gut told me, though, that the lack of information meant that Eight had probably started it in some fashion.

***

The next day the kids went to the Y for their swimming lesson, and I stayed at home to prepare lunch. The kids’ aunt and uncle were visiting, and everyone came back chattering about (then) Ten and Eight and their swimming abilities. After showering, though, Eight saw me alone in the kitchen. She approached me, complaint written all over her face.

“Um, I wanted to tell you that when we were going through the locker room to the pool, Di-Di hit me on the arm.”

“Okay,” I said, continuing to put dishes away. “Did you do anything to her?”

I have to say, this child can’t keep a secret. That’s a good thing when it comes to her doing something wrong. Even though you can see it’s killing her to make a confession, she’ll tell you what she did.

“Well, um, I was just singing a song, and she kept asking me to stop, and then she just hit me with the swimming bag to get me to stop singing.”

“When she asked you to stop, why didn’t you?” I said.

“I was just trying to irk her a little bit!” Eight said in her defense.

“So you were trying to irk her, and she told you to stop, and you didn’t listen, and that’s when she hit you with the swimming bag, right?” I said, summing up their interaction.

Eight’s expression changed as she realized she wasn’t going to get much traction with me. Her complaint from the previous day may have garnered her an apology from her big sister, but I also wanted her to know that she’s just as culpable in many—okay, most—cases of “irking” her sister.

The kids, I’ve noticed, have started bickering more. I wonder how things will go in the coming school year once Eleven goes to middle school and Eight starts fourth grade.

***

Beware the pun worthy of a major eyeroll and groan.

As we drove to music yesterday, Eleven said, “Look at those…black-eyed peas? Those flowers.”

“Black-eyed Susans,” I said with a smile.

“They’re black-eyed Susans that look like they have peas growing on them,” Eleven said.

“It’s Susan who got a black eye and then peed on it!” Eight said, just before breaking into a round of giggles.

“How do you even do that?” Eleven asked.

“Like this!” Eight said.

I was watching traffic and didn’t see her demonstration, but clearly it made her laugh even harder.

“How would you…” Eleven said again.

“It’s called logistics, Di-Di,” Eight said, fighting down her laughter so she could talk.

“Weirdo,” Eleven replied with as much affection as tween annoyance.

***

Yesterday at breakfast I got into a mini discussion with Eight about boys and their egos, about how boys talk a big game.

“You know why girls are smarter than boys?” I asked her.

“Why?”

“Because they don’t just yap on and on like boys do,” I said, making a mouth with my hand and opening and closing it. “Girls think about what they’re going to say before they say it.”

“Boys are fine, Mamma,” Eight said with a measure of patience. “They just have a different interpretation than girls do about things.”

“Interpretation?” I asked, feigning ignorance. “What does that mean?”

“It means they understand things differently.”

“Oh, really?” I asked, one hand on a hip.

“Yeah,” she said. “Think about it, if everyone had the same interpretation, the world would be a pretty boring place.”

Well, I certainly can’t argue with logic like that.

Reminders of growing up

June 9, 2017

By Ekta R. Garg

This week I received three tangible signs that brought into sharp focus just how much my older child has grown up.

First, there was the incident with the glasses.

Ten has worn glasses about three years now, and her eyesight has weakened a bit every year since she first went to the optometrist. Interestingly enough, this is one of the few doctor’s appointments I didn’t attend. Ten and Eight’s dad came home early from the hospital and offered to take her, and when my husband pitches in to help I don’t question it.

This year, yet again, Ten’s prescription changed, so off the entire family went to Sam’s to pick out new frames for her. She and Eight spent a few minutes playing with the various frame options, but after a little while Ten, my husband, and I got to the business at hand. Her dad found this pair of frames that were in her favorite color (purple) and looked good on her face, so we made it a unanimous decision and placed our order.

Earlier this week, I got a call from Sam’s that Ten’s glasses had come in. On Wednesday after camp, the kids and I had lunch and then we began our afternoon jaunt to pick up the glasses. Ten had been waiting with a great deal of eagerness ever since we ordered them, as much to get new frames as for the fact that she’d be able to see again, and I was glad the call had come because (quite frankly) I was tired of her asking me.

We got settled in the eye department at the store and the lady took Ten’s glasses out of a locked case. She brought them over and instructed Ten to put them on. Ten dutifully took off the old glasses and put on the new ones.

Suddenly my entire perspective of her shifted.

You would think, since I was there when she picked them out, that I wouldn’t be so shocked when I saw them on her. But these frames and glasses looked so different from the previous two pairs that I had to pull a Mom move on myself. I had to remind myself that it’s not polite to stare, never mind that it would be at my own child.

Her previous two frames, also purple, had curlicues on the arms and little metal hearts. When Ten first got her glasses, they made her look older. With these new frames, she looks grown up. The simple, clean lines of the soft rectangles somehow open up her face in a whole new way for me.

She no longer looks like my little girl who wears glasses; now she looks like a young lady.

The second instance happened after the trip to Sam’s. We stopped in the grocery store to pick up a few supplies for dinner that night. Somehow we got sidetracked, the three of us girls, and we found ourselves looking at new flip flops and sandals. Ten’s old flip flops had started to look like she’d borrowed them from Eight, and even though she’s never complained about the old ones I decided to buy her new ones.

We started in the kids’ department, but we couldn’t find a pair to fit her. Even the kids’ size 5 didn’t do the job. So I steered us to the women’s department, reasoning that surely a 6 would do it. But it didn’t. Neither did a 7.

Inhaling a sigh of resignation, I asked Ten to look for a size 8.

The size 8 just fits her now. In fact, when we came home and everyone collected in the evening on the back patio, my husband wondered aloud whether even the size 8 flip flops were a smidge small. And I looked down at Ten’s feet again.

The size 8 looked fine to me. I did my level best to ignore the fact that they didn’t come from the kids’ department. But my husband couldn’t quite grasp it.

“Did these really come from the women’s department?” he asked, amazed.

I nodded while wondering what exactly this is supposed to mean. I mean, I wear a 7.5. Most of her other shoes run around a 4.5 to 5 in kids. So what do I make of the fact that she’s wearing women’s flip flops too big for even me?

It didn’t help that while we shopped for shoes, Ten looked down at her feet and said, “My feet are just long, that’s all.”

Speaking of things bigger than me, the biggest shock this week came from a piece of string.

At the beginning of fifth grade, all the kids in Ten’s class put together personal mini time capsules. They took paper towel tubes to school and filled them with pieces of paper listing their favorites—books; movies; TV shows; singers; etc.—as well as their thoughts for the school year that had just begun. The teacher also measured each child’s height with a piece of string, cutting the string to match the height and allowing the kids to ball up the string and stuff it in the cardboard tube along with everything else.

Ten brought home the tube with glee.

“Look at this,” she said, pulling out the string. She held it up and let it stretch to its full length. Then she stepped on the bottom tip with her toe and pulled the string taut.

It came just above her chin.

In this one school year, my child has grown five inches.

I wanted to email her teacher and ask whether she might have made a mistake while measuring Ten. It’s not humanly possible for people to grow that much in a year…is it? And, surely, it’s not possible for kids to grow so much, period.

Is it?

I guess I know the answer to that one, really, I do, but I’m afraid to utter it.

Latest Spurts: Sister talk and lots of swag

May 26, 2017

By Ekta R. Garg

Enjoy these Spurts from the last two weeks, readers!

Today is the last day of school, and because of that we’ve talked a lot lately about moving to higher grades. Ten and Eight will be sixth and fourth graders, respectively, this fall. They’ve already thought ahead, though.

One morning at breakfast they were talking about going into the eighth and sixth grades. Now, mind you, technically Ten hasn’t even started middle school yet. But my kids often extrapolate their current lives into the future.

“You’ll be in sixth grade when I’m in eighth,” Ten said.

“That’s when you’ll be doin’ your thang,” Eight said with swag.

As long as neither of them let their pants fall halfway to their shins, they can “do their thang” all they want.

***

Last week I received an Evite from the parents of one of Ten’s classmates. The invitation announced a backyard bash for the fifth graders to celebrate their “graduation” from elementary school. Because Ten gets along so well with the classmate hosting the party, I replied “yes” right away.

Later in the day, when the kids came home from school, I told Ten about the party.

“Finally,” she exclaimed, “someone understands how important this is!”

I didn’t want to give her my spiel about the whole concept of a fifth-grade “graduation,” especially because the family hosting the party is incredibly gracious to do so and really wonderful overall. But I wonder at this eagerness to create milestones out of things that are nothing more than a part of regular life. Like giving kids five dollars for losing a tooth. Why? I don’t get money when I put on my shoes, and putting on shoes is a learned skill. Losing teeth is not.

Instead of saying anything, I just smiled at Ten. The party is slated to be a casual gathering, so I figured I wouldn’t dampen her enthusiasm for it. At least we’re not being asked to get ready to march in to Pomp and Circumstance.

***

Earlier this week Ten and Eight’s school held Moving On Up Day. On this day, kids from every grade spend some time in the grade they’ll enter in the fall. Each child is assigned a “host” from the current class for their time in the new classroom, and kids get a mini course on what to expect come August.

Because Eight has been at the school since kindergarten, she already knew many of the fourth graders. The 4/5 classroom, too, is right across the hall from 2/3, and Eight already knows the fourth-grade teacher fairly well. I didn’t really worry much about how her day would go.

More curious for me was Ten’s entire experience. Even though this is her first year at this school, she has fit in beautifully. She’s always been a social, confident child, so I knew once she got the first-day jitters out of her at the beginning of fifth grade she would be fine and she was. But now we’re talking middle school. Whole new ball game.

So far she’s approached the entire idea of middle school with nonchalance, but the night before Moving On Up Day when I finished saying good night to her at bedtime she stopped me with a question.

“What do you wear in middle school?” she asked.

I have to admit, I was a little slow on the uptake. It didn’t occur to me in the moment why she was asking. But I sat on the edge of bed anyway.

“You just wear what you’ve worn before,” I said, “and anyone who doesn’t want to be your friend because of the way you look or your clothes isn’t a friend worth having anyway.”

She seemed satisfied with my answer, and I realized that maybe some of the nonchalance—just a little bit of it—is as much to bolster her own courage as it is to reassure us that she’ll be fine next year.

***

On Saturday morning after cleaning the breakfast dishes away, I went upstairs to take a shower and stopped at Eight’s room. She’d set up a few of her stuffed animals on the bed, and she was reading to them from a National Geographic book. Most of the other animals sat behind her on her window seat. One, her white horse, lay on top of her panda pillow pet on the floor.

“Oh, what happened to him?” I asked, entering her room.

“He’s sleeping,” she replied.

“Is he okay?”

“Yeah, I just put him to sleep. I had to…what do you call it? Sedate him. Yeah, I had to sedate him.”

“Why, is he sick?”

She grinned, and her impish self shone through.

“No, I just felt like doing it.”

“But…” I didn’t know how to ask the next question or even what to ask, truthfully. “Well, normally doctors sedate a patient if he has to go for surgery or something,” I said finally, trying to give her an ethical out.

“Yeah, I know,” she said, ever the experienced physician’s kid. “I just felt like doing it.”

“Um…okay,” I said. I went down the short hall to Ten’s room.

“Your sister sedated her horse just because she felt like it,” I said in a conspiratorial whisper.

Ten’s eyes got a little wide, but my announcement didn’t seem to faze her as much as it did me. It struck me, again, how well the sisters know each other. She was surprised but not shocked.

“That’s why we don’t want her becoming a doctor,” she said in a low voice. “If she did, the world would go rogue against doctors.”

Hmm. Maybe I should get my husband to stop trying to convince Eight to go into medicine. We don’t need people under sedation “just because.”

***

Last Sunday Eight had a cello recital, and the girls and I ended up going to it alone. Eight’s piece didn’t last too long—about 33 seconds, according to the counter on my cell phone’s video camera—and the entire recital ended after about 20 minutes. We grabbed Eight’s cello, congratulated a few of the students on playing well, and went to the car. In the parking lot, one of Eight’s classmates from her group cello class called, “Good job!”

“You too!” Eight replied politely.

As we got in and got settled into our seatbelts, Eight turned to her sister. “That’s K.”

“Oh,” Ten replied. She turned and looked through the back windshield. “Is she one of those kids?”

“One of what kids?” I asked.

A pause from the backseat.

“Nothing, Mamma,” Eight said.

“What kids?” I repeated.

“Nothing.”

“What do you mean, ‘those kids’?” I asked again.

“Nothing,” Eight replied patiently. “It’s just sister talk.”

I think this is actually the first time the girls have shared something with one another that they haven’t shared with me. I was torn, simultaneously proud of their relationship and as curious as Alice in Wonderland at what they meant. Whatever their code for “those kids,” it’s clearly something that belongs only to the two of them. And in some ways, that’s heartwarming.