Newest Chart: I thought they stayed little forever…

June 26, 2020

By Ekta R. Garg

I blinked and became a mother.

I blinked and became a mother again.

I blinked and am the mother of a 14-year-old.

Is it just me, or does 14 sound more grown up? Hear me out on this. I think there are age markers where the kids are no longer kids. When they’re 5, we think, “Oh, so sweet, s/he’s just in kindergarten.” But then 6 rolls around, and suddenly they’re in elementary school.

They hit 10, and we think, “Wow, s/he’s still a kid.” But suddenly they turn 12, and they’re on the verge of becoming a teenager.

And now that I’m the mother of a 14-year-old, it’s become glaringly obvious to me that in four years I’ll be the mother of a college freshman.

Okay, wait a second. Maybe I need to back up. I need to think of Fourteen as she is now and not that far into the future.

In many ways, she’s still a little girl. Already this summer I have had to give this child a hand to get out of bed, because she’d rather loll away her summer vacation instead of getting up at a decent hour in the morning. I’ve stood next to her, kissing her on the cheek several times in succession, calling her bluff every morning when she’s “sleeping” but not acting convincingly enough like it, and reaching under the comforter to pull her pajama shirt down in a gentle manner after it’s ridden up overnight.

I stroke her hair and sing stupid songs that I invent on the spot, and, when nothing else works, reach under the comforter again for her mile-long longs and swing them, again with the same gentleness I used when she was a baby, toward the floor. Her legs are so long that even this move doesn’t provide her body with upward momentum. Instead, she rubs her eyes and, after a few seconds, holds out her hands to me so I can pull her up. With a yawn, and suffering from extreme bedhead, she pads to the bathroom and shuts the door.

It’s when she shuts the door that I know she’s a teenager and not a little kid. Privacy, please, she’s saying with that one small gesture. I need a minute, and I need it alone.

I’ve seen these small shifts in other areas too. Although we bought Fourteen’s birthday cake (well, birthday brownies, but that’s beside the point,) she’s made it clear since the start of the summer that she’s going to bake her sister’s cake when it’s Eleven’s birthday. As a reward for pitching in to clean the house, we bought her a small succulent and a tiny cactus. A friend dropped off another succulent at our doorstep for her, and she’s keeping a close eye on all three plants in her room. She even went so far as to re-pot them herself when it became clear they needed it.

And she’s become quite savvy in her comebacks. Earlier today when she and Eleven and I were laughing our way through a game of Liar, she caught me lying about how many cards I’d put down.

“I know your tells,” she said.

“Really?” I asked. “What are they?”

“Wha—no. That’s not how this works. I’m not going to tell you, otherwise you’re going to try not to do them.”

She’s also become more tolerant and, in some ways, more lenient with her younger sister. On the days that aren’t too hot, the girls have taken to walking around the neighborhood for about 30 minutes. They use their alone time to dissect TV shows. I’m sure there’s also some complaining about “the parents” that goes on too. But I don’t mind. They’re bonding, and Fourteen leads the way in that.

“I’m a hoarder,” Eleven declares when I’m helping her clean out her closet, and I know she says and does this because her big sister has a strong connection with objects from various events and memorable dates. If either my husband or I tease Eleven about something, there’s a 50-50 shot she’ll get offended. If Fourteen jokes with Eleven, my younger daughter’s face cracks into a smile that then usually erupts in a laugh.

Fourteen doesn’t order her sister to leave her room; instead, the girls will fold their laundry together. And that game of Liar from earlier today? By the time I joined them, they’d already been playing for more than 30 minutes. The only reason I got in on the fun was because they were laughing so hard and getting so crazy that Fourteen, her eyes wide in dramatic fashion, begged me to join them.

“She’s crazy,” she stage-whispered of her younger sister, knowing and probably betting on the fact that Eleven was listening around the corner.

This older child of mine, bit by bit, is turning into a responsible young woman. She cares deeply for her friends, and she doesn’t hesitate to take the lead when asked. Most of the time, too, she’s in a sunny mood. None of that melodramatic teenage darkness for her, thank you, as she mocks teens who behave that way.

“[Eleven] is more of a teenager than I am,” she says with a roll of her eyes, and it’s true. On some days my younger child’s mood bounces like a ping pong ball, and it’s hard to predict when and where the bounce will go.

Of course, Fourteen is still a teenager. We have to remind her every week to clean her room. If a conversation doesn’t engage her directly, she’ll often drift off into her own thoughts and have to be brought back to Earth. If she’s got a plan for something on her own—painting her nails before a socially-distanced meeting with her friends—she’ll go after it without anyone reminding her, but try to get her to do the same for something we asked her to do and her face goes blank as she blinks once or twice.

“I forgot,” she’ll say; another one is, “I don’t know.”

That’s one of her tells, the classic “I don’t know” that translates to “I didn’t do it” or “I’m not interested and am annoyed you’re making me.”

Still a teen. Still at home for four more years. Always mine.

I love this kid.

 

Latest Chart: Stealing a little hope from graduation

June 12, 2020

By Ekta R. Garg

“The year is 2040,” said M., and with that he was off and running on his wonderful, memorable graduation speech. We got to see it live, because M. is one of Thirteen’s classmates. Last night, our school gave the 8th graders the opportunity to celebrate the end of their middle school years in person.

A few months ago, when it became obvious that COVID-19 was going to shutter celebrations of pretty much all kinds, the school started having conversations with the 8th graders about what they wanted from their graduation. What did they think about holding it online, like so many other schools did? What about faculty visiting the kids at their homes and presenting diplomas one on one? What about holding a celebration in the school’s parking lot where the kids and their families did a drive-by graduation?

After two conversations on Zoom for all 8th grade families and students, one thing became apparent. The kids wanted an in-person graduation. We talked about what that might mean, particularly when it came to how long they’d have to wait for a live event.

The students all said the same thing: it didn’t matter. End of summer. Into the fall. Even at next year’s graduation, although none of them really liked that idea. But if it meant safety for all of the families and getting to celebrate in person—even if they couldn’t hug one another senseless afterward; even if they couldn’t high five each other or stand in tight knots and joke around like they usually do—they were willing to wait.

In some ways, now that I think about it, it was almost like the kids were saying to the coronavirus, in that way only idealistic young teens can, that they knew it was horrible, but they were going to hunker down and let it run its course because they had more of everything to outlast it.

COVID-19 is still a problem. It’s still a health disaster. A pandemic. People are still getting sick. Cases are still going up. There’s still cause for grave concern.

One positive thing, though, is that we have more information now on what to expect. We also have the passage of time on our side. Our incredible head of school, after weighing all the options and the facts from scientists and other health experts, determined that if we held the graduation with certain precautions and many restrictions, we could do it in person.

That list of precautions and restrictions was pretty long. I don’t envy Ms. Y.’s task. She had to take into account what was occurring in the national conversation, the state’s conversation, the local conversation, and, most importantly, what our own 8th grade families thought and felt. Even amongst us, there were varying degrees of comfort with the idea of meeting in person.

Our school normally makes the 8th grade graduation an event open to all family and friends of the school. The event would take place before school ended, and the gym would be packed as the graduates sat on the stage together. There would be cake afterward, and a lot of milling around with that end-of-school-year rush fueling everyone’s excitement.

For this graduation to work, though, the event would be held outdoors. We had a rain date, of course, but barring any precipitation we’d be sitting behind the school in its expansive lawn. The most obvious weather factor would be a hot day, but here in Central Illinois we also deal regularly with windy days that blow hair all around and even somewhat heavy objects across a field.

Then there was the seating arrangement. We’d be sitting a minimum of eight feet apart, and we’d have to provide our own chairs or a picnic blanket. The school has chairs, of course, but the reasoning was that some people might feel better using their own chairs from their own homes.

Next, the 8th graders wouldn’t be sitting together. They’d sit with their families. And they wouldn’t shake the hands of any faculty. No hugs of encouragement or excitement, with teachers or one another. No fist bumps as they introduced one another for their speeches, and when it was their turn to speak they’d have to wait for their classmates to leave the platform completely and for a masked, gloved teacher to change the cover of the microphone before they went up to share their last thoughts and memories from school. Then they’d pluck their microphone cover off and leave the platform right away.

The biggest restriction, though, came in the guest list. First, only the students’ advisors, or homeroom teachers, would attend. No other teachers, even if they’d known the kids from kindergarten or elementary school could come. As for the families, the guest list allowed parents and siblings only. No family friends and no one else, even if that meant family who lived with the 8th graders.

With all of these stipulations, Ms. Y. asked, would we be willing to hold an in-person graduation in the second week of June?

The students gave a resounding Yes. The parents also said yes with a little more caution and wariness. After all, we’re parents. We’ll fight tooth and nail to protect our kids, and these days it feels like the easiest way to do that is to keep them at home. Even if they’re driving us nuts while we do so.

At least the weather has improved enough so we can let the monkeys out of the cage into the back yard occasionally.

That means rainy days are looooong days.

Last night, though, it didn’t rain, and we had a beautiful 80’ish degrees around 7 p.m. when graduation was set to start. It was windy, sure, but we’re used to that. We just clutched that much tighter to the programs (and, for the girls and women, our dresses.)

The wind couldn’t blow away our optimism. Because to see the other families, from our family spots that were set at least 15 feet apart, to wave to them and call out congratulations…it was heartening. Encouraging. And a reminder that, yes, maybe that idealism our kids displayed in waiting out the virus is somewhat warranted.

The kids gave their speeches, and Thirteen spoke with confidence and humor about her time at the school. She shared favorite memories and complimented her classmates. She talked about her anxiety regarding high school but couched it with knowing several of her friends will be walking those same halls in the fall (even if that means virtually.)

I didn’t tear up. I was too happy, too excited, to see everyone come together to celebrate these wonderful young people. I also enjoyed so many of the other speeches and the memories shared by the teachers, whether in person or via video. It made me think of my own high school graduation, a cherished memory because of my years at my own school (15 of them!) and the wonderful friendships from my senior class that continue to this day.

And when Thirteen’s classmate, M., got up and started his speech with, “The year is 2040,” it made me smile. Like these kids, I’m encouraged to wait out these challenging times. With the humor, the compassion, and the kindness they showed last night, it proves that our future is brighter than maybe we realize when we’re cloaked with desperation about current events.

“Plan for the worst and hope for the best,” the saying goes. Many times we focus on the first half of that statement: the worst. But last night showed me that we need to do just as much of the second half as well. We need to be willing to look to the future.

We need to be willing to hope.

Newest Chart: Joy and Sadness (or shelter-in-place Weeks 8 through 11)

May 29, 2020

By Ekta R. Garg

We’ve been doing this for 11 weeks now.

Eleven.

I had to look at my calendar to confirm that number, and when I did I realized two things: first, how I’ve slightly neglected Growth Chart. I felt a stab of guilt, because in the weeks I was supposed to post I thought of it with the best of intentions. Then another task would get in the way, or I would let it get in the way, or…something. Parenting is hard at the best of times. During a pandemic, it’s the equivalent of climbing Everest.

I promise to do better.

On a broader level, 11 weeks is almost three months. Am I the only one who still finds that number hard to believe? I mean, we’ve been staying at home, going to school at home, not meeting with friends, not arranging get togethers for almost three months.

I feel like the language around these topics is changing too. Thirteen finished 8th grade yesterday (and, believe me, I will definitely be posting in the coming weeks about what it means to be the mother of a high schooler now.) Earlier this week my husband asked if we should do something to celebrate her graduation from middle school.

This topic actually started back in January. My parents came to visit, and my mom teased Thirteen about throwing a full-blown desi, or Indian, party. Think lots of food, lots of adults standing/sitting around talking about the food, getting all dressed up, and little kids running around the house. All with the soundtrack of Bollywood’s latest hits or the evergreen ones, depending on who’s controlling the music at the moment.

I grew up attending parties like this one and even had a semi-desi party for my high school graduation. I remember that night with a lot of fondness. It was filled with music and singing, a big cake, me coming down the stairs with another family friend, who was also graduating, in our caps and gowns (at my parents’ insistence, even if I felt a little silly,) and my mother crying while I was cutting the cake as if I was going off to war.

I’m a parent myself now, so I get the emotion she felt, but still. I was going to college. Not the front lines. 😀

In any case, it was easy to throw a party. No doubt Mom probably spent days planning the menu and the flow of the evening. But my parents didn’t hesitate. They didn’t wonder, “What if…” or have to contend with the government about whether it made sense to hold a celebratory event.

That night, when my husband asked about the graduation, I hesitated. What could we possibly do? How could we possibly “celebrate” when the most important part of that concept—sharing the joy with other people—wasn’t allowed anymore?

I still don’t have an answer to that question. At the time, I just said we’d think about it, spend some time brainstorming. Come up with some sort of idea.

Our worlds have contracted to those immediately around us in our dwellings. While “family time” is great, the inability to bring others into our lives for good occasions and bad has become almost stifling. The opportunities that arise—attending an author event in a bookstore almost 250 miles away via Zoom—are something of a solace, but they can’t replace person-to-person interaction.

Even as I write that, I know my family is incredibly fortunate to be healthy and safe. There are so many across our country and the world who have had to fight this out alone, either due to personal life choices or being sick and in quarantine or getting stuck in a location due to travel that got upended by COVID-19. It’s hard enough to come to terms with the fact that our world has been like this for 11 weeks now. I can’t even begin to imagine fighting this out with no one else or in unsafe conditions.

In a philosophical way, it almost seems silly or childish—or maybe even selfish—to ask for the opportunity to share exciting moments like graduation from middle school with others. I’m amazed at Thirteen’s poise and good humor during this entire time. She’s disappointed, yes, and she wishes more than ever that she could have finished out the school year with friends, dispensing hugs, slamming locker doors for the “end-of-the-year locker slam” their school does.

Yet, she doesn’t let her intense wish for normalcy sully the good things: weekly Zoom meetings with a dear theater friend. A surprise gift from a classmate who, due to social distancing, didn’t linger long enough to talk, just dropped the gift on our doorstep and then texted from her mom’s car that she’d left something. The plans for a poster to hang on the van, as well as other items to decorate it, for the parade we’ll drive through later today at the school, the first time any of the students have converged on the parking lot en masse since mid-March.

Through the last few weeks, I’ve thought of that moment toward the end of Pixar’s Inside Out when Joy learns that Sadness actually helped create one of Riley’s favorite memories. One of her happiest memories. And, of course, we’ve had conversations about perspective, about keeping our eye on the bigger things, the important things. Safety and health.

Eleven, admittedly, has struggled with this entire concept and situation more, but that’s because she processes emotions and expresses them to a different degree than her big sister. Yet, she, too has found moments to laugh and get involved and make jokes about being stuck at home. Maybe it’s from having a sister who handles herself with poise, consciously and subconsciously, all the time. Maybe it’s because she understands that her sister has had to give up more, as an 8th grader, than she does in 6th grade.

Maybe Joy and Sadness can, and do, work together, so that when we turn the orbs of our memories one way, we experience one side of the event and when we turn them the other way we can appreciate the other side.

Maybe it’s time to get brainstorming in earnest.

Stay-at-home, Weeks 5 through 7

May 1, 2020

By Ekta R. Garg

We’re wrapping up Week 7 of shelter-in-place…I think? Yes, I’m sure that’s right. I just had to squint at the screen, as much to convince myself it’s right as to get over the fact that it’s Week 7.

In the three weeks since I’ve posted, we’ve done a lot of what many of you have done. We’ve watched TV. We’ve ventured outside the house and around the neighborhood. We’ve baked.

Oh my, how we’ve baked. Many of you will remember the cookie experiment. Thirteen has gotten better about reading recipes and evaluating them. Well, okay about reading recipes more than once and then asking my opinion. Maybe. Sort of. She did ask me what I thought of one recipe, of the directions and portion size.

Sorry, I keep getting sidetracked. Has anyone else felt like this recently? You’re in the middle of one task, but you keep getting sidetracked by something else. I promise, I’ll try to stay on topic. For now, anyway.

So, yes, baking. We started out quarantine with the 12 dozen+ cookies. Then we went to brownies that tasted really great, even if they weren’t perfectly smooth and even in shape. Those of you who follow me in Instagram saw the lemon scones. That was actually the second batch of two that got made.

Oh my gosh, they’re yummy. And buttery. And just… (sigh)

Baking. Right. Last weekend it was red velvet cake that didn’t turn red because there wasn’t enough food dye. It didn’t matter. It tasted phenomenal. I think we could just ditch the red and call it velvet cake, it was that good.

Tonight on the menu we have garlic knots. Thirteen really wanted to do something sweet again, but the general consensus in the house was that we need to try something savory for a change. After all, variety is good.

(And I’m still trying to lose some of the baby weight. I know, I know, they’re nowhere near being babies anymore. Now who’s getting distracted?)

In the last few weeks, we’ve seen other interesting developments:

 

**The girls’ school decided, in the interest of the health of the kids, to go to a four-day school week until the end of the year. Unlike many kids who are watching pre-recorded videos and working through packets in independent study, Thirteen and Eleven are in live Zoom classes from 8 to 3. It has its advantages—namely, that they’re occupied and see their friends every day. Of course, there are those times when the internet decides to spaz out, and then I run around doing everything I can to fix it. Fortunately, that hasn’t happened in such a dramatic way after the Great Internet Crash of April 1.

Thirteen cheered when she heard about one less day of school. She is a teen, after all. But Eleven complained a little bit about it. Not much—she’s old enough and smart enough to know why the administration made the decision—but she’s found herself challenged by all the changes in routine since shelter-in-place took effect, and this was just something else upending her routine. Remarkably, she’s transitioned fairly well to the new week. I think, because her body is much more sensitive to fatigue than her older sister’s, she saw the benefit pretty quickly of having a day where she isn’t required to be online all the time.

 

**Eleven’s somewhat easy transition to a four-day week is a huge relief. Around Week 5, she was really starting to get agitated about the entire situation. Who isn’t, after all? We all feel an undercurrent of worry, anxiety, stress, or some combination of the three.

In that week, though, Eleven let out a burst of energy that warranted a punishment.

Here in Central Illinois, spring swings between, well, spring temperatures and winter ones. It can be 72 degrees one day and 45 the next. On one of the more temperate days, everyone was in the back yard in the evening while I made dinner. My husband was trying to get Eleven to kick the soccer ball around with him. Thirteen got up and gave the ball a little tap with one foot, making a self-deprecating joke about her soccer “skills.” She and her dad tried to include Eleven in the joke, but my younger child wasn’t having it.

She charged toward the ball and kicked it extra hard without stopping to consider where it might go. That was right at father’s head. If he hadn’t been facing in her general direction, he said, he wouldn’t have ducked in time.

Eleven apologized profusely, but we decided it wasn’t enough. For the next week, we said, in addition to extra chores, she would have to keep a journal about her feelings. It didn’t matter what she wrote about. She could even complain in the journal that she was bored or that she thought it was silly to write about everything. She agreed, and we came up with a schedule of three writing days a week.

The chores lasted just the one week, but the journal has continued. “Hearing” her written voice is a treat. And the longer she’s kept the journal, I think the more she’s seeing it as an outlet to entertain us. She writes her entry for the day and leaves it on our dressing table for us to read when we can, so the writing definitely tends to lean toward that of entertainment.

The biggest benefit, other than having her own COVID diary, is that her attitude has become more positive. Things that would normally set her off for hours at a time now just bug her for a few minutes. Sometimes they don’t bug her at all.

It’s definitely not a magic tonic, but at least we see progress. That’s worth more than anything.

 

** The other day as I went out for my weekly grocery run, driving to all the places in one afternoon that I would normally spread over the week, I started thinking about summer. Originally, we’d signed up the girls for all sorts of camps. Now, with the exception of one, everything has been canceled.

I wondered what the kids might do during the long, languid days of break. Almost every summer since moving to Illinois, they’ve attended camps of some sort. It’s hard to remember a time when they didn’t have anything lined up for vacation time.

I always stood firm on the fact that the camps would only be half days, and sometimes we’d have gaps of a week between them. The last two summers, the girls went to South Carolina to be with their grandparents and aunt, so that would often take out almost all of August. So, really, the whole idea of summer camp was more summer leisure time. Except we’ve all been stuck in a warped version of “leisure time” since late March.

This made me think of the years we lived in Texas. When we moved there, Thirteen was just about 2, and I was expecting Eleven. We lived there for three years, on a tight budget and trying to come to grips with the punishing Texas heat. That combination led me to create Playroom Summer Camp—basically games and crafts I did with the kids for a couple of hours in the playroom.

We didn’t exactly do particle physics, and when I think of those weeks I can still feel the underlying anxiety that plagued me as the mother of two toddlers. I always felt like I was doing something wrong or was about to do something wrong or that everything would blow up. Occasionally, when I read old Growth Charts from those years, I smile. For some of them, I remember sharing some things but not others, and I can feel the essence of that anxiety in the undertone of my words.

This summer? I don’t know. I’m toying with the idea of making the girls cook with me every day instead of once a week. As for other possible activities, I’ve asked them what they might like to do. That tension, that sensation that everything’s going to blow up, has disappeared. For the most part.

After all, the summer is for them. Well, that, and to keep them occupied. Like how they stay occupied during school. Or while they’re baking scones.

(So yummy…)

 

 

 

 

Latest Chart: Weeks 3 and 4 of sheltering in place

April 10, 2020

By Ekta R. Garg

And we’re one month into shelter-in-place!

Okay, so I know that statement doesn’t warrant an exclamation mark, but, really what else can we all do? I think we should hand out exclamation marks and buckets of glitter to everyone. Go to town, parent friends!

(I know what you’re thinking: you’ll never get the glitter off the floor. Seriously, I think along with finding a vaccine for the coronavirus, we should ask a small team of dedicated scientists to discover the secret behind the way glitter gets into everything. Into. Everything.)

If it sounds like I’m a little punchy, maybe I am. We’ve now spent a month sheltering in place, doing our part toward the greater good of society to help our first responders, healthcare teams, and essential employees work as hard as possible on stopping the spread of COVID-19. Teachers have rewritten lesson plans, restaurants have offered curbside options, and parents have discovered a new facet to the meaning of “parenting.”

Things are no different around our house. The kids have had their highs and their lows during Weeks 3 and 4 of staying at home. Thirteen and Eleven have shown a tremendous amount of resourcefulness and also their ages. Some days I’ve been able to deflect bad moods by distracting them with a joke or redirecting them to a new task. Some days I’ve shared memes or funny videos. A few days I’ve retreated to the writing studio to shed a few tears because I’m a little overwhelmed myself, only to hear someone asking whether I can help with a craft project or science experiment.

In the past two weeks:

*We’ve played Checkers (where Thirteen beat me in four or five games, and I had to muster every brain cell—really—to beat her in two games.) This girl is really, really good at this game.

*We’ve accidentally baked sugar cookies to deliver to six homes (which happens when you don’t read the recipe ahead of time and realize it makes more than 12 dozen—yes, really—bite-sized cookies.) When we ended up with so many, we went the homes of some good friends, put the bags of cookies on their doorsteps, and backed away by about 10 or 15 feet, chatting with friends and their parents from that distance, grateful to see them at all.

*We’ve watched old Bollywood films (much to our children’s chagrin, but much to the delight of all the adults in the house) and watched newer Bollywood films that make us laugh even though we’ve seen our favorite parts too many times to count. Ooh, Ranvir Singh. How we love the way you point out that butter knife in “Dil Dhadakne Do.”

One instance stands out, though, from these past two weeks that shows the paradox that is our current times.

School online has worked almost seamlessly. While we’ve experienced a few tech issues, like most of you, we haven’t had any issues. Not really.

Until Wednesday, April 1.

The night before, I’d stayed up late reading, so I woke up later than I normally do these days. By the time I got up, the kids were tucked into their rooms and there was little sound, so I assumed they were well into their school days already. I went downstairs, made my tea, and brought it back up to the studio to write my book review.

Not long after, Eleven stomped into the studio. She told me the internet had been patchy at best since she first tried to sign into Zoom that morning. The home network kept failing, kicking her out of her classes. Her face showed frustration, embarrassment, and anxiety. Eleven has always worried about what others think of her, and she didn’t want to look bad in front of the teachers and her friends.

I looked at the digital clock on the wall. It was just past 9 a.m. With a sigh, I left the book review on my screen and started trying every DIY trick I knew to get the internet running again.

For almost three hours, I kept at it. I shut down the router, turned it back on again, tried to get a hot spot on my phone so the kids could connect their iPads to it, found the internet running almost reliably on my desktop and tried to do an online chat with Comcast. They just kept rerouting me to the website. When the internet was working on my computer at all, that is.

I had no idea what was wrong, and the way the girls’ anxiety started to level up with each passing half-hour didn’t help.

I managed to email one of the teachers and explain the situation; he emailed back with a kind, patient note saying he understood. I racked my brain. What could I do, what could I try that I hadn’t already?

Then I heard it: ukulele music.

Before the shelter-in-place order, Eleven had brought home a ukulele from school as part of her upcoming music unit for arts this quarter. I went to her room and then to Thirteen’s room and found the two of them playing and singing an original song. They were writing lyrics about the coronavirus, how awful it was, and how it was ruining their day.

And they were laughing.

As much as the sarcasm of the song bugged me, I decided not to fight that battle. They were in better spirits, and that counted more. A last-ditch attempt to find the hotspot on my phone actually worked, so I ran it to Thirteen’s room, plugged it into the wall, and left it there for the rest of the school day. Neither of the girls complained about me interrupting their ukulele concert for two.

I managed to call another expert for help, someone here in town, and he was also very patient as he explained how I needed to fix the internet. Since the hotspot kept working, I decided not to touch anything until the end of the school day. As soon as 3 p.m. came around, I trotted down to the basement and followed the instructions the expert gave me. The internet came back, stronger than ever and steady ever since.

So. If you’re finding yourself in need of a laugh—even if it’s at your own expense—try a ukulele. I have proof it works.

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.

 

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?