Latest Chart: Practice…is it worth it?

January 18, 2019

By Ekta R. Garg

A new year often means a chance for renewal. Last fall, Ten’s relationship with her cello had come to a point where she was ready to break it off for good. I caught sight of her Christmas list, and one of the items she’d wished for—written in large block letters—was “Quit cello.”

When she began the instrument, she felt ambivalent about it. She’d started with guitar lessons and enjoyed them. Along the way we talked about her picking up a second instrument, and she asked if she could play the drums.

We said no.

I know, I know. We’re terrible parents. We didn’t want all that loud…noise in the house. We didn’t want to be subjected to snares and toms. Because we knew if Ten picked any type of drums, it would be the set that needed sticks and would require harsh strikes to make any kinds of recognizable rhythms. No bongos for this child, oh, no. Nothing that would ask for the subtlety found in direct contact with the hands.

Ten, we knew, would want to make some noise. We’d all have to endure the noise with her. So we said no.

I’ve always loved the cello, however, and because Twelve started on the violin we thought it might be nice if her little sister played a complementary instrument. After some discussion, we talked to Ten about starting cello lessons. She shrugged and said okay.

Not the highest heights of enthusiasm, I’ll admit, but she didn’t balk at it either.

At times she’s enjoyed the cello. Then at other times, she’s complained about it. This past fall, Ten declared outright that she wanted to quit. The worst part was that her arguments for doing so were cogent and well thought-out.

“You guys spend a lot of money to rent the cello and on lessons,” she said one evening. “It’s a waste of money for you, so if I quit you won’t be wasting all that money anymore.”

I think I managed to catch my jaw before it dropped open at the mature way she presented this to me.

“Also, I don’t enjoy it at all,” she went on. “I don’t like the music. I don’t like the lessons. I don’t like the studio class. I don’t enjoy practicing. It’s all boring.”

I could understand, in part, the frustration she might have felt with practicing. No one likes to practice or do practice-like exercises when it comes to working on a skill. We’d rather get right to the fun stuff.

“If you practice your scales and everything else that Mr. S. asks you to practice,” I replied, “then you can work on more complicated pieces and more interesting songs.”

She just shook her head in exasperation, her expression telling me that I just didn’t get it, that as a parent I shouldn’t focus so much on…well, parenting.

I didn’t understand at the time where her frustration came from. In some ways, I still don’t. But I wonder if I might have picked up on a clue here or there.

In addition to private lessons, all of Mr. S.’s students participate in studio classes. Once a week students meet in groups assigned by him and study music together. Last year Ten got a lot out of her studio class. This year, however, Mr. S. did a little bit of shuffling of the classes, and Ten ended up in a group of kids with widely varying skill levels. They also had widely varying attention spans, creating distractions in class, talking when they should be paying attention, and in general getting on Ten’s last nerve.

The deeper we got into fall, the more Ten began to complain. The more she wanted to quit. The more her father and I dug in our heels.

While there is definitely something to be said for a child having the opportunity to express his or her own opinion, my husband made the compelling argument that there’s also something to be said for sticking with an activity even if it doesn’t always seem fun or engaging. Nothing in this world is fun or engaging every single second of the day. Even those of us who have the good fortune to pursue various passions or life dreams have to trudge along at some points. Like practicing scales.

Ten’s determination, along with her calm presentation of her differing opinion, impressed me. If I have to be perfectly honest, it also unsettled me a bit. She seemed so self-assured, so convinced that she needed to leave the cello behind. She acknowledged with a tiny dose of regret the amount of time and effort she’d put into it these last few years, but she had no problem letting that time and effort become a casualty for the greater good of dropping the instrument altogether.

I also didn’t relish the idea of her growing up and groaning in loud protest whenever she recounted all the hours we made her practice, all the performances she had to endure. We all have those stories, right, of our parents, of those things they made us do that we understood, in a philosophical sense, were technically good for us but that we hated all the same.

One night my husband and my younger child had their showdown, which wasn’t so much a showdown as it was an exchange. Ten told her father why she wanted to quit. He said he understood that she wasn’t enjoying the cello at the moment, but she’d have to continue with it anyway.

Afterward, I played good cop as Ten complained that her daddy didn’t listen. Now she had something new to complain about in addition to the cello. I had to listen to complaints about both.

I did, in point of fact, feel a little caught in the middle, but there was no doubting that my husband and I would present a united front. Whether in talking with him to Ten or discussing it afterward when she and I were alone, I recounted the points her father made. Granted, I did it in the more “mom” way—with lots of sympathetic nods and a few hugs.

Toward the end of the fall semester, I asked Mr. S. if Ten could move up to the next level of the studio class and he agreed. Ten had the chops to keep up with the older kids, and he had no problem in letting her do so. We confirmed at her last lesson before Christmas break, and she said goodbye to her cello with glee before we left for South Carolina to visit family.

During the two-day drive to the east coast and even during the trip there, Ten would roll her eyes at the mention of the cello. She shook her head. But the vehemence she’d felt before we left had ebbed. By the time we got back to Illinois, she’d begun entering the zone of ambivalence once again.

Last Friday Ten had her first cello lesson of the new year. When I asked Mr. S. about summer workshops, she waited for him to leave the room then got down on her knees and begged me not to sign her up for anything. But this week, Ten attended her first studio class with the new group. She came home much happier and chatting about how much she appreciated the maturity level of the other kids.

“They take it more seriously,” she told me that night as I went to tuck her in.

I’ve decided to take a different tack with her for now. If she’s interacting with the cello—going into or leaving a lesson or practicing—then I’ll talk to her about it for a few minutes. This afternoon during her time with Mr. S., the two played a short piece together and it made my heart smile to hear them. They sounded wonderful, and when we got into the car afterward I complimented Ten on it.

“Thank you,” she said simply.

No snarky comments about how playing well with Mr. S. didn’t mean she would stick with the instrument. No groans from the back seat about how she really didn’t want to be there. Nothing that indicated she loathes the instrument anymore (and, yes, she actually did use that word at one point back in the fall.) I let the matter drop then, going on to other things.

Maybe at some point her ambivalence will turn into a liking and then a love for the instrument. Are we terrible parents for making her stick with it? Maybe.

We’re trying to teach her about persistence and patience. Ten is incredibly bright, but she likes to flit from activity to activity like a butterfly. We hope that she’ll learn to land on one thing long enough to draw deep from it and enjoy the benefits of its nourishment. That takes time. It takes perseverance.

And, yes, it takes practice.

Latest Spurts: Eating doorbells and life on the run

January 11, 2019

By Ekta R. Garg

Enjoy these Spurts from the last few weeks, readers!

One day as we drove to music lessons, Ten piped up.

“Mamma, when did my artistic talent first show up?” she asked.

“Um, I’m not sure,” I said. “Maybe when you were 5 or 6.”

Twelve groaned. “I remember when all [Ten] used to draw was rectangles. Big ones, little ones. There were rectangles everywhere.”

“What were the rectangles supposed to be?” I asked Ten.

“Anything,” she replied with that casual air that artists can afford. “People. Buildings.”

“When was this?” I asked.

“During ye times of olde,” Twelve said, making the distinction of that “e.”

“And when were these times of ye old?” I asked.

“It’s ye times of olde, Mamma,” Twelve said. “Keep up.”

Maybe I’m just too old to do so. :>


In the last several months, we’ve introduced the girls to the Barone family from the hit comedy series Everybody Loves Raymond. Barring a few mentions of adult topics, which we try to catch with the Mute button (and sometimes actually manage to,) the show is pretty family friendly. The kids have enjoyed watching the family dynamics swing from high to low and back up again, always with comical results. Many of the situations stem from Marie, mother to main character Ray, meddling in everything Ray and his wife, Debra, try to do.

During one episode, Ten turned to me and said of my mom, “What’s wrong with Marie? Why would she act like that? Nani would never do this! She does cook good food, though. And, I mean, Nani’s weird, but she’s a good weird. Not like Marie.”

Yes, not like Marie. Because that would be—you know—weird.


During the holidays we traveled to South Carolina to visit family. It’s a 13-hour drive, which we split into two days. On the return trip, at the start of the second day of driving we settled into the van and I climbed into the driver’s seat.

“Okay, Mamma, drive, drive, drive!” Ten urged.

“What’s up?” I asked.

“She’s wanted in 18 countries,” Twelve informed everyone in the car. “It was 17, but it became 18 this morning.”

“What was the eighteenth?” I asked out of curiosity.

“Um, the U.S.,” Twelve responded as if it should be obvious.

“Yes, I was known countrywide,” Ten said, “but now in some cases it’s nationwide.”

“Aren’t countrywide and nationwide the same thing?” my husband said.

Ten thought about it for a beat then giggled.

“I meant continent-wide,” she said.

“That makes more sense…I think,” I replied.


Of course, we couldn’t let the conversation go there. The first question most parents would have asked wouldn’t have been the one I did—about the 18th country. I did, eventually, get around to asking the most obvious.

“What are you wanted for?” I said to Ten.

“Eating doorbells,” Twelve responded for her sister.

I didn’t quite know what to say to that. The whole doorbell-eating scenario arose when we went on vacation last summer, and I’m not sure where or when it started. But apparently it’s an issue. I have a child who eats doorbells and is now wanted by international law enforcement for it.

There could be worse things, I guess.







Latest Chart: Curtain raiser

December 14, 2018

By Ekta R. Garg

For the last few years now, Twelve has acted with a children’s theater group here in town. We discovered the group the year after we moved to Illinois, when I was hunting for summer camp options. In that first camp that summer, I enrolled both Twelve and Ten as much for the convenience of being able to drop them off at the same place as for wanting to explore different options for activities.

The group worked on The Wizard of Oz for two weeks. Because of the short time frame, the group’s director assigned five girls to share the role of Dorothy. A few days before showtime, three of the girls got cold feet and decided they didn’t want to carry the main role. Twelve, to the surprise of the whole family, jumped in without hesitation to enact Dorothy in those extra scenes.

Ten got to be a flying monkey and part of the chorus, and by then she’d decided a life on stage wasn’t for her anyway. But Twelve got up there and transformed. I watched as my child became a young girl longing for home and a road of yellow brick. No matter what anyone might say about the quality of the final performance, no one could doubt the dedication this child had to her role and the power of interpreting a character for a live audience.

Since then Twelve has done a variety of shows with the group, including a Broadway-style revue and an original show called We Are Monsters in which she played a vampire. She did the latter without her glasses on, by the way, in complete dedication to the vampire look. Never mind that without her glasses she can only see about two feet in front of her before everything blurs.

When it comes to theater, this child means business.

Now, at the age of 12, she’s become one of the senior members of the current lot. The show director announced the musical the kids would do this fall, and Twelve knew right away what part she wanted. In Musicville, Radical Rhythm and Maiden Melody become the only hope for the land (ruled by Queen Gliss) after the Sorceress of Silence uses a magic potion to make everyone lose their voices. Rhythm and Melody travel far and wide, meet new friends, and learn about different musical elements as they search for a solution to reverse the potion’s effects.

Given how much Twelve loves time on stage, I thought she might want to try out for the role of Rhythm or Melody. Even the part of Queen Gliss made sense; Gliss wears a gown and a tiara and is the highest ruler of the land. What’s not to love about all that?

Twelve said she did want to try out for Gliss, but she had her sights set on a completely different role: the Sorceress. When she got it, she practically bubbled with excitement. Never before had she enacted a negative character, and she planned to live every moment to its fullest.

This is children’s theater, after all, so it had to have a happy ending. A quick perusal of the script revealed that the Sorceress changes her tune (no pun intended; well, maybe just a little) by the end of the play. In fact, as one of the characters declares, she’s said to help “musically deprived children all over the world!”

Nothing in the script explained the sudden change of heart, so Twelve and I talked through a possible back story. We invented our own, discussing why the Sorceress would resent her sister, Gliss, in the first place, what might make her want to exact revenge, and why she would change her mind at the end of the adventure. I don’t know how much she actually kept all this in mind as she prepped for the role, but it put her mind to ease about the character flip.

From September to last weekend, the theater troupe rehearsed. Every Sunday they spent two-and-a-half hours on lines and music. When the director said she would need help with choreography, Twelve jumped in and volunteered to design the dance that went with her big number. The director has known her long enough that she let Twelve take over that bit of the show without a second thought.

Last Thursday, Twelve sat on a stool in my bathroom and closed her eyes with infinite patience as I used a brush to apply eye shadow. The show was three days later, and the director asked all the parents to do a trial run of makeup if possible. Given that Twelve’s dress would be dark purple, we selected a dark purple shadow as well as my black eyeliner. Two shades of dark lipstick (one purple, one burgundy) and a deep pink blush completed the look.

As I stood there and brushed on that eye shadow, I got a flashback to Twelve’s childhood. Even back then, as a toddler, this child sat without complaint when I did her hair. It didn’t matter whether I’d put it in pigtails or how long it took to comb; she wouldn’t utter a single grievance.

(That calm behavior spoiled me, I have to tell you, for when the younger child came along and wiggled constantly. My mother told me once that I complained too much about Ten, and I handed her the comb and told her to work on Ten’s hair. After a few minutes, my mother came back to me, sheepish, and said she understood why I complained.)

On Thursday, a week ago, I stood and applied eye shadow. I swiped lipstick across Twelve’s lips and used a Q-tip to wipe away the excess from her teeth and the corners of her eyes. Even when I suggested we take pictures and send them to the director, Twelve stood ramrod straight, not moving a muscle.

The first makeup session took a little longer—maybe 15 minutes—because of the trial and error. When we got the okay from the director, for dress rehearsal two days later I did Twelve’s face in under 10 minutes. By the time the day of the show rolled around, it was closer to five.

I watched this child morph before my eyes into a young lady; I didn’t know that the makeup was just the start of it.

On the afternoon of the show, our family filed into the theater and settled down in the dark. We craned our necks in anticipation of Twelve’s big entrance. When she stormed across the stage to demand that everyone stop being so loud, I almost didn’t recognize her.

She danced with aplomb and threw the audience a sly look with a smug smile as she sang about the potion that would give her what she craved the most: peace and quiet. In truth, because Rhythm and Melody were the main characters, Twelve wasn’t on stage for the entire show. But—and this could be because I’m biased, or maybe not—I enjoyed her sections the most.

Her eyes sparkled as she plotted against the entire town, and she nearly cackled with glee. I don’t think anyone would have forgiven her if she did. She clearly savored the role.

After two shows on Sunday, she came home tired but happy. Once again she was our sunny, optimistic Twelve. But it was a revelation, truly, to see her that way, stretching and reaching for something brand new inside of her personality and onto the stage.

I was, and am, proud of her.

Latest Spurts: Merch and translating the ridiculous

December 7, 2018

By Ekta R. Garg

Enjoy these Spurts from the last two weeks, readers!

As the kids have gotten older, their ability to express themselves has become more detailed and intricate. They’re able to use a much more expanded vocabulary to pinpoint what they feel and why. They’re able to reason and rationalize complicated ideas.

And then sometimes…

While driving them to their music lessons on Monday, somehow the girls entered an unspoken agreement to let their conversation devolve into the Realm of the Ridiculous. The following is the exchange as it happened. One minute we were chatting about every-day things. The next…

Twelve: “Mamma, she’s paining me!”

(Me: No response.)

Twelve: “Mamma, she’s paining me!”

Ten: “You’re a pain!”

Twelve: “You’re a pain!”

Ten: “No, you’re a pain!”

Twelve: “You’re paint!”

Ten: “Mamma?”

Yes, I’d managed to stay quiet throughout the entire conversation. If we can call it that. I think we can. According to the online version of the Merriam-Webster dictionary, a conversation is: “[an] oral exchange of sentiments, observations, opinions, or ideas.”

This fit—kind of. But wait! There’s more.

After a few seconds of silence, Twelve took her turn. In a stage whisper, to her sister she said, “How come she isn’t saying her lines?”

“Maybe that’s not the scene we’re doing today,” Ten replied.

“But that’s the one we decided on,” Twelve said.

They kept going back and forth about what “scene” had been chosen. I didn’t say anything. After another exhortation by Twelve, I finally responded.

“In the parenting world, if you can learn to ignore the kids completely by the time they turn five years old, they give you a gold medal.”

“Where’s yours, huh?” Twelve said, a touch of snark in her voice. “Oh, wait, you didn’t get one, did you?”

“Oh, I did, but we’re not allowed to display them,” I quipped. “It’s not good for the kids’ self-esteem.”

That, and it fell behind the fridge when I was trying to hide my medal for “Tolerating absolute craziness.” But I didn’t to tell the kids that. I’d hate to, you know, take the conversation in a wild direction.


Last week, as I took Ten to her cello lesson, she made a confession.

“Di-Di doesn’t want me to tell you this, but she really doesn’t like the fruit rope thingys you give us,” she said.

Confession, tattling; two sides, same coin.

Her admission surprised me, though. The “fruit rope thingys” in question come from the Clif Bar company. The last time I tried one of their nutrition bars for adults, I wondered whether eating the cardboard from a shoebox would taste better.

Their kids’ products taste MUCH better. Why do kids get snacks that are so yummy, and yet adults don’t? It’s like we’re being punished for growing up, despite the fact that we’re the ones who possess the spending power.

But I digress.

When the kids were younger, they loved the bars for kids from Clif as well as their fruit rope. We went through dozens of boxes through the years, but they are pricey so I don’t buy them too often. I found the fruit rope on sale recently, however, and picked up a few boxes thinking Twelve and Ten would ravish them again.

Now I was hearing the dark secret from my younger daughter: her older sister had relegated an item from her childhood to…well, her childhood.

“Why doesn’t she want you to tell me?” I asked.

“I don’t know,” Ten said. “But now that I’ve told you, maybe you can keep putting them in her lunch.”

“If she doesn’t like them, why would I do that?”

“So she can give them to me,” Ten said, smiling in triumph. I heard it in her voice as we pass through an intersection and realized this was as much a ploy to claim the fruit rope for herself as to tell on her sister.

“But don’t tell her I told you,” she went on.

“Okay,” I said, “but I’m not going to put them in her lunch just so you can have them.”

“Aw, man,” she said at the thwarting of her plot.


This week, after a long day of school, homework, and extracurricular activities, we gathered to eat dinner and share what happened during the day. Twelve found herself tripping over her words a few times. At one point she grinned at me across the kitchen counter.

“I can’t English today,” she said.

I know how she feels. There are plenty of days I can’t English either. In fact, there are too many days where I can’t at all; that’s why I write.


Since reading the entire Harry Potter series, Twelve has become obsessed with the books. She thinks and talk about Harry Potter. Lately she’s also been begging for Harry Potter “merch,” although why she can’t just say “merchandise” is beyond me.

I’ve ordered a couple of things for her for Christmas, but like anything hot the prices rise pretty dramatically when the items become more unusual. Thanks to the good folks at Pottery Barn and their set designers, every piece of Harry Potter-labeled merchandise looks incredibly attractive. When I turned Twelve down on some of the pricier items, she came up with a new game plan: homemade merchandise. Or merch.

On Wednesday morning before school, Ten picked up a small squat bottle I had rinsed out to put in the recycling bin.

“This is such a cute bottle,” she said.

“I know, right?” I replied. “I would have kept it, but I can’t figure out what to do with it.”

“I could put feathers in there and say they’re my phoenix feathers,” Twelve added helpfully.

I gave her a Look. “Um, no.”

“Hey, it’s better than me filling the jar with water and calling them phoenix tears.”

“Better, yes,” I said. “Still, no.”

Of course, she’s not aware of the fact that friends and family will most likely shower her with her beloved “merch” this holiday season. She’ll get to enjoy it soon enough. And water from a tap turned into phoenix tears? Really??

Latest Chart: Week night conversations

November 30, 2018

By Ekta R. Garg

This past weekend, Ten received a punishment.

Sometimes on Saturdays and Sundays, the girls wake up and prefer to spend a little time reading in bed before coming down to breakfast. We struck a deal with them a few years ago on this point. As long as they brushed their teeth and combed their hair, they could get back in bed and read for (almost) as long as they wanted.

Ten knows this. In fact, she’s received a punishment on this matter before because she didn’t want to brush her teeth. She would just open her eyes, open a book, and forget about the world around her for a little while.

The idea is to teach the kids that personal hygiene should be automatic, a non-negotiable action no matter what else happens or doesn’t happen in their morning. For the most part they’ve behaved. But for some reason, last week Ten slipped up and her father punished her for it. Namely no reading (for pleasure, anyway) for a week.

While this wouldn’t be such a big deal during the week because of homework and extracurricular activities, Ten has come to relish her reading time at night before going to sleep. Because she wasn’t allowed to read, she decided on Monday night to come downstairs as I washed dishes after dinner.

“Do you need any help, Mamma?” she asked.

“You could sweep under the chairs for me,” I said.

I turned back to the sink, and Ten began pulling the chairs back from the counter so she could reach the area under them with the broom. Above the clanking of plates and spoons and the soft whisking of the broom bristles, Ten and I began talking.

She told me about her day, the small bits of classroom happenings that hadn’t trickled through our conversations earlier. I heard about upcoming projects and tests. She mentioned a funny incident with friends. At 8:30, the kids’ bedtime, she went back upstairs, and a few minutes later I followed her for a kiss good night.

On Tuesday she didn’t sweep the floor but instead stood by me as I told her about my concern for her grandfather’s health. My father has had a challenge recently, and I shared with Ten that while I was pleased he had begun to recover I fretted a little about how much work recovery takes. She listened, politely, patiently, and reassured me that her nanu would be just fine.

In the middle of the week when she down, she was fuming. Little things earlier in the evening had annoyed her. Her annoyance had begun to seep into everything else until it colored her perspective and turned everything negative.

That night, I admit, I went into lecture mode.

“You’re not going to grow up in my house looking at the bad side of things all the time,” I said. “There are too many people in the world who don’t have nearly half the things you do.”

Yes, I was thinking about Dad again. I was also thinking about the migrant families suffering on our southern border. A friend who had lost her mother a couple of years ago had been on my mind recently, and her loss sprang up in front of me again.

I let Ten no, in clear, concrete language, that she needed to straighten out her attitude.

“Tell me three good things that happened today,” I said.

“I got to express my opinion in music class about how I really didn’t want to do the show,” she said, referring to an upcoming performance in school.

“Nope, that doesn’t count,” I replied, “because you’re still talking about something negative. I want three things that have absolutely nothing negative attached to them.”

She didn’t say anything for a couple of minutes, just continued to fume away. Finally, begrudgingly, she said she got to play basketball at recess. After several more seconds, she mentioned two more things equally small but just as important, in my mind, of illustrating the point I was trying to make.

When she went upstairs at 8:30, tears shimmered in her eyes. I remained unyielding. Life can be tough for a ten-year-old, but she’s also incredibly blessed. I went up after her to kiss her good night, and she didn’t answer my “Good night” or my “I love you.”

That’s okay. I’ve been a parent for more than a decade. I can handle the little faux rejections.

Last night, though, Ten remained perky.

“Is it fun to be a grownup?” she asked before going upstairs.

I grinned. “Sometimes. Why do you ask?”

“It looks like a lot of fun,” she said. “You get to do whatever you want. You get to have dessert on a week night.”

That was a nod to the spoonful of Nutella my husband enjoys several nights a week after dinner. I couldn’t argue with her on that one. Definitely a grownup perk.

“But you don’t always get to do what you want,” I replied. “And there are a lot of things you worry about as a grownup when it comes to jobs and money.”

“Still,” she said, “it must be fun some of the time.”

I glanced at the clock. “Okay, 8:30.”

“Okay,” she said with a sunny smile.

Is it fun to be a grownup? Sometimes. It’s definitely not fun when you have to punish your child or watch their faces become stony when you reprimand them. It is fun when your kids use an unexpected opportunity to spend time with you.

Ten’s punishment ends this weekend, so she’ll probably be spending her pre-bedtime 15 minutes reading again. I wouldn’t mind so much if she comes down once in a while to keep me company, though. Even if she catches the adults enjoying dessert when she can’t.



Latest Spurts: MindMail and everything (not really) white with snow

November 9, 2018
By Ekta R. Garg

Enjoy these Spurts from the last two weeks readers!

On a particularly busy evening earlier this week, Twelve went from one assignment to another without stopping for a break. With two projects due yesterday and a big math test to take as well, she’s spent the last week or so trying to work on all of them every single day. That night she sat down to dinner with a sigh of relief.

“It’s hard being Super Girl,” she said with a glint in her eye of satisfaction. She was happy with what she’d accomplished, never mind that she’d ended her day, as so many others, tired.

“You don’t have to be Super Girl,” I said.

“I know,” she replied. “I just am.”

Her confidence notwithstanding, I didn’t want her to feel like she had to meet some gold standard every single day. I remember another young person who used to try to do just the same without asking for help or admitting that she needed to readjust her schedule or her work ethic. She had a fight with her locker in her freshman year of high school and lost.

(True story, although the few teachers and friends who saw me lose that fight were gracious enough not to bring it up after that afternoon; instead they showered me with hugs and moral support.)

That night, after cleaning up the kitchen, I went up to say good night to the girls and stroked Twelve’s hair in the dark.

“It’s hard being Super Girl,” she repeated in a sleepy voice.

“It’s okay if you don’t finish everything in one day,” I told her. “You know, you can always make a list to help you break things up so you’re not overwhelmed.”

“What if I lose the list?”

“You can write it on your white board,” I said, referring to the board attached to the side of her desk across the room. “Or you can take the list you made and stick it to the board with a magnet.”

“Well, I have my assignment book to help me.”

“Okay,” I said. “Just make sure you let us know if you need help splitting up the big things into smaller projects.”

“I will,” she said in that tone that says she’s heard this a hundred times. “And anyway, I’m Super Girl.”

Maybe, if she believes it just enough, she won’t be quite so daunted in a couple of years when she starts high school. Take it from me, even an inanimate object tends to look at you a little smugly after you lose a fight to it.


In case you haven’t heard, our house is Party Central every single night after bedtime.

Rumor has it that Mr. Tigger, Ten’s white-and-black striped tiger, throws epic raves. Invitations go out via MindMail (email that goes straight to the brain, apparently.) I had to beg to be included on the guest list, although I have yet to attend a single time. It’s just nice to know that I can join the festivities if I want.

Of course, Mr. Tigger and I have had our share of issues. I can’t prove it yet, but I suspect he’s been raiding our pantry every night to feed all the party attendees. Considering there are 63 stuffed animals in Ten’s collection—and they’re animals, remember—I object to him using food that I’ve spent money on for his parties. If he wants food, he needs to pay for it.

This week, according to the two party attendees who can actually talk—namely, Ten and Twelve—Mr. Tigger’s all-night parties have morphed into all-night dance rehearsals.

“It’s terrible,” Twelve said at dinner one night with eyes widened for dramatic effect. “We just keep doing the new version of the Chicken Dance over…and over…and over.”

“The new version?” I asked, not batting an eye at the fact that my tween is talking about attending a fictional dance party with a bunch of stuffed animals.

“Yeah, the new version,” she said, mock dread in her voice. Still in character, she glanced at her sister in exaggerated deference. Ten surveyed the kitchen in fake condescension, because even though Mr. Tigger throws the party she’s the one who controls everything.

Given that Ten doesn’t much like to dance, it’s news to me that she’s overseeing a function designed solely for dancing. Again, though, not going to bat an eye. I can’t, because if I do I might miss Mr. Tigger raiding the pantry yet again.


This morning we woke up to a dusting of snow. Not too much; just enough to coat rooftops and sprinkle the ground. Green grass is still widely visible, and the roads were dry well before anyone left the house.

Ten, our resident lover of all things connected to warm weather, came downstairs for breakfast and looked out the kitchen window.

“White,” she said. “It’s all white.”

I grinned. This is the child who complains when the weather hits below 75 degrees. She was born in Texas in the summer. It doesn’t surprise me that she loves hot weather.

“Would you like some milk?” I asked.

“That’s white too,” she said in a mournful tone.

“Why don’t you get a glass?” I suggested, still smiling.

“The milk will turn it white,” she said then went to the pantry to grab some cereal. “Why do the shelves have to be white? And the walls are white too.”

“It’s not much,” I said.

“It’s snow,” she said with reproach.

As if I had anything to do with it.

Latest Chart: Waiting for the right time

November 2, 2018

By Ekta R. Garg

As the girls grow up, they’re interests and friend circles have begun diverging. Twelve doesn’t seem to mind it so much. She’s older and the first of the two to experience new situations, make increasingly deeper connections with her friends, and receive attention by virtue of the fact that she’s our firstborn.

From the time she was a toddler, Ten has kept up with her sister. They’ve invented special games, taken all sorts of lessons together, and reassured one another. In one sense, they’re best friends. Ten has always had her “di-di” around, and Twelve can’t remember life before her little sister.

It’s hard for Ten, then, when her big sister receives opportunities that don’t come her own way.

Almost all of these are age-related. The girls’ school held a dance last week for middle schoolers; Ten, being in fifth grade, couldn’t go. The week before that came the school camp-out, again, for middle schoolers. Ten blustered her way through loud exhortations that she wouldn’t miss her sister, all the while unable to keep the hurt out of her eyes.

This week, it was Halloween. Twelve and her three best friends had a plan in place for the last few weeks of what they wanted to do. Ten didn’t, although this one had nothing to do with age.

“Maybe I could go with Di-Di and her friends,” she suggested on Monday as we drove to music lessons.

“Uh, no,” Twelve said, the annoyance evident in her voice.

“Why not?”

“Because I want to spend time with my friends.”

“You see them every day in school!”

“I think,” I said, intervening and trying to pick my words with care, “what Di-Di means is that even though she may see her friends in school every day, she doesn’t get a lot of non-school time with them. You know, without worrying about homework or projects or anything, where they can all relax together.”

“But E. likes me,” Ten protested, mentioning one of her sister’s BFFs.

“Still, no,” Twelve said.

“That’s not fair!” Ten exclaimed.

Not fair. We’ve heard those words more and more from her in the last few months. It didn’t help that the two friends who she really wanted to spend Halloween with have found a book in common and spend free time in school discussing it. I’ve encouraged Ten, on numerous accounts, to try to join the conversation by asking her friends to tell her about the book, by mentioning other books, by suggesting (after letting them talk for a while) that they go play together. Her eyebrows form a V as she replies she’s done all these things and nothing changes.

I knew, then, that it bothered her that her two friends were going to dress up as characters from the book and hadn’t included her in their plan.

“I guess I’ll just stay home and pass out candy with Mamma,” she said, a hint of resignation in her voice.

“What if I talk to M.’s mom and ask her if M. would like to go trick-or-treating with you?”

“No, Mamma, it’s fine.”

“What about H.? We could ask—”

“Mamma, it’s fine,” she said with that tone of finality she’s begun using when she doesn’t want to discuss a matter anymore.

Of course, I’m her mother. I’m not going to let something drop that easily, especially when I know it’s her stubbornness standing in her own way. That determination comes from the root of her soul and will most likely be the very reason why she’s wildly successful in whatever she attempts career-wise. Sometimes, though, it appears to her detriment. I’m working bit by bit to make her see that.

So I stepped in and texted one of the moms of the two friends in question to ask if her daughters would like to join Ten in trick-or-treating. She wrote back that she had, in fact, been meaning to contact me about the same thing and was just ironing out the last few details. She’d let me know, she said, when she had everything figured out with pickups and drop-offs and dinner and all.

I mentioned this to Ten on Tuesday, and she didn’t react. At least, not in a way that most people would recognize. But I felt a subtle shift in her mood and demeanor.

“So I’ll be going trick-or-treating with [my friends]?” she asked.

“Yup,” I said.

Throughout the day on Tuesday, I knew, her mood would pick up. By the time she came home from school, she’d returned to her sunny self.

“I can’t wait to go trick-or-treating with them!” she said at least three or four times between home and her group cello lesson.

Every repeat of this sentence came with a little more excitement, a little more anticipation. When it was time to go on Wednesday, she’d completed all her homework and practiced her instruments without a single complaint. She practically skipped out the door.

Three hours later, she returned with cheeks flushed and the rush of sugar and friendship. She asked about her sister and didn’t mind that Twelve stayed out an extra half-hour. Didn’t even bat an eye when she declared that she didn’t want to keep any of her candy, that she’d eaten some and that was enough for her. She’d gotten her own Halloween experience, and that was enough for her.

Within the family, sometimes when we call for the girls we roll their names together. It’s easy enough to do, because it seems like they’ve always been with one another, and us. The last few weeks have brought several reminders that the girls won’t always stay together, however, at least not physically. They’ll move on to other places, encounter new people independently of one another. I just hope that Ten learns and keeps close to her heart the understanding that her own time for everything will come.

Latest Spurts: Nail polish in the dark and Apparition

October 26, 2018

By Ekta R. Garg

Enjoy these Spurts from the last two weeks, readers!

Sometimes silliness can abound first thing on a Monday morning. When Ten finished her breakfast at the beginning of this week, she placed her cereal bowl in the sink and used her folded socks as a makeshift soccer ball, dribbling them to the mudroom to put on her shoes. I spotted her lunchbox still sitting on the counter.

“What about your lunch?” I called after her.

“Lunch is totally in!” she said in an exaggerated way, trotting back to the counter.

“That way of talking is out,” Twelve replied.

Good to know we’re all up to date on current slang.


For years the middle school science teacher has assigned My Own Science (MOS) projects to students at Twelve and Ten’s school. The middle schoolers all agree that they share a love-hate relationship with MOS. The concept is engaging: the kids perform science experiments or do investigations and then report back on their findings. The actual work? Not as much.

On Tuesday I went to lunch with a few other school moms, and talk turned to MOS. That made me realize that Twelve hasn’t been assigned one yet for this year. At breakfast on Wednesday, I asked her about the projects.

“No, no,” she said, shaking her head as if I’d invoked the name of a goblin. “We don’t talk about MOS.”

“When I have to do MOS next year,” Ten said in a placid manner over her cereal, “I’m going to make my own black hole.”

I exchanged a look with Twelve. She wanted to roll her eyes, I could tell, but she didn’t. No sense in incurring her sister’s wrath first thing in the day.

“You know,” I said, “if you make your own black hole, you’ll need some gravity for that.”

“All the gravity on Earth,” she amended for me.

“Um, we kind of need that gravity,” I tell her.

“No, you don’t,” she said. “My black hole needs that gravity more than you.”

“Yeah,” Twelve quipped, “we’ll just float to school.”

She flapped her hands like little wings, and this time I shook my head.


Ever since I let the kids read all the Harry Potter books, our house has turned into an extension of the Potterverse. Twelve, in particular, has become, in her own word, “obsessed.” Ten isn’t far behind, although she manages to keep her “obsession” in check.

“Mamma’s a Pureblood,” Twelve announced to the car on the way to school one day.

“And Daddy’s a Muggle,” Ten added.

“Which makes us half-bloods,” Twelve concluded.

“Even if Daddy’s a Muggle, we still like him,” I said.

A pause; we had a full 10 seconds of silence in the car.

“Yeah, he’s okay,” Ten replied.

In keeping with the Harry Potter invasion of our lives, Twelve expressed an ardent wish the other day.

“If only we could Apparate,” she said, as we discussed her schedule for Friday. “That would make things so much easier.”

“It could, yes,” I said.

“Except that [Ten] and I couldn’t Apparate by ourselves, since we’re just students, so we’d have to go with you in a Side-Along.”

Apparation, by the way, is the magical teleportation method used in the world of Harry Potter by adults to go from place to place. It has certain rules and regulations, one of them being that witches and wizards have to reach a certain age before they’re “licensed” to apparate. Adults can take younger witches and wizards with them in a Side-Along Apparition.

Sort of like driving them around in a car after school to places.

“So how is that different from what I do now?” I asked Twelve.

She thought about it for a minute. “I guess it’s not really. So maybe I could use a broomstick. See, you could take [Ten] to her cello lesson while I take my broomstick home…”

And she was off again. This time on a broomstick. I wonder if broomstick travel causes a lot of traffic jams.


Today is the first middle school dance of the year. Before she gets to the dance, however, Twelve will come with Ten and me to Ten’s cello lesson after school, then get picked up by her father and brought home, get ready for her Irish dance lesson, go there, leave Irish early, go straight to a friend’s house for a pre-dance party, go to the dance, go out for frozen yogurt afterward, then finally end up at another friend’s house for a sleepover.

Yeah, tell me about it.

Last night the school held a showcase for all middle schoolers, a quarterly event to share with parents what the kids have been doing in their fine arts classes for the last eight weeks. We got home from the showcase around 8 p.m., and Twelve and I dove right into our dinners. Then I shooed her upstairs where she started putting together a couple of different bags with her supplies for her crazy day today.

When my husband came home after his violin lesson, I gave him his dinner and a rundown for what after school would look like for us. He agreed to pick up Twelve from Ten’s cello lesson and bring her home a little early. Just then Twelve came downstairs and headed for the basement.

“Where are you going?” I asked.

“To get a duffel bag for my stuff for the sleepover,” she said.

“Daddy said he can bring you home, so you can pack it then,” I said. “Why don’t you go on up and get into bed? You’ve had a long day.”

She nodded, grateful for the chance to put off one task at least, and went back up. As my husband and I chatted about our day, we both noticed Twelve’s light was still on. We called up to her from the kitchen a couple of times, and she reassured us she was going to bed soon.

After doing the dishes, when I went up to her room to kiss her good night, I discovered what she’d been doing. As soon as I walked into her room, the pungent scent of acetone greeted me. I grinned.

“I hope you don’t get any nail polish on your comforter,” I said as I leaned toward her head in the dark.

“How did you know?” she asked in astonishment.

“Good night,” I said, still smiling.

“But how did you know?”

“I love you!” I called over my shoulder as I walked out of her room.

My kids are incredibly smart, but it’s nice to know I still have a little bit of an advantage over them now and then.

Latest Chart: Using language to express ourselves

October 19, 2018

By Ekta R. Garg

As the child of immigrants, my sister and I traveled to India many times school and college. We forged a bond with extended family members: aunts and uncles who took us to enjoy the latest Hindi flicks; grandparents who made sure our favorite foods stayed in the fridge as long as we were there; cousins who became instant playmates and, later, pals-to-get-into-trouble-with. We experienced India like a person jumps into a freezing pond: all at once, like a shock, a few moments of disbelief, and a huge grin saying we couldn’t wait to do it again.

One thing that bothered me, though, was when my cousins (and sometimes elders) would make fun of my attempts at speaking Hindi. My sister and I quickly became known as “the quiet ones” in the family. People assumed we were both soft-spoken children who preferred a quick nod and a pleasant smile to actual conversation. They actually believed, for a while there, that we were shy.

Maybe neither my sister nor me could be labeled as gregarious, but neither of us are wallflowers.

In my adulthood, when it became clear that language would dominate my professional pursuits, I started listening to Hindi. Really listening to it. I paid attention to pronunciation and turns of phrase, to stresses on syllables and the cadence of words.

I still do all these things as I strive to express myself in the written word on a daily basis.

Language, for immigrants, remains an ongoing topic of conversation in their homes. People today who have never made the decision to leave their birth countries forever grossly underestimate the sheer courage and grit it takes to do so. It makes sense that immigrants try to retain their food and their clothing, their customs and, yes, their language. They’ve left all that behind, the comforts of these essentials of daily life, and brought the essence of them to the new home country.

It makes sense that they would want to teach their children the language in which they best express themselves, in which they laugh the loudest and cry the hardest and yell and scream and love and joke around with self-assurance.

I grew up bilingual before even knowing that a word existed to describe the state of knowing two languages with similar facility. After marrying an immigrant and having two children, it seemed like common sense that the kids should know two languages too. And in a way they do. They understand Hindi without having to stop and process what each word or phrase means.

The challenge comes in speaking it, and every time they make those sincere efforts I can still hear the echoes of the teasing that my sister and I endured.

I explained all this to my husband a long time ago when we discussed making concerted efforts to teach the kids Hindi, and he understood and sympathized. I told my parents how I felt. Everyone agreed that no matter how badly the kids fumbled the language, we wouldn’t say or do anything that would resemble any kind of ridicule.

Twelve and Ten still struggle, despite our efforts. Every night at dinner, we only speak Hindi to facilitate an ease with the language. Even then, and even though it’s only our family, on some days Twelve and Ten feel a little shy, Twelve more than her younger sister. She’s coming into an age where everything feels awkward. It only makes sense that learning another language that, truthfully, she doesn’t use nearly as often as English makes the list of awkward endeavors.

Sometimes, though, potential solutions present themselves in the most unusual ways with amusing side effects.

In addition to speaking Hindi at dinner, every Friday night we watch a Hindi movie as a family. The kids get to pick the movie, which means we’ve sat through countless viewings of Jodha Akbar for Ten and Wake Up, Sid for Twelve. Occasionally my husband will grab the remote and make a random choice; some of them turn out to be gems and others become prime heckling opportunities.

Until last Friday, we would always turn on the English subtitles to offer the kids a frame of reference. My husband decided the time had come to turn off the subtitles, though, to challenge the girls. He asked Twelve, as we watched Tamasha for the second or third time together, to turn off the subtitles.

She picked up the remote and navigated to the subtitle list, which brought up the option not only to turn them off but also to view subtitles in different languages. In addition to English, we saw French and a few other languages listed. One of those was Chinese, which both kids have been learning since early elementary days.

As a joke, Twelve turned on the Chinese subtitles. She and Ten giggled their way through reading them. Their father protested for a few minutes. The whole point was to watch without subtitles, wasn’t it?

“Wait a second,” I said. “This may not be so bad.”

After the initial charm of the Chinese subtitles wore off, Twelve and Ten found themselves actually reading them and trying to reconcile what they read with what they heard actors Ranbir Kapoor and Deepika Padukone say in Hindi. Somewhere in their heads, their brains were trying to make the lightning-fast translations into English. And suddenly a new opportunity for languages opened up right in front of us.

The girls’ Chinese teacher in school says the students should look for ways to use and interact with Chinese outside of what they’re learning during the day. As I saw the unfamiliar characters flash across the bottom of the screen, it occurred to me that whether the language is English, Hindi, Chinese, or something else, in the end we all strive for the same thing: to be heard. To be understood. To share a vital part of our experiences with the world.

I can’t read or understand Chinese, but the girls can. Maybe, by watching movies with Chinese subtitles and speaking Hindi at dinner and using English to navigate life, Twelve and Ten will learn in a new way about what the world needs more of today: compassion for others.





Latest Spurts: YouTube audiences and a trillion requests

October 12, 2018

By Ekta R. Garg

Enjoy these Spurts from the last two weeks, readers!

Sometimes, once the giggles start, it’s hard to stop.

Last Wednesday Twelve and Ten got into the car after school, and I turned onto the street in the direction opposite from the house.

“So you have two hours of art today instead of one,” I reminded them as they settled in with their snacks and chocolate milk.

Both of them groaned.

“We have to make up for the art lesson you missed last week when [Ten] had her orthodontic checkup,” I said.

They grumbled a little but said nothing.

“And don’t forget, you have your dental cleaning tomorrow after school,” I went on.

“Tomorrow’s going to be the worst day ever,” Ten said. “An orthodontist checkup and a dentist checkup in the same week?”

“Well, they weren’t in the same week,” Twelve reasoned. “Your orthodontist appointment was last Wednesday, and the dental cleaning is tomorrow. On Thursday.”

Ten laughed. “Okay, so an orthodontist appointment and a dental appointment in the same month.”

“Uh, it’s not the same month either,” Twelve said, and I could hear the grin in her voice as she reminded her sister that October had just started. The previous week was September.

Ten caught the giggles, and she couldn’t stop.

“Fine,” she said when she caught her breath, “an orthodontist appointment and a dentist appointment in the same…two…weeks?”

“That works,” I said.


The giggling didn’t stop after that, however, and actually led to Ten spouting off gibberish at one just for the sheer joy of being silly.

“Mommy, I just have no control over this child and what she does,” Twelve said, a frequent refrain of hers these days.

“It’s okay,” I responded in a faux consoling voice.

“Uh, okay, [Ten], pretend you have your own YouTube channel and make up music for that,” she said, jumping back into the fun. “In your mind,” she added.

Ten continued with the gibberish.

“Oh, look at that,” Twelve said in an announcer’s voice, “you’ve got a thousand views. Ten thousand views. Oh, now it’s a million views! But wait, now it’s going back down. You have ten views. Now you only have one subscriber left.”

“Yeah, and that one subscriber? It’s not me,” I said.

“It’s not me either,” Twelve said.

By that point the epidemic of giggles had subsided somewhat, but Ten was still so pleased with herself that she didn’t care about her diminishing YouTube audience.


We’ve started getting to the point where the kids are asking for stuff and fighting for their right to get it.

“None of my pencils are working,” Twelve said one night just before going up to bed.

I had an idea what she meant but decided to play dumb.

“How can a pencil not work?” I said. “They’re pretty basic…”

“My mechanical pencils,” she said. “One of them is out of lead, and the other one is just kind of weird when I hold it.”

“Okay,” my husband said.

“Some of my friends have these really nice mechanical pencils with the gel—”

I held up my hand and flicked my thumb against my index finger—money—and she stopped talking.

“I know they’re expensive, but they would work so much better,” she said.

“I think, considering how many pencils we already have in the house, that you should use one of those,” I said. “Go the old-fashioned way. They don’t need lead, and all you have to do is sharpen them.”

“Yeah, but they hurt my hand, even with the grips,” she said, pouting a little.

“Oh, you poor thing,” my husband replied. He took her by the shoulders and turned her in the direction of the stairs. “Go to bed. It’ll help with your hand.”

“But the pencils!” she said over her shoulder in protest.

“We’re not spending money on new mechanical pencils when you have plenty of good ones already!”

She tried to push her luck again the next day, but in matters like these my husband and I share a parent brain. She’s tried to drop a hint or two since, but we aren’t picking them up. Doesn’t matter how nice the gel pencils are.


Then it was Ten’s turn.

“Um, we’re going to be practicing the mile at school, and Mr. W. said we could bring a device,” she said one day in the car as we drove to an activity.

Again, I knew what she meant. Once again, I played dumb.

“A device? How is a device supposed to help you run the mile?” I asked.

“No, Mamma, it doesn’t help me run the mile,” she said. “It’s to listen to music.”

“And you can’t listen to…the music in your head?” I asked.

“No, come on! Please?”

“I don’t have a device for you to take to school,” I said. “And even if I did, I wouldn’t give it to you. You don’t need to take a device to listen to for five minutes.”

“It’s longer than five minutes,” she grumbled.

“Doesn’t matter how long it is,” I countered. “You don’t need a device for it.”

The grumbling continued, and I didn’t say anything. Sometimes, in these situations, it’s just better not to.


Then came yet another request from Ten.

“Mommy, can you please order those books I’ve asked you about a trillion times?” she said last night after dinner.

“You haven’t asked me a trillion times,” I said with a smile. “You’ve only asked me 972,862,124,569 times. When you get to a trillion, then we’ll talk.”

She grinned. “Mommy, can you buy those books, please?”

I held up a finger. “That’s the first time I’ve heard ‘please’. You need at least a billion of those.”

“Mommy, can you buy those books, please? Mommy, can you buy those books, please? Mommy, can you buy those books, please?”

“You’re going to need a few more,” I said, still smiling.