Latest Chart: If you do the crime…

June 14, 2019

By Ekta R. Garg

Bailiff: “All rise. The Twelfth Court of Parenthood is now in session. The honorable Judge So Ciety presiding.”

Judge: “You may be seated. Bailiff, please swear in the jury.”

Bailiff: “Please raise your right hand. Do you solemnly swear or affirm that you will read this case and render a true verdict and a fair sentence as to this defendant?”

Jury: “…”

Bailiff: “Your honor, I do believe the medium used for this case today may prevent the jury from affirming their intention.”

Judge: “That’s fine. Unless there are any negative statements expressed in the comments section below, we’ll proceed with the assumption that the jury will agree with the verdict reached. Bailiff, please announce the case for today.”

Bailiff: “The case for today is the People versus Ekta Garg. The crime alleged: bribery for keeping her children quiet about enduring a chamber music workshop in the second week of June.”

Judge: “Is the prosecution ready?”

Prosecuting attorney stands: “Ready, your honor.”

Judge: “Is the defense ready? Ms. Garg, do you not have a defense attorney? You know that under our judicial system, you’re entitled to one and that one will be provided if you cannot secure your own.”

Defendant: “I realize that, your honor, and thank you. I just think I’m able to present my own defense in this case.”

Judge: “Well, then, let the case begin with the prosecution.”

Prosecutor stands, buttons jacket: “Yes, your honor. The prosecution calls Ekta Garg, mother of Twelve and Ten.”

Defendant walks across courtroom, enters witness box.

Bailiff approaches: “Do you swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help you God?”

Defendant: “I do.”

Prosecutor approaches the witness stand: “Ms. Garg, did you sign your children up for a chamber music workshop earlier this year?”

Defendant: “I did, yes.”

Prosecutor: “And why did you do that?”

Defendant: “My younger daughter’s cello teacher had been asking us for a couple of years to sign the girls up for the workshop. He thought it would be a good experience for them.”

Prosecutor: “And are you in the habit of following parenting advice from people not the parents of your children?”

Defendant: “Objection.”

Judge: “…”

Defendant: “…”

Judge: “Ms. Garg, you have to explain why you’re objecting to the prosecution’s question.”

Defendant: “Oh, um…well, I didn’t like his tone.”

Judge: “You didn’t…like…his tone? That’s not even a real objection.”

Prosecutor: “It’s okay, your honor, I’ll rephrase. Ms. Garg, when making decisions for your children, do you give any weight to the advice from others?”

Defendant considers the question: “Sometimes. If I think that person has good intentions.”

Prosecutor: “Uh huh. And you thought that the cello teacher of your daughter, Ten, had good intentions when suggesting this chamber music workshop.”

Defendant: “Yes.”

Prosecutor: “Did you know when you signed your daughters up for the workshop that it was six hours long every day for five days a week?”

Defendant: “I did, yes.”

Prosecutor: “Yet you signed them up anyway. You didn’t think thirty hours of music instruction was excessive?”

Defendant shrugs: “I was going based off what Mr. S. recommended. I had no idea that they would be doing nothing but music for five of the six hours a day.”

Prosecutor: “Ms. Garg, what was your daughters’ reaction on the morning of the first day of the workshop?”

Defendant: “Twelve kept saying, ‘I don’t want to go to this camp. I don’t want to go to this camp.’ Ten said, ‘I know it’ll probably be horrible, but I’m still a little optimistic.’”

Prosecutor: “Do your daughters normally protest so vociferously when you sign them up for things?”

Defendant: “Well, no. In fact, Twelve’s the one who is usually pretty easy going. She’s more of an optimist, so she usually finds something good to say about activities and such. I was actually expecting the opposite from the two of them—that Twelve would say she was optimistic and Ten would keep whining about not going.”

Prosecutor: “And do you often put your children in situations that cause them to whine?”

Defendant: “Objection. I know this one; it’s leading the witness.”

Judge: “Sustained.”

Prosecutor: “I’ll rephrase. Ms. Garg, when you picked the girls up after the workshop, were they still protesting?”

Defendant squirms: “Well, no. Actually, they didn’t talk. At all.”

Prosecutor: “I see. Did you try to ask them about their day, see what they might be thinking?”

Defendant: “I always do. In fact, I usually do it both going to an activity and coming home. Like that morning, I’d told them that I was going to offer them a bribe if they stopped complaining—”

Prosecutor: “No further questions, your honor. This witness has just admitted her guilt in court. The prosecution rests.”

Prosecutor walks back to table, unbuttons jacket, sits down.

Defendant: “No, wait! I didn’t mean bribe as in I was going to do something illegal or make them do something illegal. It’s more of a trade. You know, the kind where you give kids something to make them happy so that they’re more likely to do it again.”

Judge: “Ms. Garg, that’s what we call a Pavlovian response. Or, as the prosecutor pointed out, a bribe.”

Defendant shakes head: “You don’t get it. My daughters are incredibly smart and well-read. If I offered them something without naming it for what it was, they’d call me out on it. I figured I’d just get ahead of the situation and tell them upfront that I was bribing them.”

Judge: “If you were so convinced that this music workshop was such a good idea, why did you need to bribe them in the first place? Why not tell them, as confident parents usually do, that they don’t have a choice? A ‘you get what you get, and you don’t throw a fit’ sort of thing?”

Defendant sighs: “Because, your honor, about ninety-five percent of the time, that’s exactly the response I give them. They pout and complain and, yes, even whine, about stuff, and my husband and I stand firm. But this music workshop was the first time they were doing anything like this, and I recognized that it was a major challenge for both girls. They’re really good kids, and I told them that, but I also wanted to show them my appreciation in actions for their willingness to endure it.”

Judge leans in, curious: “So what bribes, or trades as it were, did you offer them?”

Defendant: “Well, in the last couple of months each of the girls had asked for a specific book. My first thought was that I would get them the books for their birthdays, but then I decided it might be nice to surprise them on the first day of this workshop when they came home. And originally that was all I was going to do.”

Judge: “Then what happened?”

Defendant: “When they came home that day, they were both kind of frustrated with themselves for struggling with the music as well as tired. Playing instruments for hours at a stretch without much of a break is a huge task, especially for kids who only practice those instruments, at the most, thirty minutes a day.”

Judge: “Wait, your girls practice every day?”

Defendant nods: “Sometimes they miss a day, you know, during the school year if they’ve got a lot of homework or something. We try to space out practice time so that it doesn’t overwhelm them. I’d say during school they practice four days a week, but during the summer it has to be every single day.”

Judge: “Including the days of the workshop?”

Defendant shakes head: “We gave them the week off. When they came home, they were allowed to just take it easy. I didn’t even make them do their summer math homework.”

Prosecutor, from table: “That’s actually pretty nice.”

Judge: “You said you had only planned to use the books as a bribe. What happened to change that?”

Defendant: “On the second day when they came home, they both looked pretty dejected and Twelve complained that her shoulder hurt from holding up the violin for so many hours. I went into the pantry to get ingredients to start making dinner and saw some jellybeans there and grabbed a few. I hid them in my hands and told the girls each to pick a hand, and they saw the jellybeans and were happy. They started smiling again. That’s when I got the idea to get them little things during the week. Only to make them happy, your honor. It wasn’t for any other reason.”

Judge: “And what other items did you use to bribe your daughters, Ms. Garg?”

Defendant counting on her fingers: “Let’s see: two plushy mini pillows, Hershey’s candy bars, and lunch from Panera.”

Prosecutor, from table: “What did they get from Panera?”

Judge peering over his glasses at prosecution: “How is that relevant to the case, counselor?”

Prosecutor shrugs: “It’s almost lunchtime, and I’m hungry.”

Judge rolls eyes: “So, Ms. Garg, you contend that these weren’t bribes, because your children knew exactly what you were doing, is that correct?”

Defendant nods: “That’s correct, your honor.”

Judge: “And you were only doing it to make your children happy?”

Defendant: “Correct. Like I said, they’re pretty good kids. Once in a while, I like to give them little treats for that reason. It’s not too often, but it makes them happy. When they’re happy, I’m happy.”

Judge looking at prosecutor’s table: “Sounds like you were right to say the case is closed, counselor. In fact, I find that the case should be dropped altogether.”

Prosecutor jumps to feet: “But, your honor—”

Judge: “The only thing the defendant has done is try to take a challenging situation and make her children happy as they got through it. Can you really argue that’s a bad thing?”

Prosecutor: “But, your honor, she admitted to the crime!”

Judge shakes head: “The only crime I see here is a mother going overboard to be a good mom. I hereby declare this case dismissed.”

Judge bangs gavel: “Court is adjourned.”

Defendant: “One last thing, your honor?”

Judge: “What is it, Ms. Garg?”

Defendant: “I’m kind of hungry too. How about Panera?”

Judge to prosecutor: “Counselor?”

Prosecutor sighs: “Oh, all right. But only if I can get their mac and cheese.”

Latest Spurts: Calling the Avengers and testing perfume

May 24, 2019

By Ekta R. Garg

Enjoy these Spurts from the last month, readers!

Driving home from music one day, Twelve and I heard a commercial for a company called Scentbird that sends a customer custom-picked scents. The DJ talked about what a hefty investment a perfume is and how choosing one without knowing its scent may not go well because a person may not like what they bought.

“Isn’t why they have…?” I said.

“Testers,” Twelve added, finishing my sentence and shaking her head. “That’s what the testers are for.”

As we continued listening to the ad, we heard the company name again: “Scentbird”.

“I never thought of birds being aromatic in any way,” I said to Twelve.

“Baby chicks stink,” she said. “That doesn’t exactly bode well for their company, does it?”


Earlier this week as we left school, Twelve asked, “Are we going to be in town for July 31?”

“Um, no,” I said, “why?”

“Because that’s Harry’s birthday.”

I frowned a little. She didn’t have any friends in school or outside of it named Harry. Did she actually mean—

“Who?” I asked.

“Harry,” she said. “Harry Potter.”

Just as I tried to come up with a response, she added, “June 5 is Draco’s birthday.”

“That’s the one I would celebrate,” Ten piped up from the back. “I wouldn’t celebrate Harry’s. Actually, I would celebrate it but as a funeral.”

“Such a Dursley,” Twelve said with a shake of her head, referring to Harry’s horrible aunt and uncle in the books.

I guess it beats Twelve having an unusual attachment to a teenybopper celebrity. Or, you know. Draco Malfoy.


With school wrapping up this week, the kids were deep in the throes of signing yearbooks. Both Ten and Twelve have been signing books of one another’s friends. Ten described her thought process behind signing the yearbook of one of Twelve’s BFFs who also participates in the same youth theater group as Twelve.

“I wanted to write ‘I enjoy watching you on and off stage’ in N.’s yearbook,” Ten explained, “but I thought that would be a little creepy.”

“N., I love watching you sleep at night,” Twelve said in a sickly sweet voice. “I just come right up to your bedroom window.”

We all laughed, open-hearted and open-mouthed, with me doubling over the steering wheel as we waited at a stoplight.

“I love the new pajamas,” Twelve went on, and her sister bounced in the seat behind her in an effort to control her laughter.

“Are those new bed sheets?” I chimed in.

Just then a man in a tattered t-shirt and with green hair crossed the street in front of the car, and we laughed even harder. It’s a good thing he didn’t see us. We probably looked strange, a mother and two girls cracking up at a red light.


Since beginning work in earnest on my novel at the beginning of my month, I’ve talked more about it with the kids. I first shared the story idea with them last year on a family trip to Niagara Falls. In the last year, as I’ve gained more clarity about the book, I’ve talked about it in more concrete terms and ideas with the girls; they in turn have asked questions and offered their own suggestions for the story.

Not all of the ideas are viable.

Ten asked me about the main climax, and I explained a little about the fictional kingdom of Linden that I’ve created and the fight between the king and his enemy.

“You should just have one of the Avengers come in and flatten the whole kingdom,” she said.

“But…but what about the good guys?” I said. “We don’t want to kill everybody.”

“Oh, it’s fine,” Ten said with a wave of her hand. “You don’t need them. The Avengers. That’s what you need.”

I sputtered through the beginning of an explanation about not being able to publish unsolicited fan fiction, but she ignored me.

Later, as Twelve asked me whether I’d solved a particular story problem, Ten inserted herself (in this case literally by sticking her head between her sister and me) and asked, “Is this going to get published all over the world?”

“Um, I hope so,” I said.

“Is it going to sell a million copies?”

“I hope so.”

“Are you going to have a bunch of authors saying good stuff about it on the cover?”

“Um, I hope so.”

She considered my answers. “All righty then.”

Maybe it’s as simple as that.

All righty then.

Newest Chart: Necessary outbursts

May 10, 2019

By Ekta R. Garg

Oh, what a difference a day (or a month) makes.

In April I blogged about how my husband and I stuck by our guns and practically forced Ten into playing soccer for the park district. We did so because we knew she would enjoy it. The only reason we hadn’t signed her up sooner was because she had refused to play for anyone other than her school team, which stemmed from her anxiety around meeting new people.

We pushed her into it. She loves the team. Now we have a different problem, which has driven me nuts in equal proportion as when she didn’t want to play for the park district.

The problem is this: due to excessive rain this spring, several practices have been cancelled. On the days that practice gets cancelled, Ten gets into a Mood. You veteran parents know what I’m talking about. I thought I had a few years, at least, before she exhibited this kind of behavior, but what can I say, this child has proven over and over again that she’s well ahead of her time in many things.

Ten now loves soccer so much that on the days she can’t play, she becomes a first-class grump. Given the fact that we’ve had rain for several days at a stretch, this means grumpiness for several days at a stretch. I’m waiting for the end of the rainy season not because I care so much about all the rain but because I can’t wait for my child’s mood to turn around.

The grumpiness, of course, doesn’t just stay with her, however. She walks around with her frustration plastered all across her face, and that frustration spills over to the rest of the family. Because she’s already annoyed about soccer, when one of us says something she doesn’t like she snaps in response. She gets agitated. She replies with sarcasm dripping from her words like acid from a beaker.

Like I said, this is a Mood.

On Wednesday night her Mood began to influence mine. As I washed the dishes after dinner and listened to her gripe about one thing and the other, a few choice words came to mind. I could have let loose a torrent of lecturing then, but I didn’t. I didn’t think it would sound as good uncensored; mostly it would have been me ranting and doing the adult version of what she’s been doing for the last week or so.

Yesterday morning when Ten came down for breakfast before school, she showed up in a tank top and shorts. The temperatures earlier in the week had soared to the mid-70s, but yesterday they came back down again. When I told Ten she needed a light jacket, the Mood reappeared. I ignored it for the moment.

She asked me whether practice later that afternoon was cancelled.

“I don’t know,” I said. “That’s a decision that Coach makes almost at the last minute.”

“Is it going to rain today?” she said.

“It isn’t supposed to, but it also depends on the condition of the field,” I said. “With all this rain we’ve had—”

“But if it’s not raining today, they should let us practice!” she exclaimed.

“It’s for your own good,” I said. “If you go out on a really wet field and play, you could twist an ankle or something and really get hurt. Then you wouldn’t be able to play no matter what the weather was like.”

She argued that during a game a couple of weeks ago when the rain poured the coaches had let them play, that she didn’t understand why that was okay but this was not.

“Because adults are humans too, and sometimes they make mistakes,” I countered. “They made a judgment call that day, and it turned out not be a good one.”

She kept brooding, kept murmuring her discontent.

That was it. I had officially hit my tolerance limit. My patience reservoir for Ten’s bad attitude had run dry.

I told her in a loud voice that it was time she stopped behaving the way she was, that she was no longer two years old and that a temper tantrum was no longer a permissible way to express her irritation. If she continued to behave that way, I said, I would text her coach and let him know that she couldn’t attend practice yesterday evening. More than that, I said, I would also let him know that she wouldn’t play in the game tomorrow morning.

Her countenance rearranged itself right away—my children know I don’t make empty threats, that if I say I’m going to punish them in a specific way that it happens—but I wasn’t done.

“If you really want to be a team player, prove it to me,” I said, my tone still above normal. “Show me you can be a team player on the days you can’t play. That’s what a team player is.”

That seemed to catch her attention.

“No one can do anything about the weather, and if you can’t handle that then in the future you don’t need to sign up for soccer at all,” I went on.

My blood pressure had risen, and it took a considerable effort to stop talking. I don’t want to be one of those parents who just lectures needlessly for hours at a time. There is a considerable amount of power in silence, in stating the point and then just staying quiet after that to let it sink in.

Sometimes, though, in the moment it’s hard to remember that.

I turned back to the sink and kept putting away the dishes from dinner the previous night. Ten sat quietly eating her breakfast. Twelve came down, oblivious to my outburst, and chattered about the events of the day. I allowed myself to be drawn into her conversation and after a few minutes even roped in Ten.

We left for school then, and she got into the car with a chastened expression. Since then she’s been able to approach the possibility of canceled practices and even games with a little more pragmatism. I truly hope it sticks, because I really don’t like lecturing the kids. But sometimes, I guess, a little outburst is warranted.

Newest Spurts: Recovering (or not) from grief and moving out (or not) for college

April 26, 2019

By Ekta R. Garg

Enjoy these Spurts from the last month, readers!

During a recent weekend, as I moved around in the kitchen to make lunch, I went between the stove and the kitchen counter several times. Ten meandered into the traffic pattern I’d established. Because this child of mine is just a touch accident-prone, I try to steer clear of her when there’s hot liquid or over-sized pans involved.

“Move,” I said as she crossed my path yet again. “Out.”

She moseyed to the end of the counter and watched with an impish grin as I came to put dishes down.

“But, Mamma,” she said, innocence personified, “I can’t do that until college.”

It took me a moment to understand what she meant, and when I did I realized I didn’t have a good enough response.

These kids, I tell you. They’re getting the better of me every single week.


On Monday Ten came downstairs humming snatches of the song Don’t Stop Believing by the 1980s group Journey.

“What made you think of that song?” I asked her as I made sandwiches for lunches.

“It’s my go-to song when I have no other song in my head,” she said.

Oh. I didn’t know we were supposed to have certain songs for those times. You know, when we don’t have other songs on a loop in our brains.


A few weeks ago as I drove Ten to a friend’s house, we talked about people living to old age.

“Bade Papa was 97 when he died,” I said about my maternal grandfather who just passed away in November; I almost managed to get through the sentence without a hitch.

My daughter sat in silence for a beat.

“How are you doing with all that?” she asked.

“With what?”

“You know, the fact that he…died. Are you better?”

I suppressed a sigh. “I don’t think it’s necessarily something you get better from. Grief is more like something you learn to live with over time. You just get used to it being a part of your life, and you learn to accept every day that that person isn’t there anymore.”

“I know how that feels,” she said evenly.

I knew she was thinking about her beloved third grade teacher who moved away at the end of that school year. The teacher left because of an incredible job opportunity for her husband, but Ten treated the entire situation almost as if it were a bigger finality. And though she’s adjusted to the idea that Mrs. B. no longer lives in town, she still misses her with a ferocity that she expresses at the most unexpected times. I’m glad she’s learning to manage her feelings better, but I still hate that she had to endure saying goodbye to someone she loves.


In recent weeks, Ten’s love-hate relationship with her cello has mellowed out to something between the two extremes. Maybe it’s because she spends all of her highest and lowest emotions on the soccer field and comes home more able to look at life even-keeled. Maybe she’s actually starting to admit that she likes the cello more than she ever let on. (I’m kind of hoping for the latter, although I realize the former is the likelier scenario.)

Earlier today when I picked up the kids from school, we pulled out of the parking lot and headed in the director of the cello teacher’s studio. The kids chatted about what they’d done in school. Ten had a mini field trip where she learned survival techniques (the “light-a-fire-from-scratch/use-a-compass-to-figure-out-where-you’re-going” kind.) Twelve spent part of the day walking the school grounds with her classmates as they picked up stray trash.

“I think I’m deaf in one ear, it was so windy today,” she said, tugging on her earlobe a bit.

I agreed. Temperatures here in Central Illinois have increased to a lovely spring-like mid-60s, but when the wind speeds hit 30 mph, even that 65-degree weather can feel chilly. Not to mention the difficulty in performing simple tasks, like keeping a hat on your head or even walking down the street.

“You know, I’m kind of looking forward to the cello recital tomorrow,” Ten said out of the blue.

I did a double-take and sneaked a glance to my right at Twelve; she looked just as startled.

“That’s good,” I said in a mild tone. “What’s making you look forward to it?”

She mentioned the name of a piece that some of the kids would be playing in a group, and I voiced some inconsequential agreement.

“I definitely think I’m going deaf in one ear now,” Twelve murmured.

Neither of us said anything more to Ten about it. We both know that to make a “big deal” about any of her thoughts will only incite a defensive response. But it’s nice, like I said, to know that she’s slowly coming around to the cello. A good life, I believe, includes a variety of experiences, and this could be part of Ten’s mix.

Latest Chart: Parents, dig in your heels!

April 12, 2019

By Ekta R. Garg

In movies about struggles between tweens and their parents, the director usually includes a few showdowns. These can either be staring matches between the kids and the grownups or heated words exchanged. There’s almost always some sort of resolution (positive or negative) toward the end of the story.

The director never shows the agonizing days and hours in between showdowns. I guess it doesn’t make for as compelling viewing. Even if we watch a moving picture medium to be informed, ultimately we also want something that takes us away from reality.

In real life sometimes the showdowns end in a satisfying resolution for the parents, sometimes not. Case in point for the former: Ten’s soccer playing. She’s always harbored an interest in the sport, kicking the ball around in the back yard, watching the World Cup last year with fascination and eagerness, insisting that we sign her up to join the soccer team at school.

The school soccer season goes for around seven weeks in the fall. When Ten first asked to sign up for soccer, it was springtime more than two years ago. Soccer at school had ended, but our park district had just begun signups for their teams. What if I signed her up for the park district soccer program?

She came back with a resounding no. She didn’t want to play for anyone else. Only the school team. We discussed it, argued about it, butted heads on it. I’m not necessarily proud of this, but in the end she wore me down and I agreed. She wouldn’t sign up for the park district soccer team.

I could only argue with this child so many times. There are other things the kids need to do and so many other things I want to do. There aren’t enough hours in the day for me to drill down into every issue the kids and I disagree about. Some are essential to daily life and how they shape up as people; some are not.

Of course, this adamant stance against the park district soccer program didn’t curb Ten’s complaints that she didn’t get to play soccer. This child is old enough and mature enough to understand the progression of time. She got the fact that (by this time) with school out for the summer, there would be no school soccer. Like an irrational two-year-old, however, she continued to complain that she didn’t get any time on a field in a formal capacity.

At one point, my husband and I discussed the topic more than we discussed our retirement plans. Should we force Ten to play for the park district? Should we let her wait until school started? Should we encourage her to focus her energy somewhere else?

Eventually we decided to butt heads with our younger child yet again. This time, however, we would hold firm. She wanted to play soccer? She had to play for the park district when the school soccer season was off-cycle.

With plenty of exaggerated sighs and eye-rolls (and at one point literally dragging her feet as we got ready to leave,) Ten agreed. Well, she didn’t agree so much as just give in. This time we wore her down.

Do we sound like horrible parents for forcing our child to do something she expressed in no uncertain terms she absolutely does not want to do?

I don’t know yet. Even though I was one of those parents doing the forcing, I’m still trying to answer the question. Moreover, I’m trying to understand what that answer means for the future.

A few weeks ago, Ten got ready for her first soccer practice. Her dad took her, and I took Twelve to a school function. Halfway through the function I realized it had begun raining. Hard. As in, pouring. I immediately had two thoughts.

Ten’s going to be incredibly upset at getting all wet and probably muddy.

Ten’s going to be thrilled at practicing soccer in the downpour.

When she came home, her mile-wide grin told me which thought proved true.

All complaints about joining the park district’s soccer program washed into the city storm drains with the rain that night. Ten took a hairpin turn and couldn’t stop talking about the coach, about her excitement, about getting ready for her first match. The only semi-negative factor she could find was that she didn’t know any of the girls on the team. A few of them have played together before, and she felt a little left out.

Well, then, we told her, try to talk to some of the girls. Try to become friends with them. You have to get to know them, because a soccer team works best on the herd mentality, which works best when everyone knows everyone else.

Yesterday when Ten clamored into the car after practice, the first thing out of her mouth was, “I made a new friend on the team today.” She chattered the entire way home about her teammates, the one she got to know a little bit yesterday, and how that girl was friends with two of the other teammates Ten had gotten to know. Today on the way to her cello lesson, she said, “I’m so excited about the events of yesterday that they’ll get me through cello today.”

Her cello lessons are the other active area of a showdown with her. The thing is, she’s good at the cello. She jokes around with her cello teacher. She gives her classmates excellent suggestions during their critique time in their group lessons. She even offered to play the cello in the small band she’s formed with some of her friends and practices music for the band songs.

At one point, Ten admitted that the real problem she had with the cello was the lack of freedom. She’s still learning many of the essentials to playing the instrument, so she can’t experiment much. Her teacher, by the way, has given her considerable leeway in this area. When she tells him that she’s spent part of her week practicing her band music and less time on the music he’s assigned, he doesn’t bat an eye. He just requests in a gentle manner that she pay attention to her assignments too.

We convinced her with soccer to trust our judgment, and now she’s eager to pull on her cleats before every practice. My hope, truly, is that she’ll trust our judgment on the cello too. Maybe, years from now, we’ll be able to laugh over these showdowns, and I’ll get to gloat—just a little, mind you—that we won both of them.

Latest Spurts: Total bias and tricking the Starbucks baristas

March 22, 2019

By Ekta R. Garg

Enjoy these Spurts from the last couple of weeks, readers!

The funny instances of Starbucks baristas misspelling and mispronouncing names have been well documented on social media. When Twelve and her classmates went on a field trip recently, they had some free time after lunch and went into Starbucks. Twelve and her friends thought it would be fun to give the baristas fake names, and she gave the name “Sunny.”

“They spelled it with a Y instead of an I, but that’s okay,” she told us afterward in describing the encounter.

“It was a fake name!” I exclaimed. “What does it matter how they spell it?”

She looked at me in mock horror. “It matters!”

I just shook my head.

“I bet at Starbucks they ask people to spell stuff, and if they get it right, Starbucks is like, ‘Um, no,’” she replied. “I could work at Starbucks, but my spelling is too good.”

As a former spelling bee champ, I have to say that I don’t think spelling well is ever a bad thing.


Every summer the kids attend a variety of half-day camps. They’ve done everything from a Harry Potter-themed camp to one that allows them to use the public transportation in our town to explore our little city. The whole purpose of enrolling the kids in these activities is to expose them to different ideas and topics, help them meet new friends, and keep them out of one another’s hair.

The fact that they stay out of my hair for half a day is just a perk.

Of course, all this sounds great in theory. What it amounts to in reality is me negotiating what camps the kids should and can do every summer. They enjoy the activities their school offers and often insist they just want to stick with school stuff. We’re fortunate to live in a town that offers a myriad of options. With the university here, the choices for older kids get really interesting. Then there’s other schools, the YMCA, and even the park district.

This year, we wanted the kids to try something in addition to a school camp; of course, a discussion ensued on this issue.

My husband and I spent about 15 minutes talking to the girls about the value and virtue of trying new things. We reminded them that they were privileged to have all these options; neither of us had ever gotten to explore in this way. They could make new friends and stretch their current skills.

When we all came to an agreement about what camps they would do, Twelve leaned toward me.

“That was a looong talk,” she said.

“Oh, sweetie, guess what?” I said. “They only get longer as you get older.”

She inhaled long and deep; maybe the threat of long talks will be enough to keep her from doing stuff that would require them in the future.


Every year for Valentine’s Day, I get the girls a little gift. I started doing this several years ago in an active bid to make the day special for them. I also thought it would be nice for us to share the day; in a few years, they’ll be out of the house but I want them to have a non-birthday/non-Christmas holiday to anticipate with delight.

This year, since both girls needed new bathrobes, I bought them each one. I was quite proud of the fact that I found both of them on clearance and that Twelve’s came in a plushy lavender color (and purple is her favorite color, so double win there.) Ten’s was red, a leftover from the Christmas season, so it has white stars on it.

It also has a hood with bear ears.

Ever since receiving the bathrobe, she’s “transformed” into a bear. Or some human-animal hybrid version. So our bear doesn’t hibernate, but she does speak in some weird gibberish that’s supposed to be bear language.

It doesn’t help that Twelve has gotten into the act wholeheartedly. She’s begun addressing Ten exclusively as Bear. Many of the silly little impromptu games they create involve Bear doing something. Twelve will even climb up the stairs halfway and pat her legs, the same way you’d do for a pet.

“Come on, Bear!” she calls to Ten. “Come on!”

Ten then proceeds to climb up the stairs bear-style: on all fours.

Sometimes, though, Twelve’s tween self comes through; this happened last week when she accused me of being responsible for “creating” the bear.

“It’s all your fault,” she said. “You bought her the bear suit.”

“No, I bought her a bathrobe,” I said. “You encouraged her by all the stuff you do. You’ve practically turned into her bear trainer!”

Twelve shook her head. “Nope. You bought the bear suit. It’s your fault.”

But, really, can it be my fault after all?


Twelve’s theater group has been working hard on a Beatles medley that will soon go “on tour” around our town. In addition to the medley, though, they’re also going to play some theater games for the entertainment of the audience. Because of the need to think on their feet, the theater director suggested the kids come and take part in a family-friendly improv night in their little theater. They go on right before a small improv group that graciously gave up their earlier start time so the kids could get some more improv practice in. At the end of their improv sessions, the adult improv actors get on stage and do a few fun games with the kids.

By the time their semester ends, the kids will have had four opportunities to work with the adult improv actors. Because of her dance commitments, Twelve couldn’t attend the first two improv nights. Last week, however, she finally got her chance.

We were thoroughly entertained by Twelve and the other child actors. Improv is a tough skill to master; it requires coming up with a response and then enacting it convincingly in performance mode, all within a matter of seconds. While all the kids we watched that night have done excellent jobs in the various plays and other rehearsed performances, it became obvious as their hour-long show progressed that some of the kids were much better at improv than others.

When we came home that night, I leaned in toward Twelve in conspiratorial fashion.

“Can I tell you a secret?” I said.

“What?” she asked as she pulled off her boots in the mudroom.

“I thought you were the best one on stage.”

She grinned at me. “You have to say that.”

“Well, maybe, but I also really believe it.”

She shook her head good-naturedly at my bias, but, hey, what can I say? I am biased. I’ve got a budding improv star right under my own roof.

Latest Chart: To worry or…that’s it

March 8, 2019

By Ekta R. Garg

Last week just before Twelve and Ten got out of the car in the morning for school, I reminded them to be careful on the sidewalk. We’d had overnight subzero temperatures for several days followed by a little bit of melting during the daylight hours. That meant slick walkways.

“Be careful!” I called again as Twelve opened the door.

“Don’t worry, Mamma,” Ten said, scooting from her spot behind me to the door on her sister’s side.

“I’m your mom, it’s my job to worry,” I replied.

“I know,” she said, “but don’t worry so much.”

I smiled and waved, but I couldn’t help shaking my head on the way home. Not worry so much? That’s like asking a person not to breathe. I’m a parent, after all. Worrying comes as naturally as coordinating playdates.

Don’t worry. (Imagine me scoffing.) Sure. Easy enough for her to say.

From the moment we give birth to our children, mothers worry. No one warns us ahead of time, by the way, that we’ll feel this way. We hear all the adages about how quickly children grow up, we get advice on diaper rash creams or what pediatrician knows how to be warm and fuzzy. But no one tells us, “When you have that child, you’re signing up for a lifetime of worry.”

Of course I worry. Those of you readers who are also parents know what I’m talking about. We can turn worrying into an art form if we want.

When they were little, I worried about (seemingly) little things. When I dropped Twelve off at preschool for the first time, I worried about whether she’d spend the day crying. I also worried about what it meant if she didn’t miss me at all.

When, at the age of 3 months old, Ten got a terrible cold, I worried about her being able to breathe. I worried about the breathing thing even when she was well; admittedly, one of the main reasons I insisted her crib stay in our room for so long was because I’d heard somewhere that doing so could possibly prevent SIDS.

As they’ve gotten older, I’ve started worrying about other things. Early this morning, Twelve left with all the other middle schoolers to go to Chicago for a day-long field trip. While I didn’t, by any means, spend the day wringing my hands, a tiny part of me in the back of my brain worried about the safety of the bus, of the safety of the kids as they attended a play and then later went for lunch in groups.

After school today, Ten had her weekly cello lesson. My husband suggested I drop her off and he’d pick her up and bring her home. As I watched Ten get out of the car and walk into her teacher’s music studio, I worried about what might happen if a terrible person tried to snatch her. This, despite the fact that if I drop the kids off anywhere and will be leaving them (and not sitting and waiting for them to finish,) I always watch them walk inside and wait for the door to shut behind them before I drive away.

I’m a writer; I guess you could say I have an overactive imagination.

I worry about their futures. When Ten complains about taking cello lessons, I worry that she’ll grow up nurturing a bit of resentment against us for forcing her to stick with it. Then I worry that if we cave and let her quit, she’ll learn to manipulate a situation in her favor. I worry she won’t learn how to follow through, that she’ll bounce from one hobby to another, from one job to another, that she’ll never commit to anything.

Did I mention my brain kicks into overload sometimes?

I know some of these worries are silly. Some people say worrying is a way for a Type A personality to complain that s/he can’t control a situation. I think it’s about concern that the girls grow up happy, healthy, well-adjusted, confident young women.

Oh, yeah. They’re girls who will grow up to be women. Another thing to worry about. Being a woman. Do I really need to list all the worries I associate with that?

Like most parents, I’ve learned to wrestle my worry into manageable blocks of time. So on that morning, when Ten told me not to worry about her or her sister slipping and falling a head or breaking a bone on the ice, I took a moment on the way home to acknowledge my concern and then put it aside. The girls aren’t toddlers; they don’t rush headlong into a building without regard for the ground beneath them.

It helped that I drop them off about 15 feet from the front door of the school. And that the school is only a mile away from our house. And that I work from home, so if anything happens to either of the kids I can drop everything and run to them.

Worry? Who, me? Eh, not so much. Or too much. Or…something.

Latest Spurts: Making crumbs a fashion statement and being old (or not; we don’t know)

February 15, 2019

By Ekta R. Garg

Enjoy these Spurts from the last few weeks, readers!

Last week as we drove to the kids’ art lesson, Ten started describing a book she’s reading at school in which a character experiences a strange phenomenon: the person hears something and sees colors.

“What is that called?” she says. “It starts with an ‘a’.”

“Synesthesia?” Twelve said after thinking about it a moment.

“Yeah, that’s it,” Ten said. She laughed. “I almost said anesthesia.”

“Um, no, that’s not it,” Twelve said. “That ends with an ‘a’.”

The girls and I shared a giggle.

“Oh, wait,” I said in the middle of our laughter, “we’ve solved the mystery! Now we know what Sleeping Beauty was suffering from!”

“Breaking news!” Ten said. “Sleeping Beauty suffered from long-term anesthesia!”


We arrived at art a little early, so we sat in the car outside the art teacher’s studio chatting. Doing this also gives the kids a chance to finish their after-school snacks. Sometimes we read aloud. Occasionally the silliness continues.

When Twelve finished her snack, I glanced at the clock and turned back toward the kids.

“All right, time to head out,” I said. Then I saw Twelve’s face.

“You’ve got crumbs in the corner of your mouth,” I told her.

She paused for a moment to lick the crumbs off. Then she looked at me, tilted her head in mock condescension, and did her best Valley Girl voice.

“Um, it’s a look,” she said. She even added a prissy scoff. A minute later my tween grinned at me, and I had to laugh back.

Yeah, crumbs on the face; sure, that’s a look.


This week the middle school is holding its spring dance (I know, it’s a little early to be labeling an event “spring,” but maybe it’s in a bid to be optimistic.) In Twelve and Ten’s school, the eighth graders plan the event—they pick the theme and put together the playlist for the evening. They also decide on the snacks and facilitate the entire dance from start to finish.

At the beginning of last week, the theme of the dance hadn’t been revealed yet so Twelve and Ten came up with their own ideas. They bandied about a few themes. Then Ten piped up with her favorite.

“They should make the theme anti-gravity!” Ten said.

A long pause filled the car.

“How would you even do an anti-gravity theme?” I asked.

“Cannons,” Twelve replied, quick on the uptake.


“You shoot people out of cannons and hope for the best,” she said. “Each of them gets one suction cup, so they just make the most of it when we shoot them against the wall.”

“That’s…technically, that’s not anti-gravity.”

“It’s as close as we can get on Earth,” the girls reassured me.

I’m still trying to figure that one out.


Our current read-aloud book is the fifth volume in the Land of Stories series by Chris Colfer. Yesterday as we drove home, Twelve read a scene in which twins Alex and Connor argue. The sister and brother find themselves tied up back to back on a pirate ship, and Alex blames Connor for their predicament. At the end of their bickering, according to the narrative, each twin tries to pretend that the other isn’t there by giving one another the silent treatment.

“What, really?” Twelve asked, interrupting herself. “They’re, like, 15.”

She started reading again, but this time I interrupted her.

“When you’re 15, and you’re not speaking to your sister over something silly, I’ll remind you of this moment,” she said.

“Well, by that time I would have released her back into the wild anyway,” Twelve quipped.

I guess that’s one way of solving a problem.


The school administrators and kindergarten through fifth grade students are getting ready for their big musical production a couple of months from now. Ten isn’t overly thrilled with the idea of a show in general. While she enjoys being part of a group, she doesn’t necessarily enjoy performing.

Also, the fact that there’s a new music teacher this year and that Ten misses her old music teacher has a lot to do with this.

Last night as we talked at dinner, she described the progress of the show.

“We’re doing these songs from a show by, um, Gilbert and…”

She paused for a moment to think of the other name, which I already knew.

“Sullivan,” I said. “Of course.”

“Gilbert and Sullivan?” she repeated. “That’s right. No one’s ever heard of them.”

“I’ve heard of them,” I said.

“You have? How?”

“Because they’re Gilbert and Sullivan,” I said, a little mystified as to how to explain myself further.

“Well, no one else besides you has heard of them,” she said.

“No, I’m sure the other parents have heard of them,” I replied with a smile.

“Oh, so we’re doing oldies music,” Ten said with a hint of resignation.

“It’s not oldies music!” I said, mildly indignant. “We just celebrated my birthday. I’m forty, not a hundred and forty.”

She shrugged and went back to her dinner plate, nonplussed about her indirect comment on my age.

This morning, of course, I had to check, so I Googled Gilbert and Sullivan and the time when their collaboration was at its peak. Wouldn’t you know it, had I been 140, I would have fallen smack in the middle of the years of their partnership. I wonder what that says about the fact that I’ve heard them. :>



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.