Newest Chart: The double standard

January 19, 2018

By Ekta R. Garg

Last weekend Eleven got to experience a first: her first sleepover. By some crazy coincidence, Nine will also experience the same first this coming weekend. Both girls practically ripple with excitement when they talk about these parties of their respective friends.

When we first had the kids my husband and I never imagined that the fact of letting our children spend the night in someone else’s home would become a point of discussion. It got me thinking about the larger picture here: things we were allowed to do that we emphatically don’t let our children pursue.

The sleepover question first came up when Nine got invited to one a couple of years ago. My husband issued a “no” right away, and I agreed with him. Our reasons for agreeing differed. I thought Nine was too young at the time. Her father said he liked the girls to be home at night. Sleepovers are mostly a Western concept. The idea of a celebration that constitutes solely of sending one’s children to a friend’s home for the night has slowly migrated to other places, but my husband didn’t grow up with it in India and didn’t feel comfortable with it.

As I said, I agreed with him at the time for a different reason. At that time I didn’t tell the kids that I’d had my own first sleepover around 8 or 9. They were still young enough that I could fool them with the information I withheld.

Of course, that didn’t last too long.

We finally broke down and let Eleven go on our first sleepover this past weekend because one of her best friends was hosting a spend-the-night party to celebrate turning 12. We know the family fairly well and knew Eleven would be in good hands. Another bonus: the birthday girl doesn’t have her own cell phone. That may seem like a silly qualifier, but in this day and age of the terrors of the internet parents have to face all sorts of situations that we know for sure our parents didn’t face. (After all, this isn’t the “I-walked-uphill-in-the-snow-both-ways-to-school” kind of argument we’re having here.)

Parenting tries the steeliest of decisions you’ll make. It’s so easy to decide on something before you have kids, to form an opinion or even be judgmental, but so much harder to know what’s right and wrong when you’re in the situation. I’ll admit, I had a little crisis of conscience when the kids asked me whether I was allowed to participate in sleepovers as a kid (whether as hostess or attendant) and I had to say yes.

I suppose I could have lied, but Eleven and Nine know how to FaceTime my parents.

Nine, too, is going to celebrate a birthday this weekend, and we know the family well enough to know she’ll have a great time. They also live in our neighborhood. If she gets scared in the middle of the night, going to pick her up won’t be a lengthy process (definitely a factor to consider considering the frigid temperatures and all the snow we’ve had recently.)

Some days I feel a little bad about the fact that there are things I did as a kid that I won’t even consider letting my own children do. I would spend hours at their ages biking around the neighborhood and would often cross the street to our neighbors’ home to play with their daughters. There were the sleepovers, of course, and I had my fair share of Happy Meals.

Now, though, I wouldn’t dream of letting Eleven and Nine walk through the neighborhood to their friends’ houses without a chaperone. If they mount their bikes, my husband rides close behind them. And the only time my kids have ever been to McDonalds is to get bottles of milk as part of an afternoon snack that I would have stashed in my bag beforehand.

Does all this sound ridiculous? I wonder that too. Once I took Nine to the skating rink for a birthday party, and several of us moms stood around chatting as the kids skated. Some of the less steady kids wore helmets, and the skating rink provided walkers on wheels for the skaters who felt like they really needed some extra help.

A natural break came in our conversation, and we turned towards the kids. One of the moms looked at the kids in helmets and walkers and half turned back toward us.

“I wonder if using those things actually makes the kids more scared,” she commented.

I looked at the kids again and realized just how insightful her observation was. We work so hard to protect our kids from everything that sometimes it’s possible we overdo it. Do all these measures we put into place give our children the subconscious idea that they should just go ahead and be scared of what they’re approaching even before they get there?

Would it be so awful if I let Eleven and Nine walk to the neighbors’ house? What about letting them just play in the backyard? It’s fenced in, after all.

Of course, that fence is open-ended on one side. It’s metal and designed to keep the hordes of Canadian geese out of our backyard. Anyone can glance over and see who’s there and who’s not. This fence is nothing like the tall wooden privacy fence we had around our backyard in Texas when Eleven was then two years old and Nine was (in the beginning) a newborn and eventually started toddling around back there. That fence went all the way around the yard and only had one exit that we could lock with a padlock when we left town. Our current fence is nothing like that, and my kids are older now. More appealing prey, I would imagine, for someone with perverse tendencies.

And just like that, I’m back to making sure the kids are chaperoned everywhere.

One of my favorite memories from childhood is riding my bike around the neighborhood after it rained. I would aim for the puddles with the challenge being to lift my feet from the pedals just as the wheels swished through the standing water. Sometimes I did this with those friends who lived across the street, but I also went by myself.

Like so many kids growing up in the 1980s, I did my fair share of door-to-door visits trying to sell candy bars as part of my school’s fundraiser. Again, I would go alone. The only edict Mom and Dad gave me was to make sure I came back before dark.

And then there were the sleepovers.

Now…now I can’t seem to make myself let go. Eleven and Nine will fight me on it, and on many issues I will let them win. But on others…it’s a crisis of conscience, as I said. Which is why we note going to a sleepover as a major milestone.

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Latest Spurts: A glimpse into our India trip

January 12, 2018

By Ekta R. Garg

(Enjoy these special India-themed Spurts from our recent vacation there!)

Life in India epitomizes paradox. Where people stay up to date on the latest trends in the West and navigate their smart phones with aplomb, certain elements of the “old” India still remain. Those elements, in fact, not only function as part of daily life there. They help drive it forward.

Take the vegetable sellers who walk the streets of the neighborhoods. These men (for they’re almost always men) call out their wares as loud as they can while they push their flat wooden carts up and down the dusty thoroughfares between rows of houses. Housewives send out their servants to stop a vegetable seller for choices that will eventually end up in that day’s meals. It’s much easier to stop the cart right outside your home, say, than it is to walk or drive to the nearest outdoor market.

The vegetable sellers start early in the morning, and in all the years I visited India as a child the calls to action of these small-business owners would rouse me from my sleep. By the second or third day of my trip, though, the squeaks of the carts and the complacent declarations of the vegetable sellers turned into white noise. There are so many people in India that a person learns to tune out the non-essentials pretty quickly.

Eleven and Nine, however, had never experienced anything like this. Their definition of shopping for vegetables means something vastly different. Maybe that, and the sounds of the sheer population, arrested Nine’s attention.

The first couple of mornings she found the vegetable seller’s calls a novelty. By the third morning, she had begun to complain. The noise, putting it mildly, bothered her.

Again?” she would say as she heard the man call out what he had to offer that day. “Seriously?”

Of course, by then, her curiosity had gotten piqued too. She couldn’t help asking questions, something we encouraged both kids to do during their entire trip. When we explained who was calling out and why, Nine formulated her own business plan.

“I’m going to sell karele,” she said, referring to the Indian bitter gourd used as a main component of a typical North Indian meal. “I’ll sell them at 10 K-G for 8 rupees.”

We all chuckled at her declaration. She’d caught on, of course, to the metric system used there for everything. What made us smile, though, was the price she wanted to charge. The going rate these days in India, according to our family members, is around 100 rupees for about half a kilogram of vegetables. If Nine proceeded with her idea, we told her, she’d put the vegetable seller in that block and probably for about six blocks around out of business.

“Then maybe he won’t be so loud anymore,” she said with satisfaction.

*****

While Eleven isn’t really a big sports fan, Nine enjoys watching a good game of basketball. And even Eleven will make exceptions. Both kids get into seasonal sports tournaments, like the Olympics or the World Cup. It’s easy, here in the U.S. with our surplus of resources and coaches, to find a sport to root for.

Maybe that’s why India’s singular passion for cricket stands out. Other sports get a cursory nod of acknowledgement, but from the smallest open-air dhabas (roadside stalls) to the most elegant of restaurants, cricket dominates the conversation any time a person mentions a national pastime. Indian field hockey experienced a revival with Shah Rukh Khan’s 2007 film Chak De India!, but the country still eats, breathes, and sleeps cricket.

One night during we went to my aunt and uncle’s house for dinner. My relatives have known me since I was a baby, and I’ve visited their home many times through the years so I felt at ease. The girls didn’t know quite how to behave, but when their 11-year-old second cousin (my cousin’s daughter) settled with a snack in front of the TV to watch India play Sri Lanka in a match Eleven and Nine sat with her.

Soon enough they grasped the basics of the game, which at its core is a little like baseball: use a bat to hit a ball and score runs. The strategy, the concept of overs versus innings, and having two batters instead of just one took a little longer to understand. One thing, though, became clear pretty quickly: we were cheering for India, and we wanted the Indian team to beat Sri Lanka.

After about 30 minutes of watching the match, we were all cheering the players like pros. Eleven kept calculating the score out loud—“If they just score three sixers during this over, we’ll be ahead”—and it didn’t hurt that Sri Lanka’s team was markedly weaker than India’s. When a team displays its prowess on a field with such ease, rooting for the players becomes simpler.

My aunt came in half a dozen times with almost as many complaints about how we were focusing more on the match and not letting the kids concentrate on their food, but I could see satisfaction beneath her façade. Sports, like music or art, transcend language and cultural barriers. Before we arrived in India, all of my family members kept asking what the kids would like to do, see, and eat while we were there. My aunt saw that even something as simple as a bat and ball allowed for Eleven and Nine to slip into the family as much as a more extravagant excursion might.

*****

When I was a kid, going to India presented a host of challenges. One of the biggest came in the form of taking a shower. We don’t think much about it here in the States. Turn on a tap; watch the water stream from a showerhead into a bathtub. Step under said water stream; lather; rinse; repeat.

For years, however, the majority of Indians showered in a completely different way. Due to the need for caution with the amount of water available (and also, I suspect, to conserve resources, which is actually a pretty common-sense way to go about it,) people in India would use the separate hot and cold taps in the bathing area of their bathrooms to fill a large bucket with water. Then they would either sit on a little plastic bench or even crouch on the floor as they used a smaller plastic container (about the size of a soup mug and often in a color to match the large bucket) to scoop the water over their bodies. Lather; rinse; repeat, all really fast, because even with warm water you start to feel cold soon after the water hits the bathroom floor.

My sister and I would find ourselves charmed by this way of bathing for the first day during our trips back to India. By the second day we’d share with one another just how much we missed our standing showers back home. It bound us to one another, which, I guess, in a roundabout sort of way accomplished the “family bonding” of our India trips (although I suppose our parents meant bonding with other family members when they talked about that part.)

In recent years, however, a revolution of sorts has happened. More and more people have begun to renovate their bathrooms specifically to include standing showers. Part of that could have to do with the steep increase in the economy in India and the influx of cash. People there have begun to travel more. Traveling more means increased exposure to other parts of the world, which probably means coming home with a mindset to make their own houses over.

Many homes in India now include standing showers, which delighted me this time to no end. After years of perfecting the art of a bucket shower—half a bucket if you don’t need to wash your hair; three-quarters of a full bucket if you do—I didn’t have to worry about how to get Eleven and Nine clean during our trip. Of course, some homes still have the old-fashioned way of showering. This included my maternal grandfather’s house.

The bathroom that my husband and the girls and I shared had a standing shower in it. The other bathrooms didn’t. One day we were trying to prod Eleven and Nine along to get ready, and we came to a conclusion: if we wanted to get out of the house during daylight, one of the girls would have to use the bathroom with the bucket shower system to bathe.

Eleven and Nine’s heads swung toward one another as they had a silent conversation about who would undergo the ordeal. After a minute or two, Nine sighed in melodramatic fashion.

Fine,” she said, “I’ll do it.”

My husband went with her to talk her through it and hand her all her clothes when she was done. After about 30 minutes, Nine, bathed and dressed, came back to the room with our luggage in it. She plopped her stuff on the bed.

“I am never doing that again,” she declared with finality.

I had to giggle. Eleven laughed a little too. Of course, her amusement only lasted until the next day when we found ourselves in the same predicament.

“Di-Di should take a shower with the bucket today,” Nine said, with a hint of glee. “I had to go there yesterday.”

The girls know we always play fair, and Nine was right. If she had to take a bucket shower the previous day, then Eleven was next. Eleven tried to plead her case, but it was a weak one. She grabbed her clothes and shower essentials and headed to the bathroom.

“So how was it?” Nine asked, goading her sister into collusion on her own opinion.

Ever the cool middle schooler, with a shrug Eleven said, “It wasn’t that big of a deal.”

Not that that meant she’d be happy to do it again. But in a way, this was one of the reasons for us to take the kids to India in the first place, so that they would see how people live on a daily basis. They do get a little bit of exposure from Bollywood films, but movies usually highlight the most glamourous parts of a place. Taking Eleven and Nine to our relatives’ homes gave them an opportunity to see how much was different from the movies and how much was similar to their own lives.

*****

For the most part, I think the kids had a pretty positive experience visiting India. As the child of immigrants, I know I’ve always had a little bit of a complicated relationship with the country of my cultural heritage. I suspect as Eleven and Nine get older, they’ll experience the same thing.

Like all relationships worth having, though, there will always be complications. There will always be ups and downs. There will always be positives and negative. In the end, this relationship the girls and I share with India definitely enhances and enriches our lives in a way no other relationship can. For that, more than any other thing, the trip was worth it.

Latest Chart: A (pending) lifetime adventure

December 8, 2017

By Ekta R. Garg

Growing up, I lived a duality. My parents migrated to the U.S. from India in the 1970s in order to make a better life for themselves. Their choice determined the course of the lives of my sister and me.

We relished PBJs as much as rajma-chawal (kidney beans in a tomato-based gravy and Basmati rice.) We listened to Michael Jackson and Whitney Houston as well as Kishore Kumar and Asha Bhosle (famous singers for Hindi films.) We slipped into our jeans for a casual weekend at home or got all dressed up to go to a formal function in a lehenga (a formal outfit consisting of a blouse and a long skirt, coupled with a long scarf, all in bright colors and with embellishments and embroidery.)

Us girls also grew up going to India every three or so years to visit family. My grandparents and aunts and uncles seemed like doting elders who would chuckle at our rudimentary attempts at speaking Hindi and marvel that we loved Bollywood films as much as any kid in India. For my parents, however, those people were their parents and their siblings; the people who held their childhood memories and experiences dear.

My sister and I grew to love our extended family as much as our parents did. After all, there were so many cousins who were about our age, and regardless of culture or language a cup of ice cream still tasted just as good no matter what country we ate it in. We built the foundation for a lifetime commitment to these people that drove almost as deep as what our parents experienced.

Almost 15 years ago, I married someone who was born and raised in India. An immigrant. The immigrant experience is nothing new to me, so when I took those vows I assumed that part of my life would be the same as it was when I was growing up.

Some things haven’t changed. I still love rajma-chawal and have since learned to make a mean chicken piccata as well. My husband and I bond over Adele’s dulcet tones even as we use Pandora to listen to the latest Bollywood songs. I still love my jeans for a casual day out, but I’ve long since graduated to wearing a sari for a really formal occasion.

So, a duality, with its caveats. My children have grown up with this duality as well but in weaker concentrations. Due to my husband’s intense training and minimal vacation time through all the years he studied to become an electrophysiologist, we haven’t been back to India. In almost 15 years.

The pull for us to go had also weakened, however, because both of us can easily visit our parents and siblings here in this country. We don’t board flights and lose almost two days before arriving at our destination. We get onto a plane after breakfast and arrive well before dinner. While my extended family has asked repeatedly through the years when we were coming to visit, the circumstances haven’t always lent themselves to allowing for a trip back.

Sometimes, then, you have to bend circumstances to what you need them to be. After months of discussing and hypothesizing about a variety of scenarios, we booked flights to India. The kids have never been, and they don’t know quite what to think.

When asked by her father what she felt about going to India, Eleven answered, “Underwhelmed.”

When I chatted with Nine about our trip, she said, “I know this is going to sound weird, but I just don’t like it when people pinch my cheeks.”

Our kids are smart and conscientious about the environment; their brows furrow when we talk about the dramatic pollution in New Delhi, which will act as our home base for the time we’ll be there.

We’ve also shared some giggles about the trip. Just after the school year started, one morning as we drove to school I explained that we would meet a lot of people and get offered more food than one could possibly consume.

“So, basically, our trip to India is going to be an all-you-can-eat-and-meet buffet,” Eleven quipped, and she and her sister and I broke into laughter.

This past weekend, I described various members of my mom’s family and their natures; the common factor between everyone on my mom’s side is that they all love to chat and can do so for extended periods of time on a variety of subjects.

“Tell us more about the talk-a-lot gang,” Eleven said, fighting a smile.

I’ve repeatedly told the kids that the only stupid question is the one not asked; nothing they wonder or worry about is off limits to discuss. I’ve also tried to share my own ways of handling a trip to India.

“When in doubt, just smile and nod,” I said. “Just be polite.”

“Just smile and wave, boys,” Nine quoted the penguins from Madagascar. “Smile and wave.”

“But, wait,” Eleven went on, and I opened my mouth already to combat what she would ask next; I didn’t beat her to it.

“What if they ask you a question like, ‘Are you from Minnesota?’” She answered her own query with a slightly maniacal smile and nod.

“But I thought you were from Illinois,” Nine said, jumping on the imaginary conversation.

Both girls nodded and smiled.

“But you’re from Minnesota too?” Eleven said.

Nods and smiles again.

“Are you from somewhere in between?” she went on.

Nodding and smiling.

“Okay, so you’re from Nodsville.”

I relented with an eyeroll. “Okay, so maybe just smile politely.”

We’ve also had sobering chats about the amount of poverty we’ll probably see, the dust that seems to pervade every home no matter just how hard people there fight to keep it clean, and the challenges of the sheer population and traffic and navigating it all. I’m really not sure just what the kids will think and feel when we go to India, although I know they’ll share their thoughts and ideas without reservation when they feel ready to do so.

I’m excited to see all my relatives, to reconnect to that other part of my life and to share those people with the girls. It’s another piece of the “puzzle” that kids always think their parents’ lives are. For me it’s a reminder of the good things of that duality that I’ve experienced my entire life.

And no matter what happens, I know one thing for sure: it’ll be some kind of adventure.

Latest Chart: Earning a place in the spotlight

December 1, 2017

By Ekta R. Garg

From the time she was young, Eleven has loved the stage. I still remember seeing her perform with her kindergarten class when we lived in Salt Lake City. She stood there, as proud as a peacock, chest puffed out, eyes bright, singing with a gusto that some of her classmates couldn’t match.

(All right, peanut gallery, enough razzing me with your snide “I-have-no-idea-where-she-got-that-from” comments!)

For the past few years, she’s acted with a local children’s theater group. The director chooses shows with small casts, generally about 20 to 25 kids, and the kids rehearse on and perform a tiny stage in the heart of our tiny downtown. Eleven has played Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz, a vampire in We Are Monsters, and a fun reiteration of herself in Where’s My Spotlight?.

This past spring the director and main drama teacher wanted Eleven to join the newest show, but the final performance clashed with the girls’ dance recital. So we had to forego both the spring show and the summer camps (because of other camps and our trip to Greece.) When the school year started, the director of the children’s troupe sent out a general call for the kids who have acted under her tutelage. Unfortunately the newest show will be on December 17, and we aren’t in town.

Eleven did her best to mask her disappointment—she would miss the chance to perform again as well as the chance to work with this upbeat, encouraging director—but she handled it with a fair amount of grace. My brain, of course, kicked into overdrive. If not with the children’s theater group, then how else could we give Eleven the chance to do some acting this fall?

The answer came from our park district, which produces some great children’s plays for two age groups. The first is for 3rd to 5th graders, and the second group is comprised of 4th to 8th graders. The plays go up in our local artsy theater, much bigger and more serious than where the children’s theater group performs. Eleven and Nine have been on that stage the last two years because of their dance recitals (also through the park district,) so we weren’t worried about the scope of the stage.

The park district announced that the fall play for the older set would be James and the Giant Peach Jr. The catalog laid out the specifics: kids registered and then auditioned for parts. The director promised that everyone who registered would get a part, but she made it clear that she would play fair with casting. A big role in a previous show, with the park district or anyone else, didn’t guarantee a large role in this one.

I’ll admit, we went into this a little naively. Everyone in our family assumed that Eleven, with her visible, tangible love for the stage and her acting experience (we had to fill out a questionnaire that asked about it,) would get something to do in the show that had some meat. We didn’t expect her to have a major speaking part, but a part that helped her natural talents shine would surely be reasonable to expect.

Forget about the meat; Eleven barely got a spoonful of gravy.

I don’t say that with any malice or ill will, however. As it turned out, Eleven got several roles in the show. Many of the scenes called for crowds—a lady of the garden guild in one scene; a seagull in another—and Eleven, like so many other children, received the assignment to fill those scenes in the background.

“Hey, Mamma,” she asked one afternoon as she sat in the kitchen drinking a glass of milk, “do you want to hear my lines for the show?”

I almost asked what she meant; I didn’t think she had any speaking roles at all. When I heard the dramatic pause, though, I understood. My child was being facetious.

Her overt disappointment didn’t last too long, however. It couldn’t. The show had a demanding rehearsal schedule, and after the first few weeks Eleven didn’t have enough energy to waste on silly sentiments.

The cast rehearsed three days a week. On Tuesdays and Thursdays they went from 6 p.m. to 8:30; on Saturdays they practiced from 12:30 to 3 p.m. We knew all this going into the registration process and had a few discussions about whether this trying schedule would make sense to impose on Eleven. She agreed to it without hesitation before auditions. Any opportunity to get on stage, in her mind, was worth the late (for her) dinners and nights.

On the upside, the kids rehearsed for just five weeks before opening night. The park district offers plays four times for the attending public: on a Thursday night, a Friday night, a Saturday matinee, and a final show on Saturday night. This time the shows happened one week before Thanksgiving. We didn’t attend opening night, but we did go to the Friday night show.

The level of the kids’ preparation and talent surprised me. The set pieces I’d helped to paint (owing to the requirement for all parents to put in 10 hours of volunteer time) brightened up the monochromatic stage, and the kids, all of them, sang and danced their hearts out. Our family spent most of the play tracking the scenes in the playbill when we knew Eleven would appear and then poked and prodded and whispered to one another when she did. We waved at her the few times we thought she looked in her direction, and I even blew her a few quiet kisses.

Her eyes still shone with excitement as she danced and sang with the others, although the light had gotten a little dimmer. The rehearsal schedule had demanded a little more from her than she realized she had to give. This child of mine never admits she’s ready for bed, but during the month of October and as we got into November I heard her say more than once, “I’m tired.”

After the matinee on Saturday, Eleven had a few hours to come home and relax. My husband, seeing her fatigue, said, “You know, you don’t have to go do the final show tonight.”

My college-age nephew had flown in to spend Thanksgiving week with us, and he looked at my husband in mock horror.

“But the show can’t go on without her,” he said, his loyalty to his young cousin unwavering.

“Uh, yeah, actually, it can,” Eleven said with a wry smile. “They probably wouldn’t notice I wasn’t there.”

We all had to laugh at that one, as much for the veracity of her statement as for the good-natured way she’d said it. She hadn’t gotten a main part or a supporting role or even a speaking part at all, but Eleven had found a way to leave her disappointment somewhere backstage for the greater good. Given everything else, at least she’d gotten to revel in the spotlight once again.

A few days after the show ended and once Thanksgiving break began, I asked Eleven about her experience.

“It was really good,” she replied right away.

“Do you think you’d want to do another show with the park district?” I asked.

“Yeah,” she said, “but maybe in the summer.”

My heart smiled. I’m still not sure how I feel about the difficult rehearsal schedule the park district puts in place, but we got through it. We shared a new experience, one that Eleven might talk about years from now wherever she might end up and especially if theater is still a part of her life in her teens or later. In hindsight, it offered Eleven an opportunity to see what “life balance” means in a tangible sense. That’s definitely a skill she can use even if she never goes to another audition again.

Latest Spurts: It’s all in the lingo

November 10, 2017

By Ekta R. Garg

Enjoy these fun lingo-based Spurts from the last two weeks, readers!

In the last few weeks, Nine has had a little trouble staying up to speed during her morning routine. I’ve cajoled, complained, lectured, and begged. Finally I broke down and asked her how I could help. At the end of it all, I figure the girls have a few insights into how to fix some of their challenges.

Nine asked for a timer.

“But you can’t hear it in the shower, can you?” I asked. I wasn’t about to risk putting any devices in the bathroom with this child; her showers make hot yoga rooms feel like igloos.

“No, but just knowing it’s there will help me,” she said.

I agreed, and we started using a timer in the mornings. One day last week, I took my husband’s tablet to her room and set the clock to count down the shower. I watched Nine move around her room, picking out her clothes, putting her deodorant and socks and other items on the bed, getting ready to get ready for the day.

“Do you want the timer for when you take out your stuff?” I asked.

“No, just for the shower,” she said. “That’s when I lollygag. I don’t do any lollygagging when I’m taking out my clothes.”

Didn’t know that Nine knew she was lollygagging at all.

***

My writing studio was built over the garage, so I don’t have conventional windows. Instead I have these lovely skylights, and one of them gives me a view of the roofline. When the weather is nice, sometimes I’ll see birds perched on the topmost point of our home. Last week the girls and I pulled into the driveway in the afternoon and saw a heron on top of the house.

“Ooh, look!” Nine, our resident animal lover, exclaimed.

“You can probably get a really good look at him from the studio,” I told the kids.

They raced inside and washed their hands as fast as they could. Eleven made it into my studio first, and she murmured how beautiful the bird as if she didn’t want to scare him away by speaking in a loud voice. My husband, home early from work, came down the hall from our bedroom and joined us.

“Daddy, look, there’s a heron on top of the house!” Eleven said.

“A hair? What?” he asked, teasing her.

“Yes, Daddy, a hare,” Eleven said, quick on the turnabout. “There’s a bunny rabbit sitting up there. Come look.”

Her father didn’t have a good comeback for that one. Score one for the tween.

***

It’s funny how sometimes we just take it for granted that our kids’ preferences will stay the same. Occasionally this spills into their abilities as well. We forget, literally, that they can do more than they were able to do, say, a year ago. Or four years ago.

One day after school we got into a lively conversation about juice boxes for lunch.

“A. had Capri Sun at lunch today,” Eleven declared. “How come we never get Capri Sun?”

“You know, when I was a kid, that’s all I used to drink,” I said, “but you two told me it was hard to get the straw in the pouch.”

“Yeah, when I was seven,” Eleven said, grinning.

Right. When she was 7. Which she’s not anymore. Duh.

“I think it’s still hard,” Nine, my staunch supporter and diplomat, responded.

I guess I just forgot to ask Eleven whether she wanted to give Capri Sun juice pouches another try.

Special Spurts: Reflecting on an Experience

October 13, 2017

By Ekta R. Garg

There is a time and place for dressing up sentences and paragraphs with prettiness, but sometimes it’s better to come straight to the point. In the interest of keeping drama to a minimum, today is one of those times to drive straight to the heart of the matter.

Two weeks ago, our family got into a car accident.

Physically, everyone is fine. No one suffered any major injuries. Both girls complained about elbow pain the night it happened, and Eleven had pain in her neck—I’m guessing from a mild case of whiplash—that has finally gotten better. Because I was driving and the car that collided with us hit our front driver-side wheel, the steering wheel and side curtain airbags deployed and hit me in the face and on the side of my head. I still feel some pain from that when I wash my face. But we’re still okay. Physically.

In every other way, however, this has been an Experience.

Following is a few tidbits from the last two weeks as we’ve tried to process various aspects and moments of the accident.

***

The accident happened on a Thursday evening. The next night we collected in the family room, as we do every Friday night, for dinner and a movie. I’d spent the entire day talking to the insurance company as we slowly, painfully, worked through the particulars associated with this type of event, so I welcomed the opportunity to do something normal. I stood at the stove cooking dinner, listening to the TV, allowing the sounds of that normalcy to soothe me.

Nine got up from her spot on the sofa and hurried to me.

“I’m still scared,” she said, anxiety creasing her forehead.

“I know,” I said in a low tone. “Me too. And it’s okay to be scared.”

She looked at me but didn’t say anything. I think she just wanted confirmation that I wasn’t feeding her a parent line, that I meant what I said. Something in my face must have given her the reassurance she needed, because she scampered back to her place on the sofa.

***

The next day we all drove together in our other car, and the discussion turned to air bags.

Nine, of course, started with her own questions first. She wanted to know about how air bags worked and why there weren’t air bags for the middle seat passenger. That started a discussion on seatbelts, especially for the middle seat.

As the girls get older, I find myself using the Socratic method with them more and more when we talk through situations both real and theoretical. Despite the fact that it meant we had to brainstorm a situation we’d just lived—an accident—I described to Nine what a car goes through when it gets hit from behind.

“When we’re sitting in the car, we’re moving forward even though it feels like we’re sitting still,” I said. “If we get hit from behind and you’re not wearing your seatbelt, you’re still moving forward. And what happens then?”

“I’d go flying forward and hit the dashboard,” she said, thinking it over.

“And there’s no airbag here to stop you,” I explained, “because of all the stuff here on the dash.”

She nodded, understanding the implications and the possibilities behind a lack of safety. Her fear had dimmed somewhat, and even though we had to talk around what had happened—the reality of the airbags actually deploying, our car being struck by another vehicle at a considerable speed—Nine appreciated the information. Information, as they say, is power. In this case, empowerment.

***

As I drive around town, I’ve become more sensitive to the traffic. Our town isn’t huge, by any means. “Rush hour” here constitutes of enough vehicles on the road increasing a 15-minute drive to 20 minutes. But somehow having those extra cars moving ahead and behind of me makes the road feel a little claustrophobic.

I’m not the only who noticed this, though.

“There are so many cars on the road,” Nine has murmured several times since we’ve gone from activities to home.

There are. But we still have to move around them and with them. So every day that we’re safe on the road means every day that the cars stop closing in around us.

***

Enough time has passed, however, that we’ve started to see a little bit of humor in some aspects of the accident.

One morning this week as we drove to school, I pulled out of the driveway and turned down a street in our neighborhood to approach the main street.

“Yay, we turned safely!” Nine exclaimed, the pleasure fully evident in her voice. “Sorry, Mamma, I’m just happy.”

“You don’t have to apologize,” I said. “I’m happy about turning safely too.”

“So are we going to cheer every time we turn safely?” Eleven said impishly. “Do you walk around school doing that?”

Nine giggled. “Yup. When I walk down the hall and I go around the corner, I say, ‘Yay for turning safely!’”

Both of them giggled; later that day when they got into the car after school, Eleven asked her sister about her navigation around the school.

“All day long, I kept cheering for turning safely,” Nine said, giggling again.

Since that morning, we’ve been able to laugh about turning safely. We’ve been able to talk about the accident without wincing so much. The kids’ TV viewing is fairly restricted, so they haven’t seen any movies or shows with accidents in them. I have, and it’s tough to get through for those few moments. I know that fear, that split-second impact of the return of the memory of the accident, will fade with time.

My husband said that even though he wished the accident had never happened, maybe the kids will remember it when they get old enough to drive themselves. Maybe the memory of that day will make them consider their choices carefully when they get behind the wheel. It’s possible they’ll drive within speed limits and wait to answer the phone or any texts until they’ve arrived at their destination. Hopefully they’ll check the road three times before crossing an intersection when they want to turn left.

More than anything, I hope the memory of this remains a single one.

Newest Spurts: Looking dope and being daft

September 22, 2017

By Ekta R. Garg

Enjoy these Spurts from the last two weeks, readers!

One day Eleven got into quite a punchy mood as we drove to the Y for the girls’ swimming lesson. She started singing silly songs in the car, and by the time we parked and started walking to the entrance of the YMCA she added a funny dance to go with the snog. Nine watched her big sister for a few minutes then turned to me.

“She’s really quite daft,” she said in all seriousness.

Yes. I have one child who’s daft and another who knows exactly how to use the word. All we’re missing is some dancing penguins and Julie Andrews talking about being “practically perfect in every way.”

All in a British accent, of course. Care for a spot of tea, mum?

***

Often the kids will encounter things at school but don’t always have the presence of mind to tell me about them. Sometimes extracurricular activities get in the way. Sometimes they forget due to other conversations we have. As a result, I’ve gotten quite used to the kids dropping random information into our time together.

Like last week at breakfast. Eleven began describing how two of her friends at school told her, without any judgment whatsoever, that she’s “unhealthily skinny.” Before I could say anything, Eleven made it completely clear that her friends weren’t making fun of her. They weren’t speaking in a condescending tone. They made the observation more in a matter-of-fact sort of way.

My older child is willowy. She’s about as tall as me now, has legs that go on for miles, and a fairly straight frame. We’ve talked often about her body image, and I’ve reinforced for her over and over again that as long as she’s eating right and getting enough exercise it doesn’t matter how her body looks.

I didn’t have to say any of that this time, though. Eleven rounded out the story with the observation that when one of the friends who made the “skinny” comment darted away to join a game at P.E., the other one turned to her and said, “But I think you’re beautiful too.”

“I just beamed at her,” Eleven said to me.

I could see the clarity in her eyes about the incident. She believed her friend’s compliment, and it didn’t really bother her much about what the girls said before. I hope this means we’re at the start of her accepting herself for how she looks.

It’ll certainly save us a lot of trouble in the years ahead.

***

Earlier this week I got in the car to pick up the kids from school and realized I’d left my sunglasses in the house. I grabbed an old pair of my husband’s sunglasses and put the car in gear. When I got to school, I saw that Nine had already come out to the car pickup line, but Eleven hadn’t yet.

“Di-Di’s coming,” Nine announced as she sat in the car. “She just had to get something out of her locker.”

I opened the windows, parked the car, and turned it off. Nine and I chatted about her day, and I asked the standard after-school questions about homework, whether she’d eaten her lunch, etc. Nine answered dutifully. Then after a minute or two, she said, “Mamma, can I be honest with you?”

“I always want you to be honest with me, no matter what,” I said, wondering where this was going to lead. The girls, as I’ve said, surprise me all the time.

“Those sunglasses don’t look nice on you,” she replied. “I know you might think you’re looking dope and everything, but you’re not.”

“And what does that mean, ‘looking dope’?” I asked, fighting a smile.

“You know, cool and stuff.”

I resisted the urge to look at myself in the mirror. The sunglasses are old, a pity pair my husband bought to act as temporary sunglasses while he found the perfect ones. They’re black—like, Tom Cruise in the ‘90s black—and tapered at the corners of the eyes to give a sleek biker look.

In other words, to look dope.

“You don’t think I look cool?” I said, pretending to be offended.

“Well, you do, but the sunglasses don’t,” Nine said.

Good. As long as we’ve established that I am, in fact, dope. Or all that. Or whatever.