Newest Chart: When parenting boomerangs

September 20, 2019

By Ekta R. Garg

Two weeks ago, on the day after Labor Day, I woke up with a sore throat. No problem, I thought. When the seasons change here in Central Illinois, we expect a day or two of scratchiness.

On Wednesday of that week the scratchiness had disappeared, and congestion had arrived. Again, I didn’t bat an eye. Okay, so I would come down with a cold. Not fun but certainly nothing to worry about.

Then came Thursday. The day I woke up feeling like a truck had run over me. Twice.

Because my husband had to go to the clinic later that morning, he volunteered to take the kids to school. I followed the three of them to the mudroom and watched them put on shoes and pick up backpacks. Then I opened my mouth to bid the girls goodbye.

“Have a good—”

“Go sit down,” Thirteen interrupted with full-on teen stubbornness.

“I will, I just—”

“We love you too; go sit,” she repeated.

“I know, but—”

“We love you, we’ll have a good day, see you after school, there,” Eleven piped up behind her sister. “Go, Mamma. Take it easy.”

I looked at my husband.

“What has the world come to?” I asked, feigning shock. “Do you see the way the kids are ordering me around?”

He pecked a kiss on my forehead and reiterated what the kids told me. In essence, all three of them were banishing me to the sofa for the day. Since they outvoted me, I had no choice but to listen and was grateful to do so.

I spent that day catching up on HGTV and a movie or two. When it came time for dinner, we ordered Chinese. My husband and Eleven picked it up on the way home from soccer practice, and I watched them walk in with the takeout containers from the couch.

In a move rare for me, I didn’t get up to serve anyone. Instead, I let Thirteen come to me. She pulled a little side table to me.

“What do you want to eat?” she asked me and filled a plate per my requests then brought it to me.

“When you get all better, I’m sanitizing everything,” she said, picking up the remote a little gingerly. She set it on the coffee table and went to the island counter to join her sister and father for their own dinner. After a few minutes, when she saw my plate empty, she refilled it for me.

On Friday, though I didn’t know it was possible, I felt even worse. I also woke up with a temperature, which the girls monitored with me during the day. That evening when I announced the fever had dropped, they both cheered.

Throughout the weekend and all of last week, the girls went out of their way to take care of me. Eleven asked repeatedly if she could help with household chores not normally her responsibility. Thirteen made sure I stayed comfortable on my sofa spot for the week. Both of them took turns teasing me in the most good-natured fashion, gentle but still funny.

Last Thursday I felt good enough to do some small tasks, which took me to sorting through the mail right around the time the girls would come home from school. As he had done many times, my husband stepped up (despite starting to feel a little icky himself three days earlier) and brought the kids home. I happened to be standing at the small counter close to the mudroom where we drop mail and other items when everyone walked in

“Oh my gosh!” Thirteen exclaimed, taking a dramatic two steps back. “Oh my gosh!”

“What?” I asked, pretending not to know why she was reacting that way.

“What is happening here?” Eleven asked, tacking on to her sister’s performance with her eyes wide. “What’s going on?”

“What?” I asked again.

Thirteen put a hand to her chest in Victorian fashion, and both girls proceeded to go upstairs to their rooms to wash up. I just shook my head at all the silliness and went back to the sofa. By the time they came back down, I felt depleted of the little bit of energy I’d spent during the day. I went back to the sofa.

“What was going on before?” I asked Thirteen.

“I have no idea what you’re talking about,” she said, our family’s code for taking the Fifth Amendment.

I suppressed a smile, a signal for me that I really was feeling better.

Since Monday we’ve all gone back to our normal routines. My husband recovered from his laryngitis. I’m almost back to a hundred percent after the cough/cold/flu I endured.

This morning, Thirteen came downstairs for breakfast before school.

“My throat feels a little scratchy,” she said.

I held up a finger to her. “No. I forbid it. You can’t.”

She rolled her eyes.

“It’s all you guys’s fault,” she said, glancing at me and her dad.

“What did we do?” my husband asked.

The ribbing continued, and Thirteen took a handful of cough drops to school just in case. I hope it’s just the run-of-the-mill, fall-season throat scratchiness and nothing more serious. From recent experience, I know how miserable the more serious version can make a person. But the girls have shown me that they know exactly what to expect if one of them does get sick, because they took such good care of me.

Sometimes when parents are in the thick of actual act of parenting, we don’t know if what we’re doing is making a difference. If what we’re trying to teach the kids is actually sticking. Weeks like this offer me reassurance that it is.

Latest Spurts: Getting haircuts and achieving world peace with Fruit Loops

August 30, 2019

By Ekta R. Garg

Enjoy these Spurts from the past few weeks, readers!

Last week before school started, I took the girls on an errand run. We had several things to do that day, including haircuts before school started and picking up some groceries. Along the way we chatted about the haircuts in particular.

For the last few years, Thirteen has enjoyed having long hair. She’s styled it a variety of ways, and relished its length halfway down her back. Earlier in the summer, though, she floated the idea of cutting it to her shoulders.

I didn’t say anything at the time. Kids have ideas and then change their minds. Also, between getting ready for our Norway trip and working on my novel, I didn’t want to spend time or energy on anything not crucial to either. I knew we’d have about five days before the kids started school to parse out the details on any potential hairstyle changes.

The girls went to Myrtle Beach to visit their grandparents, and when Thirteen came back she still wanted to get her hair cut. She’d already enlisted her grandmother as moral support for the idea. The only hurdle she had to cross was convincing her father.

In all honesty, I didn’t think he’d agree. Imagine my amazement when he did just that. As we drove to Great Clips last week, we discussed the conversation in the car.

“I still can’t believe Daddy agreed to let you cut your hair,” Eleven remarked.

“Yeah, well,” Thirteen said with a sigh, “he said I can only do it this one time. I can’t ever cut it again after this.”

“Why does it even matter to him?” Eleven said with her trademark bluntness. “I don’t get it. I mean, it’s not like it’s his hair.”

“Yeah,” Thirteen echoed.

“Well, in India, long hair is a sign of beauty,” I said. “Daddy grew up there, and culturally that’s what long hair stands for. It’s normal for him.”

“That’s weird,” Eleven declared.

“Maybe for you,” I said, “but there are so many cultures where people do things that we think are weird but they think are beautiful. In Africa people wear those rings around their necks to make their necks longer. In China people used to think small feet on women were beautiful, and they would break the feet of young girls and bind them so that their feet looked little.”

“Yeah, Mamma, I get it.”

“So, just like that, in India, long hair is a sign of beauty, and we don’t necessarily have to agree with it, but we do have to respect Daddy’s opinions and ideas, even if we don’t like them.”

“Maybe he’s just jealous because he can’t go for a haircut,” Thirteen mused about her father’s minimal hair.

We shared a laugh on that one, but I hope the main message got across.

*****

After the haircuts, we made our way to Sam’s to pick up a few items in bulk for the new school year like Capri Sun and favorite cereals that were running out. Our Sam’s club changed its layout in the last few weeks, so I had to make my way down most of the main aisles to get my bearings. The girls followed along and commented on all the foods we don’t eat.

“It’s so unfair,” Eleven said after the third or fourth item we crossed that we wouldn’t buy, “I don’t understand why we can’t try some of these things just once. Just once, and we’d never ask for them again.”

“It doesn’t work that way,” I said. “Once you’ll have them, you’ll want them again.”

“Yeah, but you’ve had most of them.”

Okay, so maybe not most, but it’s true that when it came to food choices my parents weren’t as stringent on what we did or didn’t eat as my husband. Of course, when I was a kid, food nutrition labels didn’t exist as we know them today. The FDA began mandatory labeling of food packages in 1990; before that time, some foods came labeled but not all did. And because I grew up as the child of immigrants, the kinds of foods we were eating were automatically different than most households.

All that to say that the conversations we have in this country today about protein, fat, and salt didn’t exist when I was growing up. People didn’t have all this information, so we ate with more pleasure and less guilt. Of course, I couldn’t express this last part to the kids, but I did remind them about the food labeling.

“We know, Mamma,” Eleven said in a sullen tone.

For the rest of the shopping trip through Sam’s, she hung back and didn’t say much. When it came time to pay, I directed the cart to the self check-out stand. Thirteen scurried forward to help load groceries into the cart after I scanned them.

“And what is [Eleven] doing?” she asked.

“She’s back here sulking because she can’t have Fruit Loops and Little Debbie Oatmeal Pies,” I said.

I turned to my younger daughter, and she cracked a smile. She couldn’t help it, even though she really wanted to hold onto that grumpiness. After a minute or two, she started helping with the groceries too.

Maybe this is the key to world peace. Forget diplomacy. Just offer everyone Fruit Loops.

*****

The first day of school was a half day, so the kids came home and ate their lunch. On the second day of school, I went to wish Eleven a good morning and found her grinning. I gave her a hug and asked what was making her so happy.

“We get to sit at the middle school tables,” she said, referring to herself and the other sixth graders, “and not because the middle schoolers are gone on the camp-out or a field trip or something. It’s because we are middle schoolers now.”

I couldn’t help grinning back at her myself. I remember what it felt like to cross the threshold from one major part of the school to another. The excitement that we were growing up and like the “big kids” now, although I know Eleven would never quite put it that way. I hope her excitement for middle school stays through these first few weeks.

*****

On Monday as I pulled into the school’s drop-off line in the morning, we spotted one of the new sixth graders.

“There’s A.,” I said.

“Oh, yeah,” Thirteen commented. “You know, her mom walked her into advisory on the first day.”

“Yeah,” Eleven added, “and she looked a little embarrassed.”

“Yeah,” Thirteen said, “she did.”

Before I could even open my mouth to tease the girls about walking them in, Thirteen turned to open the car door.

“It’s okay, Mamma, you don’t have to walk us inside,” she said with one foot out of the car.

“Are you sure?” I asked.

“Yeah, really,” she said and got out; Eleven was two steps behind her.

I had just enough time to get in a “Bye, love you!” before she shut the door. Not that I would have walked her in. But since she’s a teenager, I should at least get the pleasure of torturing her with the possibility, right?

Latest Chart: Annoying your kids and finding Dinah

August 16, 2019

By Ekta R. Garg

I stared from the dock at the lake. The placid green-blue water reminded me of the Caribbean, but no Caribbean country featured a collection of tall peaks circling the water. The sweeping mountain range gazed down, offering a vista of a glacier the color of a summer morning peering over the top of the range as if it wanted to play hide-and-seek.

With a little help, some gentle coaxing, and minimal instructions from the friendly (and I’d definitely say optimistic) gentleman running the dock, I climbed into a canoe with a paddle. He seemed to have no trouble whatsoever believing that I could not only paddle the small boat but also make it to a destination and back to the dock. On purpose.

Maybe it was the scenery around me that defined “picture-postcard perfect.” Since arriving in Norway, I’d had trouble holding on to the stresses of my life back home. How could I, when the mountains invited me to take a seat by their side and just let myself be? Everywhere we looked, everywhere we walked, the scenery and the people greeted us with a benevolence that seemed to come from a storybook. How would it feel to uncurl my fist and let all my worries slip through my fingers?

“We’re not making any progress.”

I suppressed a sigh. Maybe it wasn’t so hard to find an ounce of that stress. Especially with a tween and a teen in the same boat as me.

After the nice man at the dock pushed us off, we all started to paddle. The first few attempts took us in literal circles. We’d done some mild white water rafting earlier in the week during the first part of our tour, so I tried to remember what the rafting guide told us to do and paddle according to those instructions.

It didn’t work very well. The girls continued to let loose their complaints into the air above us, and it baffled me for a minute whether the valley was the right place for them to do so. The serenity of the Norwegian landscape had muted my daily frustrations. Hadn’t they felt its magic too?

“This is hard.”

“Here, why don’t we paddle on opposite sides?” I suggested from the back of the canoe. “[Eleven], you and I will paddle on the same side, and, [Thirteen], you paddle on the opposite side from [Eleven]. And it’s your job to make sure you paddle in the same rhythm as her.”

The girls fell into a better cadence of paddling. After 10 or 12 strokes, though, they lost it again. Eleven couldn’t see this at all, of course, since she sat at the front. Thirteen either hadn’t seen it or was concentrating too hard on paddling to care.

Without warning, without saying another word, I started to sing.

“I’ve been working on the railroad, all the livelong day! I’ve been working on the railroad, just to pass the time away!”

“What is that?” Eleven asked as if she’d smelled something rotten.

“Where did you learn that song?” Thirteen asked, her tone expressing her eyeroll.

I stopped singing. “In school. It’s a really old song people used to sing for jobs like…well, working on the railroad. You know, when you needed to follow a certain rhythm to do your work. Can’t you hear the whistle blowing, to rise up so early in the morning? Can’t you hear the captain shouting…”

A rut opened in my memory for a moment. I knew the next few words involved a woman’s name, but I couldn’t for the life of me remember what it was. So I fumbled through that part and kept going.

The girls groaned, audibly, but I noticed that their paddling got a little better.

We made it to the miniscule beach about a half mile away from the dock and the boathouse—just far enough to admire our progress but not so far as to exhaust us. We explored the shore for a bit, ducking past a low-hanging tree, following the curve of the short shoreline around to where another member of our tour group had graciously pulled in our boat when we’d arrived. The beach was more like a mini island, explored in a couple of minutes, a small resting spot for anyone who had an inclination to paddle deeper into the valley later.

About 10 minutes after we arrived, one of the tour guides zipped close to us in a motorized boat to let us know that lunch would be served soon and we needed to head back. Once again the girls and I relied on our fellow travelers to push us into the water; they were from Florida and spent as much free time as they could engaging in aquatic outings, so the dad of the family there had no trouble giving the canoe a nudge after we’d all settled with our paddles.

We started paddling, and I started singing.

“I’ve been working on the railroad, all the livelong day! I’ve been working on the railroad…”

“Oh no,” Eleven said with a loud groan.

“Not this again,” her big sister echoed with chagrin. “You know people can hear you, right?”

I broke off my own singing. “So what? I don’t have a bad voice. I can sing in tune.”

My memory clicked into place just then, and the name came back to me.

“Dinah, blow your horn! Dinah, won’t you blow, Dinah, won’t you blow, Dinah, won’t you blow your ho-o-orn!”

“There’s more?” Eleven asked, incredulous at the tempo change.

“This is distracting!” Thirteen said in a loud voice over mine.

“Maybe that’s the point,” I replied in a speaking voice.

Neither of them had a response for that comment.

I started singing again. I kept singing, noticing that the paddling had fallen into sync much faster on our trip back. In fact, we had little trouble keeping ourselves in a fairly straight line as we worked to get back to shore.

I sang through “I’ll Be Working on the Railroad” another time or two just to annoy the kids—yes, I admit it, that was the bigger draw—before dropping my voice to a volume meant more for myself to sing through the title track of “The Sound of Music.” I couldn’t help it: in a moment like this, I understand what would inspire Maria Von Trapp to let loose on those hills. They did feel alive to me.

The glacier, the valley, that lake, and the Caribbean blue-green water made me grateful for music. For the opportunity to travel. And, yes, even for kids who get annoyed with their parents.

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.