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.

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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.

“Wait…what?”

“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: All about growing up

February 8, 2019

By Ekta R. Garg

I’ve entered a whole new decade: 40. I think maybe, just maybe, I might be growing up. I know for a fact my girls are. In the last week, they’ve reminded me that time marches on for everyone.

One night as I went up to say good night, Ten asked me in the dark for the umpteenth time when her aunt (my sister) was going to get married.

“Hopefully soon,” I told her, kissing her on the head.

“I hope I marry a good man,” she said, her voice growing a little sleepy in the dark.

“I think you will,” I said.

“How do you know?”

“Because you’ve got a good heart, and you’re sweet and kind to people.”

She paused.

“I don’t think I want to have an arranged marriage.”

Hmm. This was new. Ten has mentioned marriage before—most notably in declaring to the family that she married her best friend’s dog—but never before has she announced a preference for how she might meet her future husband.

Of course, it was bedtime.

“Well, I don’t think you need to worry about it right now,” I told her. “You’ve got a long time before you have to think about it.”

She acquiesced pretty easily and burrowed deeper under her blanket.

In all honesty I don’t know what’s making her think of the topic of marriage these days. No doubt, though, that it’s on her mind. Two nights ago, after dinner, she stood up from her chair with a pronouncement.

“I’m going to marry a chef, and he’s going to make good food for me.”

I’m pretty sure she wasn’t commenting on the meal that night. The remark landed right in the middle of the countertop without any introduction or explanation. That’s Ten, though. I imagine the thoughts in her brain to be like those clouds streaming across the sky on a bright summer day. Blink, and they slip past before you realize it.

It’s their direction that intrigues me now. As I said, more and more it’s starting to sound like she’s doing some growing up. But she’s not the only one.

Twelve spent about a week-and-a-half in special sessions with the rest of the middle schoolers on topics related to relationships, the body, and (go ahead, cringe a little) reproductive health. Teachers conducted some sessions with the kids divided by genders and some with all the kids together. We received regular communication from the school about the nature of the assemblies and the gentle reminder to encourage our kids to talk to us.

Before either my husband or I could broach any subjects with Twelve, though, she came to us. The science teacher gave the students a list of questions and allowed the kids to pick a handful. Then they had to come home and interview parents using those questions.

“Mamma, I need to do my parent interview,” Twelve said more than once.

Before she could ask us her questions, though, we had to read a short packet of information. It offered suggestions on how to become “askable” parents—in other words, parents who kids would feel comfortable approaching about all sorts of amazingly embarrassing topics. The suggestions ranged from practicing saying body parts until we could say them without batting an eye to choosing the battles we really wanted to fight with our tweens.

(I wanted to ask whether doing the parent interview fell under the category of “choose your battles,” like choosing whether we even had to do it, but I didn’t think that applied.)

After we both read the information sheets, my husband and I followed Twelve to her bedroom earlier this week and sat down to listen to her questions. Thankfully, they weren’t too bad. They ran along the lines of things like, “When you were growing up, was the topic of reproductive health something you talked about with your parents or was it taboo?” and even as generic as, “What did you worry about when you were my age?”

My husband kept the tone of the talk light by joking around, teasing Twelve when she allegedly gave me more time to talk than him and “accusing” me of answering for him. In between his jibes, though, we answered Twelve’s questions. We talked about how parents in India took a much more conservative approach to the topics of the body and relationships and how talking about them in great detail amounted to a taboo. We also answered truthfully about how neither of us experimented with anything, both of us being good kids who followed the rules even into college when our parents couldn’t monitor our every move.

I took the opportunity to let Twelve know that she could come to me any time about anything.

“And if you don’t feel like talking face to face, you can always write me a note and leave it on my desk or my nightstand,” I said. “I can write back to you or come talk to you, whatever you want.”

“You can come to me too,” my husband added, “but don’t leave any notes on my nightstand. I don’t like clutter.”

Twelve rolled her eyes, but I could see a faint smile in her face too. We’d gotten through the interview, and no one had died of embarrassment or even been overly uncomfortable. In fact, Twelve’s ease with the questions and how she asked them amazed me.

I’m a 40-year-old woman, and I don’t know if I possess that kind of poise yet. But I guess that’s why I say I think I’m growing up. When I get there, I’ll be sure to let everyone—especially the kids—know.

Latest Spurts: Tubble sprots and the 90 percent

January 25, 2019

By Ekta R. Garg

Enjoy these Spurts from the last two weeks, readers!

Recently Ten outgrew her warm slippers. When we came back from Christmas break, I went on a small hunt to find her new ones. It took three trips to stores to find the right size, but I finally found a pair of fuzzy slippers that had one eye each on the tops of the feet. One eye was open; the other was shut in a wink.

On the day I found the slippers, I showed them to Ten after school.

“Wow, [Ten], those are really cute,” Twelve said.

Ten jumped on me with a bear hug. I caught Twelve’s eye over her sister’s head. Twelve’s expression had changed to one of mock terror.

“What did you do?” she mouthed.

What, like a pair of eyes looking up at you from a person’s feet isn’t cute?

***

Next week I turn 40. I’m still trying to process what that means, on a variety of levels. The Write Edge turns 9, and I’m excited about that. As far as my own birthday…again, still processing.

It’s a big birthday, and I’ve been aware for a while that plans are afoot to celebrate it. One day as I sat in my studio, I heard the opening notes of Michael Jackson’s Smooth Criminal on the cello. I grinned, because Smooth Criminal is one of my favorites by him.

Of course the birthday radar went up right away, but I didn’t want to embarrass Ten. I decided to take a different tack with her. I had no doubt she was excited to play the song, but I also figured out, from listening, that she was struggling with it a little bit.

Last week as we drove to her cello lesson, I suggested she talk to her teacher, Mr. S., about the harder parts.

“No, it’s fine,” she said. I could practically hear the confession in her tone about why she’d started practicing the song out of the blue. I didn’t press her.

On the way home, however, she said, “Okay, I can’t take it anymore.”

“What’s that?” I asked.

“Act surprised,” she said.

“I will,” I replied. “What are you talking about?”

“Di-Di and I are playing Smooth Criminal as a duet for your birthday,” she said, “but you’re not supposed to know.”

My smile, which she couldn’t see from behind me, came back.

“Act surprised,” she reminded me.

“Don’t worry, I will,” I promised.

“This is why I don’t like secrets and I don’t like surprises,” she said with resignation.

“I know. But now I can be excited for the song.”

And I am. I’ve listened to the girls practice together all week, and I can’t wait to hear the final product. I bet even MJ would have approved.

***

One day I went into Twelve’s room as they belted out the last few notes of the song during their practice session. I nodded my head and complimented them on their progress.

“Why don’t you go ahead and pack up your instruments and then just read the music together so you can look through the tubble sprots, uh, trouble spots,” I said.

Twelve giggled. She stood up and went right into theater mode.

“We’re going to make a speech before we play that night and say, ‘Ladies and gentlemen, we went through many tubble sprots with this song.’”

Ten laughed.

“Tubble sprots?” she repeated.

“Colored dots?” I said.

“Yes,” Twelve went on, continuing with her mock speech, “we went through many colored dots with this song.”

Colored dots, trouble spots, same difference.

***

Last night after dinner, Ten showed me the latest picture dragon picture she’s drawn. I complimented her on the piece. Twelve asked to see it next.

The picture shows a large red dragon in the middle of the page curled up with its tail coming around it in a circle. Below that are about eight or ten smaller dragons in similar positions, although Ten had colored all of them in different colors and given them different individual characteristics.

“I can name all of the classes of dragons on there,” Twelve announced.

“Really?” her sister challenged.

“Sure,” Twelve said, amusement lacing her voice at her sister’s obsession with dragons. “There’s striker class, tracker class, um…English class.”

Ten rolled her eyes and took the picture away from Twelve in a huff. She put the picture in her backpack and marched upstairs to get ready for bed. Twelve stifled a laugh.

“Is it really worth it to incite your sister’s rage?” I asked it.

“Ninety percent of the time, it’s hilarious,” she replied. “The other ten percent it’s annoying because she gets frustrated about little things. But, yeah, the other ninety percent? Hilarious.”

Glad to see she’s got such a good sense of humor about it all.

Latest Chart: Practice…is it worth it?

January 18, 2019

By Ekta R. Garg

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

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

We said no.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Thank you,” she said simply.

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

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

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

And, yes, it takes practice.

Latest Spurts: Eating doorbells and life on the run

January 11, 2019

By Ekta R. Garg

Enjoy these Spurts from the last few weeks, readers!

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

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

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

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

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

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

“When was this?” I asked.

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

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

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

Maybe I’m just too old to do so. :>

*****

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

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

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

*****

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

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

“What’s up?” I asked.

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

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

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

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

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

Ten thought about it for a beat then giggled.

“I meant continent-wide,” she said.

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

*****

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

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

“Eating doorbells,” Twelve responded for her sister.

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

There could be worse things, I guess.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Latest Chart: Curtain raiser

December 14, 2018

By Ekta R. Garg

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

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

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

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

When it comes to theater, this child means business.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I was, and am, proud of her.