Latest Chart: She loves animals thiiiiiiiiiiis much…

May 24, 2018

By Ekta R. Garg

I’ve chronicled here on Growth Chart the deep love Nine has for animals. In the last couple of weeks, we got some shining examples of just how deep that love runs. It’s definitely become a bonding experience for the rest of the family (we’ve shared many eye rolls, no doubt.)

Last week I spotted Nine on her bed reading one of the books in the Animal Inn series by Virginia Vail. For anyone who doesn’t know (or who has a kid animal lover and wants fiction about animals,) the Animal Inn books chronicle the adventures of eighth grader Val as she helps her veterinarian dad in his clinic. The books came out in the mid-1980s and are fairly predictable—they’re aimed at middle grade readers—but Nine loves them. She’s read all 12 books in the series several times.

“I wish Animal Inn was real,” she confessed to me one night in a melancholic mood.

“I know how you feel,” I said. “Sometimes when I read books I love and finish them, I wish they were real too. Like the Narnia books. Every time I’m done with them, I think, ‘Oh, I wish I could go to Narnia.’”

“Yeah, but I didn’t finish the Narnia books,” Nine pointed out. She had this look on her face that said, “What does your example have to do with me?”

“Well, right, but the feeling is still the same,” I said.

“I got bored with one of them.”

“Okay, but we were talking about wishing books were real.”

She sighed. “Yeah, and I wish Animal Inn was.”

She didn’t find any comfort in the fact that all book lovers share this emotion. Instead, she just leaned back into her pillow, no doubt, to nurse her depression that Val and her friends weren’t, in fact, real people.

Another night last week, as we finished dinner, Nine said, “I don’t know why, but I just thought of the time when we were living in the old house and Daddy came home from the hospital and he was sad because one of his patients died.”

I looked at my husband, and he nodded. “Yup, that was a really young woman. She was 23 or 24 and had just had a baby.”

As I washed my hands, Nine came to put her dishes in the kitchen sink.

“Just think about it,” I said, “the doctors train for so long to save lives, and then when someone dies—”

“It’s even more sad when an animal dies,” Nine interrupted with ardor.

I literally had no response to that. I’ve never been a pet person but I have many friends who love their pets dearly, and I have no doubt that when they’ve lost pets it’s a sad event. People often talk about their pets becoming family members, and it’s clear in their faces how much they love them.

It’s a little different when a physician loses a patient.

Clearly, however, Nine didn’t see it that way. It didn’t help that she saw two dead fish over the course of a couple of days as she walked around the man-made lake behind our house with her older sister and dad. I’m sure she had the dead fish on her mind when she made her assertion.

Then, over the weekend, we went to a graduation party for the daughter of some friends of ours. This incredibly accomplished young woman, in addition to so many other achievements, started a pediatric cancer awareness club at her school and kept it going strong through all her years there. The graduate knew a child who had died of cancer, and the school club was her contribution to keeping the memory of her friend strong.

As we drove home from the party, we talked about our friends’ daughter and all she’s done during high school. Eleven and Nine didn’t quite understand the part about the club—it was one of those things people mentioned in brief during their speeches—so we talked a little about that as well as cancer in general.

“It would be great if the kids could come up with a cause like that that they support so strongly,” my husband said.

“I want to raise awareness about lymphosarcoma in dogs and feline leukemia,” Nine piped up from the back.

Her dad glanced at me.

“Feline what?”

“Leukemia,” Eleven replied, “in cats.”

“Where did you hear about those things?”

“In Animal Inn,” Nine explained. “There’s this dog that comes into Val’s dad’s clinic…”

And like that, we were back to the books and wishing they were real.

She’s only nine years old, of course, and still has quite a bit of time to decide what she wants to do with her life. More than once, Nine has expressed interest in working for the National Geographic foundation. If given a choice of anything to watch on TV, she’ll pull up animal documentaries and exclaims at the amazing photography.

There’s also a caveat with animals.

“She’s going to have ten dogs and ten cats when she grows up,” my husband said to me with a groan on Sunday morning.

“No, she won’t,” I said, “because [Nine] doesn’t like it when her hands get dirty. She likes to pet animals, but she wouldn’t put up with all the other stuff that pet owners have to take care of.”

From the time she was young, in fact, Nine had had a mild aversion to dirty hands. She used to cry as a toddler if they got messy. Even now, her napkin at dinnertime is all crumpled by the end. When we eat Indian food, we eat with our hands and she wipes hers no matter how miniscule the drip of gravy or vegetables.

I’m really curious to see how her interests continue to develop as she grows older. For now, though, Nine knows two things for sure: Animal Inn isn’t a real story world, and it beats Narnia by a long shot any day of the week.


Brand new Chart: Reconciling with the past

May 7, 2018

By Ekta R. Garg

We all have those movies or videos we watched as kids that made a deep impression. One of the earliest for me was Michael Jackson’s Thriller. I loved the music, but watching him turn into a werewolf freaked me out just a little bit.

Twice I watched movies that my parents disapproved of without their knowledge (sorry, Mom and Dad.) The first was Gremlins; the second was Child’s Play. To this day I can’t think of the former without shuddering at the memory of the blender scene or the latter without remembering that creepy doll’s eyes and the way he cocks his head to say, “I thought we were friends to the end.”

[Still shuddering]

I don’t think either Eleven or Nine have seen movies that scared them. I do know that Nine watched a movie she swore off. A movie she said she’d never watch again, that she resisted with the adamant attitude one normally finds in toddlers.

A movie she saw when she was only 5 years old.

For the full story on what happened, you can visit the original Chart. Here’s the short version: At the age of 5, Nine watched the movie Hachi on a road trip and cried because she found it too sad. The movie is based on the true story of the Japanese dog, Hachi, and his owner who was a professor. The professor took the train to work every day, and Hachi would go to the station and wait for the professor to come home. One day the professor died while at work and didn’t come back. Hachi kept going back to the train station anyway for nearly 10 years.

The movie starred Richard Gere and was set in Rhode Island but kept most of the facts the same. It was really well done, and I understood at the time why it affected Nine so much. Our resident animal lover just couldn’t bear the thought of an animal dying, even if it happened due to old age.

She couldn’t bear it so much, in fact, that she refused to watch the film anytime any of us mentioned it. That changed this past weekend, however. Nearly five years after watching it the first time, Nine saw the movie again.

It started when she came downstairs on Sunday after her shower asking permission to watch TV while she waited for lunch. She had a particular movie in mind—The Secret of Kells—which Netflix doesn’t stream. Instead the movie service made several recommendations, one of which was Hachi.

“Why don’t you watch it?” I asked Nine, fully expecting her to dig in her heels yet again.

“Fine, I will,” she said with an ill-concealed grumble.

She surprised me but I didn’t say anything, just went back to the kitchen to continue making lunch. Eleven came downstairs, and I served both girls and myself. We watched the story, making little jokes, indulging ourselves in the running commentary we’ve started providing to almost any film. After we finished eating, the girls rushed through washing their hands so they could settle in front of the TV in the family room. I started collecting dirty dishes and brushing crumbs into the trash.

“Oh, they’re making it look like it’s from Hachi’s point of view,” Eleven remarked.

“No, they’re not,” I said.

“Yes, they are,” she said, intrigued by the subtle but powerful visual choice. “See, this part’s in black and white.”

“Dogs are colorblind,” Nine confirmed for me.

Which I already knew; I just didn’t know the moviemakers had chosen to portray Hachi’s side of the story.

Normally when I make a meal and we all eat, I start cleaning up right away. This time, however, I couldn’t help ignoring the dirty dishes and countertops to sit down and watch the movie. Some parts I remembered; many I didn’t. I kept glancing at Nine, waiting for the same reaction she had nearly five years ago.

The story ended with Hachi’s death and a short explanation of the true story as well as pictures of the real-life Hachi and his owner. Nine didn’t say anything. She just went up to her room. I went back to the kitchen to clean up.

Several minutes later, she came back down to ask me a question. I asked her how she felt about the movie.

“Did it make you sad?” I asked.

She nodded and held up a hand with her index finger and thumb about a half inch apart. “A little.”

“Me too,” I said. “It made me want to cry.”

She smiled in sympathy and bounded back upstairs.

And it did too. The story of the relationship between Hachi and the professor touched my heart in a way that animal movies almost never do. I blinked back a few tears as I washed the dishes, looked out of the kitchen window, and thought about the concept of loyalty and the strength of the love that binds us the tightest.

I also had to sigh with relief. We made it through the film without any tears from Nine this time. She didn’t have to swear it off anymore. We’d finally brought another family-friendly movie back into our lives.

It may seem like such a small thing to be happy about, but Nine faced something that bothered her for years and she came out the other end okay. I’m glad she could see that that’s possible, that the things that freak us out at a young age don’t always have to do so when we’re older. Not that I plan to see Child’s Play anytime soon or anything.

Newest Spurts: rioting against risotto and dealing with lint

August 4, 2017

By Ekta R. Garg

Enjoy these Spurts from the last two weeks, readers!

Lately the kids have been bugging me to let them help more with chores. I don’t know whether it’s because my children are strange or because this is that sweet spot most people talk about with their kids. You know, after the tedium of diapers and stopping to examine every single bug on the sidewalk but before the nightmare of slamming doors and being told how awful we are as parents.

Regardless, I’m making the most of it.

One day last week Eleven wouldn’t let the idea go, so I told her to take the clothes out of the washer and put them in the dryer. I explained the trick of giving each item of clothing a little shake before tossing it into the dryer to help it dry that much faster. Then I told her about the lint trap and how it needed to be checked.

“Do you know what lint is?” I asked, realizing its dishwater grayness can sometimes freak people out.

“Oh, yeah,” she replied immediately. “I’ve seen enough episodes of Full House. Danny Tanner, lint—I know all about it.”

Who said 1990s sitcoms were all froth and no substance?


Earlier this week we arrived at the YMCA for camp, and the kids started climbing out of the car. Eleven grabbed her snack bag and water bottle. Nine grabbed her snack bag and made for the door.

“Water bottle,” Eleven called out.

“Just bring it,” I told her. “I know it’s her responsibility to remember it, but as a big sister it’s your responsibility to help out your little sister when you can.”

She didn’t say anything as we walked toward the sliding door entrance of the building.

“Of course, eventually the younger siblings learn to take care of their own things,” I said. “Then us older siblings keep doing things for them anyway, just to annoy them.”

“Anything that annoys her is good,” Eleven quipped.

“You know that the younger ones usually want to annoy their older siblings too,” I said.

“I know.”

Good. As long as we’re square on that. Don’t want anyone telling me later that they weren’t warned.


Like many parents who own the duty of meal planning, sometimes I get stuck for new ideas. Occasionally I have random items left in my fridge from other meals and want to try something new with them. Earlier this week the item was orange marmalade, not a favorite by a long stretch in our house, and I decided to tackle a couple of Rachael Ray’s recipes.

Rachael and I—or, her shows and I, at least—go way back, all the way to the earliest days of my marriage, and I own several of her cookbooks. I’ve made many dishes from the books to varying degrees of success. Sometimes it’s as much about trying a new technique as anything else.

The orange marmalade made its way into an orange-balsamic glaze for some turkey breasts, and Rachael suggested a lemon risotto to go with it. I’d never made risotto before, although I’ve watched her and other TV chefs do it, so I figured this was a good chance to try something new. Broaden my own skills, as it were. I added a side of steamed green beans and decided to call it a meal.

The turkey came together really well. The green beans came in a steam-ready bag from the store, so they came out fast. The risotto took the longest, which surprised me. I knew it would take a while, but Rachael called it at about 18 minutes. I found myself standing there for almost 45, still stirring and waiting for all the liquid to absorb (although I did bump up the quantity in her recipe, so that’s why it took so long.)

When we sat down to eat, I got a thumbs up on the green beans and the turkey. The risotto? Not so much.

“It’s okay,” Nine said, trying to hide just how much she really didn’t like it.

“Yeah, it’s okay,” Eleven said.

Maybe there wasn’t enough lemon zest? I don’t know. My husband asked me how I made it, and I described the process of adding liquid a little at a time and stirring it and waiting for it to evaporate before adding the next ladle of liquid.

Eleven looked down at her plate and back at me. “Well, now I feel bad.”

I shook my head. “Don’t. That’s how we learn, right? We try new things, and some of them go well and some don’t.”

Neither of the girls said much about the meal after that, but I could see in their faces that they appreciated how much time and effort had gone into making it. I hope they can see this as a positive experience. Sometimes you only learn by doing; just reading about it or watching others doesn’t cut it.


This afternoon Eleven, Nine, and I got into the car to drive to the other side of the neighborhood to drop Nine off at a friend’s house. As we made our way, I spotted a turtle plodding its way down the street. I slowed down so the kids could see it.

“Mamma, we have to move it to the side of the road!” Nine, our resident animal lover, said.

“How are we going to do that?” I asked.

“Yeah, how?” Eleven asked.

“We have to pick it up!” Nine said.

“What if it bites you?” Eleven asked.

“I’ll hold it far away from me. Please, Mamma, we don’t want cars to hit it.”

I have to admit, even as I slowed the car down, stopped it, and put it in Reverse, a thousand conflicting thoughts ran through my mind. The desire for the greater good—“Helping animals helps the environment!” “Be kind to all creatures!” “Show compassion to those less fortunate than us!”—battled with the common-sense approach that infiltrates a parent’s life—“The turtle could have diseases!” “People driving down the street will get mad at us for blocking the road!” “What if the turtle bits off your leg?”

Well…maybe not common sense all the time.

As soon as I put the car in Park, though, Nine unbuckled her seat belt and opened the car door. To her credit, she didn’t make a beeline to the turtle right away. She eyeballed the street to make sure no one was driving like a crazy person. By this time one car had come to a stop behind me, and an oncoming car had stopped to see what we were up to.

I opened my own door and got halfway out. Nine made her way to the turtle, which had started to figure out that all was not right with its world. It had already pulled three legs into its shell, and by the time Nine approached it the fourth leg and its head had tucked inside its mobile home too. I exchanged a look with the lady behind me, and she smiled back.

Nine turned back to me. “Can you help me?”

She must have seen my own hesitation, because she turned right back around, picked up the shell a little gingerly, and walked it across the street. She placed it in the grass in front of a home and trotted back to the car. As soon as she got in, I hit the button for the sliding door to shut.

“Make sure you scrub your hands really well when you get to A.’s house,” I said.

“I will,” she said, and even without looking at her I could hear the smile.

We spend many hours watching documentaries of fascinating places and creatures. I’m glad that Nine got the chance to exercise her love for animals today.