Latest Chart: Words that hurt

October 18, 2019

By Ekta R. Garg

Every phase of parenting, I’m discovering, has its deepest joys.

When they’re newborns, you just want to hold them all day (well, when they’re not spitting up on you or screaming at 3 a.m.), and they’re content to be held. In the midst of the Terrible Twos, there are the adorable pronunciations of words and the innocuous questions that make a parent shake her head. Kindergarten brings the wide-eyed wonder phase; every day allows for a new discovery, a new breakthrough, and those all-important steps toward independent thinking and behavior.

I’m currently the mom of two middle schoolers, and the biggest perk of this phase is the conversation. The girls are smart and funny. They’ve often made me break into laughter so hard, tears spill from my eyes and I can’t draw a steady breath. They’ve also challenged me with questions that leave me stuttering for a moment as my carefully-laid plans start to hydroplane and I need to gain traction again.

My husband and I encourage the girls to talk, about everything, and at times it’s truly a pleasure. Other times, it can turn into a little bit of a hurtful conversation. At times like that, I can’t help but wonder whether that’s a weakness in my child that I have to help turn into a strength or whether it’s a weakness in my parenting that I need to fix.

Last weekend we went to Chicago for a little getaway. My husband, the girls, and I shared a hotel room, which means one bathroom between the four of us. Eleven had already showered and dressed; Thirteen was in the bathroom, and I was on deck to go next.

To pass the time, my husband pulled up soccer videos. He and Eleven watched a video of world-class Brazilian player Ronaldinho (now retired). After watching for a little bit, my husband handed me his tablet and said, “You have to see this guy!”

I’m not an athlete, but Eleven plays soccer for the park district so I do take an avid interest in the game. This also stems from my own days as captain of the cheerleaders in high school. The first sport of the season for our school used to be boys’ soccer, and our team was strong. Add that to the fact that I was buddies with many of the guys on the team, and all that creates an equation where I really do enjoy watching the sport when I can.

I’d never seen Ronaldinho play, and his handling of the ball blew me away. The no-look passes combined with the way he kept faking out his opponents made him a legend in the sport. As I watched, my husband explained how, because the Brazilians are so good at samba dancing, Ronaldinho used many of the same moves in the way he played. He was so quick—as all Latin dancing requires a person to be—that other players had trouble tracking the ball.

I may no longer cheer with a squad, but I still get excited about amazing sports. Every time Ronaldinho did something I thought really cool, I would let out a, “Oh, wow!” or a “Beautiful! That was incredible!”

“Okay, Mamma, that’s enough,” Eleven said, sarcasm tinging her voice.

I ignored her. She’s a soccer player and can appreciate, with first-hand experience, the difficulty of what Ronaldinho was doing, but, as I said, I’ve spent some time with the sport myself. In high school, I took time out to understand how it was played so that I could lead the other girls to cheer for the guys at the right times. Plus, what Ronaldinho did just looked so freaky cool (seriously, Google this guy.)

I kept cheering him on over cyberspace during matches that were years old, and she kept exclaiming about my exclamations.

“Jeez, get excited much?” Eleven said a few times, this time in a snarky manner. “We get it, Mamma. You think he’s cool.”

My cheeks got warm, and I stopped talking. For a moment, I considered shutting the tablet off together, but I didn’t want to look like I was throwing a tantrum. And I really did like the highlights.

Thirteen came out of the bathroom, and I put the tablet on the bed, gathered my clothes, and went in for my own shower. As I stood there, I considered several responses to Eleven. They ranged from the mundane—It’s not nice to make fun of your parents—to the profound—a philosophical treatise on what it means to be able to participate in a sport without actually being on a team.

More than anything, I tried to soothe away my hurt with a good shampoo and rinse. Because it did hurt. Yes, I’m Thirteen and Eleven’s mother, but I’m also a person. I have likes and dislikes as much as anyone else. I have thoughts and opinions, hobbies and interests.

I have feelings.

When I came out of the bathroom, I still hadn’t decided on what to say. Fortunately, I didn’t have to say anything at all. My husband had done the talking for me.

“Go talk to her,” he told Eleven in a stern voice.

She came to my shoulder as I put my items back in the suitcase.

“Sorry for being all sarcastic and snarky,” she said in a flat tone.

I drew a quiet breath.

“I know I’m not an athlete,” I said, “but I still do enjoy soccer. When I was in school, I knew I wasn’t good enough to play so I became a cheerleader. That was my way to support the team and the school. It was my way to enjoy the game.”

She just stared at me with a neutral expression.

I didn’t go into lecture mode. My husband had already played “bad cop” and done that for me, so I took a different tack. While in the shower, I’d spent a little time thinking of my cheerleading days and remembered something.

“You know,” I told Eleven, evening out my tone to let her know the conversation would ease away from her getting into trouble, “when I was a cheerleader, I kept little journals about my experiences. Our team went to state, but we lost. It might be interesting for you to read those journals so you can get a sense for how it felt for me to cheer on the boys.”

I turned to Thirteen who had, no doubt, witnessed the whole lecture Eleven received. “You might get a kick out of reading them too. Next time we go to [South Carolina], I’ll show them to you.”

Eleven didn’t say yea or nay to reading my cheerleading journals, and I didn’t push the issue. Instead, I started talking about something else, giving Eleven the out she needed at the moment to nurse her wounded ego. I know it probably hurt to get lectured, to get into trouble for being impulsive with her words.

It’s a habit of hers, and I’m trying to teach her to think about what comes out of her mouth before it actually does so. She has improved, but at times like these, it reminds me we still have work to do. She definitely has a ways to go. Does that mean I have a ways to go as a parent?

I don’t know, but maybe being aware of all this is a good start.

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 Spurts: Missing soccer games and planning pranks

September 28, 2018

By Ekta R. Garg

Enjoy these Spurts from the last two weeks, readers!

My husband wears pink dress shirts. He’s shown up at work with glittery clips in his pockets and made jokes about it. He didn’t bat an eye when I put purple sheets on the bed last week. When all’s said and done, he’s pretty confident in his maleness.

Even he has his limits, however. Last week, as he got ready to leave for his first ever violin lesson, he hefted Twelve’s violin case in his hand and took a closer look at it. He fingered the flap that covers the zippers on the case.

“What’s this?” he asked.

I glanced at it. “Oh, that’s the Belle pin [Twelve] got when we went to Disney.”

He grinned. “I’m not going to leave this on there.”

He took off the pin and dropped it on the counter next to the phone. My eyes got wide. His smile got even wider.

“She’s not going to like that,” I said.

My husband didn’t respond, just said he’d see me after his lesson and left. A little while later, Twelve came downstairs after her homework and went to the mudroom to put her books away. She stopped at the counter on the way back towards the stairs.

“Wha—Daddy took this off?” she asked.

I nodded.

“Okay,” she declared, “it’s on. I had some pranks saved up for April, but they’ll work just as well now.”

After that heady announcement, I have yet to see any of these pranks in play. I don’t know if that means I should be worried. I’m sure, though, that we haven’t seen the end of this.

***

Last week on our drive to art lessons, we stopped at a red light. Ten glanced out the window at other cars around us. Just then she saw a woman throw a cigarette out the window.

“Geez, lady, don’t throw it at our car,” she said. “Throw it…down your pants!”

Throw it down your pants? I wondered. Where do my kids get this stuff?

“Um, because that’s not dangerous or anything,” I said, trying to keep my voice light.

“Well, smoking is already dangerous, so let’s just add some risk to it!”

I couldn’t even argue the technicality on that one—about smoking being dangerous, that is. Comes with the reality of being a doctor’s child, I suppose. Still not so sure about the whole “throw-the-cigarette-in-your-pants” thing, though.

***

Ten has thoroughly enjoyed her soccer season. This is the first time she’s ever played a sport as part of a team, and even though she struggled in the beginning because the team lost she’s learning that it is about the team. And the teamwork.

Winning, of course, would be amazing, but for the moment we’re going to focus on one life skill at a time.

Although she’s on the JV team, the coach has been gracious in giving her and other JV players who show up to varsity games a few minutes on the field. This indirect encouragement has made Ten want to play even more. Every single time there has been a varsity-only game and I’ve mentioned the email that states, “JV players are not required to attend,” she’s replied, “I want to go.” And we’ve let her; until this past Monday.

Originally our Monday was going to look like this: pick up both kids from school, give Ten a few minutes to change into her soccer jersey, take her to the varsity game that started at 4 p.m., get Twelve to the music studio for her guitar lesson by 4 p.m., bring both kids home, prep dinner and leave for the new writing class I’ve started taking by 5:45.

I already know what you’re thinking; I can’t be in two places at 4 p.m. That wasn’t going to stop me from trying.

I decided to be kind of Zen about the whole thing and roll with it. I knew my husband would call at some point and bail me out somewhere. I just had to wait for his call. And not forget which kid was going where.

After school, however, Ten got into the car grumbling about her homework.

“What happened?” I asked.

“We have to do this puzzle thing for math, and it’s so hard, and I can’t figure it out.”

She doesn’t do it nearly as much anymore, but I could imagine her with her arms crossed tightly across her chest in consternation.

“I remember when we had to do that,” Twelve murmured.

“When is it due?” I asked Ten.

“Tomorrow,” she said, her frustration evident.

“Well, if it’s due tomorrow and it’s that hard, then maybe you shouldn’t go to the game today,” I said, steeling myself for the reaction that would come.

Silence, first.

“But why can’t I go?” Ten protested.

“Because school comes first,” I replied, firm but polite. “Besides, it’s a varsity game, and Coach said there was no guarantee you would play.”

When he says that I think it’s more to appease the parents of the JV kids who don’t end up playing than anything else. A soccer disclaimer, if you would. But I didn’t say anything about that to Ten.

“Fine,” she said through clenched teeth as she entered the house.

She hung up her backpack, dumped her lunchbox on the kitchen counter as per routine, and stomped—actually stomped—across the great room and up the stairs. A moment later the door to her bedroom shut in what was something akin to a slam although not quite there. Twelve watched her sister’s actions then turned to me.

“Just wait until she’s a teen,” she said.

I know I’m in trouble when the kids are warning me about that.

Latest Spurts: Weird, pathetic kids and more

January 26, 2018

By Ekta R. Garg

Enjoy these Spurts from the last two weeks, readers!

My kids are so weird sometimes.

Earlier this week as we drove home from activities after school, the girls got into a discussion about the documentary Madness in the Desert. It details the challenges and trials of the cast and crew during the making of the blockbuster Hindi film Lagaan. As a quick recap, the movie shows the (fictional) story about villagers in 1800s India who accept a challenge from the ruling British soldiers to participate in a cricket match; if the villagers win the match, they don’t have to pay their taxes for three years.

(And anyone who has Netflix needs to watch the movie now. It’s phenomenal.)

In any case, the kids recently watched the documentary about the making of the movie and were sharing some of the facts with me. Some of them I already knew, like how the crew had to overcome the intense challenge of making actors look like A-list cricket players (not all actors know how to play the game on a world-class level; go figure.) During filming, though, one of the British actors dislocated his shoulder while shooting the match sequences.

“Mamma, is it possible to dislocate other parts of your body?” Nine asked.

“Yeah,” I replied, “anything that’s in a socket, like your arm, your hip—”

“Your eye,” Eleven interjected. “Here, let me try.”

“Di-Di, blink really fast, and you’ll be able to do it!” Nine exclaimed.

There was a pause in the conversation. Then Eleven said, “I’m blinking, but nothing’s happening!”

They dissolved into a fit of giggles. I pulled the car into the garage and rolled my own eyes.

My kids are so weird.

*****

Another conversation came up in the car on the way home from an activity. The kids told me about a student in their art class who didn’t listen when the teacher asked her in a polite tone to sit down. The student’s instant response was, “No.”

“She was so disrespectful,” Nine said.

“Yeah, why would her parents let her talk like that?” Eleven asked.

I wanted to be careful in answering. Whenever the kids bring up these types of questions, I always stay as neutral as possible while remaining truthful. There are a hundred factors that go into these kinds of situations, and it’s hard to answer the why without knowing more about the what.

“Well, different parents have different rules on things,” I said finally.

“You and Daddy don’t let anything slide,” Eleven said.

“That’s because we want both of you to grow up to be kind, courteous, empathetic—”

Pathetic?” Nine exclaimed.

“Yes,” I said, chuckling, “our goal is for you to be pathetic.”

“Hey!”

Eleven had started laughing by this point, but even though Nine got the joke right away she didn’t find it as amusing as her sister did.

“I said empathetic,” I went on.

“Okay, then, that’s better,” Nine said.

*****

Last Thursday I picked up Nine from dance class, and we chatted as we walked back to the car. She told me about the only boy in her class and the conversation the two of them had that day. When she mentioned his name was Romeo, I smiled.

“Is that really his name?” I asked.

“Yeah, why, is that a problem?” she asked, and I could hear the rise in her voice that only comes from fierce loyalty to her friends.

“No,” I replied in a mild tone, “I just didn’t know that people actually name their kids that.”

“People name their kids Juliet all the time,” she said.

Point Nine.

*****

On Monday we normally go straight from school to drop Eleven at her violin lesson and then Nine at her cello lesson. This week and next, however, Eleven’s teacher is out of town, so we drove to Nine’s lesson and got there a little early. Both girls settled in the comfortable couches in the waiting area of the cello teacher’s studio to get started on their homework.

I had my computer with me and started reading a new partial manuscript sent to me by one of my writers. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Nine shift in her seat and glanced at her. We exchanged a smile, and just then she dropped her eraser.

She knelt to the floor to get it and then sat back in her seat. Eleven glanced up and gave her an enthusiastic wave, as if they hadn’t been sitting less than five feet from one another the whole time. Or had ridden from school together.

Nine widened her eyes, filled her cheeks with air like a puffer fish, then raised her eraser in exaggerated slow-mo is if she was going to throw it at her sister. Eleven pretended to get scared and hid her face behind her hands. I heaved a huge sigh and went back to the manuscript.

Have I said that my kids are weird?