Latest Spurts: Sister talk and lots of swag

May 26, 2017

By Ekta R. Garg

Enjoy these Spurts from the last two weeks, readers!

Today is the last day of school, and because of that we’ve talked a lot lately about moving to higher grades. Ten and Eight will be sixth and fourth graders, respectively, this fall. They’ve already thought ahead, though.

One morning at breakfast they were talking about going into the eighth and sixth grades. Now, mind you, technically Ten hasn’t even started middle school yet. But my kids often extrapolate their current lives into the future.

“You’ll be in sixth grade when I’m in eighth,” Ten said.

“That’s when you’ll be doin’ your thang,” Eight said with swag.

As long as neither of them let their pants fall halfway to their shins, they can “do their thang” all they want.

***

Last week I received an Evite from the parents of one of Ten’s classmates. The invitation announced a backyard bash for the fifth graders to celebrate their “graduation” from elementary school. Because Ten gets along so well with the classmate hosting the party, I replied “yes” right away.

Later in the day, when the kids came home from school, I told Ten about the party.

“Finally,” she exclaimed, “someone understands how important this is!”

I didn’t want to give her my spiel about the whole concept of a fifth-grade “graduation,” especially because the family hosting the party is incredibly gracious to do so and really wonderful overall. But I wonder at this eagerness to create milestones out of things that are nothing more than a part of regular life. Like giving kids five dollars for losing a tooth. Why? I don’t get money when I put on my shoes, and putting on shoes is a learned skill. Losing teeth is not.

Instead of saying anything, I just smiled at Ten. The party is slated to be a casual gathering, so I figured I wouldn’t dampen her enthusiasm for it. At least we’re not being asked to get ready to march in to Pomp and Circumstance.

***

Earlier this week Ten and Eight’s school held Moving On Up Day. On this day, kids from every grade spend some time in the grade they’ll enter in the fall. Each child is assigned a “host” from the current class for their time in the new classroom, and kids get a mini course on what to expect come August.

Because Eight has been at the school since kindergarten, she already knew many of the fourth graders. The 4/5 classroom, too, is right across the hall from 2/3, and Eight already knows the fourth-grade teacher fairly well. I didn’t really worry much about how her day would go.

More curious for me was Ten’s entire experience. Even though this is her first year at this school, she has fit in beautifully. She’s always been a social, confident child, so I knew once she got the first-day jitters out of her at the beginning of fifth grade she would be fine and she was. But now we’re talking middle school. Whole new ball game.

So far she’s approached the entire idea of middle school with nonchalance, but the night before Moving On Up Day when I finished saying good night to her at bedtime she stopped me with a question.

“What do you wear in middle school?” she asked.

I have to admit, I was a little slow on the uptake. It didn’t occur to me in the moment why she was asking. But I sat on the edge of bed anyway.

“You just wear what you’ve worn before,” I said, “and anyone who doesn’t want to be your friend because of the way you look or your clothes isn’t a friend worth having anyway.”

She seemed satisfied with my answer, and I realized that maybe some of the nonchalance—just a little bit of it—is as much to bolster her own courage as it is to reassure us that she’ll be fine next year.

***

On Saturday morning after cleaning the breakfast dishes away, I went upstairs to take a shower and stopped at Eight’s room. She’d set up a few of her stuffed animals on the bed, and she was reading to them from a National Geographic book. Most of the other animals sat behind her on her window seat. One, her white horse, lay on top of her panda pillow pet on the floor.

“Oh, what happened to him?” I asked, entering her room.

“He’s sleeping,” she replied.

“Is he okay?”

“Yeah, I just put him to sleep. I had to…what do you call it? Sedate him. Yeah, I had to sedate him.”

“Why, is he sick?”

She grinned, and her impish self shone through.

“No, I just felt like doing it.”

“But…” I didn’t know how to ask the next question or even what to ask, truthfully. “Well, normally doctors sedate a patient if he has to go for surgery or something,” I said finally, trying to give her an ethical out.

“Yeah, I know,” she said, ever the experienced physician’s kid. “I just felt like doing it.”

“Um…okay,” I said. I went down the short hall to Ten’s room.

“Your sister sedated her horse just because she felt like it,” I said in a conspiratorial whisper.

Ten’s eyes got a little wide, but my announcement didn’t seem to faze her as much as it did me. It struck me, again, how well the sisters know each other. She was surprised but not shocked.

“That’s why we don’t want her becoming a doctor,” she said in a low voice. “If she did, the world would go rogue against doctors.”

Hmm. Maybe I should get my husband to stop trying to convince Eight to go into medicine. We don’t need people under sedation “just because.”

***

Last Sunday Eight had a cello recital, and the girls and I ended up going to it alone. Eight’s piece didn’t last too long—about 33 seconds, according to the counter on my cell phone’s video camera—and the entire recital ended after about 20 minutes. We grabbed Eight’s cello, congratulated a few of the students on playing well, and went to the car. In the parking lot, one of Eight’s classmates from her group cello class called, “Good job!”

“You too!” Eight replied politely.

As we got in and got settled into our seatbelts, Eight turned to her sister. “That’s K.”

“Oh,” Ten replied. She turned and looked through the back windshield. “Is she one of those kids?”

“One of what kids?” I asked.

A pause from the backseat.

“Nothing, Mamma,” Eight said.

“What kids?” I repeated.

“Nothing.”

“What do you mean, ‘those kids’?” I asked again.

“Nothing,” Eight replied patiently. “It’s just sister talk.”

I think this is actually the first time the girls have shared something with one another that they haven’t shared with me. I was torn, simultaneously proud of their relationship and as curious as Alice in Wonderland at what they meant. Whatever their code for “those kids,” it’s clearly something that belongs only to the two of them. And in some ways, that’s heartwarming.

Latest Chart: The death of holiday magic

December 16, 2016

By Ekta R. Garg

It’s finally here. That time of year when we see a multitude of children’s faces upturned in that magic known as the holiday season. Tinsel, stockings, elves—all these things appear when we least expect them to.

Especially the elves. The elves show up on top of the mantle, sitting high on the Christmas tree, hanging from a chandelier. They steal cookies and Chex Mix and leave fun notes for the kids.

Sometimes the elves show up buried in a box in the back of the closet. And then the magic dies.

When we first moved to Illinois three years ago, I went to Target and bought an Elf on the Shelf. The girls were 7 and 5, the perfect ages to enjoy this part of the Christmas season. And they did. They named the elf Sarah, and, boy, if we didn’t have quite the time making sure Sarah made it around the house every night during December.

I even managed to pull off quite the coup when we got Sarah into the car two years ago and convinced the kids that she’d flown into our van to make the trip to Myrtle Beach with us for the winter break. Because it’s a 13-hour drive, we always stop about halfway and stay in a hotel for the night. Before we took all our stuff out of the car, I moved Sarah to a new position so that we could keep up the charade. The kids actually believed she’d moved during the course of the night.

So you would have thought that if I could pull that off, I could handle hiding Sarah when we moved to the new house this summer.

You would have thought, right? But you know what they say about the best laid plans. All my meticulous planning and organizing couldn’t hide the box from Target. In the course of unpacking everything after the move at the beginning of the summer, the kids found it. And it truly blew—them—away.

When I realized they’d found the box, dread flooded my heart. In almost 10 years of parenting, I’ve done a lot of thinking on my feet. I’ve made up so many things on the spot. But even the most creative writer’s mind wouldn’t have been able to explain this one away.

“You mean she’s not real??” Eight exclaimed, holding the elf with its frozen smile and eyes looking off to the side in an impish manner.

“You guys were the ones moving her around?” Ten echoed.

I only had one response, and it really didn’t help. I could hear Mary Poppins in my head chiding me for the way I behaved: “Close your mouth, please, we are not a codfish.”

“Does this mean Santa isn’t real either?” Ten asked, suspicion clouding her eyes.

“No, no, Santa’s real,” I said, my conviction sounding weak even to me. “It’s just that he wanted to give kids something fun to believe in.”

“I can’t believe she’s not real,” Eight repeated, crestfallen.

Ten took Sarah and put her on the window seat. “We had so much fun guessing where she would be every night.

“So who ate the cookies?” Eight asked, referring to one of the snacks the girls had left for Sarah.

“Well, Daddy took a couple of bites and then I put the rest away,” I admitted.

“And the Chex Mix?”

I told them I’d returned it to the pantry too.

Eight’s shoulders slumped. “She’s not real.”

I urged the girls to think about the fact that their father and I had wanted Christmas to be special, to be fun. I encouraged them to consider what a challenge it had been for the grownups in the house to find new places every night to set Sarah. They seemed slightly mollified but not by much.

“Look at it this way,” I said in a consoling tone. “Now that you know you can play with her, you two can take turns putting her in different places for each other to find.”

The shrugged in mild compliance at the idea. In the bright sunny days of summer, with Christmas still months away, it sounded like something fun to do. A way for them to enjoy the holidays in a new way.

Since the start of December, though, neither of the girls has mentioned Sarah. Not once. They used to talk excitedly about her arrival and wonder whether she would make it safely back to the North Pole every night.

Now their attention remains on other things.

I’m actually sad about the fact that they found out Sarah isn’t real. That’s probably what prompted the note Ten left for the Tooth Fairy a few weeks ago that ended with “P.S. I know you’re Mommy.” Although she hasn’t said anything about Santa, when she left her Christmas wish list on my nightstand last week I saw a similar note on the bottom of that: “I know you are Mommy and Daddy.”

Granted, Ten and Eight aren’t going to be kids forever. At some point they’d find out that while Saint Nicholas was a real person, Santa is not. But I really hoped they would have gotten the chance to believe in Christmas magic a few more years. It would have kept them younger a little longer. And they’re already growing up fast enough as it is.

I could have believed that my babies were still just that. My babies. Not these grinning faces with smarts well beyond their years and the snappy comebacks to match.

I wonder: if I start believing in Santa again, does that make up for all of this?