Latest Chart: You think you’re a negotiator? You haven’t met a teenager.

April 23, 2021

By Ekta R. Garg

People think that political candidates have to be great negotiators, and often they do. They have to figure out how to balance the demands of their constituents with their own goals, maybe their own personal ambitions for power. Their tactical abilities don’t hold a candle to a teenager on a mission, though.

The following has become a running joke—at least, I consider it a joke—for Fourteen and me any time I’m driving her places.

“Do you want me to put in the directions to Starbucks?” she asks, gesturing to the GPS screen.

“Nope.”

“Why not?”

“Because we’re not going to Starbucks.”

“But we’ve got time.”

“School starts in twenty minutes, so, no, we don’t have time.”

“But it’s so close by.”

“Nope.”

“But you could get a treat for yourself, Mamma. Anything you like, you can get.”

“That’s really generous of you, but no.”

The context might change a little—we might be driving to her violin teacher’s house where they have lessons in the teacher’s back yard socially distanced, say, or to her dance class where she and four other students share a huge dance studio the space of two bedrooms. On the rare occasion I do use the GPS, she’ll tell me I’m spelling “Starbucks” wrong as I input street names. She’s even “failed” my driving several times as I drive right past the coffee joint instead of turning into the parking lot.

The argument, however, is always the same. Take me to Starbucks. Buy me a treat.

In case you’re wondering, no, I’m not in the habit of taking my children to Starbucks much. We’ve stopped there during road trips a few times for a cup of tea and to use the bathroom. There was the infamous episode with Twelve, when she was in preschool and still gaining confidence in using the bathroom like a big girl, when she made me stop there every day for a week after school just so she could pee. She never even asked for something to eat. She just wanted to stop in this one particular Starbucks on the way home.

Now, however, thanks to visits to Myrtle Beach with the grandparents and the girls’ close friends (who are really more like honorary cousins) who live there, Starbucks is high on the priority list for my 14-year-old.

This week she tried to sweeten the ask by including her sister. Yesterday, after picking Fourteen up at school, I had to make a quick stop at the grocery store near home. We had just enough time for me to go to the store, grab the one vegetable I needed to make dinner, and then get in the car and drive to Twelve’s school in time to pick her up after track club.

“Are we going to Starbucks?” Fourteen asked after we chatted for a few minutes about her day.

“No.”

“Why not?”

“Because I have a lot to do at home,” I said.

“What do you have to do?”

I cited the two magazine articles I still had to write plus a few other tasks.

“So wouldn’t getting some Starbucks help?” she asked. “Just think, it’ll make your work so much nicer.”

“No.”

“Oh, come on,” she said in a teasing tone. “You know you want to.”

“Not really,” I countered. “I really just want to go home and write my articles and finish my day. Plus, it’s not even on the way.”

“That’s okay, [Twelve] won’t mind if we’re a few minutes late to pick her up.”

“You really think so?” I asked wryly. “How would she feel if you got Starbucks and she didn’t?”

“So get her something too,” she said. “She’s your favorite child anyway. Don’t you want to make your favorite child happy?”

“She’s not my favorite,” I said automatically, “I love you both equally, and I’m still not going to Starbucks.”

In truth, I really was tired, and I could feel my resolve slipping a little. If we’d actually driven by a Starbucks on the way, I would have probably at least considered stopping, not because I wanted to give Fourteen a treat but because she was wearing me down a little bit. In a rare moment of fatigue, I knew I would have considered giving in to her just to make her stop begging.

The trouble was that I knew it wouldn’t stop her completely; she’d just again start after week or two.

(Toddlers and teenagers; really, someone has to find a way to bottle that quality and monetize it.)

We arrived at the grocery store, and I told her she could stay in the car. As I walked toward the entrance and put on my mask, I decided to let my teen’s persistence wear me down a little anyway. I wouldn’t go to Starbucks for her, but I could make a peace offering.

I grabbed the vegetable I needed then wandered to the bakery section of the store. After perusing the choices for a couple of minutes and glancing at my watch, I picked up a box of eight snickerdoodles. Within minutes I’d zipped through the self-checkout area and made my way back to the car.

As I got back into the driver’s seat, I handed her the grocery bag and told her to look inside. Her eyes lit up when she saw the little box. Feeling my firm hold slip even further, I told her she could have two right then.

She has a snack after school every day anyway, and I knew when she went home she’d have a glass of milk. I figured the cookies could count as the snack part of her after-school routine.

We got to Twelve’s school several minutes early and sat in the pickup line talking as we waited. I turned off the car and watched as Fourteen pulled her second cookie from the box. Without a reminder or any admonishment, she closed the box right away and put it down.

I stared at the box for a minute then retrieved it from her lap and opened it.

“What are you doing?” she asked.

I pulled out the first of my own two snickerdoodles.

“Having a treat,” I said.

I might be (mostly) impervious to teen begging, but even I need a little fun every now and again, right? And hopefully this will put off the constant requests to stop at Starbucks. For a week or so anyway.

Latest Chart: Christmas wishes

December 25, 2020

By Ekta R. Garg

In a year full of so much strife, pain, and loss, it seems like a luxury to have a day of joy and laughter. Yet today has been just that. In the movie version of 2020, Christmas this year has been the part of the film that offers a respite after the buildup of drama. It’s been a day full of the idyllic scenes that make the Hallmark Channel so famous.

We’ve had the copious presents under the tree; some of them were practical items (sweatshirts) and others were indulgences (a Harry Potter bracelet for Fourteen; a hoodie with Megan Rapinoe and Alex Morgan on it for Twelve.) We’ve spent the afternoon playing board games that involved loud protests about when it counts for someone to yell “Uno!” and bursts of giggles about ridiculous clues given during Taboo. We’ve even shared some Christmas chocolate, an occasional treat and indulgence indeed.

This week leading up to Christmas Day has had its fair share of typical holiday moments too. We decided on the day the kids’ break started that we’d watch a movie every single day. To combat drawn-out discussions about what to watch, each family member got to choose three movies and write the names on individual slips. Every day, we’ve taken turns drawing the slips and have dutifully sat to watch one another’s choices amid groans and grins (depending on how much we liked that day’s feature film.) By the end of break, we will have watched 15 movies—a marathon that is a record for us.

Fourteen put her best acting skills to use for the past three weeks, insisting that I must have been the one to place a mystery gift under the tree when she knew very well it was her dad who put it there. (In fact, she was the one who wrapped it for him.) She demanded on a daily basis that I “confess” to being the Secret Santa, even going so far as to say I could “confide” in her and that we didn’t have to tell anyone else that I’d done so. In this house, she’d easily win an Oscar for her pitch perfect performance. Not once did she drop the character of “impetuous, impatient teenager wanting answers immediately.”

In a burst of bravery, Twelve decided to ask her friend group what pictures they’d like her to draw for them as Christmas presents. She ended up drawing 11 pictures, and they ran the gamut from How to Train Your Dragon characters to snowy scenes of a home in winter. She wanted to do a good job, and she began working on the pictures in late November. With online school keeping her busy, she finished the pictures last weekend. We decided the best way to make sure the pictures got to all her friends on time was to hand deliver them. The excitement Twelve experienced in seeing her friends face to face at a social distance in the last two days totally eclipsed her embarrassment in sharing her drawings with everyone.

My own contribution to this holiday break has been challenging myself with a variety of new and fun meals to make. I’ve spent more than my fair share of hours planning, cooking, and washing dishes afterward. It’s been a delight, though, to hear the sighs of pleasure at the table and the demands that I replicate the meal of the moment. More than once, Fourteen has said, “Make more right now.”

In this week and especially on a day like today, it’s easy to forget the challenges we’ve experienced this year. Is that okay? I don’t know. My husband and I have spent most days this year trying to guide, coach, goad, chide, encourage, and, on occasion, reprimand the kids as they’ve encountered the unexpected. We’ve talked multiple times about how we’re living through a historical event and how reading about history in an article or watching a documentary about it is much easier. Even today FaceTime and phone calls reminded us how we’re separated from our extended family because of the pandemic.

Yet, after this year, today seems like a full dose of normalcy. The kind that doesn’t need a follow-up dose three weeks later. It’s allowed us to exhale and smile with relief afterward.

The new year is a week away. We have no idea what 2021 will bring us. After this year, I think we’ve all learned to make the most of days like today. The days when we can treasure one another from start to finish.

Maybe that’s one of the lessons we’re meant to learn from the pandemic; maybe we won’t rush through the precious moments so much anymore. We’ll live through every moment—really live through it, as opposed to styling it or capturing it or rushing through it. We’ll live the moments and create the memories we keep talking about. The kind of memories filmmakers rely on for inspiration in their blockbusters.

I hope you all experienced peace and love today. I hope the new year brings you prosperity and good health. More than anything, I hope 2021 brings you moments to remember.

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.