The Thirty-Sixth Chart (Spurts)

April 27, 2012

By Ekta R. Garg

Enjoy these Spurts from the last two weeks, readers!

During our two-week vacation for spring break, Five came down with the stomach virus.  The family spent our entire first week of vacation hovering over her as she alternated between vomiting into a trash can and staring aimlessly into the distance.

When this child gets sick, among other things she stops talking.  Completely.  Even asking simple questions like, “Do you want some water?” get deflected by a single shoulder shrug.  And Five’s listless expression doesn’t change.  If she pouted or whined or complained, I wouldn’t mind.  But this child?  This child doesn’t say a word, and the look on her face remains curiously unchanged.

This vacation virus progressed in the same way.  Even my mother (a Super Mom by all accounts) couldn’t get anything out of Five.  So we spent the majority of that week spinning theories on how Five might have caught the bug and trying to coax her to make some sound, any sound.

Late in the week someone finally succeeded: Three.

From the first vomiting session early on that Monday morning of our first week my husband and I split up the girls.  I brought Three into our room, and my husband stayed with Five to help her through the nights.  One night I sat and read quietly to Five as my husband helped Three brush her teeth.  Normally an avid reader who doesn’t like grownups to read to her, Five sat and simply listened that night.  I tried to induce a reaction from her by asking her questions and pointing out pictures in the book, but she simply looked.  She didn’t nod, and I hadn’t seen her smile since the previous weekend.

Suddenly Three strutted into the bedroom wearing my shower cap.

“Hello!” she trilled, channeling some sort of unidentified accent.  “I am the chef.  What would you like to eat?”

My husband followed her with a grin, and the two of them began offering a verbal menu for sale.  Three’s control of her instantaneous restaurant became clear when she refused to “cook” meals to order, informing us instead that she only had peanut butter-and-jelly sandwiches and macaroni and cheese available.

I looked back at Five and saw something we hadn’t seen in days—a smile.  A few minutes later the smile actually turned into a quiet chuckle.  And I finally heard her voice, albeit in a nonverbal way.

In the regular course of a day, the girls chatter nonstop.  Sometimes I look heavenward and ask for a few minutes of quiet.  But even I didn’t want the quiet at this price.

***

Yesterday as we drove to school we spotted a homeless person again.  And this time Five pressed the issue.

“Mama, why don’t you ever help that man?”

Of course I had the most intelligent answer available right away: I responded with a lot of “Ums” and “Uhs” and “Well…,” trailing off into nothing.

“You never try to help him.  I saw him hold a sign, and the first word on the sign says ‘homeless.’”

I heaved a quiet sigh because I suddenly made a choice.  I decided to tell Five the truth, or, at least, a simplified version of it.

“We don’t help that man because don’t know if he really needs help,” I said, proceeding with a little hesitation.  Just because I’d decided to tell her didn’t mean I had to like it.

“Sometimes people really do need help,” I continued.  “But sometimes they just try to trick us, and we don’t know whether the people we see really need help.”

Silence.  I didn’t risk looking in the rearview mirror—I didn’t want to see her expression—but I decided to forge ahead and try to put a good spin on the situation.

“But we do help people in other ways,” I continued.  “When you and [Three] outgrow your old clothes, I don’t throw them away.  I give them to charity so that other people who don’t have clothes can use them.”

“What’s charity?”

“It’s when you do something for someone else without expecting anything in return,” I responded promptly, glad I had a ready answer for at least of one of her questions.

“You know that bag on the stairs?” I asked next, referring to a garbage bag full of old clothes, books, and shoes I’d left on the landing at home.

“Yeah?”

“I’m going to drop it off at a charity so they can give the clothes or sell it at really cheap prices to people who don’t have stuff.  So, see?  We’re helping people.  And we can’t possibly help everyone, but we try to do as much as we can.”

My answer pacified her for the time, and the fact that we pulled into the school drop-off line right at that moment provided her with a necessary distraction.  But I know this conversation may come up again, and I’m not sure what my response may be next time.

***

My husband’s profession insures that he receives a barrage of medical journals in the mail.  From the time he joined his first hospital system in this country for his internal medicine residency I don’t remember a week where we haven’t received at least four or five journals courtesy of the U.S. postal system.

My husband throws out many of them.  Some he’s thrown out because they didn’t include articles that appealed to him.  On occasion he has thrown out medical journals because of a sheer lack of time—during the months when a particular rotation keeps him at the hospital well past dinner time or if he’s studying for the board exams, he doesn’t bother scanning the journals at all.  He just sighs at them and tosses them to the floor, my signal that I should then toss them into the recycling container when I get the chance.

These days, however, because he’s in the middle of a light rotation, he has more time on his hands to scan the journals.  I don’t mind if he does this while we sit in bed at night before lights out or even during lunch.  But I put my foot down at dinnertime.  Our last meal of the day is also the only one we all eat together, and I want it free from medical journals, tablets, laptops, and (when he’s not on call) pagers.

He doesn’t have a problem disengaging from the electronics—well, for the most part—but the medical journals provide him with a tantalizing distraction.  I often have to sigh and urge him to put them down.

Last night the girls ate their meals faster than the adults and decided to entertain us with some of the songs they will perform in the school spring program.  Five had taken the “stage” first, and as Three prepared to sing my husband’s attention wandered back to the journal in the middle of the table.  He pulled it towards him and began skimming the table of contents.

“Dear, please,” I said, repeating a phrase the kids have heard me use countless times.

“What?  I’m not reading it, I’m just looking at it,” he said, now perusing the pages.

“Come on, dear, it’s dinner time.”

My husband responded with a generic “mm-hmm” and continued to read.

I sighed, not knowing what to do next.

Five saved me the trouble.  Without a word she closed the journal, picked it up, took it to the kitchen, and dropped it on one of the counters.  Coming back to the makeshift stage next to the dining table, she resumed the short version of the show she and Three were performing.

I couldn’t help smiling because my husband performed a ghost of a shrug and gave his full attention to the girls.  Surely I can find more ways in the future to use this hold his daughters have on him!

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