Chart Number 222

July 15, 2016

By Ekta R. Garg

Last weekend we got to do something fun for Eight’s birthday that reminded me of an incident from her baby years. The incident itself wasn’t fun, but it provided a defining moment for me in my younger daughter’s childhood.

When my husband and I got married, for our first five years together we lived in Portland, Oregon, while he completed his residency and then worked as a chief resident and then a hospitalist. Several years after moving from Oregon, we took the girls back for a visit. By then the girls were almost four and almost two, respectively.

During the few days we were in Portland, we spent most of our time on the go. This was in the days before Eight was speaking—as in, her total vocabulary consisted of about six words. It was also before we knew our children as well, so while we figured the pace had been a little vigorous we didn’t realize just how important it was for Eight to get her sleep at her regular naptimes and bedtime.

The result? When we reached the Portland airport to fly back to Houston, Baby Eight started crying. And crying. And crying.

Oh, but we’re not talking about the whimpering, needs-a-hug-and-a-stuffed-animal kind of crying. No, we’re talking about the kind of relentless screaming that makes people turn around and shake their heads in either sympathy or irritation. We tried everything under the sun to calm her down, but in the end all I could do as we waited in the mile-long security line was hold her as she screamed.

Just before we took our turn through a security, an older woman (one of the sympathetic onlookers) said to me, “That is the kind of determination that is going to get her through life.”

I’ve never forgotten that day, and time and again we’ve seen Eight’s determination exhibited. Last weekend, as I said, we got to see it in a positive set of circumstances.

For the first time since construction began on our new home, we went to Chicago for the weekend. We love the Windy City and had had a collective family hankering for visiting for several months. Because Eight’s birthday is in July, we figured it was a great way to celebrate her birthday and go to Chicago all in one fell swoop.

We asked the birthday girl where she’d like to spend the day, and she said the zoo (of course.) So we gathered our hats and an umbrella (for the sun) and made our way to Lincoln Park Zoo. It’s a great place. The admission is free; all you have to pay for is parking, and even that is pretty reasonable (for an all-day ticket we ended up paying just $35.) Also, the zoo is open ended to other parts of the city, so we were able to step away for about an hour and grab lunch in a charming café nearby.

Of course, Eight’s concentration was on the animals—specifically, how many exhibits we could see. On the spur of the moment that morning, she decided to start counting the exhibits. When we got up to about 15, she announced the number to me.

“Mamma, do you think we could see a hundred exhibits today?”

I kind of chuckled. “I don’t think we’ll get to that many. Why don’t we start with twenty-five and see what happens?”

“Okay,” she said, excited for her challenge.

We went to more exhibits and Eight kept counting. In the early afternoon, a long-distance colleague of my husband’s popped into the zoo with her own husband to say hello to us. She brought the girls stuffed animals, for Eight’s birthday and for Ten as a goodwill gesture, and Eight expressed the right amount of appreciation and showed just the right amount of interest but in the back of her mind she kept track of her count.

Later in the day when Ten suggested they change the count from number of exhibits to actual animals, Eight quietly refused.

“It only counts if we see exhibits with actual animals in them,” she said to her sister. As Ten moved on, Eight hung back to talk to me.

“It was my idea,” she said in a soft voice, slightly miffed. “I was the one who came up with seeing the exhibits.”

“I know, baby,” I told her. “You can keep counting the way you want.”

Normally one to linger at the sight of an animal, Eight was content to see that one actually sat in each enclosure before moving on. She also didn’t mind counting exhibits where one of us had seen an animal and she hadn’t; all that mattered was the count. As the number kept climbing through the day, Eight’s footsteps became springier. Which is saying something for a child who has trouble sitting still.

And wouldn’t you know it? We reached a hundred exhibits by the end of the day. When we finally hit it, Eight turned to me.

“See, Mamma? I told you we would get to a hundred today.”

I conceded to her. Then I smiled, remembering the determination of this girl when she was a baby as she cried in that airport. The determination of this child to hit a hundred exhibits by the end of a day at the zoo.

It makes me excited to see where her determination will take her next.