I roll my eyes to the ceiling as I hear the squabble start down the hall.
“Momma!!!!! The Quail spit at me! I wasn’t doin’ ANYTHING!!! And she just spit! MOMMMMMAA!!!!”
Sighing, I pull my flat-iron through my hair once, twice, three times. The sound of feet running in two different directions fills the office.
Just as I see the ruffled edge of the Quail’s nightgown through the cracked bathroom door I hear another door slam and Zuzu scream in frustration. Leaning my head through the door I look the Quail in the eye and raise my finger to my lips. She answers in return with her own raised finger, “Shhhhhhh….” Too late, the baby cries out from our room and we all stand still as statues pretending we weren’t the one to make that last sound that roused her. I want to tell Zuzu to stop storming. I want to tell the Quail to never spit again. I want to tell them both that it isn’t even 7 a.m. yet and I haven’t even finished one cup of coffee. I want to drink three cups of coffee. I want to send them all back to bed and start over.
Instead I reach out and the Quail’s hand locks in mine automatically. “Come on, come say sorry to your sister.” I feel the slight pull as she considers refusing and the release as she decides a stern Momma’s attention is better than none at all and follows me silently back to her room.
When to intervene and when to let them work it out is a riddle to me. I talk too much. I say the wrong words. I say them too loudly. I say them too often. I nag. I coddle. I cajole. I threaten and I warn. I take away privileges. I step in. I turn away. I say I’m sorry. I instruct them to do the same. I lift them up and I let them go. I mother. I parent. I boss. I love. I’m at a loss.
Zuzu, she’s bossy with her sisters. And she’s loving. Her voice has turned from hard edged to charmingly coaxing when they aren’t following her pied piping these days. She takes the model of her kindergarten and first grade teachers and plays out her own school days in little dioramas of her toy-filled bedroom. The change is noticeable. I’m fairly certain it hasn’t come from my instruction either. She’s learned the power of honey over vinegar and is harnessing it in her own time. Still ever so delicate in heart, she’s not one to be mean. Bossy. Instructive. In charge. Yes. Mean no. When someone takes her toy, calls her a robot, says they don’t want to play My Little Ponies or Barbies, her heart is truly crumpled and she pulls back with a sour look until she can find her way to melt back into your side.
The Quail on the other hand. Is usually the first to follow the teachings of Zuzu. Where Zuzu goes, she goes. What Zuzu does, she does. What Zuzu eats, she eats. What Zuzu dresses up as for Halloween, she dresses up as for Halloween. On the other hand. She’s not one to be told what to do. That decision to take her sister’s lead- that’s all her. Should Zuzu take her toy. She shouts No and takes it back. Should her sister’s turn on the swing go on too long. She stares her down till she “chooses” to give her a turn. Should someone say she can’t come in the sandbox to play , she pulls their pigtail down to the ground and sits on them. Should her sisters include her in what they are doing, her grin cracks wide open lighting up her eyes and the hearts of those around her. She may not always be able to articulate exactly what she wants, but she is crystal clear in what she loves and hates.
And then along came Sugarplum. This sweet and quiet plum of a baby woke up one day this summer and came into her own. What was once a quiet, serene, easy-going little sweetie-pie was no longer willing to give up her toys and books at the whim of an older sister. Much to everyone’s surprise one day when the Quail sat down on the pink Dora couch next to her and reached over to pluck the book she was looking at from her pudgy hands, her own cheek was met with a small slap and a quick, “No!” The pause in the room was palpable as Zuzu looked up from her Ramona & Beezus chapter book and the Quail let go. Even Sugarplum seemed surprised at the effect of her small might.
Strong-willed they say. In equal yet different parts. The Venn diagram of what that means in their relationship is still being worked out among them.
For now, we kneel down between this triad and issue reminders that we don’t hit, we don’t spit or bite or sit on our sisters. We are kind and gentle and helpful to our family and friends. That it is ok to be angry, and to be sad and to be scared and frustrated. But it isn’t ok to take it out on each other or to take what’s precious to one another away. We ask for a turn. For now, we hug and sign our apologies and move on with our day. Until the next storm comes, the next squabble erupts; the next rascaling match needs to be broken up and sorted out.