“What is this?”
I’m emptying the Quail’s backpack out in our nightly papers-home-from-school de-cluttering routine. At the very bottom is a small bag of three large marble sized balls.
“They balls Momma.” Sugarplum explains as she stuffs her peanut butter and apple jelly sandwich into her sticky mouth.
“They’re a choking hazard.” I retort under my breath.
“NO! They MY choking hazard.” The two-year old declares as the Quail dances in to the kitchen as naked as the day is long. “NO! MINE!” she yells trying to grab them from me. Tucking them into my pocket I scold her back to her room for undies and jammies. “I said to go get your clothes Quail. Now.”
Now that the children outnumber us, our zone defense is our best attack. And by best I don’t mean effective. I mean some balls get dropped and hopefully those that might be choking hazards are quickly tucked away.
The Quail raises her overly therapized voice and with a hand pressed to her still tubby wet chest hollers at me, “No Momma! My ball. My prize. My star!!! Mine!!” She worked hard for that little prize this week. She works hard every week. Hard enough that her small head drifts to her chest each night in the car ride home from our work and school daze.
The week before school started, we met with our new kindergarten teacher to talk about the Quail and learn what we could expect as well as foreshadow a bit of what they might see.
“These first couple of weeks will be hard for them as they learn the new routine. You can expect her to lose her star quite a bit. It helps if we are consistent with our expectations right from the start. But, don’t worry- it doesn’t mean she will have trouble all year long. She’ll learn the routine and what’s expected of her. All the children do.” Her teacher looked on to our worried faces as we nodded in understanding. This was what we wanted. What we have always wanted for the Quail. A typical classroom with typical expectations and challenges. For her to come to the same neighborhood school as her sister and sit with her friends and sing songs and learn her letters and numbers and what to expect during the day. And this is what we got. She surprised us, not surprisingly. By keeping to the classroom routine each day and earning her star for two plus weeks straight. Even helping out another little boy who was struggling with the routine and making a new friend or two. The second week, I opened her backpack to find a sweet markered picture labeled as her and her new friend Laurel, that showed them out on a sunny patch of grass standing side-by-side with hearts in the air. Her teacher told us how this little girl worked lovingly on the portrait all day coming back and forth from her table to tell her how she was making this special for the Quail. It was enough to fill my momma-heart and stop berating myself for all that I hadn’t accomplished that day.
And then, came week three. A bit of the newness obviously rubbing the shine off. A tired bird grumpy by the requirements to get herself out of the tall car each morning with her too large backpack and sister and friend urging her to keep up as they run to the cafeteria waiting to go to class. I’d been firm with the sisters that morning. I was frustrated by the drop-off line that wasn’t yet routine enough to not make me have to rush off to work without worried rearview mirror glances to make sure the trio actually entered the school building rather than loitering on the sidewalk. I was firm with my expectation that no matter how much Zuzu liked taking her sister directly to her classroom, it was important that the Quail learn to do it independently and not rely on Zuzu to get her there. Neither were happy with my expectations and both had been avoiding my eyes during my daily reiteration of the instructions that the Quail was to line up when the teacher called for the kindergarteners and if she didn’t go, Zuzu was to tell the teacher her sister needed to be in that line, rather than waiting and walking her to class herself. For two weeks, they had managed to give me vague replies about what happened once I drove off. I felt firm in my stance that teaching the Quail how to get to class needed to come from the school, both so they were aware of the issue and also to knock off one more mixed message that Zuzu was receiving whether to mother her sister or not.
That night when I opened the Quail’s boomerang folder, I saw that her star was gone and there was a long explanation detailing her stubborn responses to the routines she had been acing the weeks before. The next day more of the same. Her teacher had emailed providing more details surrounding this and expressing concern over the Quail’s new attitude that had been building. As we corresponded back and forth though, instead of feeling frustrated I felt so very appreciative of this new teacher who obviously had taken the time to get to know the Quail and all of her capacity. She told us about the Quail’s helpfulness to another student. How the Quail went from her square to her center to the therapists with few hitches. She told us how she has gotten to know the Quail’s body language. How when she is being stubborn, she looks down. When she is honestly confused and unsure of what to do she looks you in the eye and raises her arms to form a question. She told me that while the Quail does continue to get distracted by her interest in her classmates and what they are doing, they’ve found a way to accommodate that by having her at the teacher’s table with only a couple of other kids during independent work time so that they can redirect her back to her own work.
Her own work. And there is so very much of it. When Zuzu was in kindergarten I was overwhelmed by the amount of daily work she produced. Their kindergarten made my childhood kindergarten look seem like nursery school. The worksheets helping them to think about numbers and letters and not just rotely copy them down. They see the letters and circle the letters, and color and draw the letters and words that start with them. They copy the numbers and illustrate the sums in quantities of apples and birds and flowers. They sing songs about Ally Alligator and Catina Cat and the girls come home and dance around the kitchen with their movements and songs teaching Sugarplum about what’s to come.
And then, Mom laid down the law. Zuzu acquiesced and the Quail rebelled. I have no idea if this separating of them was in fact the instigation for her terrible, horrible, no good, very bad, day or not. What I do know, is that after two bad days in a row we pulled Zuzu aside and told her to go ahead and do what works best for her and let the Quail know that if she needed Zuzu to walk her to class that it would be ok for a bit longer. And the next day all was right with the world again and the Quail managed to earn her Friday trip to the prize box after earning the next three stars for the week. What I do know, is that I don’t always know what’s best. And that that is ok, sometimes even good to admit. That sometimes I can let others work things out without my propellers rotating. That sometimes others can keep the balls up in the air, while I find a way to dispose of the ones that might just choke us.