If you think my hands are full, you should see my heart.
Each fall, we pick apples. It doesn’t always go well. To be honest, it goes more wrong than right. It’s usually too hot, too cold, too windy and we’re too tired, too hungry, too sick and our buckets tip over, our wagons careen down mountainsides, someone else grabs our bag of apples we picked, the apple-cider donut line too long, no one wants to walk, carry the bucket, pick the apples, step over the rotten mush on the ground, take a picture, stand in line. Yet. Still we go. And still I take pictures. And mostly, mostly we come home with apples and bake them in pies and cobblers and crisps and sauces. And think about going earlier in the season next year. Or maybe two times. Or maybe not at all.
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“Quail. We need to talk about drop-off, ok?”
She ducks her head and scuffs her purple shoe back and forth. I’m sitting on the floor in front of her doing my best imitation of placid…
The Quail looks guilty and irritated. Clearly not happy about what I want to talk about. I started dropping her off at school approximately two years ago. I admit- taking a three year old to school, it took something out of me. The staff at the school were beyond kind and accommodating. Each day on the drive there we would sing and talk and practice our A,B,Cs and 1,2,3s. We used that time to connect and practice her approximations and articulations in an environment free from sisters proclamations and involvement. She loved those rides and so did I. When we would pull up to the school we were allowed to park in the lot, avoiding the drop-off line while her teacher came out to meet us. Sometimes walking with her, sometimes carrying her- always greeting her with a hello, how are you and talk of the day to come. For the most part the Quail enjoyed the drop-off. She would have momentary lapses of shyness, but she generally played along nicely. The next year drop-offs weren’t my job. She was spending 5 half-days at school, but they started mid-morning so the public school bus would arrive at her daycare each day at the same time and Ray the driver would greet her and off they would go. I was told the driver and assistant loved their jobs and would sing and count and talk with the children. The Quail loved Ray so much that her teachers told me how one day the district switched the bus without any notice and as the Quail stepped out of the daycare doors and saw a bus that was clearly not hers she stepped back saying, “No bus. Curley’s bus. No Quail bus.” She only agreed to get on at the point that Ray stuck his head out calling her name, at which point she cheered and ran over to him. At the end of the year, I met a mother of another kiddo in her class and she talked about how each day when she met the bus with her own son she would see the Quail peering out the window at her and would wave. The Quail looked at her stoically until one day in the late spring, she waved back. The mother smiled back. This small act made her come up to us at the 4k graduation to tell us about it and how much she looked forward to seeing the Quail each day. That she just looked so capable and independent.
Earlier this fall, a mutual friend asked me to give this same woman a call. She had given birth to a baby girl over the summer. Her fifth- and the sweet little girl was diagnosed quite unexpectedly with Down syndrome. When we spoke she told me that within an hour of her infant being born she looked at her and wondered if she might have Down syndrome and her next thought was of the cautious little girl on the school bus who one day decided to open up to her and wave back. She said she hoped that life would be as good for her daughter as it seems to be for the Quail. This filled my heart and eyes. That the Quail had provided hope for another little one and her mother just by being herself out on her own in her community.
This year the Quail is in school for a full day. Which means she now gets to go to and from school with her sister. Both she and Zuzu have been planning how this would go throughout the summer months. They traded lunch boxes, parceled out who got which dresses from the bi-annual consignment sale, traded seats in the car and talked and practiced endlesslyu about when and how these drop-offs would work. Lovey did the first week of drop-offs and for him there were no issues. They drove up, Zuzu got out, then the Quail did and everyone went off to their days. Then I started the drop off. I pulled up. Zuzu reached over to help undo the five-point harness that we still strap the Quail into and the Quail protested. She wanted my help. Easy enough. I put the car in park and leaned back and undid it. Zuzu got out, the Quail grabbed her backpack and then balked. It was a long step down. So Zuzu stepped in again, took her backpack from her and offered her hand. The Quail squawked at her, but climbed out. I slowly pulled away eyeing them through my rearview mirrors. Ignoring the cars in line behind me that surely wished I would just pull out already. The girls weren’t moving. Zuzu looked irritated as she tried to coax the Quail to come with her. I finally pulled into a parking spot and got out to watch. As it continued I got more anxious and just as I started to walk up to them, the Quail acquiesced and in the building they went. The next day we all repeated this scene. And the next day more of the same. Then I happened to ask about what happened when they went in the school. Zuzu happily informed me that the Quail refused to get up to go when the kindergarteners were called and loved it when she took her to her classroom. As I mentioned earlier– I had laid down the law about this. The Quail needs to learn to get there on her own and follow the expected routine. That didn’t go over well then, and it continues to not go over well now.
We were out the other weekend when a friend came up to me chuckling about how he was initially worried when he pulled up to drop off his kids and saw the Quail standing on the sidewalk but our car gone. He explained that there were about 10 children milling around her trying to convince her to go inside. Sigh. I felt simultaneously annoyed and grateful. Annoyed that this routine is not the routine I think it should be- the routine that safely delivers her from our car into the school building filled with in-charge adults and grateful that she has become so ingrained in her community that others don’t just walk on by. That they stop to talk and lend a convincing hand. And considering we pick her up everyday at the end of the day- all has been well in the end. It still worries me though. She’s never been a runner. Neither at home or out and about. But still. I want her to just get out of the car and go inside. I already gave in to the fact that her sister likes to walk her to class, the teachers think that is fine and the Quail thinks that is fine. After watching her for a few days I realized what was going on. She was looking for her friends. One day Miley got out and they ran off into school together. Another day it was last year’s classmate Hunter. I heard him call her name and as he walked up they joined hands and went in together. Another day as I was squawking at her to get out of the car already- dear Mrs. P- Zuzu’s former teacher popped her head in asking if we needed help. The Quail turned on the charm and reached right out to her. Another day it was her own teacher from last year. People are wonderful- they really are taking care of her. Still though- I find this drop off rough….the roughest part of this entire adjustment from a preschooler to an elementary schooler. The feelings I had watching Zuzu walk off into the school by herself that first year are just amplified by all the what-ifs that I’ve trained my mind to watch for and problemsolve before they actually reach that level. It’s rough to settle my own feathers and watch her spread her wings. And it’s rough to know when to helicopter in for a landing and when to hover further back.
In the meantime while we continue to work this out- I’m grateful for all the feather smoothing our community has been providing for us.
…”So I need you to just go inside when you get out of the car. Ok Quail? If your friends are there you can walk in with them, but if they are not, you are to go in with your sister and not wait for someone else to walk off.- Got it?”
“So what do you do when I pull up to the school?”
“And if you don’t, what will happen?”
“Momma angy. No cake. No TV.”
“Right. But you know to go inside right? No more waiting outside- Go. In.”
“Yeah!!! Go in!” She does a little dance and leans in plumping my cheeks with her hands as she rubs our noses together and I finally grin. She lets go, grabs her backpack and as she swings it on her small shoulders hollers for her sisters.
“Bye Sug! Zuzu come on!”
I was having a moment. Apparently I was being overly affectionate with the Quail. Setting my coffee down on the kitchen counter, I had reached for her as she danced into the room with her backpack in one hand, a baby doll in the other and her favorite owl shaped hat tucked over her freckled forehead. As I pulled her to me, she pushed herself back away.
“Stop kissing you?” I asked with a raised eyebrow, reaching again for my coffee mug.
“Ye-s. Tooooo much wet. No touch, Momma. No cake. Time out”
She doesn’t like to hug me post run or post shower. She’s made that clear in the last year. Certainly she doesn’t mind getting wet and splashing until there is more water passively cleaning our bathroom floor than there is left in the tub most nights. But heaven forbid I should have a drop on me when I come near her. Every morning that I’ve gone for a run this summer, I can typically find her either peeking out the back porch screen door looking for me or hiding behind the kitchen door ready to ask me if I was running. Each month as the heat index rose, I found the will to get myself out of bed before sunrise to run laps in my driveway. An easy enough feat once I realized my phone could still connect to our Netflix from the driveway and the vocal stylings of a Benedict Cumberbatch flick or the rumblings of the Braverman family could spur me on. I grew to love this time of day where I could wake up on my own and get a shot of adrenaline coursing through me before I had anyone asking anything of me. Then the girls began to notice that I was up and not telling them to do anything. The prior months of explicit instructions, threats, warnings and sticker charts instructing them to stay in bed until 6 a.m. came into a state of peril. They knew I was up, and even if I didn’t feel like parenting, they felt like kidding. And besides, I hadn’t cared when they joined me in a yoga or work-out video. Hadn’t I loved it when Zuzu would scream her motivations from behind me as I keeled over to the latest Jillian Michael’s work-out? Zuzu, who, over the summer had developed an affinity for athletic clothes started suddenly popping into my line of sight in neon pink from head to toe full of the day’s questions before I could pause my audio. Then the Quail started noticing that neither her sister nor I were in the house and started investigating. A time or two she even joined me, which as I started yet another lap would devolve into a flurry of complaints for me to stop. Come back. No momma. No run. Eat. Watch TV.
Not exactly the cause for a heart-rate increase I was waking early for. Eventually they started to realize it wasn’t as much fun to watch Mom run and talk at her as it was to attempt to confiscate the remote or My Little Pony dolls before her sister got to it. I tell ya, I’m not on my parenting game at 5:00 in the morning.
Impressed with the Quail’s calm and carefully worded explanation to me as to why I couldn’t kiss her this time I leaned down in front of her careful to not drip; “Ok- Abs- thanks for telling me.” I couldn’t help myself though from making my own pouty face at not having gotten my way or a kiss.
As she scooted around my bended knee she paused, leaned in, kissed me on the cheek and scurried off to begin her day.
“Who are your friends Quail?”
“Miley. Laurel. Brooks. Blair. “
She ticks them off on her fingers without hesitation. These are some of the children she plays with in her kindergarten class at school. Last year when we would ask the same question the answer was Nikaela, Oriana, Miley, Sydney, Kaden and Landon. The year before that Mariah. Such a small thing to be able to list off your friends- and yet in so many ways- this is such a big thing for her to list off her friends- both the literal ability to say their names, to count them on her fingers, to run and play and work with them in her day. The fact that they are friends- and from what I can see- the love-fest seems to be mutual between her and them. Many people worry that when your child has obvious differences they won’t be welcomed into their communities. That the social hurdles will be too much to deal with and your child will suffer so from that. Different friends have come and gone as they’ve moved, changed schools or daycares. The same as they have for her sister. In each instance the thing that struck me as she began to name them as friends in her life was these were children that she made friends with. These were not the children of the family friends whom she only got to see on weekends or special occasions. These were the children of her everyday. Of her community. The ones she sought out in her classroom and on her playgrounds and who seek her out in return. We try to make a point to introduce ourselves to these children’s parents when the opportunity pops up. We’d love to get to know their families- and sometimes the activities we do- they do include those families. But really, for the most part- the children she considers her besties have nothing to do with us. It’s been a couple of years since she would answer Sugarplum and Zuzu as her best friends. Ask her who loves her and that is a different set- that’s Mom, Dad, Sugarplum and Zuzu. But we aren’t her besties. That’s clear now.
The other night we went to a “McTeacher” fundraiser night for her school and from the moment the door to the playroom opened I could hear the chanting- “Quail! Quail! Quail!” I didn’t know who a number of the kids were- but little Miss Rockstar walked in that room like she owned it. Then proceeded to locate her buddies and go play. A while later I heard the chant again and looked up to see her being hugged. Another buddy and the buddy’s sister had found her and they were dancing around together. A few weeks earlier when I was cleaning out her backpack I had found a picture drawn by this buddy that showed the two of them playing in a field with the sun shining and hearts all around. When I shared it on Facebook with the friend’s mom, her teacher commented how,”Laurel worked so hard on this picture today! She kept coming over and telling me that she was making it for the Quail.”
Right now her ability to make friends is at an all time high. She has more ability to talk and include herself in her friends’ conversations and to run after them and play. Fortunately now she’s at an age where the majority of the time spent together is on play. There was a period of time two years ago where she began self-isolating- she was being pulled out of her 3 year old class to go to a lot of therapies- private and public school and spending two full mornings a week in special ed as well as being pulled with the students we pay to work with her. And on top of all of that, most of her buddies were able to talk conversationally now. That growth period from 2-3 is stunning for typical language development. To the extent, that one mother told me her son had hurt feelings that the Quail didn’t talk to him when he talked to her. He thought she didn’t like him. She did though. Very much so.We were able to clear that up because the mother took the time to tell us. At that age- she was really only speaking vowels and relying heavily on gestures and sign language to convey her needs. There was very little actual talking back then. At a school friend’s birthday party this past weekend her little buddy asked me why it was hard for the Quail to talk. Such a simple question, asked so kindly. And so we talked a little bit about Down syndrome in simple terms of what it is, what things the Quail does differently, where she might need help and what she can and does do herself. We talked until the little girl’s attention was diverted, by the Quail. Running at top speed hollering her name to come play with her- and off they went. It made me smile- for Laurel, for the Quail, for inclusion and this next generation. I know the time will come when the differences will be daunting. Peer pressure- it’s no easy road to travel through. But I have hope- hope that because the Quail is and has been with the kids in her community since she came along- that maybe, their acceptance of her among and with them won’t have to be such a big thing.
“You angy Mommie? Angy at me Mommie?”
Her voice is small and impartial. Yet it rings out full of wonder like she asked me why the sky is blue. No preconceived notions or baggage with her observation- just that- an observation. We had been running late and I had raised my voice at the chaos around me while we tried to get where we were going in a somewhat timely fashion. My raised voice had been met by a wall of silence. An overreaction on my part? Probably. People are late. I should get over it. It’s hard to think and process in a calm and orderly fashion when the daily three-ring circus has its tent up over you.
And then, Sugarplum’s small voice innocently stepped in and I cringed. It broke through that angry red veil covering what I saw. That sheet of anger that once it is rolled out, bleeds into your interpretation of what’s going on around you. You stop just seeing the situation as something to just be in and you start judging and complaining.
“No Sugarplum. I’m not angry at you. Sorry I raised my voice. I was just frustrated that we hadn’t already left.”
“You angy Daddy?”
And then I get it. She’s asking me why I’m acting the way I am- why my voice was loud and my face contorted and why the steam came out of my ears- or maybe I the only one who saw that part. And she’s internalizing my answer. Out of our three children who I have felt love, anger, frustration, sadness and every emotion under the sun from and with she’s the first one to ask me how I feel and why in her little girl way. She’s learning how this world works around her and what we should do in a given situation. At such a young age she is already so reflective. She’s always been that way though. Since she could hoist herself up on her own two small feet, you could find her with her hands entwined behind her back watching from the fringe of the ruckus and actually deciding whether or not to jump in. She has a similar emotional intelligence to the Quail. I don’t want her to learn to be angry when things don’t go her way. I don’t want her to feel that the right thing to do when you are frustrated is to yell. I don’t want her to think that I can’t own my own feelings and blame them on her or her sisters. Or her Daddy. And suddenly the important thing in that moment is no longer the rush to get where we are going. The important thing in that moment is to say sorry because I got something wrong. Not wrong for feeling angry- but wrong in my choice of what to do with it.
People are kind. When you tell stories like this, people are quick to tell about how they hate to be late, and how it’s hard to be calm when you are tired from a long day. And how they don’t know how you do it. And while I appreciate those validators. I still need to control my reactions better. I don’t hit. I explain the whys, and whens and hows and whats. Sometimes calmly. Sometimes angrily. Sometimes after the third time-out and sometimes after getting sucked into a circular debate around it during the time-out.
“I said put that down now!” With anger in my voice, I reach over and pull the beeping timer that has been set off out of Sugarplum’s small hands. I was doing some exercise for 1.5 minutes of my morning before the sun came up. And as I planked breathing deeply with my eyes closed I heard the time I had set beeping too soon. When I opened them in frustration the first word out of my mouth is, “No. Put it back. No. Stop.” I didn’t reach over and take it right away. I felt angry that my personal minute was being wrenched out of my grasp. The minute my frustration morphed into anger it registered across Sugarplum’s small face as every small muscle contorted in disappointment and a crocodile tear splashed on to the carpet. She was just curious. Not naughty. Not obstinate. Not even mischievous. Just curious. And that isn’t something to be angry over. I closed my eyes, set down the timer and sat up. The minute my legs crossed, she pooled herself into them, her small piggy-tail poking me in the nose as I cradled her closer to me. I waited for her breathing to soften and told her that I was angry that time that she didn’t hand back the timer when I had asked her to. That mommy was using it and needed to finish before I could play with her. She sniffled and pressed her wet face into my neck and I said a silent prayer of gratitude that she can still fling herself into me after an upset. Because that doesn’t always happen so easily anymore as they grow up and away from me. The Quail, she stands her ground. Zuzu when she’s angry though, now moves physically away rather than towards me. It’s this developmental progression that I’m sad to witness. It’s one that I worry how I’m influencing. It’s a model for the girls that I’m not happy with and want to change.
I’ve talked about anger before on here. Others talk about anger and it makes me feel so very much better. To know that we aren’t in it alone. That wanting to be different is half the battle. It would be dishonest to pretend it doesn’t have a presence in our lives. The key is making sure it isn’t an overwhelming presence. And I don’t think that it is for us. Beyond the obvious cares we need to take with our health and wellness, I think the key is in talking about it and moving on. To not ruminate over it. To not be ashamed for being, and well; feeling human. To take that humanity and validate it in ourselves as well as others. To not let it consume my interpretation of how good of a mother I am or am even capable of being. To not let the mere fact of it arrest my own development in this journey. Because it is a journey. None of us are born mothers. I think talking about when we feel angry can lead to…happiness. Not happiness ever after- but an internal calm and ability to not make each molehill a mountain that we can’t bare to climb down from.
Each day happens.
And hopefully the next day does too. There are no perfect mothers, just perfect moments within motherhood. And if we can climb down off our mountain those days will be there waiting for us- and if we can’t get to dinner on time yet again, hopefully we’ll at least find our way off the mountain in time to begin again.
“She’s a beat behind is all. Really that’s all I saw.”
This news came about a year ago from a friend who was subbing for the Quail’s 4k class. I blinked when she told me that. A beat. A pause. A showing of her motor-planning getting the best of her for the moment.
“When it came time for snack and a drink her friends told me that her cup was in the fridge, but when I turned around to get it she was already there opening the door to help herself.” To help herself. She was in her class and helping herself. Following the routine that she knew from the days she had spent there already. When the children danced- she danced. When the children recited both The Pledge of Allegiance and the State of South Carolina Pledge, she put her hand to her heart and turned to the flags. When the children lined up- she lined up.
Or mostly so. She went to the back of the line giggling in an attempt to start a round of hide-and-seek in the classroom. When Mrs. D told us, we were as concerned as she was. Maybe more. A big part of public school is learning to follow the rules- the rules that keep things organized, fun and safe for everyone. This slight deviation from the organized chaos was really only a concern in the event of an emergency if the chaos were to become unorganized. We would have to talk to the Quail about this. She was already familiar with our family’s well-worn mantra, “There’s food time and there’s play time.” We would have to adapt it to there is “There is listen and line up time and there is play time.”
“I’m so glad you pushed against the school’s concerns.” This came in an email from the teacher after having been with the Quail for a good bit of the school year. “The Quail is very popular and has a lot of friends. She is nurturing and takes care of anyone who is sad or hurt. We love that about her.” “ She is doing very well in the classroom. I wish all of the children were doing as well as she is.” Those words let me breathe out. It’s one thing to be philosophically certain of your stance on an issue, such as say- inclusion. It’s another thing to stand back and watch it play out in real time as it wavers between validating and mocking your intent.
But it went well. Put simply- she did fine. I expected less than fine. I expected a bumpy transition. I expected multiple meetings and whispered warnings of this good thing coming to an end. I was prepared with the legalese in the recesses of my brain for any hint that it wasn’t going as it needed to. The Quail- she didn’t need to keep up- that beat, that pause…that was fine. She just had to make progress. That’s what the law requires, what the law allows for and as the previous principal had stated after much scolding and scuffling-in the well-orchestrated dance of an IEP, they will meet her needs individually and legally.
And so they did.
But they did more than that really. They met the Quail with open arms and hearts and brought her into their classroom, now her classroom into her community and welcomed and loved and taught her. She learned so very much last year. The progress- while subtle, was undeniable. Her happiness at getting to go was undeniable. She wanted to be there. She was happy to be there.
I really didn’t have much to say about the school year as it progressed. The weeks went by smoothly with very little back and forth in the adjustment to half days of school, bus rides, lunch ordering and learning to read. In the early spring, we did receive a phone call from the therapists, one day the OT, the next the PT. Both asking for adjustments to the IEP. The Quail- she did not want to leave her class to go with them. Once in the hall, she dallied. She danced. She did everything but walk in an orderly fashion from the class to the therapy room. That first call day she had plopped down on the floor. She wasn’t getting up. She wasn’t moving. And this was a problem. As the therapist detailed the specifics to Lovey over the phone it came out that it had been an issue for a while now, the Quail’s not wanting to leave her class and her friends to go with them. Some days worse than others. The IEP progress update that came home later that month indicated a lack of willingness to not only go to the other room, but to do the work asked of her once in it. Ironically her report card from the regular class had also come home and showed good marks in most everything except the ability to articulate a clear sentence. It seemed she was acing K4 and blowing Special Ed. Later when we met with Mrs. D she talked about the day we had gotten the phone call. That the therapist had been expected 20 minutes earlier and hadn’t shown. That when she did come, the Quail had already had her coat buttoned and was in line, in clear view of the playground- ready for recess. That was what had made her angry. That is why she had plopped down. That was also why therapy is so important- maybe, just maybe if she had been able to articulate what was upsetting her- maybe, it wouldn’t have just come across as bad behavior. Maybe. I don’t really know. The irony is that 2 of the 3 goals on the IEP- well they were playground friendly. The therapist could have worked on those on the playground rather than turning the hallway in to Thunderdome. The update to the IEP helped. They asked permission to move from individual to small group therapy. Once the Quail befriended the little girl, things went back to the typical chaotic calm.
We survived that week. I can’t say that things got tremendously better with the therapists. Notes on later progress reports seemed to center around “working on compliance”. Which I read as therapist speak to explain why little else was getting done. In spite of that nothing peaked or boiled over though. I ran into the district’s behavioral specialist at a gathering at one point and introduced myself. She told me she was aware of us, but fortunately hadn’t had the “pleasure” of being called in to formally meet the Quail. For that we were grateful. Nervously grateful.
In addition to the books, art projects, pictures, songs and dancing the class put on 3 little plays- a Thanksgiving Pilgrim and Indian one, a Christmas Gingerbread one and a Cowboy salute at their mini-graduation. I’m proud to report I cried my little heart out at each and every one. The Quail- her little star shown up on stage as she danced and sang and cheered and bowed. She was all in. And for that super start to her educational career- we remain grateful.