……Taylor Swift on repeat in the car on the way to school and back home. It’s playing with Miley in class and after school and at dance and Daisy Scouts. It’s painting every color on one page quickly and pulling out a second page before anyone can object. It’s reciting Pete the Cat books and watching Wynx Club. It’s recess time with Laurel and Blair and eating chocolate bunnies and eggs and cake and cooking real and pretend muffins. It’s learning to read and being able to say “Look at me” and “I need help” and “It’s funny.” And “I’m serious” and “No” and “Yes” when you feel you need to. It’s Mrs. Schmidt and Mrs. Johnson and Mrs. Dobson and Mrs. Lee and singing along to the Frozen soundtrack and sitting by Brookes in class. It’s Mrs. Kahli and the color purple and tap shoes and ballet slippers. It’s digging sand into cake shapes and Uncle Scott swinging you out over the waves. It’s going to soccer and dance and the spending each school day at the big school with Maddie and lining up for recess and lunch where you can pick grilled cheese any day you want. It’s sword fighting with Carmen and Ashley painting your nails. It’s being good and excellent and naughty and stubborn and helpful and caring and loving. It’s playing ball and donut stand and Odd Squad and Superman and Sister with Emma and then running giggling to a corner to hide when Momma tells you both to settle down. It’s Daddy tucking you in and Momma helping you with your homework. It’s snuggling up to your family and knowing you can go play Magic-Clip Dolls and your family will still be there when you want to snuggle more. It’s drinking kefir from a straw-cup and eating cheese slices and English muffins. It’s playing doctor and teacher to your sisters and your dolls and your animals. It’s a Barney pillow and Ruff-Ruff blankie under a purple fuzzy Frozen blanket. It’s movies and popcorn and Mexican restaurants and breakfast sandwiches. It’s picnics in the yard and sleeping in your sleeping bag on your Dora couch when you want a break from snuggling up to your sister. It’s going to computer lab and library and art and music and even PE. It’s baking mini-pies and scones and cakes and cookies and pancakes shaped like the initials in your family’s name. It’s your turn in the canoe and the pool and the paddle boat and the stroller. It’s picking pumpkins and blueberries and strawberries and apples and Easter eggs. It’s being her mom.
“She has yours you know.”
I looked over at the stranger who was grinning down at the Quail sitting in my shopping cart.
“Your smile. She looks so much like you.”
I smiled back at the woman wondering if she fully understood the gift she had just given me.
Only hours after the Quail was born the on-call pediatrician was standing over the end of my bed unwrapping the Quail from the pink and blue foot-printed hospital blanket her father had just burritoed her into less than an hour ago. He had been in already to check her toes, her heart, her nasal bone and palms. Looking for a clear sign that she either did or didn’t have Down syndrome. Only a few weeks earlier we had visited the Maternal Fetal Medicine OB/GYN and he had explained that since they were performing the ultrasound so late in the pregnancy they had really not been able to see all the soft markers that would indicate Down syndrome. “She may have it or she may just be a genetic match for your older daughter.” In my first full-term pregnancy I had been to see Dr. G as well. I have a couple of blood clotting disorders, I’d had a couple of miscarriages and I wasn’t exactly a spring chicken by obstetrics standards. During those visits Zuzu had exhibited what I now realize were soft markers for Down syndrome. Only back then, those words hadn’t been uttered. It’s why each month, when the OB would suggest I could go back to Dr. G at any time and I could have any genetic testing I felt like; I smiled and declined. Zuzu had shown hydronephrosis and shortened femurs and other than one urinary tract infection, had been none the worse off. In fact, she measured in the 75th% for height. Shortened femurs be damned. As I’d seen each OB in the practice I used in turn, I’d smiled and turned them down on their offers for additional checking; until Dr. B, by far the most direct in the practice and the one who had delivered Zuzu, said outright that they thought there was a good chance the new baby had Down syndrome and I should really go get a level 2 ultrasound done at least. So I could be prepared. With his frankness, dimming my smile, I had nodded and headed over to see Dr. G. Again. My only clue something was amiss was his question of where my partner was when I stepped in his office to go over the ultrasound results. I had assured him I was fine. As we talked I joked that he should see Zuzu’s height. He nodded, shuffling the papers, remarking that it was less likely as the baby was a girl and assured me that after she was born the pediatrician would take a close look to see if further testing should be done. I agreed better safe than sorry and headed back to my car. Stiff lipped and quiet until Lovey’s voice came on the line and I started to tell him what they had said and the dam finally broke.
“I’m 75% sure she doesn’t have it but we’re going to draw blood and send it in for analysis.” The on-call pediatrician called in his colleague for a second opinion and between the two of them they really weren’t sure.
“Do her eyes look like anyone in your family?” Lovey and I shook our heads resignedly. Not really. It was too soon to know by color. But her newbornness, was definitely unique to herself and not that genetic match of Zuzu we were expecting.
Three weeks passed before the call would come and our own pediatrician would give us the final call on her genetic make up. He assured us in an involved and loving home like ours, most of what she would experience as somewhat limiting, could be medically managed nowadays. As he ran down a list of what to keep an eye out for, I sank down on the bed. The smile that had lit up my face as I snuggled the Quail close to me and breathed in her baby head just minutes before, once again faded from my lips. Earlier that day I had made a round of angry phone calls to the geneticist, the hospital, the pediatrician. Tired of wondering. But at that one moment, as time stopped and our doctor explained how an Early Intervention expert would be calling us for more information in the coming week, my place in the world had shifted and I wished I hadn’t been so damn ready to know. I longed to not be so damn sure. I was the recipient now. No longer the public servant. I had a daughter with Down syndrome. A daughter whose eyes didn’t look like mine. A daughter who hadn’t shown me her smile yet. A smile that would mold into my own in the months and years to come, but not right then. Over the next few days I continued to snap pictures but eyed them all speculatively before sharing them. Did she look like what I thought of when I heard Down syndrome? Sometimes. Sometimes I could see just the baby, my baby and sometimes I saw the otherness. I hid those pictures. I wanted other people to see her, and me still. Not the otherness. I cried when I flipped through those pictures. Then the time came to make our birth announcement. We needed a photo. I wasn’t comfortable with a single one I had taken so far. Lovey cleared off our mattress in the magic hour of afternoon light and laid out our sheepskin that had been a gift when Zuzu was born. Her jaundiced skin contrasted it as she slept on, oblivious to our arranging of her limbs. He snapped a few shots, moved her a bit more, angled himself level with our bed and backed up as I looked solemnly on over his shoulder not smiling or laughing. Not confident at all in how we would do this….
The next day as I sat at the computer editing the shots from the afternoon, I smiled seeing that the magic hour had done its job. Her sweet rounded cheeks gave way to her button nose which looked a lot like her sisters and my baby pictures. Her feathery locks of hair folded over her soft forehead. Her small pinky curled up by her ear. And there was my baby again. The one that had snuggled iin to me before the call verifying her otherness. Lovey had given me a great gift. A view of the Quail that I had known was there but still faltered over finding as my maternal hormones had their last bit of way with me.
“I know. She’s all me. And a little bit more. Thank you.”
Smiling warmly at the woman, I turned back and grinned down at the Quail as she giggled and mirrored my smiling face back. Together we turned the cart and went back outside.
“When Mrs. C asked me me how I felt about having the Quail in my class next year I said I was so excited! I used to talk to her last year quite a bit when I would see her. I just love her. I know I’ll learn so much from her.”
The Quail’s new first grade teacher’s sincerity brought tears to my own eyes. All summer I had been wondering if this next school year could possibly live up to last school two or if they were just flukes. We’d had our share of pushback in getting a spot for the Quail in a typical classroom. But once she entered that classroom on the first day of her 4k year her educational team was all in. She’s made friends, gone on field trips, attended birthday parties and playdates. She’s become a Daisy Scout, a dancer, a soccer player and a football fan. She’s learned to read, to write and works hard on her math. She leaves my car in the morning, grabs her backpack, hollering a cheerful, “Bye Mommie! Uv oooo!” as she scans the sidewalk for familiar faces and marches off following her sister. Some days she’s good. Her star chart blooms shades of blue and purple stars. Most days she’s average and tells me about her green star she earned and what she ate for lunch and which activity she went to. Occasionally, she’s naughty. She won’t listen. She’s stubborn. She kisses a boy. But mostly she’s just a kid. She’s shown her community that she really is that…a kid. With good days and bad. With strengths and weaknesses. With talents and enthusiasms and fears and love. By just being herself and showing up. She’s created an awareness that wasn’t there before. She’s made something that was different and scary and historically unfathonable- having a non-typical kid in a typical classroom ok.
Last fall her kindergarten teacher emailed me to ask how we would feel about the school doing an awareness campaign and fundraiser about Down syndrome during the month of October. I was both for and against it. It’s one thing for us to raise awareness indirectly in cyberspace. To not confront people and make them listen, but rather to do our thing day to day with open arms and hearts and minds creating a space for others that are curious to feel comfortable asking a question. It’s another thing, to take a small child and make her the center of a campaign that points out her differences to those around her everyday. I’m not naive. I know 99% of the people that look at her think, “Down syndrome” when they see her already. But children are different. Children don’t naturally categorize different as other and something to avoid at this age. That comes later when they see how society tells them to act. And I admit I was more than a bit fearful that this campaign could single her out and make her self-conscious. As the month progressed we were kept up to date on the funds raised and the facts of Down syndrome shared. The Quail’s class challenged the other classes to bring in “Dollars for Down syndrome” which were given to our local advocacy organization. Zuzu’s teacher told me something that was an unintended side effect, this awareness campaign lent a voice to Zuzu. As her classmates brought in their dollars they often brought them directly to her letting her know they cared. Zuzu in turn would check in with her teacher to see if there were any new donations and then throughout the day, unbidden, go up to each child who had brought a dollar and thank them and tell them a little bit about Down syndrome in her own words with her own understanding- about how Down syndrome is different for everyone that has it and how you know that some kids wear glasses to help them see, well her sister does exercises called bite-bites to help her talk easier.
Our family was invited at the end of the month to an assembly where the total raised was announced and a special guest speaker from the ClemsonLIFE program, a young man with Down syndrome, came to speak to the school about the importance of never giving up and always believing in yourself, because if you tell yourself you can do something you eventually can. For him this was attending a college. At the end of his slide show everyone cheered, Zuzu, who had asked to sit with us rather than her class, ran back to her friends, the Quail clapped, hugged us and ran off with her classmates and we offered up our thanks to this small community that had made a space in it for our girl. And had helped the others who spend their days with her understand that even though she may speak and learn differently then them, she really is just another kid.
“You’re going to make me cry. I don’t think there is anything kinder that a teacher could tell a worried parent then that they are happy to have your child in their classroom. Thank you.” Wiping the tear back, I leaned down to the Quail and asked her if she remembered Mrs. S from last year. Nodding shyly, she scooted out from behind me and walked over to Mrs. S and gave her a hug.
It looked like things just might be ok again.
*Technically today’s prompt from The IDSC was “Down syndrome Awareness shirt”. This right here is one that the Quail went to school in quite a few times when we first got it. I think just her wearing it and living her life, shows what we think.
Alright. I’ve settled on a plan and I hope our friendly friends don’t mind me taking my liberties by combining the IDSC‘s daily photo prompt challenge with 31 for 21. I like to write from photos and from a word prompt- so this is more than a bit serendipitous!
The plan from The IDSC:
“Each day, we have a photo subject assigned. Snap a photo of yourself (if you are a self-advocate) or your loved one with Down syndrome participating in the challenge. Post the photo on our Facebook page or Instagram. When posting, use the hashtags #IDSC2015 and #DSAwareness.”
Blue & Yellow
Merry eyes sparkling blue,
Tulips springing yellow,
We follow you to Holland,
With nary much of a bellow.
Each October, families that blog about life with Down syndrome commit to a daily exercise of blogging every day (31) in October to raise awareness and acceptance about Down syndrome (T21). For the past six years I have happily jumped in the fray and shared pictures, stories, resources and information about Down syndrome. I’m entering my seventh year of this beloved practice. The first two years that I joined 31 for 21 after the birth of the Quail, I continued on my typical daily blog posts at that time, taking care to ensure that I did post every day for the month. I was still able to maintain a semblance of order and time to devote to daily writing with the categories I initially organized my thoughts around. The third and fourth year, I had not had the time to post daily musings, in a good while, but I still had an extensive archive of photos I hadn’t had time to edit and share yet. So, I posted mainly images labeled with little tidbits about the Quail that make her both extraordinary and ordinary.
I hit my peek in 2013. In that last year, I LOVED participating. And still have every intention of making it into a book for myself. Our friend Molly Flanagan had shot some wonderful lifestyle photos of our family and our daily goings-on and I had told her that I loved them so much that I could narrate a story about each image. And that is what I did. I continue to go back to these photos and narratives. They are a gift- each single one. And I reread and still nod along as if I’m reading someone else’s writing and story. I still find myself thinking- yes! That’s what MY life is like. And then others shared with me how they felt about this project. And how they could relate to it . And then writers that I love shared it with their friends. And then wonderful things happened. I borrowed the cowardly lion’s heart and requested a fundraiser at my work for Down syndrome awareness and the Buddy Walk. And together we raised over $1700. I had never been so proud to have my village lift me up and help me help myself and others. The response was unexpectedly overwhelmingly positive. People I hadn’t had the pleasure to meet in person contributed and took the time to get in touch to say how Down syndrome is a part of their life and how lovely and inspiring our Quail is. The good people at my work took it upon themselves to write up our advocacy efforts in our statewide celebration for a nomination for a humanitarian award which we won this spring. And later that summer I was informed that the nomination was then passed on to the regional competition and we won that as well. If I’m going to be recognized by my workplace- there is no greater joy then realizing that while they appreciate my work- they also appreciate my heart and those it belongs to. The next year we did the same fundraising and actually had friends join us for the walk. I managed to write and then, well then the big void came on, but all the voidier than even the years past.
Each November 1, I breathe a little easier that I made it through the month. And each month following November 1, I find that I write and share less and less. It’s not that I have less to say. It’s that I have more to do. More I want to do. In real life. And then, I read an especially insightful passage or post that I have so very much to say about and I think I’ll make my own post and get back to regular writing because it really feels so much better when I do make the time….
…and then it’s time to sing the “Rise and Shine” morning song to three little sets of ears that pretend not to hear me as they burrow under their blankets until I get good and loud and practically heave them from their sleeping nests to herd them to their respective dressers, followed by their frantic dickering over plastic bowl and spoon colors and proper craisined and raisined proportions of Cheerios, Kashi and Chex Mix like they are buying and selling stock on Wall Street. This continues until it is time to lecture them that they are again running late and we must leave for school precisely three minutes ago and why has no one brushed their own hair or taken their allergy meds and what do you mean you don’t know where your dance shoes are and that you had jump-rope team starting five minutes ago and no you don’t need your hoodie zipped but you do need a clean straw and cup and hurry to the car and the neighbors are probably getting an unpleasant earful and I promise you Sugarplum that Momma’s need to go to work today is no different than it’s been every weekday for the last three years and of course I’ll come home and take care of you and please let go of my leg and go back in the house.
And somehow we all end up singing “Shake it Off” or “Bad Blood” only minutes later as we screech into the drop off line and wave to the teachers and bless the safety patrol for their “Have a good day!” wishes and switch off the Taylor Swift after maybe one more song, cause it’s really for their tweeny hearts and click on the audiobook for 40 minutes of peaceful drive-dreaming on the way to work. Almost ten hours later, I arrive back at the daycare that’s really their second home after almost nine years and reassure the new staff that we’re happy to pick them up sandy and sweaty and grinning with questions of if it is a McDonald’s night or a pizza and a movie night as I attempt to herd them back to the car before answering in the negative to avoid the semi-routine public scenes we are so prone to so that we can hurry home to ignore the piles of laundry; not so lovingly referred to as Mt. Washmore, and unload the dishwasher and bribe the almost nine-year old with quarters to refill it and tear the nerf sword out of the three-year-old’s tightly gripping, blue markered hand again and look up the answer to the six year old’s question about if she has computer lab or P.E tomorrow and set my alarm for 4:45 a.m. with an intention to go for a run and take my melatonin and start the nightly Netflix debate of Dr. Who versus The Bridge with Lovey after which I *may*sneak a pack of chocolate covered banana dippers from the back of the freezer where they are hidden from the world before falling in to bed to start the whole process over again, maybe a little bit better rested, maybe a bit better prepared, maybe a bit calmer….or maybe just again.
So all of that is to say that I’m not quite sure what I want to focus on this month. But I wish that I did know. At least then I could stop feeling bad that I’m certain I don’t have time to participate this year and just start writing. Last night during our nightly Netflix hour, I said to Lovey that I was sad I couldn’t do the blogging challenge this month. His response was that was nonsense, just pick a photo and write what you think and feel. It doesn’t have to be a novel.
Then this morning, while I glazed over Facebook with my spoon in my Cheerios after not running, I saw an article share about the importance of really questioning yourself about who cares if you are running slow. About how most athletes are hounded by negative self-talk- whether they routinely run a 6 minute mile or a 15 minute mile. While the fact of the matter is both of those extremes are still running. And I got it. Again. That when you tell yourself you can’t do something you want to do, you begin to believe it as fact rather than the negative self-talk opinion that it actually is. And then, you don’t even try.
This relates to so much more in life than just running. You can say the same about writing and cooking and traveling and parenting and friend-making and group-joining and education and inclusion. When you tell yourself you can’t, you don’t put much effort into seeing if you possibly could. It shapes your actions and your intentions. You don’t work hard, because you gave up before you even start trying.
If I run slow, and write less and start my non-dieting lifestyle over yet again and cancel my plans and page back to reread that chapter on my kindle and have to say “I’m sorry I raised my voice” to my children and husband and “We’re going to try it in spite of those issues” to the Quail’s IEP team and Zuzu’s dreams of competitive dancing while wiping off Sugarplum’s skinned knee with her polk-n-dotted shirt that, while clean remains unfolded on top of Mt. Washmore, then that’s what I’ll do.
Pulling the tab across her own belly on her own diaper, Sugarplum giggles with the pleasure of the tab staying in place. Grinning up at me, she reaches her pudgy fingers out to pull my head down to that sweet belly and I inhale the freshly-diapered, powdery smell from the Pampers she still sleeps in. I smile wide in spite of her monkey antics and indignant insistences of independence and tickle her belly lightly as the giggle morphs into a chortle and finally an all-out hoot as she bows her small wiggly body around me. It won’t be long now and there won’t be any diapers on our market lists. A check-off I’m both finally ready for and hesitantly dreading. I clean up the box of wipes and unused crèam tripping over her little matchbox car as she grabs her blankie and flies out of the room yelling at her sisters that it’s time for bed.
Pulling the math sheet over and away from me, the Quail lays her body across the bottom half as her arm encircles the top so that I can no longer continue to read the instructions to her. At first, it frustrates me. All summer we have set aside a few daily minutes to work on math because it was noticeably hard for her in Kindergarten. And every day this summer it remained hard for her. She speeds through the numbers ignoring the sevens and twelves and thirteens that just last month she recited precisely with carefully articulated consonants and vowels. We would pull out a set of wooden blocks and instead of touch-counting them, she smoothed the chipped paint and textured images of each side as she lined them up oh so precisely that the mere movement of one pushed them all out of line, upsetting her, me and the applecart. But we did it. We didn’t always like it. Sometimes I poured a glass of wine while we worked on it. We counted and pushed the blocks across the table and wrote and erased and smoothed the rubber filings off the page and onto the carpet. Night after night. And now I expect to need to help. In spite of increased ADD medication and classroom support, I assume that her needs remain. And I act accordingly. And then, she stops me with a full sentence. A sentence that a year ago she would have been hard-pressed to articulate. And I grin back and sip my wine and wait. I lean in a couple more times. Old habits die hard for most of us. She eyes me, utters no and starts to shove her hand into mine as a not so friendly reminder of her instructions. And I pull back my hand again and tell her to please tell me if she needs help. And I wait. And she gets the answer right and the next one wrong and I chew my bottom lip debating the merits of my not correcting her and my desire to prepare her to demonstrate more than what people expect of her. To demonstrate what I know she’s capable of. Except, I get it wrong too. As well as I know her, I underestimate her time and time again. Glass houses and all.
Finally she hesitates and turns the eraser to the seven as she notices she wrote the sum rather than the part. We both smile as she erases with enthusiasm and shoves her chair back from the table ready to run to the kitchen. “Show your Dad!” I holler after her as she drops the page on the pantry floor and streaks down the hall after her sword-and-baby-doll-wielding little sister. Picking it up I show Lovey and then carefully tuck it in to her homework folder. That night I wasn’t needed there either.
Zuzu’s voice hits a pitch that causes my eyes to swing shut and my lips to form a hard line. I started out calm in what I considered to be a helpful voice pointing out that if she doesn’t do one more math problem tonight she won’t finish them at the pace she set for herself since she has dance on Monday nights starting tomorrow.That’s how it started out. That quickly turned ugly as she heard my implied criticism of her burgeoning time management skills. So I try again with different words in a frank tone to point out that she has only three nights available to do the five problems left, so one a night won’t get them done by Thursday morning. She covers her ears, stomps her feet and storms out of the living room and I open my eyes to the three-year old now standing in front of me interpreting the situation quite simply, “She mad Momma.”
Indeed. As she rushes back in the room to grab up her binder and pencils I tell her she’s right. She doesn’t have to listen to me about this. She can do it her way and see if that works out. Hunching her shoulders against the sudden stillness of my helicopter blades, she turns with her things to the living room and starts over again explaining the rules as she understands them to her father. He, calmer than me at this point, doesn’t elicit much better of a reaction. Sighing, I pick up Sugarplum and carry her in to the kitchen to keep me company while I clear off the table to wash away the scene and the dishes. We frequently clash over homework, Zuzu and I. It used to bother me. I explain what I understand thinking I’m helping her and she starts to cry or yell. Now though, entering third grade I’ve seen this enough to see it for what it really is. Not disrespect or general orneriness or rebellion. It’s anxiety that she might not know something in front of the person she loves so very much and tries to be like at every turn of the day. I wish I could help her. That she would take my suggestions and explanations for what I know to be true about our lives. But she is my daughter. She is strong, confident and sets a high standard for herself. Last year her teacher gave me permission to back off of the homework argument. “She’s not going to let herself fail. It’s not worth your relationship.”
Two nights later we unload our Happy Meal boxes and as I move her pink striped and owl covered messenger bag from her chair to the pantry I ask if she would mind if I peeked in on her math homework for the week. She eyed me over her cheeseburger and said she knew it was done and not to worry. As I stood their holding the bag silently she acquiesced and said it was fine. Opening the binder I pull out the sheet and notice that she did the extra problem. Not when I asked her to. But on her own terms, in her own time. She wasn’t going to let herself get in trouble for not getting it done. Smiling I closed up the bag as she mutters that she told me she knew what to do.
It’s clearly visible now, each of their desires to do things all by their own selves and be recognized for the competent little humans they already are. Bittersweet is what it is. This growing, growing they insist on doing while I’m sleeping and working and catching and dropping the balls of our daily circus. I watch for it. I lean in and ask questions and take pictures and listen closely in order to watch for the changes that continuously emerge somehow unseen in their walk, their routines, their words and stories and play and work. Their stories that now have details between their giggles and tears and tantrums like-
“I choose the Frozen shirt not the butterfly shirt Momma!” and
“My birthday. Miley. Blair. Laurel. Dance bag like Zuzu. Dark blue. Sleep over. Popcorn.” and
“I am doing competition dance and jump rope team and Quest and Scouts!!! I can do it. It’s not too much”
Stories that really mean
“I know what I want.” and
“I have my own dreams too.” and
“See how I’ve changed? Do you see me?”
Beautiful, if still halting and hurled phrases whispered and shouted and sang and played out with the Magic-clip dolls and My Little Ponies and rituals and schoolwork by all three of those girls now.
My lip creeps up on one side. Not quite smiling at the inconvenience of the wiggly Sugarplum-child on my lap. I try to angle my head and hands around her fingers that are flying at the keyboard with a precise, if ineffective, imitation of what they see their momma’s do. Really, what they think she does, or did, once upon a time. Sighing before my mood turns into a full-out grimace of frustration, I give up and click the computer into sleep mode. Bending the mere inches that her sandy head now sits from mine when she’s in my lap, I sniff and breathe in deep taking my fingers from the keyboard to her tiny rib frame.
She’s so very big now. So very much herself. No longer the quiet one of the family crowd. The noticeably peace-able one that is not like the others. She’s big enough to contribute her fair share to the daily ruckus that is our family life. She’s 3 now.
“Momma- when I big I going to eat cottage cheese just like you.”
“Momma- first I don’t take a bottle or neh-neh. Then I move up to Ms. Maranda’s class cause I bigger. Then I drive the car.”
“Momma- do you love God? You have to love God.”
“Momma- when I get big I go to dance with Ms. Kahli too. Not now. When I big.”
“Momma- I not big. I little. I said I NOT BIG!!! I want to be little!!!!”
And so it goes, the life and mind of the three year old. We have to be careful to not remind her if she is big or small when we do or don’t want her to do something these days. She takes it to her sweet little almost-healed heart and wails at the injustice of it all. And then, it passes and she calls out for the Quail, “Ab-eeeee-Quail! Come play with me!”
And in comes the Quail. They gather in the kitchen. One perched behind a cabinet door pulling out bowls and cups and plates and rattle off the daily donut special. The other walks up with her moneys and asks to buy ice cream. The shopkeeper, not swayed clarifies that there is no ice cream. Just donuts today. The negotiations go on until someone steps in and suggests it is time to play Odd Squad. Which brings Zuzu running from her you-tubing frenzy in the dining room, vying to be Ms. O. That game, while they could happily play for hours, typically gets cut short when our parental ears tire of flinching at the coarse tones they use with each other in imitation of the tiny tyrannical boss known as Oprah. According to the majority in our house, everyone likes that game except those over the age of 10. Majority does not always rule here though. Not when we get calls and notes of concerns raised by the bossy tones they later implement with each other on the playground.
This little pack of girls is tight these days. There has been some alignment shifts. Much more pairings of the two youngers when the elder is off with a friend, at dance, at Girl Scouts, doing homework, playing computer games or watching a show that the other two don’t care for yet. The separation tries to happen naturally but the girls, they fight it.
When Lovey picks up the Quail from summer camp to go to therapy. Zuzu begs to go along.
When I drop off the two elders for their hip-hop dance class, the baby begs to go too.
When one girl is invited to a play date or birthday party, all three cry if the invitation isn’t vague enough to interpret themselves into it.
Last week was the first one back to school. We now have a 3k-er, a first grader and a third grader. I’ve talked a lot in the past about the struggles we’ve had keeping the Quail in a typical classroom. I am happy to say that is in the distant past right now. For now, she keeps up, follows along, enjoys a wide variety of friendships and activities and is a general rock star of her little community. She couldn’t be more loved if she tried. She’s bonded with her teachers, the students, her therapists, her community. People are just as likely to come say hi to her when we walk through the school and store aisles now as they do with Zuzu. Leaving us parents to wonder at how they became the socialites and us the wallflowers.
This year Zuzu has some extra classes to spur her learning along. She’s also made her first team commitment to competition dance. I worried about this. I’m not exactly “dance mom” material. However, I supposed I can google “competition dance make-up application” as well as the next mom. Zuzu and the Quail attended a Frozen party last January at a new studio and fell in love. With the studio, the teachers, the music and the movement.
The teacher, she was a rare gem.
After that first event, she sought us out to inquire if we had thought about putting the Quail in to a dance class. We had in fact. When she was a baby and Zuzu was in a weekly class. Not so much thought, as worried. Worried if she would be welcome in a typical class. Worried if she would be capable of the steps and enjoy the commotion of a group of kids busting erratic moves. When we watched the little Frozen song that the girls had learned in that single 2 hour session, my jaw dropped. The Quail, she was right in the thick of it. Twirling along with stern concentrated movements.
She got it. She loved it.
We decided to give it a try and as soon as Zuzu heard we would be taking the Quail, she frantically grabbed a schedule for herself and politely informed us which four classes she was ready to take. It took some trial and error and many generous offers of carpooling and rescheduling before we worked it out but the two girls each took a class and learned their steps in time to be recital ready. Three performances later the girls wanted more. So they took a hip-hop class together and Zuzu begged to join the competition team. We agreed to let her take the technique classes over the summer to see if she was really wanting to do this thing. When I discussed the possibility with the teacher I am disappointed to say that I was the party pooper. I recalled story after story of what she didn’t like when she was 3, 4 and 5 and in a dance class. How nervous she was. How she didn’t want to separate from me. How while it is charming when the three year old peers over the stage lights in a frantic search of the 400 person filled auditorium for her Momma, it seemed a lot less charming at 8. The funny thing was, the teacher looked at me quizzically. Surprised to hear that this girl who shows great intent at learning her steps and leadership amongst her peers and joy when the music plays would be nervous. And then it clicked. She’s not the girl she was at 3, 4 and 5. She’s a big kid. With a mind and heart and intensity all her own. A fierce, smart, hard-working, rule-oriented, energized young girl who feels strongly about her own style as a dancer and a student. One who doesn’t like to let herself fail and likes to take charge yet still wishes she could sleep each night in her parents room with her loveys most nights, but no longer asks unless one of her parents is headed out of town.
The Quail, she’s grown so much this past year as well. She’s a Daisy Scout. A dancer. A student, a reader, a writer and a friend. She loves to sing and to dance and to tumble and bake and draw and play with her sisters and tell us, “I’m serious mom!” and “No cake for you.” and “I really, really need help.” and “No Momma. No tuck me in. Next week. I love you next week. Daddy right now.”
And while her syntax is discombobulated, the words are finally there. She reads small kindergarten books and writes her name and practices her spelling and sight words around her newest big-kid tooth gap. She asks for help with her math and eventually halts the protests to speech practice and getting dressed and going potty and eating what’s on her plate when given an explanation that if she does it now, she can watch Wynx Club or play Magic-Clip Dolls or Donut shop after. She asks Sugarplum to come play with her. She snuggles. She troops along. And this community we are in, they are ready for her and expect her. They’ve made a place for her and she accepts it with much joy. Her teacher for this year brought me to tears when we met and she told me of her excitement when she heard she could be teaching the Quail this fall. She told me she just knew she would learn so much from her and would do her best to make sure that the Quail was taken care of. There is not much more that a momma’s heart needs to hear than that her children are welcome and loved. And her education and therapy teams have followed suit and asked how to make this learning process cohesive for her. How to arrange the daily schedule so that she takes part in all that she can but still gets the individualized attention that is necessary to make sure the information is filtered in a way that makes sense to her. And this team, this team eats the donuts together and we think together and we grow and learn together.
So when these sisters sit still I try to notice. I try to lean in and be accessible to them. When I sit on the couch they still clamor over to Velcro in to me. When I wake on the weekends, I hear their little questions to Lovey asking when Momma will wake up. When I drive them to school and dance and therapy I ask them details of their day and let them choose to tell me or to tell me what radio station we should tune in to so that we all can sing.
And I don’t write about it. Not so much anymore. I don’t really have the time and some of the stories, well, they just aren’t mine to tell anymore. I can’t promise myself and pretend that if I set a writing schedule the writing will happen. The opportunities to just sit and think are filled up with dishes and laundry and dance shoes and Girl Scout lessons and running and sleeping and repeating myself for a seventh time. I still try to notice those ordinary moments and file them away. Lately with the help of Instagram more than my DSLR and prose.
Every now and then though, a phrase runs through my mind in to my heart and I start to put it down for later.
Tickling her ribs softly I lean in to kiss her sparkling eyes and appling cheeks. This giggling Sugarplum pulls away from my hands before banging back in to me for more snuggles and tickles. I stand from the chair lifting her over my shoulder along with the slew of blankies she clutches to her face. It’s better I give in now and giggle with her rather than try to document the last story I heard from her. There won’t be time for writing later. But there won’t be time for this version of her later either.
“Momma. Seriously. Flip-flops. Johnson said Quail Friday Flip-flops. Pleaaaasssseeee.”
“Momma, why are you crying? That was a nice letter.”
Wiping the tears off that are quickly running down my cheeks, I tuck away the letter that the Quail’s kindergarten teacher sent home to each of her children. A time capsule memento to be savored by us parents today and our babies when they aren’t so very little one day in the future. The girls look at me like maybe they should be worried. And then the moment passes. Sugarplum falls off her chair with an almost comedic, “Wooaahhh…weehaw!” as she scrambles up and out of the room before she can be scolded for not sitting still. The Quail shoves her pink sparkle flip-flops up to my nose for emphasis and Zuzu puzzles over why I would cry over what sounded to her like a pretty typical summary of what kindergarten is.
And it was. A summary of what a typical kindergarten experience is. What it was for our girl this past year. What it had been for Zuzu two years earlier and what it would most likely be for Sugarplum two years from now. Our girl, who a few years ago though, didn’t have a certain assurance of a spot in her community school. When our EI would sit crosslegged next to me on our living room rug at the end of each annual IFSP planning meeting and ask what our goals were for the Quail, I would include how I wanted her to go to the same school her sisters would attend. How I wanted her to be in a regular class until she showed us it was too much for her. She would nod and write it down. And then tell me what would happen “typically” for someone like our daughter. And that was ok. We needed to be prepared. If the Quail needed a higher level of self-contained support to receive an education than I wasn’t going to keep that from her. On the other hand, if she could be a part of the same classes that all the little children she has grown up with attended, well that was the goal.
“It is a very nice letter Zuzu. I like it very much. I’m not crying because I’m sad. I’m crying happy tears, because we all worked really hard for the Quail to get to do those things because we thought she could do them and she would love them. Does the Quail like school do you think?”
“Um, yeah. Every night and every morning she asks if it’s a school day and if it is she cheers, Yay!!!!!”
“That’s right. She loves school and she gets to go. Do you remember my sister Aunt Shel? When she was growing up, children like her didn’t live in their homes or go to the same school as their brothers and sisters.”
Now if you’ll excuse me I need to go read, “The night before Summer Vacation” to the girls. It was a present from the Quail’s Kindergarten teacher and she’s itching to hear the story and show me which popcorn words are in it.