I know I can….I know I can….

10154353_10203677323792582_4540840338547505571_n“No Momma. I put on the diaper by my own self. Not you.”

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.


1441222_10202498882732292_47446696_n“No momma. I do it myself. Not. You. Momma.”

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.


DSC_9993“No. I won’t do it. You don’t know what the teacher said. I know what I’m supposed to do.”

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.


Growing, growing, gone….

3 girls 2My 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.

3 girls 3 - CopySo 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.

3 girls


corner view: beginnings

Corner view is a weekly Wednesday gathering, originally hosted by Jane, now by Francesca. A topic is given and you can see impressions; be it photographic or writerly in form, from around the world. Come see the world’s corner view via the links on the sidebar!

“I no care for dat. I want dat bed.” Sugarplum’s small voice chokes back a sob in my ear as her tiny finger unfurls from my hair and points behind her towards the open doorway. Looking down at her lanky 2 year old body that clings to me like all good baby monkeys do, I’m surprised by the calm in her statement. I pause and give her a quick squeeze. “It’s ok, remember what we talked about, this is your big girl crib. Your sisters want you to sleep in here with them. Look- at all your lovies and babies- they’re waiting for you.”

“No lovey. No baby.“ Her voice edges towards anger as I hold her soft unicorn blanket up to my face to tempt her into a snuggle. “No nocorn.” I grin at her funny little word for unicorn as she starts to bat it away from my face. Peeling her off my chest, her protests ratchet up a notch so I pull her back to me and ask if she wants to neh-neh a little more. Hugging her agreement into me I grab a handful of her babies (her word for blankets) into our arms and head back into our room. I hear her whisper, “My bed” as we pass the pack and play she’s slept in all her small life and settle back on my mattress. Separation hasn’t come easily for any of us and this autumn is the start of many new ones. I find myself clinging to these strawberry headed girls even as I try to hide my frowns so that they will follow their own leads rather than mine.

Zuzu was a cosleeper from the beginning. She preferred to be held at all times of the day and only acquiesced into separate sleep on the condition of a perpetually rocking swing or a tight swaddle into the Snugglenest between her dad and I with one of our fingers available for her suckle at any given moment. She was moved into her own big-girl bed at 24 months but continued to inch her way back into our room as often as she could finagle it. As long as she started out in her own bed, we typically gave into her nighttime searchings as it rendered better sleep for all of us. As my belly grew with the Quail’s impending presence things got much tighter in our queen sized bed though, and little by little Zuzu gave into the idea of sleeping in her own bed. That is until the Quail arrived home from the hospital. Then the sad doe-eyes bore into my heart and I invited her back in between us as the Quail wiggle-wormed her way night after night down from the Snugglenest dangerously close to our tangle of blankets. Despite the finger waggling of the pile of sleep-training books I kept on my nightstand, an Arms-Reach sidecar for her and the pillow between Mom & Dad for Zuzu became the regular arrangement. When both girls were eventually herded back into their very own toy and book filled, lovingly adorned bedroom they had each other and the Quail, unlike her sister kicked with glee at the sight of the crib.

When Sugarplum came home from the hospital we had all our options open waiting to see how best she would sleep. Luckily, she went down easily enough between us. When we realized that she wasn’t going to require movement or holding to nod off to dreamland we moved her over into the co-sleeper and breathed a sigh of relief. As she outgrew the co-sleeper and continued to sleep easily enough we set her down each night in the pack and play in our room, vowing to think longer term sooner rather than later. The girl’s made their way into their own co-sleeping arrangement and seemed content enough with it until the last few months. As company came and their double bed was offered up they started to enjoy not sharing their bed and both privately asked for separate beds. When company left and they were told to return to their own bed, the Quail chortled on about sleeping in the office on her own. When we spent a weekend away in a cabin with bunkbeds the girls gleefully claimed their up-down places and only grumblingly returned to a shared bed at home. So the hunt for bunkbeds for them is officially on. While we still need them to share a room for the time being, separate beds seem to be the mutual consensus.

At the beginning of the summer Lovey and I talked about moving Sugarplum in to the girls room and the gently used crib. Neither of us were in any rush to have her not sleep in our room and instead I followed her lead in not nursing the moment we got home from our days apart. That need for the immediate connection after being apart from me has definitely lessened as she chooses to bound after her sisters while they tear through the house. Summer has passed and with the beginning of the school year approaching and the need for earlier bedtimes in preparation for the thinking mornings, I’m grateful that she doesn’t feel the need to nurse- well to be truthful, equal parts grateful and groaning. That 20-30 minutes of time to just lay down and not think, or do, or prepare, or anything is something that I hate giving up. Both for the connection and the restfulness of that hit of soothing hormones at the end of my day.
That first night Sugarplum protested but quickly relented. She doesn’t ask for her other bed now a week plus into the transition. Her feelings are still mixed about sleeping away from us though and she does protest at the separation from nursing to the girl’s room at nap time. For some reason bedtime is acceptable. I’ve yet to pack up the pack and play. I’ll probably hold out until she actually calls the crib, “My bed”. It’s hard to let go- even into the next room over. It’s hard to begin again.

31 for 21: Day 16: Corner View: last but not least

Corner view is a weekly Wednesday gathering, originally hosted by Jane, now by Francesca. A topic is given and you can see impressions; be it photographic or writerly in form, from around the world. Come see the world’s corner view via the links on the sidebar!

View More: http://mollyflanaganphotography.pass.us/starkey-family-2013


“Do you think the Quail understands that you’re having another baby?” The teacher asks doubtfully as she eyes my obviously pregnant belly on my way into pick up the girls after work. She isn’t the first to wonder this and even though we haven’t hidden the coming household changes from her I had to wonder myself what the Quail would think about no longer being the baby of the household. Pondering about these familial shifts while being oh-so hormonally pregnant had never gone well for me. I distinctly remember crying to my own mother over the phone when I was newly pregnant with the Quail over Zuzu’s impending fall from grace- her change from the one and only to the elder. From being the center of all our attention to now being part of a set. Now the Quail would shift her role as our fawned over baby to the middle child. Now we would meet a new little person who while, so very similar to ourselves and our girls would in equal parts be her own little individual self. Her future self unknown to us. The discussion of this upcoming baby was a daily event. Plans were made for what we would call her, where she would sleep, what she would eat, what toys the girls felt willing to share, where she would go to school. Zuzu talked endlessly about her coming baby sister while the Quail listened on to these discussions, unable to actually put words to her own thoughts on the matter. The Quail, she learned quickly to sign and say baby, to pat my belly along with her sister, to whimper and bear witness to her Momma’s morning sickness as it morphed once again into all-day sickness. And then one day, a mere week from my impending induction it occurred to me that more important than the upcoming introduction to this little one was the notice that Momma & Daddy would be gone for a couple of days while Gramma took over. As far as the Quail new, the talk of Gramma’s visit meant an extra person to pour the kefir and read Chicka-Chicka Boom, Boom; not two less.

As we sat on the bathroom floor in the evening light, brushing her teeth I started to say the words that I dreaded, that in a little less than a week, Momma & Daddy would be going to the hospital to get this baby out and bring her home to keep. How Gramma would be staying here with her and her sister just like she did when we went to the hospital to bring her home and again when she had surgery on her belly. The Quail, as I talked, her bottom lip took its signature position pushed out from the top as her eyes welled up and she reached her arms around my neck tight. Then just as quickly she leaned back, patted my belly and signed baby. Finished with our discussion she hurried around me to her room pulling her duck-duck lovies behind her, ready to sleep.

The next week we finished our Easter Bunny cake decorating and went to the living room to start Barney. As we loaded our bags into the car Gramma sat with one girl on each side. Assuring us that all would be fine.

Later that night in the hospital room I laid on my side feeling Sugarplum, kick, kick, kick her way around my belly as the monitors recorded her sweet heart and my contracting middle. I wiped away a tear knowing that this letting go and growing was just part of life. Our life, as a family. That these moments of tears would wipe clean the space where another heart was to live. That our family would be complete with the arrival of dear Sugarplum, at last, but not least.


five minute friday: she

…where a brave and beautiful bunch gather every week to find out what comes out when we all spend five minutes writing on the same topic and then sharing ‘em over here.


“What did I do wrong?”

I had been sharp with her. Unnecessarily so. She hadn’t done anything wrong. I was just tired of not being listened to and had raised my voice in response to the cacophony of the little ones running away from,  while simultaneously giggling at and ignoring my repeated requests. She had been sitting quietly on the couch watching Word Girl. It was almost bedtime for them and my head was filled with the swirling clutter of our kitchen, the undone daily to-do list, the mountain of unwashed laundry and the books and toys that the children seemed to see as a household obstacle course to be serpentined through rather than picked up after. She was sitting amidst the three ring circus of our living room and I wanted some help cleaning up.

She’s almost seven now. Light years from the toddler who used to grin with a carefree enthusiasm that was hard to pin down. She takes our words, our tones, our looks or lack of them into her tender heart and mirrors them back in her daily interactions with others.  I hear it as she scolds her dolls and reminds her friends and sisters of the rules and how to act in both their very real and make-believe-land and I frown making a mental note to temper myself. To give her more emotional freedom to remain the unencumbered little girl that darts between big-sister-hood and little-girl-dom on a whim. Who frequently entwines her unending mommalogues with requests to be the baby next lifetime around with predictions that when she grows up she’ll be not only a teacher but the person in charge of them.  


She’s not a baby anymore. Not a toddler or a preschooler to be shaped and shepherded at every turn of the schedule and activity. She is venturing out into her school and her community and becoming not just the person I expect her to be, but the girl she wants to be. A girl who matches her striped shirt with rainbow polka-dotted jeggings because she likes the way the patterns play together. A girl who wants to sing Katy Perry loudly in the car with the windows rolled down rather than listening to me sing another verse of the unending family version of the Barney song. A girl who loves to both get a smiley face on her weekly spelling test and ask in baby tones if I’ll carry her to bed tonight. A girl who wants to be the one to choose which restaurant we go to for dinner but will still only eat cheese quesadillas and mini-corndogs most nights. A girl who begs me to not take her picture in front of her friends but photobombs the shots of her sleeping sisters.

She didn’t do anything wrong.

She. She’s just growing up before I know how to let her.


Sugarplum: Hush little baby…

DSC_9654The wail pierces the night like clockwork and both of our adult bodies tense as hers goes all out awake. “Momma hasn’t responded. Momma is laying quiet and I see her there.” the tiny mind seems to find a way to shriek when her careful , but quiet Momma utterances haven’t worked through my dreams. I lean over and pat her back. This is the 10th night in a row that the child has begun what is now become a nightly ritual of waking every 3 hours to “check in” with us. Just the night before Lovey had asked, “Shouldn’t she be sleeping through the night by now?” Yes and no.

At 15 months, we’re still nursing. It’s briefer and interrupted by other little hands, and noses and stories sensing a sitting adult and needing to come climb up and near. The grace with which Sugarplum takes in her family’s constant presence slays me over and over. Come bedtime, she quickly reaches her left, little  dimpled, starfish of a hand over to pat Lovey; a shy smile creeping up around her busy lips. During the day as one set of sandy, sticky lips connects to her baby-soft tendrils after another she wiggles to make eye contact then sighs and settles back in. Always working her hands through a blanket- gauze, fleece, cotton- whatever- just needing to knead. If one of those sister’s should dare remove it her temper will flare and soften as they hand it back.

She’s busy now too though, no more leisurely sessions nursing at the computer, with a book, in front of the TV or a hot meal like during the early months. Once her hands or eyes or ears lock into any of those she’s off and up, only returning with a protest if I try to set her down. When she decides she’s done, she’s done. She rolls and climbs and scoots away. She wants to lay down or play, not to be held , not to be cuddled, not to have Momma’s nose sniffing her baby neck and stinky ears.

And that’s ok. I don’t feel bittersweet at the growth this time around. I’m in awe, amazed as in one moment she sits, the next she stands, the next she walks, she runs, she climbs, she falls and stands, she turns back to huddle into our legs and then grabs our fingers to lead us off to the others.

I’m tired though. I can do one time a night. Each molar pearl that shoves through interrupts all of our sleep though and once the pattern starts she follows it to a t. By the 10th night in a row, I decided to use our night-night routine to try to sway her back to bed without a quick nurse. Night-night mirror, Night-night picture, Night-night books, Night-night lamp, Night-night Bunny-bear and Night-night Sugarplum. See you in the morning. To be fair, I’m sure it was quite hard to hear my whispers over her wails. And somehow shouting the soothing words didn’t seem like it would have quite the same effect. So I would wait for the pause to yawn and wipe her eyes clean of Mr. Sandman’s work and start the lyrical round that works like a charm each evening now. 56 minutes later she gave in and snored in response. Now days and nights later her little clock is reset to a solitary cuddle and nurse a night.

I’m thinking I’m ready to Good-night moon that single waking too though. Once that is set it will be time to move her in with the Sistred. That, I’m sure will bring a bittersweet swell. Or at least I hope it does. More than likely we’ll just turn our attention from Sugarplum’s nightly needs back to Zuzu’s; who has been eyeing the spot between us with a rejuvenated gleam for weeks now. Or maybe we’ll be allowed to sleep up till the time of The Quail’s early morning wanderings and eat/drink/Momma chants….since the thought of 5 of us actually sleeping a straight 7-8 hour stretch is fairly unfathomable…

Quail day: I’m back…

I’m back.

Last week- I don’t know exactly how to explain it other than my brain and heart woke up again. I knew this fog I had found myself in was likely- but when you are in the middle of it- sometimes it is just so hard to see till you are nearing the daylight just outlining  that fog.

When we were debating having Sugarplum the thing that crossed my mind was that while well intentioned, the necessary separating of another apron string that happened between Zuzu and I that lasted about 2 years of her young life.  I know it’s biology- a momma’s focus turns inward to grow the little one in her and then to continue that in the first year growing her on the outside during that time when life is still so very fragile. Still as much as Zuzu adored both the idea and fact of her baby sister, we would catch glimpses of her by herself while I laid as still as I could willing my stomach not to heave and then contract. While we spent 45 minutes of every 2-3 hours syringing drops of milk I had just pumped into the Quail’s tentative mouth, while I loudly (and not ironically) demanded quiet from the household so I could beg the Quail to stay latched on. What willed us through this though was the equally apparent sight of Zuzu reaching out her hand to the Quail while they simultaneously nursed, cuddled on the couch and reached for each other through the fence on the playground. They were sisters first as they patiently waited to grow into playmates and friends.

The thought of yet another apron string detaching between Zuzu and I and now that even heartier one between the Quail and I loomed ahead though. And while I knew it would again be as fruitful as it was necessary, the advanced warning of the maternal fog that was about to set in for a couple years duration did little to prevent the overwhelmingness of it.

This past month as Sugarplum has become a bi-pedal little person we’ve been slowly introducing things other than momma milk to her diet. I say slowly because she hasn’t taken to it with much vigor for the past 6 months. She has learned to sign “all done” and shake her tiny head with a fervent “no” and Stanley Kowalski the offerings of “people food” promptly off of her tray. And since she is our baby, and because I’m old and tired, it is so very hard to “outstubborn her” as the good doctor has prescribed. We’ll get there, no doubt, if the Quail has taught me nothing, she’s given me a renewed emphasis on the glory of patience and conviction. But in the meantime, I’ve been slipping more and more cow’s milk into her cups and weaning myself off of my pump, if not her.

This alone has woken me up, to not be so saturated in the momma hormones throughout the day. And then, this past week, it was like my brain sat bolt upright remembering itself. Lovey asked me if I knew for sure what the Quail’s IEP team was recommending for next year. I recalled that the teacher had said she had been speaking to the 4k teacher at the school where the special education program is housed for the county about the Quail and wanted her to start spending some time there and to come to special ed 5 days a week. Beyond that, I knew no specifics. Lovey then decided to send a note to the Quail’s special education teacher asking for clarification. What came back, that was the jolt I needed. Yes she wanted her to spend some time each day there. What was the shocker was it was calendar/math and phonics sessions she felt the Quail was capable of. But that was all.

This moved us to action. I began tentatively emailing our village- cyber and IRL folks who have been there, done this, here in our system and across the country. Lovey did the same, and then one day- he sent me a note after reading what I had said to another mother. He noted how little like myself I sounded- that I sounded uncertain- not knowing what is the right path for the Quail. That in talking about her we need to focus on her strengths and abilities and lead with that because of the prevalence of stereotypes that surround Down syndrome, people hearing about her will latch on to what they already know about people like her- the weaknesses and difficulties and not hear what we are saying about the real her. I have never been more in love with this man. The student became the teacher. These past 17 years of knowing each other- of sharing my heart with him of showing and including him in the world of disability that I’ve grown up with and how we best serve others in their own community, of how we talk about people- well it was ingrained in his heart and mind and he brought it back to me when I was at my most vulnerable, overwhelmed and doubting of myself, my daughter and what I know. What. I. Know. What we know about this individual that is our heart and light.

I may not be well versed in the education system and most of what I know about offerings locally for others that come with an extra chromosome is third person removed, but it included including the child in the less academic portions of the day- very little inclusion- but mainstreaming into the regular classroom for things like lunch, recess, art, gym. Rarely academics without a fight. And here was our teacher recommending the academic portion because the Quail- well frankly she knows so very much.

So Lovey headed down to the local elementary school in our town. You know the one where Zuzu goes? The one where the Quail went for her therapies when she turned 3 and started with the education system before a segregated classroom even existed for preschoolers here. Now public 4K in our state is for children that are “at risk”. There are limited spots and we want one. The 4k teacher willingly told Lovey a bit more about the class. About the fact that in this class of approximately 20 students, there are to date, 7 native languages. The joy of a college town- a very international community. This was sounding just perfect. The Quail- her receptive language- it’s near normal. She understands what you are saying. She just has trouble expressing herself in a typical form back. But this teacher- this teacher already works with that fact, albeit for a different reason, in her classroom everyday. Why not one more?

Lovey asked what concerns she might have about including the Quail in a typical 4k setting. She mentioned that attention span and focus can often be an issue and it can often be overwhelming coming into such a large classroom environment for the first time. We parroted back what we have been told about our bird. She is great with work assignments and therapists have frequently noted the expanse of her attention span. She also is currently in private preschool with 1 teacher and 16 classmates.

“Well then,” came the reply; “scratch that.”

So, this past week, we let the Special Education teacher know that we were not in favor of her continuing at the separate school, in the separate class. There is so very much more to say about the Quail’s experience and the impact it has had on her this past year….and I can and will go on. But this fog that is slowly dissipating, well it means I’m also keenly aware of all the other things around me that were out of sight and mind in this period of growing another little person both in and along side me and they are calling for my energy and attention as well.

Last week when Lovey spoke up on behalf of our bird, our teacher asked what our goals are for her and out of a vault that had been stuck shut- came pouring the expectations for equal rights. For equal education. For inclusion. For the Quail’s right to be a part of a typical classroom and continue to learn just as she has shown us for the last 4 years that she is capable and eager to do. What we know are concerns for her and how we know they have been successfully addressed in the past and can be in a typical 4k setting.

We made a choice 4 years ago to include her in the same typical daily setting as her sister knowing that if we had to move her into more specialized care, that we would- but that she would need to show us that she needed it. Since she came into our lives we have assumed ability, not disability. We have looked at her and known and assumed capability and as she has shown us she needs support, we have sought it out. And she has thrived. She has grown. She has learned.

My girl- she is entering a system that expects her to prove herself in a way that someone not bearing her label and features would never be asked. Children that know what she knows in her head- they would be able to sit down alongside the other children without having to earn their way there. Because in this country- education is a basic right to all children. Except possibly those that have to work a little harder to keep up. Except maybe those that need it even more.

But that’s ok. I was born for this. The generations that have come before me and educated me personally, academically and professionally- my gratitude is with them. They fought to have children like mine have first the right to be born in to this world, then given the medical care to live a life and then the right to be supported in their own homes.

My generation- we are here to continue on that legacy. We are here to show the capability that lies within. To continue to advocate for equal rights. And that begins with a good and thorough education.

I hope this won’t be a fight. Our family will go in to these meetings with the assumption that we are all here to do what is best to educate the Quail. But, we will lead these meetings now making sure the educators know what we know. What the Quail knows.

That this bird, this bird can and will fly.

Zuzuday: early morning confessions…


I thought maybe I had dreamt it. At 4am, I heard the door creak. Just one creak though, before the pitter pat down the moonlit path started. She came in quietly and asked if anyone was awake. I waited silently since she did not seem upset. “I forgot to tell Smart Cat good-night.” She whispered into the darkness.

“It’s ok. He’s ok. Now go back to bed sweetie.” I mumbled back and held my breath. And then, she did.

At 6am on the nose I heard the creak again and a tap-tap on the office door where I sat typing. “Momma, do you remember when I came to tell you about Smart Cat?”

“I do Zuzu. And then you went back to your big-girl bed and stayed in it all night. That’s one more sticker on your chart!”

“Well, actually, I got up at 5 to go potty too, but then I went back to bed and stayed until 6…”

“That’s good- you made a good choice. I’m proud of you little bug!”

It’s hard to stand tough. I almost caved last night. When Lovey was helping the Quail on the potty. A very tired Zuzu started to cry just a little bit about her having to sleep in her own bed. Then something miraculous occurred to her.

“Momma, will Daddy have to sleep somewhere else when your belly is so big it takes up the whole bed?”

“Um, I guess we’ll see if it gets that big.”

More snuffling tears. (From her, not me over my gi-normous belly. At least not yet.)

“How about you take your pillow from our bed and sleep with it tonight. It smells like Momma and Sugarplum. Maybe one of the blankets I’ve been cuddling…” (can you hear the avalanche starting?)

“Ok,,,maybe so.”

“And how about Lambie?”

“No, Sugarplum needs something to cuddle.”

“Ok, night-night baby.”

Fortunately, it was Lovey’s night for all things bedtime. He told me when he finished that she looked at her chart after they went in her room and smiled a little at the thought of her new sticker. That was some comfort after seeing her tears. Once again, we all slept until her entrance at 4am. That seemed to rouse the cat though who then remembered she needed to barf and play with the crinkly things under my side of the bed.

Guess I need to make that cat a chart now…

That was written 2 weeks ago. It’s officially been 2 weeks since we have asked her to sleep in her own bed for the whole night. And for the most part she has done it. There was one more middle of the night entrance into our room and she has consistently gotten up to go potty sometime between 5 and 6 am. And her sister has now started waking at 5:30 am hollering to be taken to the potty as well. And on the weekends the impossible length of time between 6 am and 7 am sends her into tears. Other than that, that, that and that. I’d call it a success.

Of course her first “super prize” she decided on was a Valentine item. I worried on that. I wanted to not let her have it before the full two weeks were up, knowing her penchant for future negotiations. But judging by the heart-ie cuteness of this pink bear I worried equally hard that it might be gone and create a very defeated feeling 5-year-old at the end of two weeks. So we compromised again. We bought the bear during our next market run with the understanding it was to live in Momma’s car until she hit that 14th sticker. She did it! And we are mighty proud.

It isn’t without tears, on any of our parts, or seamless; like just this morning, the Quail hollered her “ooo-ooo” warning of impending poos at 5:30 on the nose. And since the last few poos have left me wondering what crawled up there and died, I felt the need to respond quickly rather than risk the need for a full crib cleaning later today. My entrance into their room before 6 am though, of course resulted in a time report from a wide-awake Zuzu. Which was quickly followed by a speech about the need for her to go potty as well along with a lengthy dissertation on all the reasons she likes Momma & Daddy’s potty since the room smells like Momma, Daddy and Sugarplum, which was then followed by an inquisition as to whether the Quail would be returning to her nest for the next 15 minutes. At which point I felt the odds of anyone actually resting were long gone and made the ill-fated choice to allow everyone full-house access prior to 6am. Ill-fated indeed. And a bit reminiscent of the birthday whining from a couple of weeks ago.  There was an argument over who cleans up the legos, the dropping of a very heavy book about cats on an unsocked toe. A much-too-lengthy discussion over who should get the ice-pack and who needs to go to time-out for hollering “NO” so vehemently at Momma’s requests for help before 6am. And a final decision to not award the sticker for today’s rising.

In the end Momma needed a time-out and two Tylenol herself in order to regain her morning composure before the day had even really started. As soon as I get a minute to myself I think I’m going to back and reread my oh-so-wise warning about not ruminating on the cranks.

In the meantime, let me just suggest for your own self-preservation that you think long and hard about your status as a morning person before accepting any well-intended invitations to stay in our nest. We’re an early flock here.

Zuzuday: Morning has broken….

Had I finished this post when it first crafted its way into my noggin it would have had a VERY different tone. Momma hit a wall this weekend. A wall of down feathers, flannel and fleece, but a wall nonetheless. We are co-sleepers. Not by choice. When Zuzu’s egg was making its way in my belly we prepared a nursery. We had it set up and ready to go weeks before she arrived. The colors and soft fuzzies all lovingly coordinated and cooed over. Then, she came. She cried. She was held and she stopped. She sleep-trained us in a matter of half-crazed weeks and the birth of The Napping House merged with our family rhythms. Frankly, it felt right. It really didn’t make sense to me why two full grown   adults shared one room and a two foot person had her own. It didn’t help that within the first three weeks of her life we had an unfortunate event of a drunken college student pounding his way down the side of our house scaring the dickens out of me, and then a repeat event around a year later. We all slept better when we were together. And I was a nursing, working mother. So- so be it.

Then around 18 months I hit a nursing wall. Zuzu seemed to have decided it was her job to wake every two hours and nurse Momma because Momma loves nursing so much. That had to stop. Momma was getting cranky with the regular wakings. It only took a week. She’s a bright little lark, that Zuzu of ours. She woke. She asked to nurse. I told her the neh-neh’s were still asleep. She nodded and asked for TV. I explained that the TV was asleep. She went to sleep. We had this pattern for only a week and then she slept. At 20 months we were all better rested, but then my burgeoning belly began to take over our queen size bed. Well, the belly and the half-dozen pillows I required to keep the aches at bay. So we started putting Zuzu down in her own big-girl bed. (Notice that her sweet head never touched that crib mattress?). We explained that Momma & Daddy were right next door, and when she woke, she was welcome to crawl in between us if she could do it quietly and without pomp & circumstance. She agreed and most nights she didn’t actually wake until early morning.

Then, along came the Quail. We had purchased an Arm’s Reach co-sleeper to hook to my side of the bed. We had two goals for it. To not displace Zuzu too traumatically as she still wandered into our room early mornings from time to time and to try to prevent our bed from becoming a slumber party for four. That first night home from the hospital I sat down for an evening nurse with our new bird and Zuzu crawled up on the foot of the bed. It was long past her bedtime and our schedule was in disarray already. She sat quietly watching us with doe-eyes and then said in her tiny toddler voice, “Momma & the Quail’s room.” In my hormonally charged state I replied with a teary voice, “No, come here baby, it’s for all of us.” And there went the months of preparation and sleep training. We slept for months like that, the Quail on my right and Zuzu tucked in between her father and I. And it worked. Then when the Quail graduated from the co-sleeping need to nurse all night we tried plucking her down in her crib. And by George, she loved it. It was fascinating, this concept of a child being put to down in a crib, in her own room and, get this- sleeping. Zuzu was still put down to sleep at bedtime in her own bed, in the room she now shared with her tiny sister. But, she consistently ended up in ours. Even at the point in which I was no longer nursing anyone.

I’ve talked about it before, this tired old subject. Of who sleeps where and what’s best for everyone. I’ve had mirages of everyone tucked in their own beds and actually sleeping. For a while we had a compromise where if Zuzu woke during the night. She was to wind a path through the moonlit house and the less creaky of the already open doors to a crevice at the foot of our bed and place her silent-self between us. Really, if no one woke in the process, what was the harm?

The harm became the creaks, the conversation and the nightly wrestling match. The reality is all the doors in our house creak, along with the floorboards. Zuzu had a clear mission each night that she seemed to deem it as her job to come snuggle Momma and Sugarplum. Moreover, if Momma happened to be facing away from a full-on cuddle she felt the need to right the situation. To tug at my neck, and later my shoulder so that I could roll over and cuddle her.  I explained how unearthly cranky it made me to be woken by a four year old hand pressing on my carotid artery. The conversation was generally more pleasant the next day than when we had to have it at 3am.

As my belly once again burgeoned, and the stack of pillows bloomed in light of Sugarplum’s impending arrival, the room for this nightly encounter lessoned and has taken a decidedly unpleasant tone in the last few months. It also has created a rhythm that wakes Lovey and sends him to another room to escape his child-induced insomnia. Sure, he was getting a couple of hours of work done a night. And yes it is extremely helpful to a new Momma to have a husband who is wide awake from 3am to 5am when she wouldn’t mind handing over the newborn feeding reigns. Moreover, it’s become not uncommon for the initial door creak of the girl’s room to also wake the Quail from her slumber.

So, that’s a long winded way of saying, no one is sleeping in our house.

That crystal ball of a brain of mine also tells me that in the next couple of months as we contemplate transitioning the Quail out of her crib and into her own big-girl bed we are soon to gain another night visitor. One who is already keenly aware of her roommate’s nightly disappearance. And, really, there ain’t no more room in this bed of ours. Period. Sure, we could buy a bigger bed. But fact of the matter is the parents in this house need to start sleeping just a wee bit more, before this newest wee one comes to wake us every couple of hours. I can imagine once this wee plum roars her mighty roar in the ears of the Sistred, we’re going to have an all-night dance party in this house of ours. And that, my friends, is good for no one.

At the point in which a routine behavior is making me routinely crazy, it’s time to break the routine. So Sunday morning I came upon the aforementioned wall. After two hours of Zuzu, asking inches from my head, “Is it 7 Momma? Remember we get up at 7 on home days and 6 on school days! I think it’s 7 Momma! Look, Mr. Sun is peeking out behind the shade!” And the Quail roaring her mighty “Oooo-oooo” which means she may be about to poop her crib. I decided 5 years and 4 months was a swell time to institute the never before seen “ I slept in my big-girl bed for 14 days and earned a super-prize” chart. Zuzu surprisingly was tickled at the idea. She got out her doodle pad and markers and set to work drawing the 14 neat, green slots where her stickers would reside marking her way to the newly noted “super-prize”. We spent the day coming up with super-prizes. Our weekly market trip, was marked with notable potentials. Our afternoon, was narrated with trips that could be made for a family super-prize in “Old Gold Car” as she lovingly named our fifties Fairlane.

The chart was hung on her bedroom door, and then moved to the inside for her middle-of-the-night viewing pleasure. The instructions were rehearsed for a wake time of 6am on school days and 7am on homedays. Possibilities reviewed for quiet entertainment, when the middle of the night waking inevitably came. Then as it was my night for bedtime duty. I hugged her, high-fived her, whispered my cheering ons and tuck, tuck, tucked her into her bed for what we hoped would be an all-night slumber party of one. Then I closed the door and held my breath. I recounted to the sheep I had to count to get my own-self to sleep how this was really for the best. That the girl is dying to have a sleepover yet is incapable of sleeping.  That I need to relieve her of her self-imposed job of cuddling Sugarplum and Momma in the middle of the night and reroute it for the daytime.

That the interests in sleep coveted by the 5 other brains in our house (not to leave out Sugarplum and Chula the Cat) was not to be outweighed by this tiny soldier’s diligence to cuddle-duty.

So, we went to bed. And I still woke every couple of hours. Have I mentioned I haven’t slept through the night since sometime in early 2006? My ears prickled as I woke, peed, and listened for the pitter-pat of not-so-little-anymore feet. But there was none. Not a peep. Not a peep from Chula the Cat. Not a kick-kick from Sugarplum. Not a type-type-type from Lovey. Not an oo-ooo from the Quail. Not a single tug on my carotid artery in the wee hours of the mourn.

When I woke, I feared what was to come. The few times in the last year that Zuzu has managed to stay in her bed till morning I’ve been greeted by a weepy mess of a child who is woefully saddened by her lapse in duty. “But I didn’t get to cuddle you Momma!!!!” she wails to me over her Crispy Rice. Then I heard the bathroom doorknob turn (Have I also mentioned that I haven’t had “time” in the bathroom by myself since sometime late in 2006?). I turned with my most stoic of Momma faces in place, and, surprisingly was greeted by the great beam of a proud five year old! “Momma, I did it, I slept all night in my big girl bed! I didn’t even wake up! I just told Daddy! Momma, what were the super-prizes again? Where is my sticker?”

As Lovey helped her apply the sticker firmly to day one of the blessed chart, I breathed a sigh of relief that maybe this actually was for the best. And then I heard the not-so-quiet Ooo-ooooings of a birdly stister who was anxious to join her family in the bathroom.

…like the first morning….


Zuzuday: hair today, gone tomorrow

I have a real love/hate relationship with haircuts and the girls. I find myself eyeing their sweet heads for weeks on end before finally asking if anyone is interested in a haircut. I need to be sure I can commit to it before I make the offer. It shouldn’t be this difficult, but emotionally it is. Probably because I only do it once or twice a year and at this age, even without my help they grow so quickly.

When both of the girls were born, their hair came out mirroring mine. Lots of chocolate brown hair wisps covered their tender heads. In the first few months as it came off and new hair grew in, with both of them it changed over to Lovey’s strawberry blonde locks. Everyone thinks they look like him- I’m the odd man out in family pictures. Truth be told, when Lovey was their age he was a towhead. White, white, white. Shortly before Zuzu was born, I was gifted a number of boxes of my childhood things from my mom and in the depths of those I found a little envelope that carried the locks from my first haircut. My hair- was strawberry blonde! I have absolutely no memory of this and was so surprised to see the different color. It made me realize that the days of having these sweet little strawberry heads is most likely numbered.

Thus begins the love/hate relationship with haircuts as I age them with every snip. About a year ago I took the girls in to a joint doctor appointment a few weeks after their fall haircut and the doctor looked at them and asked if Zuzu’s hair used to be the same color as the Quail. I was shocked- I hadn’t noticed how much darker it had already turned.  That time I had given the Quail bangs and I think the heartshock of seeing my baby vanish into a toddler had caused me to stop eyeing them so closely. Sure enough though, I can see it, it’s just a shade darker. Everytime we cut it, I feel like I’m cutting off part of their babyhood.

Yet, I can’t quite help myself, as I eye it for weeks preceding the haircut I notice how straggly or thin it has become and feel the need to thicken and even it up. I always love the final result after I cry about it few a few days though. This fall Zuzu had been the one asking for a cut after I came home from work with one.  It’s not a quick process for us. I do cut the hair myself, but I usually have to trail after them over the course of the weekend making little amends. Since Zuzu had asked, I started with her this time and noticed that her bangs were almost at the length I had hoped so that we could even it all out to one length. In reality, that was shorter than I pictured the cut as a whole. She was tickled.  I was uncertain and Lovey asked why I took his little girl away. It’s a spritely little cut on her, but the bittersweetness of it going one more shade darker as I cut the summer sun out of it was enough to put me in my hair-cutting place before I got to the Quail. Needless to say, I only took a couple of inches off of her in order to keep the rest of my heart intact.