five minute friday: grace

…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.

 

Go:

The soft fleece of the blanket curled by my head being pulled out from under my cheek gets caught in my hair and I try to hide the wince of pain. Too late. The baby’s chant of momma shifts into a shriek and I open my eye a millimeter to see the red flash of the clock as it changes from 4:44 to 4:45. Just early enough to irritate me. Just late enough to wake the other girls if I ignore her request. Her third request. Anytime the first one comes before midnight I can pretty much see the future of the night without pulling out a crystal ball. We will be up again. And again. Drawing in a deeper breath I push down the frustration and lack of sleep and reach for her.

 

I need grace.

 

“NO!!!!” Her well-articulated anger pierces the otherwise quiet house and a swish of my coffee spills onto the cream carpet. I clamp my mouth shut for the moment it takes for her to throw herself on the floor in protest. “You know the routine Quail first potty, then…” I start to try again as she cuts me off with a swipe of her hand on my cheek while I’m bent  to the ground wiping up my liquid energy from the formerly cream colored carpet. I feel the heat rise in my cheeks. My anger now matching hers. I stand up, trying to not spill my coffee again as I set it on the wooden desk. This time I walk away. It’s too early to start a loud argument. And it’s too late to have a drawn out explanation for what all needs to be done in the next 15 minutes before I have to leave for work.

 

I need grace.

 

“I don’t want to wear sneakers!!! NO! NO! NO!!!!!! You don’t know anything. Ms. Young wasn’t angry at Ahlivia when she wore her sparkly shoes!!!” She kicks the sneakers I had set down in front of her minutes earlier and the bright twinkling of the lit-up toes mocks our anger as it sets off the third migraine I’ve had this week.” I start to reply with a too early life lesson about how in our house we follow the rules and it doesn’t matter what Ahlivia’s family is ok with, but her door slams before I can finish the sentence.

 

I need grace.

 

Squeezing my eyes shut I pause in the dark hallway. The Keurig presses its last drops out loudly as  Lovey’s voice appears in front of me. “Come on, you gotta go. The car is running and here, this will help.” He hands me a steel travel mug and my purse. “Drive carefully.” Just as he calls out for the girl’s to come say goodbye, their bedroom door flies open and two matching sets of bare feet come tumbling down the hall and little hands twine themselves around my legs as their voices compete with each other. Mommma. My Momma. Breathing deep I bend down to kiss their small heads and begin again.

 

Stop.

 

 

 

31 for 21: Day 25: five minute friday: together

…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.

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

Go:

Turning off the shower and stepping out into the steamy bathroom I yawn. It’s too early and there is too much to do and my sinuses are pounding. It’s Friday and I have to be ready to leave for work in 30 minutes. I leave earlier than other weekday mornings so that I can return earlier and have a date with Lovey before daycare shuts down. Before we spend the weekend together as a family. The pain is worth the gain. But I miss the girls on these mornings. I miss driving Zuzu in to school and hearing the thoughts that are forming in her head, her life, her world. I miss being together. It’s these moments where it is just the two of us that I’m most likely to hear what she’s proud of, what she’s afraid of, what she plans to eat, and say, and do that day. It’s 10 minutes together and it tells me more about her then the other 23 hours and 50 minutes combined. 

“Does weather come from God or science Momma?”

“I’m scared that my teacher is getting married Momma.”

“Lucy is my best friend Momma. I’m going to play with her at recess.”

“JW got into purple Momma. He gets into purple more than anyone. I’m going to get into purple today.”

“I’m in the hard reading group now and that means that I get to pick non-fiction books.”

“I’m scared to be in the hard reading group Momma. The books are too hard.”

“Erika & Julia don’t want to play with me Momma.”

“I don’t like Monday afternoons. There’s no one to play with once the Quail goes to therapy.”

“I broke my record yesterday and got all my homework for the week done.”

“Everyone else is going to be lunchbox on the field trip Momma. I’m the only one with a school lunch. Please?”

Pushing a brush through my wet hair I peek through the bathroom door and see Lovey sitting at the computer with the Quail on his lap. She has her arms wrapped around his neck and his eyes are closed. The rest of the house is still.  I smile and quietly close the door shut hoping she won’t see me yet. I know that hug. It goes to who she runs into when she first wakes. When she comes to life and starts to tick off the morning activities on her small fingers. Before her will collides with our need. Before chaos and rush and petulance settles in feathering our best laid intentions.

When I finally leave the bathroom the office is quiet and I hear the sound of the small whistle float from the living room. Lovey and the Quail run through the daily “bite-bites”, the small acts that create big words. I move around the periphery of the house willing the baby and Zuzu to stay asleep and the Quail to cooperate while my coffee pours quickly and I escape back to the computer for a few minutes to be alone, before we are again, together.

Stop.

31 for 21: Day 18: five minute friday: laundry

…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.

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

Go:

“Pur-ple.”

“You want to wear purple?”

“Yeah.”

She grabs my finger and starts to drag me from the Keurig, down the darkened hallway and back to her room. The Ikea dresser drawers are pulled open and the rainbow of shirts now sit half in and out. Her sister snores softly from the nest of the bed they share, tangled in the cranberry and cream striped afghan my Grandmother had made decades ago. Continuing to sleep despite the overhead light and company.

Pulling the red canvas stool over to the drawers, I settle in for the conversation. At first glance I see no clean purple shirts to make this morning’s dressing go smoothly. Pulling the reds, yellows, gray and pinks out of the drawer I start to look more closely for a purple star, stripe or polka-dot to appease her before she dives into the dirty laundry pile for yesterday’s  purple Wonder Woman shirt. Last year we would come together daily for this dance over yellow. It got to the point where as her birthday neared, Lovey and I scoured the internet for a pair of yellow sneakers. Something to support her still-learning-to-run-and-jump feet in the favored color that would keep all of our dispositions as equally sunny over the daily request as the color itself. Eventually we settled on pink sneakers with some striping. The best we could do.

Of course, then, they weren’t purple. As summertime rolled around the purple consignment sale Crocs became her daily ware and kept the mornings tantrum free. Until, the back strap broke. And we all cried just a little.

Pushing the shirt drawer closed I suggested we try for purple pants.

“Yeah! Pants. Purple.” reaching over my hands, she grabs the purple shorts on top. As I look up I try to remember what the fall forecast calls for. Here in the south, come October, our mornings are awfully chilly, but by afternoon the shorts would be fine.

As I lean down to stretch them wide for her to slip them on, her still tiny starfish hands press into my shoulders and her forehead bumps up against mine. “Momma. My Momma.” She pauses to wriggle her way into my lap, forgetting the shorts and the pressed time of a weekday morning. This time I stop and pull her up just as Zuzu starts to yawn and stretch.

“Rise and shine, and give God your glory-glory…” The childhood song rises up from my memory and throat with Zuzu’s strawberry blonde head as she crawls out of bed and presses herself grumpily into our circle. The Quail realizes we’ve shifted onto her purple shorts and starts to protest. Zuzu grunting, presses in between the Quail and I harder. Separating them, and myself from my temper; I hug Zuzu and ask what color she wants to wear today. She says it’s too early and she thinks she should just stay home. I agree it is early, but that tomorrow is a home day, today is a spelling test. Surprisingly this redirects her into chatter of her new reading group, the field trip pictures Ms. Jensen showed on the pro-board, last Friday’s flu shots and a pair of striped shorts. The Quail flings her yellow nightgown on the pile of laundry in the hall and runs to the kitchen…

”Dada. Bite-bites. No Momma.”

 Zuzu runs to the living room avoiding my instructions to start brushing her hair and I pick up the scraps of laundry along with myself and head out into the day.

Stop.

31 for 21: Day 11: five minute friday: ordinary

…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.

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

Go:

“Momma- Molly took a picture of the broken crackers on the pantry floor! Why would she do that? Shouldn’t we clean them up?”

…because the common is uncommonly beautiful. Because there is grace in the ordinary details of daily life. Because it is the moments between the moments you are waiting for where life is fully lived. Because our family’s true story lies in the detail of what is always around us that the busy work of life keeps us from noticing. Because when you don’t know what you can expect in life, the ability to do the simple task of eating has a profound effect on how you view the world around you. Because in the blink of an eye your world goes from neat, orderly and in control to being chaotic, out of control, messy and so incredibly full of love and wonder. Because when life threatens to take the ordinary out of your day you pause and weep with gratitude over all of life’s bounty from the precious life that you have been asked to protect to the food on your plate to the shelter over your head. Because sometimes your eyes and mind are so full of what you expect to see around you that it is impossible to pause and see what actually exists in your day. Because family, love and home are art and beauty in its most natural state. Because a single image, a grain of salt on your tongue, a smell from the frying pan in the kitchen can ground you in your day and lose you in your life all in the same moment. Because while that cracker broken on our pantry floor means we need to take the time to care for our home it also shows how very much we already do care for the ones we love, the home we live our lives in and the routines we have in our day. Because years from now when you all are all grown-up with a life separate from this one, you might find yourself racing through the grocery store to pick up milk and bread and soup and crackers with one crying baby in the cart-seat, one dawdling at your heels and one at home with a fever and you’ll lean down to grab the box of saltines off of the bottom shelf and be suddenly overwhelmed by the image on the box and find yourself thrown back into your childhood when you would spend Saturday afternoon snack time with kefir and crackers and freshly peeled clementines before racing out to the swing that hangs on the old oak tree; and you’ll wipe a tear from your eye before the baby swats the box out of your hand propelling you back into matters at hand. Because Molly is an artist whose gift allows us to take what is utterly mundane in the life we live and reflect the love, the light, the beauty in the ordinary, the seemingly  unimportant fractions of a second in the family’s life where their lives are actually lived. Because Momma didn’t see it laying their on the floor while I raced around to hide the broken down cardboard boxes, poopy wrapped up diapers and empty recyclable kefir bottles when Molly pulled into the driveway that afternoon….

…is what I will say when she is older and we can sit together over two steaming mugs of coffee.

Yes love- we should clean them up.

Stop

31 for 21: Day 4: five minute friday: write

…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.

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

Go:

I pull the tub’s drain cover and wrap the toddling Quail in her towel, just as Zuzu positions herself at the stepstool between us. “H-A-T” she recites pushing the small square of paper over to me. And there it is, in her four-year-old scrawl. She licks the graphite tip of the pencil mildly as I grin over at her.

“Was Daddy helping you write about his hat?”
“No Momma- I did it. I wrote it.”

And just like that, she cartwheeled into the world of big kids. She did it herself. Probably someone unknown to us helped her figure it out- but as far as our parental involvement was concerned her ability to write and spell and read and talk appeared like magic.

“If I make the dots large enough, she knows now to connect them and form the A. She’s getting good at it. These three were hand over hand, but this one here on the end she did on her own!” Our Early Intervention worker handed over the orange construction paper for us to pin to our fridge a few months ago. Since then they have worked diligently on the next letter in her name with a goal of fading back the prompts and her writing her first name independently before her fifth birthday.

Magic versus practical. So different from her sister’s path into big kid-land. And yet, in the end, they are both there. They’ll both learn to write, to read, to speak and to spell. Lucky for us, Zuzu is a big fan of playing the role of the instructor. Lucky us, the Quail idolizes her. Lucky them, we can take either path to get them there.

Stop.

five minute friday: true

…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.

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Go:

This is the stuff. I think to myself as I sit down at the cramped kitchen table to nurse Sugarplum. The smell of the chicken that Lovey had spiced and seared wafts over me and lulls me deeper into the hormone hit I look forward to with each nursing. It’s easy in that brief moment of stillness. Of thick hungry scents of dinner to come. Of Ryan Adams crooning on the Pandora. Of Zuzu singing as she skips to the living room to reach the Netflix remote before the Quail can. Of the Quail happily setting out a specified color of Fiestaware for each member of the family to eat with.

It’s easy in those moments to breathe, and sigh and smile. And then the Quail realizes that the opportunity for Barney has been swiped by her sister and Zuzu realizes we are pouring her a glass of homemade kefir rather than milk and the baby realizes that the blanket she was snuggling has fallen under the table and she bites down as she wrenches herself off to lunge for it…again. And the noise pitch of all of these realizations in these too small rooms pound into my temple and the migraine I had been nursing all afternoon flares as my temper strikes and I holler for everyone to go take their baths so that we can eat, and do our homework and do our bite-bites and maybe, just maybe get everyone to bed before my head explodes or at least eight o’clock.  

And just as quickly it stops and plates are served up and reassurances are made that you can just leave what you don’t want to eat and warnings are issued that if you walk away from the table your meal is done. And then the baby in her highchair utters a “bomp, bomp, bomp, bomp, bomp” in response to the command of “Everybody dance now!” that Zuzu has been chanting at random intervals since gym class with Ms. Young earlier that day. And the Quail sees me pull her beloved French bread from the toaster oven and starts signing her version of bread emphatically to be certain I don’t pass her up as I hand out the thickly cut and buttered slices and everyone sinks back into quiet chewing, the earlier tempers forgiven if not forgotten. The guilt of having lost my cool yet again as impulsively dumped as the tone itself had been issued.

This is the stuff. This is our life. These fluid threads of together and separate, of need, and impulse, and want and desire and plain ordinary chicken and bread, and days apart and evenings together that weave us into a blanket described as family that will wrap us tight and comfort us and infuriate us and catch us up all within the blink of an eye.

This is the stuff. This is what’s true. The anger, the tempers, the chaos, it’s no more real or true or authentic than the peace and the love and the feelings of joy.  It’s all of it. It’s life together minute to minute, moment to moment, person to person. It’s family. It’s love. It’s true.

Stop.

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.

Go:

“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.

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.

Stop.