31 for 21: Day 4

“What is this?”

I’m emptying the Quail’s backpack out in our nightly papers-home-from-school de-cluttering routine. At the very bottom is a small bag of three large marble sized balls.

“They balls Momma.” Sugarplum explains as she stuffs her peanut butter and apple jelly sandwich into her sticky mouth.

“They’re a choking hazard.” I retort under my breath.

“NO! They MY choking hazard.” The two-year old declares as the Quail dances in to the kitchen as naked as the day is long. “NO! MINE!” she yells trying to grab them from me. Tucking them into my pocket I scold her back to her room for undies and jammies. “I said to go get your clothes Quail. Now.”


Now that the children outnumber us, our zone defense is our best attack. And by best I don’t mean effective. I mean some balls get dropped and hopefully those that might be choking hazards are quickly tucked away.

The Quail raises her overly therapized voice and with a hand pressed to her still tubby wet chest hollers at me, “No Momma! My ball. My prize. My star!!! Mine!!”   She worked hard for that little prize this week. She works hard every week. Hard enough that her small head drifts to her chest each night in the car ride home from our work and school daze.

The week before school started, we met with our new kindergarten teacher to talk about the Quail and learn what we could expect as well as foreshadow a bit of what they might see.

“These first couple of weeks will be hard for them as they learn the new routine. You can expect her to lose her star quite a bit. It helps if we are consistent with our expectations right from the start. But, don’t worry- it doesn’t mean she will have trouble all year long. She’ll learn the routine and what’s expected of her. All the children do.” Her teacher looked on to our worried faces as we nodded in understanding. This was what we wanted. What we have always wanted for the Quail. A typical classroom with typical expectations and challenges. For her to come to the same neighborhood school as her sister and sit with her friends and sing songs and learn her letters and numbers and what to expect during the day. And this is what we got. She surprised us, not surprisingly. By keeping to the classroom routine each day and earning her star for two plus weeks straight. Even helping out another little boy who was struggling with the routine and making a new friend or two. The second week, I opened her backpack to find a sweet markered picture labeled as her and her new friend Laurel, that showed them out on a sunny patch of grass standing side-by-side with hearts in the air. Her teacher told us how this little girl worked lovingly on the portrait all day coming back and forth from her table to tell her how she was making this special for the Quail. It was enough to fill my momma-heart and stop berating myself for all that I hadn’t accomplished that day.

And then, came week three. A bit of the newness obviously rubbing the shine off. A tired bird grumpy by the requirements to get herself out of the tall car each morning with her too large backpack and sister and friend urging her to keep up as they run to the cafeteria waiting to go to class. I’d been firm with the sisters that morning. I was frustrated by the drop-off line that wasn’t yet routine enough to not make me have to rush off to work without worried rearview mirror glances to make sure the trio actually entered the school building rather than loitering on the sidewalk. I was firm with my expectation that no matter how much Zuzu liked taking her sister directly to her classroom, it was important that the Quail learn to do it independently and not rely on Zuzu to get her there. Neither were happy with my expectations and both had been avoiding my eyes during my daily reiteration of the instructions that the Quail was to line up when the teacher called for the kindergarteners and if she didn’t go, Zuzu was to tell the teacher her sister needed to be in that line, rather than waiting and walking her to class herself. For two weeks, they had managed to give me vague replies about what happened once I drove off. I felt firm in my stance that teaching the Quail how to get to class needed to come from the school, both so they were aware of the issue and also to knock off one more mixed message that Zuzu was receiving whether to mother her sister or not.

That night when I opened the Quail’s boomerang folder, I saw that her star was gone and there was a long explanation detailing her stubborn responses to the routines she had been acing the weeks before. The next day more of the same. Her teacher had emailed providing more details surrounding this and expressing concern over the Quail’s new attitude that had been building. As we corresponded back and forth though, instead of feeling frustrated I felt so very appreciative of this new teacher who obviously had taken the time to get to know the Quail and all of her capacity. She told us about the Quail’s helpfulness to another student. How the Quail went from her square to her center to the therapists with few hitches. She told us how she has gotten to know the Quail’s body language. How when she is being stubborn, she looks down. When she is honestly confused and unsure of what to do she looks you in the eye and raises her arms to form a question. She told me that while the Quail does continue to get distracted by her interest in her classmates and what they are doing, they’ve found a way to accommodate that by having her at the teacher’s table with only a couple of other kids during independent work time so that they can redirect her back to her own work.

Her own work. And there is so very much of it. When Zuzu was in kindergarten I was overwhelmed by the amount of daily work she produced. Their kindergarten made my childhood kindergarten look seem like nursery school. The worksheets helping them to think about numbers and letters and not just rotely copy them down. They see the letters and circle the letters, and color and draw the letters and words that start with them. They copy the numbers and illustrate the sums in quantities of apples and birds and flowers. They sing songs about Ally Alligator and Catina Cat and the girls come home and dance around the kitchen with their movements and songs teaching Sugarplum about what’s to come.

And then, Mom laid down the law. Zuzu acquiesced and the Quail rebelled. I have no idea if this separating of them was in fact the instigation for her terrible, horrible, no good, very bad, day or not. What I do know, is that after two bad days in a row we pulled Zuzu aside and told her to go ahead and do what works best for her and let the Quail know that if she needed Zuzu to walk her to class that it would be ok for a bit longer. And the next day all was right with the world again and the Quail managed to earn her Friday trip to the prize box after earning the next three stars for the week. What I do know, is that I don’t always know what’s best. And that that is ok, sometimes even good to admit. That sometimes I can let others work things out without my propellers rotating. That sometimes others can keep the balls up in the air, while I find a way to dispose of the ones that might just choke us.


corner view: something to celebrate!

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’ve put a lot of effort into reclaiming myself this past year. After almost 8 years of mothering I’ve been feeling more than a bit, well, not myself. My energy level has waned, my weight has bloomed, I’m irritable, scattered and tired. So 6 months ago I started the Couch to 5K program during my lunch hour. I figured that since I had spent over 3 years of lunch hours pumping milk for the babies I could  spend that time exercising for me- and also for them- happy mom = happy kiddos and all that. After 4 months of regular running and upping my walking time outside of that though, I lost 6 inches around my waist but no real change with my weight. So in February I restarted Weight Watchers- fast forward 7 weeks and I’m down 12 pounds- I’m on my way! In February members of my on-line fitness group that I had started last fall when I began running decided we needed to create a team for the upcoming Color Run which was scheduled for April in our town for the first time. In total there were 40 of us Tired Tiger Moms and our little runners. And the day was great! If you’ve never done a Color Run or any kind of race- take this from a tired momma who has yet to feel a runner’s high- sign up for a Color Run! This world-wide phenomenon of a 5k raises money for your local charities and offers a light-hearted emphasis on fun and fitness. When my friends first mentioned it I was fairly certain I was not going to join in. After completing the C25K program I found I really didn’t enjoy running for 20-30 minutes straight and I was constantly looking for excuses to not go out and run. So I switched over to a more Jeff Galloway- type approach and settled in with doing a 5 minute warm-up and cool down with 10 intervals of 2 minutes run/1 minute walking in between three times a week. While I’ve managed to keep it up, I’ve yet to say I truly enjoy it while I’m doing it. I’ve tried audio books, Netflix and Pandora to keep my interest up. There has been a noticeable benefit in trying to keep up with the kiddos and not feeling winded, cranky and exhausted playing with them. Then the thermometer rose to 76 degrees and the end of my outdoor running stretch was clearly in sight. I’m already up at 6 am and I barely have time to use the loo on my own in the evenings- so switching to a cooler time of day is not likely. I had a little on-line temper tantrum “announcing” that I was done running until the autumn, and then, what do you know- the thermometer and I kept at it.

This past weekend came The Color Run. Zuzu and I had agreed to join in but we both had our own set of worries. For Zuzu- she was convinced a bear would appear on the race course and spent the morning of the race plotting how she would finagle getting up on the bear to ride him the remainder of the course. For me the thought of being up early on one of the two mornings I get to sleep my exhausted self in so that I could run in the cool morning air and have paint thrown at me was just not appealing. Zuzu also had created an image of buckets of liquid paint being thrown at us as we tried to run away. Yet, bless her devoted little heart- in spite of bear and paint attacks she applied her HAPPY arm tattoo, donned her Color Run glasses and anxiously followed her beloved mother out to the car. When we arrived at the scene of what can only be described as a rock concert- both of our eyes widened- mine in excitement, hers in alarm as I tried to herd over to the run’s mascot- the Runicorn. Shaking and clinging like a baby monkey to me she absolutely refused to go anywhere near her favorite animal in the world. Let’s just say she was insistent enough that I am clear it would be folly to pay for a trip to Disney for this child. We tried to join in the warm-up work-out but in spite of the pop music and enthusiasm around us she remained stricken at the thought of the paint and bears. Once we were on the course her typical anxiety acts started in, she alternated telling me her heart and tummy hurt and that she didn’t want to wear the fluorescent tutu I had gotten her with pointing out how ridiculous men looked in tutus. She was so-not-happy. And then we got to the first color area. As we ran through the fine mist of powder and wiped it off of our glasses she looked down trying to spy the streaks of yellow. About a half-mile out from there when we spotted the pink station her pace picked up and her complaints faded as she ran up to the people cheering to be sprayed. From that point on she was sold. This was fun! We alternated walking and running per her requests and six months of prep-work let me keep up with her. After we got our water and kind bars and the paint throws in the finish galley started she perked up and asked to get up on my shoulders to cheer and eventually got herself over the fencing and up on stage to join the little runners in their celebration. Full throttle this girl of mine- all or nothing. Win big or stay home. Next year- we’re bringing the whole family. Fitness seems to be the new us. My first race at age 41, Zuzu’s first race at 7. Now that’s something to celebrate!


Ps- Oh and I also gave up caffeine last week. While I’m not quite ready to celebrate this experiment, I am pretty impressed with how good I feel without it- I see a new more focused, calm, happy energized family life coming my way in this next year.

Next week- Back to a regular yoga practice. Yay!



About a year and a half ago I asked Zuzu if she would like to be a Girl Scout. There was an informational meeting scheduled for that weekend.

“Yeah!!! Let’s be Girl Scouts!!! Let’s beat those Boy Scouts!!!”

Um, no. Not the point of Girl Scouts, and in fact a very good reason to become a Girl Scout. So we put our name in the hat and waited. And waited. And finally we got the good word- we had a troop and even better the new troop leader goes to the same daycare/preschool we use and could take Zuzu with her to the meetings, which were scheduled during my work hours and the Quail’s weekly occupational and physical therapy. Really, it couldn’t have been better planned. Zuzu has been known to come home all mopey on Mondays because her sister gets picked up from after-school care and she doesn’t get to play with her. And this group of girls, or at least those signed up for it, are some of our favorite little buddies in our community.

Zuzu in all her fervor and excitement then proceeded to go invite a series of other little buddies to join, and a number of them did. All told there are about a dozen newly designated sunny little Daisy Scouts in our town. From the moment Zuzu got word that her troop was forming and that Ms. Debbie was going to be the leader, she started seeking her out with questions:

“Ms. Debbie- will we sell cookies?”

“Ms. Debbie- how much will the cookies cost?”

“Ms. Debbie- if they cost $3.50 how about we charge $5 so we can make more money!”

“Ms. Debbie- I gave the other little girls homework so we would be ready for the meeting.”

And so on and so forth. One day when I picked her up she told me she wasn’t ready to go home yet because she was making notebooks and buttons for each of her fellow Daisy Scouts. And sure enough- stuffed in her backpack were bits of torn and stapled cut up papers and markered circles with the names of her friends.

This girl was born to be a leader. When she was young we had her in dance class. Our little daycare/private school took her each Wednesday. She enjoyed it, but didn’t really seem to burst with the enthusiasm she was known for. By the third year of class though her teacher recommended we move her to a new group because she was essentially using her as a little dance assistant by that time in order to get all the kids to their spots. Unfortunately , as a dual-working-out-of-the-house set of parents that wasn’t going to work for us.

So we moved on to gymnastics. It was ok, she is spritely, but with her class there was a LOT of waiting her turn, something that isn’t easy for her high-energy-self. When she was moved into an intermediate class there, she found herself in amongst girls quite a bit older and bigger and our brave girl started to quake. And then to complain. And then to ask to not go. We finished up the session and then told her she didn’t have to sign back up if she didn’t want to. She decided it “might be good to take a little break.”

So for a year we didn’t really have any extra-curricular, until Daisy Scouts was ready for us. The very first night of class we walked in both a little anxious. Zuzu- she’s not like the other girls. She doesn’t sit quietly reading and coloring. She whooshes. She zooms. She full-out runs. And chatters. And asks questions. And directs traffic. I had spent the morning reminding myself that scouting is about building confidence and leadership in young girls, two traits that Zuzu already had in abundance. And this was not about my micro-managing-helicoptoring her. Which would be hard for me, what with my preference towards social niceties. Well when we walked in the room we were greated by a tribe of chattering girls. All full of colorful enthusiasm and energy. Zuzu was not the most boisterous by a long stretch- these were her people.

For the next few weeks she came home bursting with the Girl Scout law and the characteristics and values it was teaching her- sharing, helpfulness, honesty, fairness. She loved the explanations and the little embroidered daisy petal patches that she was growing on her small deep blue vest.

We started our troop partway through the school year and so we got off to a bit of a late start in the age-old tradition of Girl Scout Cookie sales. We were told that in spite of this, the starting goal for each girl would be to sell 100 boxes. We would have one cookie booth that we could take part in to meet that goal, and otherwise we were to attempt individual sales. I have to say- this is the part of scouting that I have been least interested in. I don’t like going and asking someone to buy something or to donate something. Of course, the goal wasn’t for me to sell 100 boxes (even though when Zuzu joined I proudly paid my own dues and renewed my childhood membership to the Girl Scouts of America), it was for her to. But nowadays- people don’t really go door-to-door. At least not when you don’t know most of your neighbors. Our first attempt at sales was the first cookie booth. Zuzu was so excited the morning leading up to it. On her own initiative she made 3 different signs letting people know when and where she would be selling cookies and begged us to walk her around the neighborhood hanging her sign. I went ahead a snapped a picture and put it on Facebook. And lo and behold….people bought cookies! Next she decided to make a “commericial” to sell her cookies- so I put it up on Facebook and again- people bought cookies!

That afternoon we joined two of her troop-mates outside of our resident Lowe’s and the spirited little girls accosted, I mean asked passers-by to buy their cookies. The girls had lots to learn in this experience about customer service, money management, and being careful with the cookies. I was only at the table for 45 minutes, but I was beat by the time we headed home. That day we sold enough boxes and each girl got credit for 11. The next day she started calling our relatives. Unfortunately most of them don’t live near by. One thing the Girl Scouts do though is participate in a “Cookie Share”. When people pay for cookies,  instead of getting the cookies- the cookies are then wrapped up and shipped to soldiers overseas. This seemed like a wonderful opportunity to do service for those doing service for us. We managed to sell 29 of these donations.

The next week we talked during school drop-off and pick-up about people that she knows that might like to buy, her friends, her teachers, her after-school care staff, previous teachers. Each morning she would tell me no- that she was too shy to ask, and then 3-4 afternoons a week she would surprise me with a new order. A few were pipe-dream orders- little friends with cookies in their eyes. I was careful to check with their parents before placing the orders. Then on the last night to sell cookies Zuzu realized she hadn’t called her Nana and Bapa about cookie sales yet and they were coming to visit soon. So she called and sure enough they bought. When she went back to write down their orders she realized she was only 4 boxes short of her goal and went back to proudly tell them. They of course, being sweet grandparents, happily bought 4 more boxes for the soldiers and Zuzu met her goal!

I hadn’t asked anyone at my work directly to buy cookies. Lovey hadn’t either, we shared her commercial and talked about her efforts on Facebook and during the last few days of the sale I reminded her that if she wanted I would happily hang a sign-up sheet at work to buy cookies. She made it. I hung it. We got more cookie orders. A number of folks commented that when the child asks, they will donate. I’m glad she worked so hard on this in her own way. She sold in total 115 boxes in three weeks.

I’m so proud of her work, her attention to detail and her enthusiasm for the Girl Scouts. She seems to have found her calling.

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.



“Momma. I need a pen. I need to write down how well I did on my math test and leave it for Daddy to read when he gets home tonight.”

“Q-u-a-i-l. Good! Good job writing your name! You did it all by yourself!”

“Momma, here’s the list. I asked the Quail who she wants to come to her birthday party and then I wrote it down for you.”

“Me. Yes. Write. Name.  Me. “

They do what they see, right? They learn from what we do. Momma typing on the computer. Daddy writing the grocery list. Their teachers writing on the pro-boards. Their friends coloring in the valentine hearts. And they pick up their pens, and their crayons, and their markers and their chalk and they scribble and turn the paper and write the letters they’ve studied on the refrigerator, on the TV, in the books we read to them, in the books they are learning to read to themselves.

“Momma- let ME make a webpage. Let ME type in the webpage I want. Let ME write the list. Let ME call Gramma by myself. Let me write the story that goes with that picture”

Suddenly they are not the babies I hold, and wipe up and dress and feed. Suddenly they are individuals with opinions, and ways of doing things and rules they want to follow and enforce of their own. Suddenly they are alternate versions of myself writing their own story that I can’t put down.



five minute friday: see

…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.



“Nooooooooooo!!!!” She sits herself up and looks me square in the eye while shoving away my offering. I close my eyes silently wondering how to respond. It’s been a week now that she has slept clear through the night. No more waking to nurse. This is good. This is necessary. She was ready and so was I. And besides, we still have our regular evening intervals of comfort. She’s still my baby. At 20 months.

Make that 21.

“Do you want to just go to bed?” I scoot up to the head of the bed and pick up her rabbit lovey with its worn, soft blue fleece middle and floppy brown ears. Again she screams at me and tries to lay herself back down. “Naa-neh. Momma. Help.” 

Nursing a toddler. A very strong-willed toddler. She toddles daily now between independence and reliance. We all do. We all watch her as she moves through these next steps. Trying to see where she leads. Trying to follow her lead.

I lay back down and roll over to reach for her and again she shoves me away. Something is just not exactly right. She’s particular now. Her little mind ever expanding at a literally mind-blowing speed.  Her perfect rosebud of a mouth working hard to keep up.

Her cries of “Naa-neh” morph into “Narney”. Barney. The beloved purple dinosaur that her and the Quail agree is the bee’s knees. I pull him out of her pack-n-play along with the two Aden & Anais gauzies and the purple fleece that she routinely sleeps with.  Pulling them to her face she reaches over to her Dad who has come in during this scene and pats his arm, settles back and latches on.

For now.

For not much longer I see.


31 for 21: Day 27: Thin Places

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Emptying the purple backpack I find a note that the drink we usually send in didn’t make it to class today. They filled her cup with water but wanted to make sure that was ok. A month earlier there had been a similar note regarding the therapeutic straw we send in. It doesn’t happen often but a few times a year our fail-safe plans to keep the Quail from aspirating on thin liquids goes haywire in the morning circus of our weekdays. Grinning I go to the computer to reply to her teacher with our apologies and assurances that what they did was fine.

Once upon a time, it wouldn’t have been. Once upon a time there were frantic phone calls to my cell phone as I continued the morning commute into work and the need to pull over and sort through my options for getting the appropriate drink, cup or straw to the Quail before she finished her morning snack. If Lovey didn’t answer the phone when I called to see if he was at a breaking point in his schedule, I’d start to turn the car around until he called back.

For the most part the Quail has lived a typical life in a typical setting. The little supports that go into keeping her life typical though- they have been manufactured and adjusted regularly as she’s grown. Every six months her early interventionist will review an assessment to see how she’s developing and what concerns we have and what goals we want to focus on for the upcoming set of months.  This miracle worker of ours has guided us from the time the Quail was eight weeks old on up until now, taking the activities that we were blessed to be able to take for granted with Zuzu and measuring them out to the Quail in simpler steps that can be linked together so that months from the onset of a goal she can breeze through an activity alongside her sisters and friends making her efforts look easy-peasy to quote Zuzu. Most of these activities though, were not a matter of her health or safety.

Only the thin liquids were that.

When she was 14 months old we discovered a two-fold cause of her repeated, daily throw-ups- a duodenal stenosis, that could be easily corrected through a surgical removal of the membranous webbing the next month, and a series of swallowing issues that amounted to a neurogenic swallowing disorder that would take years to correct if at all. Every few months we would take her back to a speech therapist for a new swallow study to see if she was doing any better and might be able to drink regular thin liquids. Every other time she alternated improvement with worsening. The therapist finally explained that with every growth spurt, it was like she was gaining a new set of equipment and would have to relearn how to coordinate and control her swallow to prevent the liquids from going into her lungs and making her sick. We could compensate for this by thickening all liquids and only allowing her to drink from a straw-cup.

This past summer though the result of the follow up testing showed that she was controlling all liquids- meaning she could now drink plain, old, regular water, milk or juice. We still needed it to be chilled  and drunk through a straw to assist in her controlling where it went, but she could control it with those supports.

This. Was. Huge.

This meant when the Quail went off to big-kid school this fall, she was no longer at risk of accidentally aspirating if unbeknownst to us, a substitute teacher, therapist or staff member filled in with her snacks and meals. It’s one thing to reiterate to a small staff in a private daycare what they need to do to keep your kid safe from something as innocuous as water, another thing entirely to be sending her off to an elementary school with a population of approximately 800 students.  

Just as I hit send on the email to the teacher the Quail comes running back into the office with her strawcup in hand:

“Momma. Keeee—fir. Me. Drink.”

I reach down to take the cup from her. “Absolutely. Did you have a good day at school?”

“Yeah. Play. Eat. Silly!” She waggles her hands in the sign for silly as she laughs and dances her way to the fridge to pull her beloved kefir out. Easy-peasy.


31 for 21: Day 26: breakdown

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I hear the bedroom door creak open and jammied feet pad softly down the hall. Looking at the computer screen I note that  it’s after 6 a.m. Technically they can be up now. She pokes her sleepy head into the room rubbing her eyes.

“Momma. Eat? Drink?” Her question makes me chuckle, although I turn from her until I can pull my serious face back together, not wanting to encourage this pattern. Years ago our housecat would wake earlier and earlier to eat. Eventually I learned to switch from morning to nighttime feedings so he wouldn’t wake me earlier and earlier to be fed. That’s not really an option in this scenario, although it sure would be handy.

“No, Quail. Not yet. Potty. Then bite-bites. Then breakfast.” Her face folds up in disgust as she stomps her foot and leaves the room. Only for a minute though, she leans back in to try again.

“Book?” Signing as she says it I sigh and swivel my chair back towards her. The book. We didn’t read the book last night.

In the regular 4k class that we fought so hard to get her into, a daily part of the program is a take-home book that we are to read each night and return to exchange for another one. Last week when I was visiting the school for Zuzu’s field trip we took a brief detour to go down to the Quail’s class and peek in on her. She was tickled to see us and grinned and waved from her square on the carpet as her teacher worked through the cubbies pointing out to the children who had put their things away correctly and who still needed to try again. The first group had their backpacks hung up and their orange folders emptied with the Bookflood books returned to the basket. As she edged towards the Quail’s cubby I notice her purple backpack laying on the bottom of the cubby. Still zipped tight from the morning rush.

“Quail, come back over here let’s try again.” As the Quail hesitated my helicopter’s main rotor blade starts to turn and I stand up, then sit back down, willing my hands to stay still and let the teacher do her job. The Quail walks quietly over and starts to unzip the backpack fumbling over the plush owl attached to the front of it. The teacher looks up at me and comments that her assistant isn’t in today. Usually she helps the Quail get things where they need to go. We both pause, slightly embarrassed, not really sure what to do next. Eventually I stand and go to kneel at the Quail’s cubby as she struggles with the zipper and the teacher steps over to the next cubby. I make a mental note to add having her open and empty her backpack to our evening routine.

Except , our routines are more chaotic piles of need-tos and should-have-done-the-night-or-weekend-befores  rather than orderly-lists-ticked-off-and-put-away-before-bedtime and it’s hard to add even something this simple into our small window of time between pick up from school and drop off to sleep. Still though, the ability to easily open her backpack, take the book out of the orange folder, return the folder to the bag, zip the pack and hang it on the hook next to her coat is a daily expectation in this “regular” class. It’s those little details that in and of themselves are not complicated but added up together and explained and practiced with a 4-year-old with severe motor planning delays that we stumble over until the breakdown of the steps breaks us down.

Little things that we have to know to teach her to be independent with; like climbing into our car and further up into her car seat. Buckling and unbuckling her car seat harness.  Opening the car door to let herself out at drop off.  Buttoning  and unbuttoning her coat and then easing in and out of it. Putting her backpack on and off.  Reaching up to a hook in her cubby and looping the backpack over it. Opening the container her snack is in. Articulating clear enough so that she doesn’t end up angry with the teacher misunderstanding her lunch choice and in turn even angrier when her four-year-old mind insists on not eating the lunch that she didn’t ask for even though her four-year-old body very much needs to. Carrying her lunch tray without spilling. Punching in the code to purchase her lunch, staying in the class line as they walk from one area of the school to another without lagging behind or worse- hiding when the children are called to line up. Pulling her clothes easily on and off when she has to go potty. Hoisting herself up on the potty that, while kid-sized, are still just a bit high for her small frame. Wiping after she goes so that she doesn’t end up in pain with a rash. Climbing onto the swing she loves so dearly and not falling off of it as she wills her legs to pump at recess. It’s those little things that you can’t possibly think to prepare for until you find yourself wholly unprepared. Things that individually are simple and she’s capable of and cumulatively will cause your brain to melt. That is, what’s left of your brain, you know- the portion the children haven’t already taken for themselves.

“Yes, go get your backpack. Let’s read your book.” She runs off to the pantry and tumbles quickly back into my lap with the pack as I set my coffee down and she works her fingers around the small zipper pull. This time the book was too big for the orange folder so she quickly pulls it out of the pack easily and climbs into my lap. She pushes my hand away as I reach for the book, and traces her finger over the title. “O-N-E. She sounds it out and leans back into me with a grin.

“Yes. Good reading.  O-N-E” My finger traces the invisible line hers created connecting the sounds. “One Rainy Day. You like this one right?” She nods and turns the page as we start this story we mostly know by heart now.


31 for 21: Day 22: art-work

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“You want to show Momma?” I hear the question come through the open door as I sit nursing the baby.

“Momma. Yeah.”

She comes into the living room and spying the baby in my lap, immediately drops her construction paper while she starts to wiggle onto the couch pressing her kisses up against Sugarplum’s damp head. In return, Sugarplum frees her hand from the gauzy Aden & Anais and pushes her away, half territorially, half in jest. Looking down and seeing the baby’s eyes glitter as she grins around me I decide to not intervene for the moment.  

“Show me Quail.” She climbs back down off of the couch and picks up her artwork grinning as she holds it up to me. In the bottom left hand corner is her name written with green marker in her newly developed four year-old-scrawl. The coordinating stain on her shirtsleeve confirms it as her work.  In the center is a bright orange jack-o-lantern. Cut. Painted. Pasted.

A simple piece of kid’s artwork.

Except that it isn’t quite as simple as it first appears. In reality, more work than art.

This bright, seasonal piece is the work of a therapy session. Occupational therapy. She would have been refining her fine motor skills for a good piece of the session, most likely over multiple sessions to finish this. She would have had to verbally identify the paper color with enough articulation to make her choice clear. She would have been asked what color a pumpkin is and had to locate the paint that looks just right. The painting of the pumpkin itself would have been pure pleasure for her now. If there is one medium that inspires this girl it is paint- oil, acrylic or water no matter. Pull out a paintbrush and she would even turn off Barney willingly. The fact that she can swish enough water on the brush, then visually aim the brush to the small oval of orange, coaxing her arm to move the way her mind knows it should, next coat the brush and apply it mostly within the black-pre-marked picture with ease- well that’s a testament to the amount of time she has spent practicing. Once the paint was dry enough the tough task would have begun. Holding the painted page in her left hand she would slip her forefinger and thumb into the child scissors, now the ones that she has to open and close independently, having graduated up from the ones that spring back open on their own and carefully turn the page as she cut so that her scissors are able to follow the black outline of the pumpkin. Once her pumpkin was cut out, she would have needed to be able to open the glue bottle, turn it upside down and squeeze with enough force to get the dots from bottle to page.  I don’t know if she drew in the face. That isn’t a skill I’ve witnessed yet. But once the picture was complete she would have been expected to write her own name in the corner, also a hard-earned, recent skill.

Literally years of weekly practice at what most of us would consider work. But to her- it’s art, and fun, and playtime and a pumpkin picture- just like her friends make that she was asked to sign her name to and that will spend the fall season on our refrigerator, magneted next to the family tree Zuzu brought home. Or at least it will be hung there. Considering the emerging fine motor skills of her baby sister, odds are it won’t remain for long.

Maybe- more art than work.

Smiling at the picture I ask- “Did Jodie help you with this?”


“Did Ginger help?”


“Ms. Jan or Amanda?”


Finally it occurs to me that all of these skills that have been bundled into this simple picture- those would have come from her public school class.

“Ms. Lee or Ms. Dobson?”


“Ms. Patty?”


“Ms. Tricia?”


I grinned. That was the last person I expected based on the most recent progress report we received on her IEP. It had appeared that perhaps our Quail was not being, shall we say- the most cooperative- with her new school OT. I’d been intending to send her a note, making sure she knew that what the Quail was able to do so that she wouldn’t be snowed into thinking she was not capable. The Quail, if she knows you’ll help her, she asks for it.

I’ve yet to confirm if this was the case, that she did all of this with the new OT, but regardless of what I find out, the fact of all of that work that went into this art still remains. Her pride in her work still remains. Her pride in her art still remains. The picture still remains. The promise of more to come remains.

Now- more art than work.

As I start to praise her efforts and progress, the Quail reaches over to snatch Sugarplum’s blanket. The baby roars up with her own tiny but fierce protests. Zuzu comes clamoring up on the couch grabbing for the remote. At the end of a long weekday they are back together and more pressing matters like whose turn to choose a show it is and whose lovey is being handled by a sister. I swipe the pumpkin picture up from the squabble just as the Quail lets go of the blanket. Zuzu starts up Netflix and the Quail starts chanting Barney over Sugarplum hollers for Elmo. Heading back into the kitchen I pin the picture up to the side of the fridge and reach into the cold to start dinner before the triad notices it hasn’t been served yet.


31 for 21: Day 17: understand

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“Momma- you can’t bring a beard on the field trip tomorrow. Here’s a milk instead.” I was cleaning up the kitchen while Zuzu packed our lunches for our first field trip together with school. She’s been bustling with excitement that I was going to chaperone for a couple of weeks now and this evening had gotten serious with me over the do and don’ts of good parent chaperoning in the audience of her beloved teacher.


“Yes- beards- you know- what you and Daddy like to drink.”

Ah yes- those. Good thing she thought to mention it, considering the risk of her mother bringing alcohol on her first school field trip with her first grader.

And with that a new entry in the family dictionary was born. You know the family dictionary, the words that your family uses regularly for everyday occurrences, certain that the rest of the world does as well? Ours includes the likes of Sistred, rascaling, story-time manners, monstering, monster-spray, seat-cart, cramera, and now beards. These were brought into our days mostly by a pint-sized Zuzu. The one whose chatter starts before the sun comes up and before she could actually speak. As Sugarplum has now entered the pterodactyl stage of toddlerhood (You don’t refer to 9 months on as that in your home?) she’s taken her sister’s lead and jumped headlong into silly strings of jibberish that can only be described as having been modeled after Brad Pitt’s lilting British Pikey accent from the movie Snatch. Much like when I saw that movie, sub-titles, would be helpful. To date phrases that have been puzzled out like “I don’t know.”  and “It sure does!” in response to my clucking are a wonder to hear in this little person after having adjusted our expectations to the apraxic speech development of the Quail.

While we live with and understand the motor-planning difficulties that the Quail works hard to push her thoughts through into our understanding; we’ve become so accustomed to apraxia’s theft of our child’s words that I find myself still routinely doubting the permanence of the words the Quail and Sugarplum contribute to our days. Early on I breathed in a small circle of words from the Quail’s sweet mouth to my ears, “Ove you Momma.” One time. Over three years ago. As she laid her head on my shoulder while I carried her sweet sugar-sacked body into bed. And still I wait for those words to come again.

I know they will. Eventually.

Eventually she will speak them in the same manner that other non-apraxic 46-chromosomed little ones do. For now though, we create ways for our family to understand each other in less traditional means. With naming and telling of the Sistred’s antics to show them both uniquely and as a whole to ourselves and our community. Through rascaling-bear- cub sister’s antics where half-nelson’s are gentle enough for half-pints. Through story-time manners where there is always a free hand to lasso the chubby leg of our littlest pterodactyl as she trustingly edges her grinning self over the cliff of the bed-rail- again. To tickle-monstering sneak-attacks when a grown-up sits unawares blogging or philosophizing. To gingerbreaded- monster sprays that protect the nights and dreamlands of the biggest sister who is still little enough to be protected by her imagination.  To patience and room for sisters to teach and help each other as one explains how to buckle into her seat-cart when another one insists on doing it themselves after pushing away their frustrated parents hands. With both silly and paused hugs offered up for the stills and stories captured and shared from Momma’s cramera . 

With arms circled tight around my neck as a wriggling four year old, chants with soft pride- “My Momma, My Momma” again and again after months of articulating work with her Daddy on her /m/ sound and is answered with, “I know. I love you too.”


31 for 21: Day 15: new

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“Please, please, please can we go on the kid rides now?” Zuzu pulls at my sleeve as I push the stroller down the crowded street. Lovey warned me not to mention the option of the festival rides before we actually decided if they were ready to try this new thing. This was the sixth time she had brought it up if it were the hundredth. I suggested that we split up and I take the two older girls over to the rides to see how much they cost. I grabbed two sheets of the tickets and we headed over.

As the ferris wheel turned in front of me I grinned up suggesting we all go on it together. “No.” came the uniform chorus in response as they both turned in opposite directions heading over to the ride they wanted. The Quail eyeing the carousel, Zuzu eyeing the balloon lift. I looked back to see if the others were close and couldn’t find them in the crowd behind me. Leaning down into the girls’ excited chatter I suggested said that we could ride one while we waited for the others and then we could see if they had more tickets for a second ride. When they settled in agreement to start with the balloon lift I reached over to tap the operator on his broad shoulder. “So- 6 tickets each- do parents have to pay as well?” A curt nod as he slowed the motor told me that if they were to go it would be without me for their first ever fair-ride. I started to suggest that we wait for Daddy to bring more tickets just as he opened the gate to release the over 36 inches tall group of independent boys and girls ahead of us. Zuzu grabbed the Quail’s arm and they sprinted through the gate as I noted that indeed the Quail met the height measurement to ride alone. Zuzu in all her big-sister-helper-gloriousness shoved at the Quail’s bottom trying to push up onto the too-high bench in the blue and white ballooned bucket. The Quail seeing the actual size of the ride up close kept herself squatted down close to the ground. As the operator came to shut their gate Zuzu scurried in and the Quail looking up at the tall shadow looming over her raised her arms obediently for the official boost.

The ride set to a slow spin and both girls grinned as Sugarplum, Daddy and Cyrena took their spot by the gate to wave and watch. As I took a sip of the beer they had brought over I noticed the operator looking back at us and then across the ride and back to his controls. He stopped the ride and sauntered over to where the girl’s bucket hung in mid-air. The Quail’s screams just reaching us as I realized he had stopped the ride due to the Quail’s protests. As she looked from him to us she clamped her mouth shut. Shook her head and signed more. Her communication- brief and clear. As was his- you scream- I stop the ride. She seemed to sink back and loosen her grip on the pole holding up the plastic balloon as he switched the motor back on. This time as her little hands tightened around the pole we tried to coach Zuzu who remained nonchalant over her sister’s quick terror, to please help her- put your arm around her, comfort her, hug her, something. As the Quail’s pitch hit the high crescendo Zuzu draped one arm on her shoulders, the operator turned to look at me and I just shrugged. A full minute later the buckets lowered back to a smooth circle rhythm and the Quail’s face flipped like a switch as she let herself be pulled out by me. Zuzu ever the adrenalin junkie headed over to a row of bounce houses with a Quail quick on her heals shouting now not in terror, but in affirmation. “Me. Bounce. Me. Ride.” as we sighed, shaking our heads , quickly following behind them.