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.


31 for 21: Day 13: full

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Zuzu was just about 12 months old the first time it happened. She stood in the carpeted hallway staring unhappily up at me as I answered her request for another cracker with a not right now. As she wasn’t going to stand for it, she oh-so delicately laid her small body down, ensuring not to bump or bruise herself and set to wailing and kicking after a quick glance in my direction. My lips turned up as I turned away to hide my laughter at her first tantrum.

Within a year it was not nearly so cute and the next year after that it was downright infuriating. These days when the fury bursts from her you can feel the floors shake as she stomps her twinkle-toes sneakers back into her bedroom.

But we knew it was normal development emotion-wise and set in for the duration. Like clockwork at her next half-year mark she would set into a new range of developmentally expected behaviors that would ease up as her birthday approached. Convenient isn’t it?  The sudden return to being a sunny little bout of sunshine just in time to ensure a good birthday gift or 12. Downright Darwinian.

Then along came the Quail. We had read and bore witness to a series of offhand comments about “those kids”. You know God’s angels, the sunny, happy-go-lucky carefree children who never get angry? The passive full of light and good cheer children who didn’t know any better than to just grin at you and passers-by? Even though she showed a full range of emotion, these images held enough water to make me think that perhaps the personality trait of cheerfulness itself resided on that 21st chromosome and that our Quail maybe did have a little bit extra. 

That is until about the age of eighteen months. When, one day, the Quail sat happily humming into a plastic microphone in the sun-filled living room. When in skipped Zuzu who also had a song on her lips. Zuzu donned her sweetest “Momma” voice and leaned in to pry the microphone from her sister’s hands. The Quail, she gripped that tiny pink cylinder of plastic firmly with one hand, placed her other little hand square in Zuzu’s face and hollered “STOP!”  Zuzu was crushed as we turned away to hide our giggles and mental high-fives at the Quail’s newfound feistiness.

Enter a year later. And yes, there has been all the typical naughtiness you expect from a pre-schooler, laced with just enough mischievous sparkle in her blue and Brushfield spotted eyes to keep any grown-up from disciplining her too sternly. And then one weekend, perfectly timed with just enough of a snot-filled nose to make us question the origin of her fury; also timed perfectly within a month of her turning 2 and a half; our cheerful little helper, one day out of the blue refuses to pick up her crayons. Not only refuses, she stomps her foot (which we silently applaud since up until the last few weeks her balance wasn’t sturdy enough for her to not topple over in the attempt) and then goes in for the kill. She kicks over the little yellow bucket of crayons she’s been directed to fill. Silence fills the room, as she waits for our response and we wonder briefly at the skill of the kick and the pile of colorful crayons spewed across the black rug. Then she gives her age-old gesture of discontent- a version of flipping us off with her arm and attempts to leave the scene of the crime. I return her to it, with low firm instructions, no longer humming our clean-up song. She plops down, fixes her glare on the rug and growls. This continues for another minute until I’m clear she isn’t going to clean up her mess and so off to time-out she goes as an angry wail fills the house. Finally, shuffling slowly back in, head hung low, bottom lip bird-perched out and her hand sorrying circles on her small heaving chest she bends to pick up first a yellow, than a purple crayon and drops them squarely back in the pail.

Typical pre-schooler right? Shouldn’t have been so surprising. Except we’ve been marveling for months at how much the Quail enjoys helping grown-ups clean-up and this seemed to blow in out of nowhere. Apparently someone forgot to inform her of her abundant cheer that her syndrome relies on. A series of similar versions of the story ensue over the weekend involving, animal puzzle pieces, Cheerios and far-flung cups of kefir. Enough so that by Monday afternoon Lovey declares she’s going to the pediatrician tomorrow. I agree, this behavior is unusual. We know one ear tube came out a month earlier and she’s had a cold for a week and we have entered cold and flu season without the start of last winter’s daily breathing medications. She probably needs to start up her pulmicort and maybe an antibiotic or two.

The next day Lovey calls me at work. “She’s fine.” She’s up to 30 lbs 15 ozs. Her lungs and ears are clear. It’s a cold. That’s all.”

We both sat calmly contemplating what this banal diagnosis really meant. It may very well have been our first visit to a pediatrician that was met with the response of nothing here to see folks.

What it meant was that our ordinary child, was not filled with that magical sparkle that would cheer her all the way through her angelic life. What it meant was that she was developing socially and emotionally on time.

What it meant was we couldn’t be prouder.

What it meant was that we needed to buy a second plastic microphone and keep the bucket of crayons up off the carpet.


31 for 21: Day 9: corner view: before & after

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!

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“Which book do you want to read?” I ask thumbing through the shelf of colorful children’s books in the girl’s room. The two older girls, used to the routine shout out approximations of titles as they push past me to grab the latest Junie B. Jones and seasonal antics of Clifford and George. The baby teeters on the edge of the bed railing, surely tempting fate as she grins at our far-from-soothing bedtime routine. Lovey comes in and we settle ourselves into the bed for a few minutes of minding our storytime manners. I hear of families that read for an hour or more to lull their loves into slumber and that is not us. Not our lot in life. As difficult as that may be to bear for a bookaholic and aging philosopher. These children barely sit still long enough to turn the page in a chapter book. To make it to the Good Nighting of the moon is the equivalent of a Kilimanjaro climb most nights.

When Zuzu was a wee nursling in my arms I tried to do what the “good parent” books prescribed. I would find a sleepy Sandra Boynton rhyme to read to her as she settled into my arms. Her tiny fists grabbed those board books and whipped them away from us before Little Pookie could tell us what was wrong. Later as I would settle her at a safe arms distance in front of me I’d let the swing rock her to the sound of my voice. As soon as she was old enough to make her protests understood she would take the book back from me and insist on “reading” it herself. Storytime at the library, one of my most treasured childhood memories was a flaming disaster. As other children were rapt with the Librarian’s multitude of voices, I chased Zuzu, angling my body so she could see the stern look on my face as I retaped the decorations back to the wall, alternating that sternness with apologetic glances to the other mothers. Eventually I gave in. It was too much and frankly wrecking my nerves right along with my happy childhood memories. So instead we went to the park, to gymnastics, to the bouncehouses and we let Zuzu be the one to “read” to her babydolls instead.

When the Quail came along though, it was a different story. Oh how she loved to be read to! Her small voice would answer with a tiny moo to Ms. Boynton’s question of what a cow says. Once the words on the page formed a pattern for Zuzu, she would take it upon herself to slowly work her way through pieces of our treasury letting the Quail fill in when she could.

Along came Sugarplum. Once you sat down on the floor, she would back herself into your lap and reach to turn the pages along with you. As long as you were reading only to her. Her protests of little No’s rising up over our rhyming as her sisters would now come running to the parent parked at eye level. Come bedtime,  she’s the first to dogpile her sisters as they line up their loveys and blankies for the night’s rest. “Storytime Manners” is the code word reminding everyone to pause. To listen. As one by one we share our part of the story. The read to becomes the reader. The baby becomes the school-age child. The childhood dream reshapes itself into the present day.

We try a little harder to pause a bit longer as the newly-minted seven-year old stumbles through a page of Junie B, holding out the picture to her sister  who in turn, press her hand to her own chest. “My turn.” Insists the Quail as her parents yawn and suggest only 2 more pages. The Quail practices her site words as they float up from the Boynton books. “Red hat. Green hat. Blue hat. Oops.” Her ‘s’ sound magnified in her effort to enunciate each sound she sees. The baby claps along with us in praise of her sister’s accomplishment before lunging over the side of the bed railing yet again, caught up by her ankle at the last possible second before we insist it is time to rest one last time.


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.

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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.


Tooth Fairy Time

Our rising first grader spent her Kindergarten year hoping to lose a tooth at school. You see her friends had done it and when the tooth came out at school they got a visit to the nurse who gifted them a little tooth necklace to deliver their prize home to their parents and The tooth fairy home to. So really, for Zuzu, it was all about getting that necklace. One day she was so determined that she spent recess convincing her BFF to use a paper towel and twist it out for her. This coming from the girl who flinches during nail clippings, screams while her hair is being brushed and used to require a parent to sit on her in order to get her toddler self’s teeth brushed.

But see there was that necklace. She reported back to her teacher at the end of recess with a handful of bloody paper towel and a loose tooth and earned her visit to the nurse. Unfortunately for her, the effort wasn’t quite enough. The nurse would not pull it out, just store it if it came out on its own. By the time I picked her up from after-school and she relayed this story the tooth was perpendicular to its mates.

So began our family’s tradition of outting loose teeth with popsicles. Of course the Sistred are more than happy to join in and eat popsicles in solidarity with Zuzu, loving bunch that they are.

Personally I had no desire to pull out the tooth myself. I remain shocked at her insistence that we help her with each loose one. The look on Lovey’s face as he witnesses her little bloody antics is enough to know he isn’t going to do it either.

So she slowly bites into a popsicle with the though that the cold and biting will enable her gums to numb up a bit as the tooth is wedged down into the ice. And if nothing else, there is the distraction of Momma having handed out popsicles!  Once she’s made her way part through the popsicle I’ve twisted it for her and if it comes out easily she’s good to go. If it doesn’t than back to the drawing board the next night with the possibility of it coming out in school and earning her a necklace.

She’s lost 4 now. The front four and 3 of the grown-up teeth have started to push on through. Our family’s tooth fairy has been waiting for this since she was a little tike. We had purchased a yellow, ladybug covered tooth pillow during a trip to Asheville shortly after she turned one. The first time I was worried the tooth might slip out so we put it in a tiny little bag in the pocket. The next time she actually asked if she just put it in the pocket like a regular kid does. Our tooth fairy leaves gold coins and sprinkles glitter over the sleeping girls. Zuzu has a love/hate relationship with this. She complains about the mess of the glitter, but also refuses to have it brushed out of her hair. Since the Quail and her are sharing a bed, they both go off to school all sparkely for a good few days.

When Zuzu lost her second tooth she got it in her head that she wanted her gold coin AND her tooth. I tried to tell her that wasn’t how it worked, but what do I know according to her six-year-old mind. So our compromise was for her to write the tooth fairy a note and let her answer for her own fairied self. Interestingly the answer was no.

So she heads off in to first grade having grown her third row of molars in and having lost and partially regrown her front four teeth. Ever the eager beaver to take another shot at the school’s coveted necklace treasure!