Growing, growing, gone….

3 girls 2My lip creeps up on one side. Not quite smiling at the inconvenience of the wiggly Sugarplum-child on my lap. I try to angle my head and hands around her fingers that are flying at the keyboard with a precise, if ineffective, imitation of what they see their momma’s do. Really, what they think she does, or did, once upon a time. Sighing before my mood turns into a full-out grimace of frustration, I give up and click the computer into sleep mode. Bending the mere inches that her sandy head now sits from mine when she’s in my lap, I sniff and breathe in deep taking my fingers from the keyboard to her tiny rib frame.

She’s so very big now. So very much herself. No longer the quiet one of the family crowd. The noticeably peace-able one that is not like the others. She’s big enough to contribute her fair share to the daily ruckus that is our family life. She’s 3 now.

“Momma- when I big I going to eat cottage cheese just like you.”

“Momma- first I don’t take a bottle or neh-neh. Then I move up to Ms. Maranda’s class cause I bigger. Then I drive the car.”

“Momma- do you love God? You have to love God.”

“Momma- when I get big I go to dance with Ms. Kahli too. Not now. When I big.”

“Momma- I not big. I little. I said I NOT BIG!!! I want to be little!!!!”

And so it goes, the life and mind of the three year old. We have to be careful to not remind her if she is big or small when we do or don’t want her to do something these days. She takes it to her sweet little almost-healed heart and wails at the injustice of it all. And then, it passes and she calls out for the Quail, “Ab-eeeee-Quail! Come play with me!”

And in comes the Quail. They gather in the kitchen. One perched behind a cabinet door pulling out bowls and cups and plates and rattle off the daily donut special. The other walks up with her moneys and asks to buy ice cream. The shopkeeper, not swayed clarifies that there is no ice cream. Just donuts today. The negotiations go on until someone steps in and suggests it is time to play Odd Squad. Which brings Zuzu running from her you-tubing frenzy in the dining room, vying to be Ms. O. That game, while they could happily play for hours, typically gets cut short when our parental ears tire of flinching at the coarse tones they use with each other in imitation of the tiny tyrannical boss known as Oprah. According to the majority in our house, everyone likes that game except those over the age of 10. Majority does not always rule here though. Not when we get calls and notes of concerns raised by the bossy tones they later implement with each other on the playground.

This little pack of girls is tight these days. There has been some alignment shifts. Much more pairings of the two youngers when the elder is off with a friend, at dance, at Girl Scouts, doing homework, playing computer games or watching a show that the other two don’t care for yet. The separation tries to happen naturally but the girls, they fight it.

When Lovey picks up the Quail from summer camp to go to therapy. Zuzu begs to go along.

When I drop off the two elders for their hip-hop dance class, the baby begs to go too.

When one girl is invited to a play date or birthday party, all three cry if the invitation isn’t vague enough to interpret themselves into it.

Last week was the first one back to school. We now have a 3k-er, a first grader and a third grader. I’ve talked a lot in the past about the struggles we’ve had keeping the Quail in a typical classroom. I am happy to say that is in the distant past right now. For now, she keeps up, follows along, enjoys a wide variety of friendships and activities and is a general rock star of her little community. She couldn’t be more loved if she tried. She’s bonded with her teachers, the students, her therapists, her community. People are just as likely to come say hi to her when we walk through the school and store aisles now as they do with Zuzu. Leaving us parents to wonder at how they became the socialites and us the wallflowers.

This year Zuzu has some extra classes to spur her learning along. She’s also made her first team commitment to competition dance. I worried about this. I’m not exactly “dance mom” material. However, I supposed I can google “competition dance make-up application” as well as the next mom. Zuzu and the Quail attended a Frozen party last January at a new studio and fell in love. With the studio, the teachers, the music and the movement.

The teacher, she was a rare gem.

After that first event, she sought us out to inquire if we had thought about putting the Quail in to a dance class. We had in fact. When she was a baby and Zuzu was in a weekly class. Not so much thought, as worried. Worried if she would be welcome in a typical class. Worried if she would be capable of the steps and enjoy the commotion of a group of kids busting erratic moves. When we watched the little Frozen song that the girls had learned in that single 2 hour session, my jaw dropped. The Quail, she was right in the thick of it. Twirling along with stern concentrated movements.

She got it. She loved it.

We decided to give it a try and as soon as Zuzu heard we would be taking the Quail, she frantically grabbed a schedule for herself and politely informed us which four classes she was ready to take. It took some trial and error and many generous offers of carpooling and rescheduling before we worked it out but the two girls each took a class and learned their steps in time to be recital ready. Three performances later the girls wanted more. So they took a hip-hop class together and Zuzu begged to join the competition team. We agreed to let her take the technique classes over the summer to see if she was really wanting to do this thing. When I discussed the possibility with the teacher I am disappointed to say that I was the party pooper. I recalled story after story of what she didn’t like when she was 3, 4 and 5 and in a dance class. How nervous she was. How she didn’t want to separate from me. How while it is charming when the three year old peers over the stage lights in a frantic search of the 400 person filled auditorium for her Momma, it seemed a lot less charming at 8. The funny thing was, the teacher looked at me quizzically. Surprised to hear that this girl who shows great intent at learning her steps and leadership amongst her peers and joy when the music plays would be nervous. And then it clicked. She’s not the girl she was at 3, 4 and 5. She’s a big kid. With a mind and heart and intensity all her own. A fierce, smart, hard-working, rule-oriented, energized young girl who feels strongly about her own style as a dancer and a student. One who doesn’t like to let herself fail and likes to take charge yet still wishes she could sleep each night in her parents room with her loveys most nights, but no longer asks unless one of her parents is headed out of town.

The Quail, she’s grown so much this past year as well. She’s a Daisy Scout. A dancer. A student, a reader, a writer and a friend. She loves to sing and to dance and to tumble and bake and draw and play with her sisters and tell us, “I’m serious mom!” and “No cake for you.” and “I really, really need help.” and “No Momma. No tuck me in. Next week. I love you next week. Daddy right now.”

And while her syntax is discombobulated, the words are finally there. She reads small kindergarten books and writes her name and practices her spelling and sight words around her newest big-kid tooth gap. She asks for help with her math and eventually halts the protests to speech practice and getting dressed and going potty and eating what’s on her plate when given an explanation that if she does it now, she can watch Wynx Club or play Magic-Clip Dolls or Donut shop after. She asks Sugarplum to come play with her. She snuggles. She troops along. And this community we are in, they are ready for her and expect her. They’ve made a place for her and she accepts it with much joy. Her teacher for this year brought me to tears when we met and she told me of her excitement when she heard she could be teaching the Quail this fall. She told me she just knew she would learn so much from her and would do her best to make sure that the Quail was taken care of. There is not much more that a momma’s heart needs to hear than that her children are welcome and loved. And her education and therapy teams have followed suit and asked how to make this learning process cohesive for her. How to arrange the daily schedule so that she takes part in all that she can but still gets the individualized attention that is necessary to make sure the information is filtered in a way that makes sense to her. And this team, this team eats the donuts together and we think together and we grow and learn together.

3 girls 3 - CopySo when these sisters sit still I try to notice. I try to lean in and be accessible to them. When I sit on the couch they still clamor over to Velcro in to me. When I wake on the weekends, I hear their little questions to Lovey asking when Momma will wake up. When I drive them to school and dance and therapy I ask them details of their day and let them choose to tell me or to tell me what radio station we should tune in to so that we all can sing.

And I don’t write about it. Not so much anymore. I don’t really have the time and some of the stories, well, they just aren’t mine to tell anymore. I can’t promise myself and pretend that if I set a writing schedule the writing will happen. The opportunities to just sit and think are filled up with dishes and laundry and dance shoes and Girl Scout lessons and running and sleeping and repeating myself for a seventh time. I still try to notice those ordinary moments and file them away. Lately with the help of Instagram more than my DSLR and prose.

Every now and then though, a phrase runs through my mind in to my heart and I start to put it down for later.

Tickling her ribs softly I lean in to kiss her sparkling eyes and appling cheeks. This giggling Sugarplum pulls away from my hands before banging back in to me for more snuggles and tickles. I stand from the chair lifting her over my shoulder along with the slew of blankies she clutches to her face. It’s better I give in now and giggle with her rather than try to document the last story I heard from her. There won’t be time for writing later. But there won’t be time for this version of her later either.

3 girls


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.


31 for 21: Day 29: pause

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As I sit down on the little red ottoman in the girl’s room to help the Quail put her shoes on, I raise my voice in irritation for Zuzu to just get in here already. We offered to take the girls to the park and have spent the last 30 minutes gathering ourselves for what was intended to be a trip of that same amount of time just to burn off some extra energy.  Zuzu with her selective hearing is bounding through the house gathering the toys to bring along that she already knows we’ll tell her to put back. She’ll push anyways. Making sure that not bringing our inside toys to the park is indeed a rule and not just a guideline we’re likely to waver from given enough chipping away at it on her part.  As she prepares her already lawyerly defense as to why the little ponies have to come with us to the park, I interrupt her to tell her again to just put the toys down and put her shoes on. The Quail, having watched the look on my face and hearing the tone in my voice, turns from her spot on the floor and starts barking “No” to Zuzu. Clear what the rule is herself. Hearing my own gruffness reflected back through her tiny self I feel my cheeks heat up with embarrassment. Looking out over the Quail’s head into the dark hall I see Zuzu finally rummaging through the box for something with velcro just as Sugarplum toddles in to the bedroom, shoes in hand and plops down just about on top of the Quail.


The Quail repeats the word, now with as gentle a voice as the look she reads off of my face at the sight of the baby and starts to pull away from me to “help” her as I manage to press her own straps closed. Sugarplum shrieking at the Quail’s advances has apparently forgotten that she chose to sit so close to her oh, so helpful sister. Running away before the baby’s tiny hand can land in protest on her, the older girls start to dance around each other lit up by the twinkling of Zuzu’s fluorescent toes. The Quail starts pulling Zuzu’s arm away from the pile of pony’s to where the coats lay on the ground, urging her to finish getting ready in her own way.

I pull Sugarplum up into my lap and lean in to smell her freshly diapered self. That pause is enough to bring me back down. That warm, compliant, sugar sack weight of a baby on my lap with her little blonde wisps springing out of the tiny plastic heart barrette is enough to deflate my previous irritation. To remind me to look for the intention behind their actions, not just at each action. Last year when I would drop the Quail off at school I would ask how she was doing and hear examples of how she was always trying to tell the other children what to do. She was bothered when someone else wasn’t doing their work or following directions. They would frequently have to remind her to only worry about herself. It was usually told in the form a seemingly good-natured story.  Come the final IEP of the year though, those same tales were told with a decidedly different tone. They were explained to us as examples of her easy distraction, her being too hands-on with the other children. They were seen as problems.  Reasons why she shouldn’t be around the other “typical” children. This year though when I check in with the teacher what I’m told is what a good classmate the Quail is. How she takes care of anyone who is sad or hurt. She’s seen as nurturing and popular with her friends. How they love that about her and wish all the children were adjusting as well as she is.

I reach around and find Sugarplum’s tickle spot as she pulls away from me giggling then leans back in raising her arm imperceptibly for more tickles. Now smiling I repeat the word, “Shoe” waiting for her to parrot it back before strapping it on to her small foot. Setting her down the red shoes squeak with each toddle as she takes off out of the room hollering her sister’s names trying to catch up to them.

Turning off the light I head out to the car. Ready to move on.


31 for 21: Day 28: without

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As soon as the backdoor clicks shut I hear a wail come up from the end of the hall. Rushing back I see the Quail sitting on the carpet with her shoe box dumped on its side around her. Big, wet tears are making tracks down her cheeks and she’s trying to force a pink and yellow flowered sandal over her jammy-clad  foot. Kneeling down beside her I start to gather the shoes back to the box. I’d spent the better part of the morning sorting and folding the seasonal exchange of children’s clothes that had been landsliding through our home  for the last two weeks. Eyeing the new mess in the hall, I was none-too-pleased.

“Quail, stop. Help me pick these up.” Rather than helping. She starts screaming what sounds like, “Cookie!” to me as she shoves my hands out of the way and continues to try to get her shoe on her foot.

“Quail. Stop. No. No cookies. Clean up.”

We continue misunderstanding each other as her frustration races my irritation to the culmination of her meltdown. Finally I get up and leave the hall. Sometimes I just need to step away. Time-outs, they are wasted on the young in my opinion. She follows me into the kitchen continuing to chant cookie and grabs the plastic pumpkin bucket off of the kitchen table. Shoving it up into my hands she tries again. “Cookie.”  Peering into the pumpkin. I repeat the name for it, “Pumpkin?”

“Yeah. Pump-kin. Daddy. Sug. Zuzu. Me!” She bangs her small hand against her heaving chest gathering the pumpkin up with her shoes and runs to the backdoor.

Not cookie. Not angry. Not out-of-control. Not trying to make a mess. Just not able to articulate in her panic, her desire to be included.

When Lovey got ready to go to market this morning, I had gone up to the attic to find our trick-or-treating buckets because I was fairly certain that we only had two to go between the three girls this coming week. One pumpkin. One Elmo head. Zuzu had dressed Sugarplum in a striped and pumpkined sweater and in all her baby-cuteness I had grabbed her, Elmo and the camera to photograph her quickly in the morning light before strapping her into her carseat. Unbeknownst to me, the Quail had seen the buckets and my camera and had thought they were going trick-or-treating. Without her. The day before she had been sick and the girls and Charlie had gone to the school’s fall festival while she and I stayed home.

“Did you think we were going Trick-or-Treating?”

“Yeah. Boo!!!!” She waggles her fingers scarily at me and we both laugh. I explain that Lovey and the girls were just going to the store. They would be back and we would all go the pumpkin patch later.

“Me. Boo.” Satisfied that she was not being left out. She moves back to the living room to resume her Barney-marathon. That’s the thing these days. I still repeatedly underestimate how much of the commotion around her she is taking in and processing. Whatever her sisters are doing. She wants to be doing. Be it- going to school, to the park, to the market or pumpkin patch. If Zuzu is twirling through the yard in a rock-star costume. The Quail is only a beat behind. If Zuzu gathers her backpack to head out the door. The Quail is making sure hers is packed with her Bookflood Book and folder. If Zuzu grabs her swimsuit to fill up the little plastic pools, the Quail grabs the towels. All for one. One for all. Sometimes it just takes me a while to catch  up to speed.

Putting the last shoe back in the box and returning the plastic pumpkin to the kitchen table I reach into the fridge for the tub of Tollhouse dough. Suddenly I’m exhausted and hungry for cookies.


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 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.


back to school week

…is officially behind us and it’s been a busy one for the Sistred. They each have big changes coming this fall and being the happy little nerds that we are- we’re excited!

Zuzu has finished up her first summer of daycamp. She attended the same facility that she always has but for her age group the summer includes additional outings and activities during the week. Last spring, shortly after we told Zuzu that she was officially signed up for her “camp”. She started fretting over where she had stored her sleeping bag. When I asked why she responded with a, “For camp of course!” We tried to explain that she was not now going to be sleeping over there and in fact she was really just going to be doing more activities with the same teachers and kids without quelching her excitement. Always a balance with her. She had fun though- her first time rollar skating, blackberry picking, she saw a couple movies in theaters (a rare treat in our house due to their ages even though I’m generally happy to see whatever as long as I have a kiddy-cup-combo for myself!), a few rounds of bowling and twice a week water days.  She even got invited to the birthday party of a fellow camper who was turning 12. Once we squeezed in a second week of swim lessons,  let’s just say the girl’s summer was made.

So on to first grade. She admitted she was a bit nervous and checked a couple of times to be sure that we were not going to follow her kindergarten teacher’s explicit end of the year instructions to purchase walkie-talkies so that she could be kept in the loop and at the ready for whatever that teacher needed since rumor had it that her new students were much younger and wouldn’t know half as much as Zuzu’s class. There are some days that Zuzu’s literalness gets the best of her. She was most definitely willing to lend a helping directive or two to the new class. The fact that the teacher that puts the kind in kindergarten sent her a “wish you were here” postcard over the summer probably just cemented the seriousness of those instructions to her.

The other major concern for our rising first grader was  the subject of binders. She had *heard* that certain first grade teachers provided binders and that first graders were to keep track of these. She wondered often and at great length about whether or not she would need to purchase a binder, would it be provided or was the binder a teacher specific issue. When we attended Meet the Teacher a couple of weeks ago, she was absolutely thrilled to see a binder all shiny and filled on the class tables- one for each and every student. The binders contain the homework for the year. It’s an interesting system, pretty different from last year. So for Miss J’s class the year’s focus is to get a good foundation in reading and writing, so Zuzu is to read for 15 minutes each day. Then in said binder is a section for “reader reaction”, spelling games and math games. They are to complete one activity of their choosing from each category each week. There are also some baggy books that come home once a week to practice reading. Being the happy little nerds that we are, Zuzu in all her binder-exuberance dove right in and completed two homework assigments even before the first day of class. I have to say I had to squelch my spoil-sport-I’m-tired-I’m-overwhelmed-I-probably-should-have-weaned-the-baby-before-now-so-I-don’t-have-another-human-being-attached-to-me-on-school-nights- I-have-too-much-to-do-just-now-reaction.

And I did.

I know a lot of people have differing opinions on the value of homework, but right now I have a kid who is excited about it- so I’m going with that.

It’s this funny balance of practical magic that blends its way into Zuzu’s personality that amost always surprises me in the moment and then after the fact I find myself nodding along and thinking, “That’s about right.” The binder joy was not unlike the way she organizes her “facts, rules and routines” along the lines of “writing, not a wishlist/letter to Santa in, but rather placing a rather detailed, terribly specific order; that TJ the Elf must have a very good reason for not having landed in a new spot the next day from where she last saw him the night before; that the Tooth Fairy has made a big mess with glitter like they use at school all over her bed-it’s not fairy dust Mom and that the rascally leprechaun that left green footprints on our kitchen table leading up to the “That’s not gold, it’s chocolate coinsin foil wrappers Mom” in March had gotten into the paint left out on the front porch after her and her sister’s were done painting the day before, rather than being willing to believe he is just green and was barefoot when he left a pile of loot straight out of that pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. She was more excited over the homework binder than the magic spell packet the teacher had made for each child that indicated once they squeezed the playdough and repeated the rhyme if it turned another color, they were certain to have good luck for the year. Mind you, she believed enough to locate a packet that was in her signature color of pink and to work the dough thoroughly enough until she was certain it showed enough of the good luck magic and then excited enough about it to pack it in her backpack to show Miss J her good fortune, but she did all of this while still chattering on about the best spot at home to keep her binder in so that the littles wouldn’t get into the ever-important First Grade Work. I love that kid. We all do.

At daycare they have a homework time and last year I forwarded the class newsletter on to school and homework was completed there. This year I’m not entirely sure what I want to do. I want the binder kept at home so I think we’ll send books to school and have her just focus on reading while she is there and the actual activities we’ll save for home.

The Quail is set for public and private 4k now as well. She started private last week and public starts today. Private feels easy-peasy- we love Miss J and she and the afternoon teacher Miss A are fairly familar with the Quail already. There is also another little friend in her afternoon class who will be attending k4 in the afternoon so it is good she’ll have a buddy when the big school bus comes to pick them up there for afternoon school.

This year’s Meet the Teacher night was cathartic for me. I think a bit for the Quail too since we caught her literally twirling through the halls. Last year I was completely overwhelmed by all that had to be done going to one of them. Aside from meeting the teacher, it was a new building, paying the cafeteria for lunches, a car rider line to get tags, a bus line to find out that our bus wasn’t what they meant, a school packet line, a PTA line, a Girl Scout sign-up line, volunteer training and all during the witching hours with 3 hungry, tired and over-stimulated kids.

Times two.

 Because the Quail was attending the school that had the self-contained classroom, in a town 10 miles away. 

Needless to say we didn’t get everything done and on the way home when Zuzu innocently questioned why we weren’t able to spend as much time at the Quail’s school as her own and why couldn’t the Quail just go to her school to make it easier, I found myself turning up the radio and adjusting the rearview mirror so they wouldn’t have to directly witness how very much I agreed with them.

This year, I intended to be prepared.

One school.

Two kids.

No standing in unnecessary lines.

And possibly Girl Scouts, if a local troop can get together.

We planned to pull in at 2:45, 15 minutes early, childless to get all the lines  and training done efficiently, then run out to pick up the kiddos and bring them back for the fun- actual meeting of the teachers portion of “Meet the teachers”. We pulled up, maybe 5 minutes later than intended- to what can only rival a Who concert.

Lines.Out.The.Door. Wow.

And we forgot to bring the school supplies to drop off. Other than that, it was old hat. Not overwhelming. And frankly good to get to spy so many of our friends and neighbors- exactly the reason why you want your children to go to their homeschool.

So we finished up. It was nice to see the girl’s rooms, both were excited over the little house/kitchen centers that would be part of their day and of course we went down the hall to say a quick hello to our kind kindergarten teachers while we were there than ran off for a celebratory burrito! When she started to joke with Zuzu over helping to teach these new kiddos what all goes on I cut her off with a funny little story of repeated requests to purchase walkie-talkies.

In the weeks leading up to school we managed to fit in a couple of parent-single child lunches with the girls and a trip to our favorite “Big Sale” as Zuzu calls it for back-to-school clothes. And once again I felt oh-so-in-the-know. Growing up, picking out sweaters and jeans and tennies for back to school and then stopping off for a shared cup of cheese fries is one of my happiest memories with my Mom. Last year when I started early trying to create this tradition we were faced with left over, neon, stringy, clearanced summer duds at our usual shopping haunts. This year we skipped the lure of no taxes and held out till the next large-scale consignment sale with the promise of a Panera Breakfast treat and a run through the Halloween Costume rack to see what the options might be AFTER finding our favorite winter jackets, fall vests and a suitable amount of legging/tunic top/dress and tiger wear to carry us into the spring.

Last year the night before classes started we read, The Night Before Kindergarten, The Night Before Preschool & The Kissing Hand, luckily even with our distinct lack of household organization we were able to locate them this year too. Zuzu was a little sad to realize we hadn’t purchased The Night Before First Grade, and I have to admit I was too. I have a feeling I did and lost it over the summer, clutter purging  time will tell.

And the littlest Sistred, well she started her preschool lessons. She moved into the Toddler room and is making herself at home with circle time, playground time, lunch-at-big-kid-tables time and now-I-nap-on-a-mat-like-a-big-kid time. She’s happy to go and happy to be picked up, if not a tad grouchier tired from her busy days. When she and the Quail received their welcome to the next class postcards from their upcoming teachers they were equally tickled.

The Quail also had a home visit from our public school k4 teacher and assistant. I had big plans for this visit- we had blackberries from a recent berry-picking expedition and I thought we might make a cobbler to welcome them and make the house smell homey the night before. Neat in theory, impractical for middle of the week. As it was we managed to take the trash out, put the dishes away and hide the week’s wash from public view. All in all, a good visit.  And we’re excited to start the new year.

I had a dress with apples for Zuzu’s first day, but being the Fashionista that she is, it got the thumbs down and a combination of twinkle-toes, stripes and more stripes won out. The Quail chose Zuzu’s graduation dress to wear to school for her first day today. She smiled her brave smile and carried her Dora Backpack to the car leading the way for her little sister. I’ve purposely not called to see how it went. Her getting off to school on the bus, today that is.

I’m cool.

It’s cool.

But Lovey just called as I was typing this and asked if I had heard anything and said he was thinking he might call the daycare and check in to see how her getting on the bus went anyway.

And that’s cool.

Oh, and it went smooth.

five minute friday: story

…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.

photographed by

photographed by


My story is ever-changing and yet still the same, this narrative that I live and weave and breathe. What I know, what I think, how I feel and what matters to me, it stems from the same words and thoughts that once hinted at my future long ago. That was well over 20 years ago when I sat at our oval-shaped kitchen table with its smooth wood colored surface thumbing through the class catalog for the University I was to attend in the fall.

“I’m pretty social and I’m a hard worker- how about Social Work Mom?”

I still remember those words pushing up out of my teenage-heart and into my head and the unconscious nodding my head answered in reply. At the time it felt like a whim and a lark, not the life defining moment that it was.

I’ll volunteer. I’ll wrap presents for the homeless. I’ll visit the shelters and soup kitchens. I’ll work with children who have disabilities. I’ll help others.

And so my grown-up story began to weave itself out from me. Winding itself into other people’s lives and how they lived. How they are in the world and how to clear a path for them so that I and others could walk alongside rather than leading or following them.

I couldn’t see this current chapter of my story back then. I wouldn’t have even pictured this gabled home in the foothills of the Blue Ridge that my pages would unfold into. I couldn’t imagine the lives of the people I worked for as my own. Their ordinary, extraordinary lives. Lives that required others to step out of the way so that they could do the simplest thing. Live in their home. Go to their school. Shop in their community. Work down their street. Simple, ordinary, daily moments that require the commitment and love of another in order to make that possible. Things those of us without labels are blessed to take for granted in this world that is built for us, not them. The story I was reading and writing, I had no idea how one day it would be my own.

And now, now the narrative has shifted once again. The once energetic, young social worker out to save the world or at least walk beside those in it, has a clearly visible path as a parent and an advocate to take with her family. New characters are emerging.  Slowly unveiling their roles to the plot. The sense of our community and their acceptance of us peels off in thin pages as we understand what has changed and what remains the same in this old world. Their personalities full of strong will and generally good cheer. The villains not hooded and cackling. No. They are more ordinary and reasonable sounding as they build fences trying to line my children’s own path into this world and their future.  

My path is now the one that I had read about, but hadn’t recognized as my own. It takes shape each morning when the baby cries to nurse one last time before the sun rises. The four year old with her last wisps of strawberry blonde locks falling over her softly rounded shoulders, climbs out of her sister’s bed too early, to pad through the dark and quiet hall in search of her parents asking to start her day, to eat, to drink, to play, to go to school just like Zuzu. A school that is not yet as eager to meet her as she is to attend it. A school that requires us to sit up and focus our attention and feelings and knowledge into one kind and articulate presentation so that our daughter can walk through their door the same as her sister without the weight of the world and these reasonable-sounding decision makers pulling her into self-contained corridors.

My story, that I couldn’t have written yet, as I bumped into a soon to be Lovey while walking through a farmer’s market on a bright Saturday morning.

Our story, whose future words would float through our conversations unbeknownst to us as I would ask questions like, “What would you do if our child had a disability?” while we drove through a Wisconsin countryside.

My story, that flashed visions of dark-haired girls swinging from the heavy oak branches as I pushed the mower meditatively up and back through our mossy front yard around the abelia bushes.

My story, that rattled my nerves and my bones in those first weeks with each newborn and wild tangle of hormones.

Their story, as that once newborn kindly reaches over to grasp the hand of a new dark-haired wonder and nurse in tandem.

My story as I hold tight to Lovey after hanging up with the doctor editing the words Down syndrome into the next chapter.

Their story, as we bring home one last white-tipped, chestnut haired bundle, shifting each of their birth orders into the Sistred formation they now are.

Her story, as we sit around the  school’s table on a late spring afternoon, slicing into the cheesecake flavored peace-offering and discuss how this extra-chromosomed wonder of ours will learn the ways of the world she is so eager to be a part of.

My story, I understand now, as the Southern sun sets each evening around us. The back-to-school lists now printed and purchased for two. The legal books and memoirs I will curl up to each evening as we settle into the soft, brown couch. These books, they stack up in between fairy and coloring books. Southern Living magazines and Ipads.  Ceramic mermaids and bowls of speech articulation tubes and whistles. These pieces of our lives that cover our families’ worn wood table that creeks under the weight of the framed images of our loved ones. The girls snuggled under their fuzzy cuddle-uppets over brightly colored nightgowns that skim their summer legs with the day’s boo-boos and rainbow sparkled Band-Aids. Red clay stuck under the too-long toe nails.

These girls that accept their story as a whim and a lark without looking too far into the future tonight. These girls, they clamor at me each night to set down my computer, my phone, my legal books and memoirs for the last few lit minutes of their evening and read one more fairytale before bedtime.

My story.

My very blessed ordinary after of a story.


(PS: Yes, more than five minutes worth of words. That happens some times.)