31 for 21: Day 12

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“You angy Mommie? Angy at me Mommie?”

Her voice is small and impartial. Yet it rings out full of wonder like she asked me why the sky is blue. No preconceived notions or baggage with her observation- just that- an observation. We had been running late and I had raised my voice at the chaos around me while we tried to get where we were going in a somewhat timely fashion. My raised voice had been met by a wall of silence. An overreaction on my part? Probably. People are late. I should get over it. It’s hard to think and process in a calm and orderly fashion when the daily three-ring circus has its tent up over you.

And then, Sugarplum’s small voice innocently stepped in and I cringed. It broke through that angry red veil covering what I saw. That sheet of anger that once it is rolled out, bleeds into your interpretation of what’s going on around you. You stop just seeing the situation as something to just be in and you start judging and complaining.

“No Sugarplum. I’m not angry at you. Sorry I raised my voice. I was just frustrated that we hadn’t already left.”

“You angy Daddy?”

And then I get it. She’s asking me why I’m acting the way I am- why my voice was loud and my face contorted and why the steam came out of my ears- or maybe I the only one who saw that part. And she’s internalizing my answer. Out of our three children who I have felt love, anger, frustration, sadness and every emotion under the sun from and with she’s the first one to ask me how I feel and why in her little girl way. She’s learning how this world works around her and what we should do in a given situation. At such a young age she is already so reflective. She’s always been that way though. Since she could hoist herself up on her own two small feet, you could find her with her hands entwined behind her back watching from the fringe of the ruckus and actually deciding whether or not to jump in. She has a similar emotional intelligence to the Quail. I don’t want her to learn to be angry when things don’t go her way. I don’t want her to feel that the right thing to do when you are frustrated is to yell. I don’t want her to think that I can’t own my own feelings and blame them on her or her sisters. Or her Daddy. And suddenly the important thing in that moment is no longer the rush to get where we are going. The important thing in that moment is to say sorry because I got something wrong. Not wrong for feeling angry- but wrong in my choice of what to do with it.

People are kind. When you tell stories like this, people are quick to tell about how they hate to be late, and how it’s hard to be calm when you are tired from a long day. And how they don’t know how you do it. And while I appreciate those validators. I still need to control my reactions better. I don’t hit. I explain the whys, and whens and hows and whats. Sometimes calmly. Sometimes angrily. Sometimes after the third time-out and sometimes after getting sucked into a circular debate around it during the time-out.

“I said put that down now!” With anger in my voice, I reach over and pull the beeping timer that has been set off out of Sugarplum’s small hands. I was doing some exercise for 1.5 minutes of my morning before the sun came up. And as I planked breathing deeply with my eyes closed I heard the time I had set beeping too soon. When I opened them in frustration the first word out of my mouth is, “No. Put it back. No. Stop.” I didn’t reach over and take it right away. I felt angry that my personal minute was being wrenched out of my grasp. The minute my frustration morphed into anger it registered across Sugarplum’s small face as every small muscle contorted in disappointment and a crocodile tear splashed on to the carpet. She was just curious. Not naughty. Not obstinate. Not even mischievous. Just curious. And that isn’t something to be angry over. I closed my eyes, set down the timer and sat up. The minute my legs crossed, she pooled herself into them, her small piggy-tail poking me in the nose as I cradled her closer to me. I waited for her breathing to soften and told her that I was angry that time that she didn’t hand back the timer when I had asked her to. That mommy was using it and needed to finish before I could play with her. She sniffled and pressed her wet face into my neck and I said a silent prayer of gratitude that she can still fling herself into me after an upset. Because that doesn’t always happen so easily anymore as they grow up and away from me. The Quail, she stands her ground. Zuzu when she’s angry though, now moves physically away rather than towards me. It’s this developmental progression that I’m sad to witness. It’s one that I worry how I’m influencing. It’s a model for the girls that I’m not happy with and want to change.

I’ve talked about anger before on here. Others talk about anger and it makes me feel so very much better. To know that we aren’t in it alone. That wanting to be different is half the battle. It would be dishonest to pretend it doesn’t have a presence in our lives. The key is making sure it isn’t an overwhelming presence. And I don’t think that it is for us. Beyond the obvious cares we need to take with our health and wellness, I think the key is in talking about it and moving on. To not ruminate over it. To not be ashamed for being, and well; feeling human. To take that humanity and validate it in ourselves as well as others. To not let it consume my interpretation of how good of a mother I am or am even capable of being. To not let the mere fact of it arrest my own development in this journey. Because it is a journey. None of us are born mothers. I think talking about when we feel angry can lead to…happiness. Not happiness ever after- but an internal calm and ability to not make each molehill a mountain that we can’t bare to climb down from.

Anger happens.

Happiness happens.

Each day happens.

And hopefully the next day does too. There are no perfect mothers, just perfect moments within motherhood. And if we can climb down off our mountain those days will be there waiting for us- and if we can’t get to dinner on time yet again, hopefully we’ll at least find our way off the mountain in time to begin again.

31 for 21: Day 6

“Zuzu- What is this?” I point to the drawing of a stick-figure with a bow kicking a black and white ball.

“It’s soccer Momma!”

“Why does it say that’s your favorite sport?”

“Because it is!”

Fair enough. She’s been saying it’s her favorite sport for years. She’s never asked to play and she doesn’t go anywhere near the net and balls we’ve procured for our yard. We bought those a couple of years ago because of similar drawings and descriptions of her favorite things. Yet, nothing. And after repeated questioning of why not dance or gymnastics or even hula-hooping- all of which she spends and has spent considerable time, money and effort on, she finally asked when we could sign her up for soccer.

But we can’t. Not really. Not realistically. The time just isn’t there in our days. Typically soccer is 2 nights a week and a day on the weekend. Those for us, are booked. And not just because of the Quail’s “special needs”. Certainly therapies cut into our workday schedules and are a priority. And certainly I wish I had more flexibility to be the one to take each of the girls to every idea that crossed their hearts and minds. It’s because in our house sleep and being learning ready are front and center in the weeknight priorities for our house. When the girls were little they were able to spend the mornings with Lovey until 9 or 10 while I headed out to start work at 7:30 am so that I could leave work at 4pm and still have the sun up by the time I was back with the family. When the girls did dance or gymnastics it was on Lovey’s more flexibly banded watch. Even Girl Scouts is made possible due to the awesomeness of our village and our Troop Leader’s willingness to swing by the girl’s after-school care to grab Zuzu on her way to the meeting. Now that the Quail has aged out of the Early Intervention programming our evenings no longer include therapy except for the occasional visit from our beloved EI. Even with that time being freed up and no longer devoting two nights a week to speech and early intervention our time doesn’t feel so plentiful. Because now, now they are school age. Now they come home with backpacks brimming with markered worksheets, weekly newsletters, permission slips, homework assignments, writing journals, library books and the random bits they’ve scavenged off of the playground- you know the half broken purple plastic heart-shaped barrettes, sparkely rainbowed beads from a sadly broken necklace, half-scrubbed and abandoned erasers, Taiwanese dollars, crumpled up hoodies and the extra cereal bar they snuck out when mean old mom told them they could only take one to school for a snack. And then there is Sugarplum- our pre-schooler who seems to have finally acquiesced to the idea of no more home-from-school-I-just-realized-I-was-separated-from-you marathon nursing sessions. She may have acquiesced in that way, but that doesn’t guarantee that you won’t notice her.

Three little girls now noisily make their way from the car to the house in a procession full of protests, announcements and grumpy tears. Usually ones that stemmed from mean-ole-mom telling them in a more than a bit raised voice for the 12th time that they need to stop horsing around, get their backpacks and we. need. to. go. now. after what is typically a 15-20 minute dawdling pick-up from after-school care as they race and hide and seek their way from one end of the building to the other telling about each others day and who has kept a star, who has lost one, who hugged their friend around the neck too tightly, who bit them and who didn’t share. Once we’re home there are tubbies to wiggle around in, clean diapers, jammies and next-day clothes to choose, dinner to eat and left-over homework to squawk through, teeth to brush and voila- it’s bedtime. 7:30. 7:30 is the goal this year. It’s rare we meet it, but it’s good to aim early.

Then a few weeks ago, Lovey and I had a rare weeknight out for a dinner with his co-workers. At that dinner I met a man who had helped us years ago in talking about special education and the local school system. Coach K, as he is referred to, helps to coordinate a local soccer program nationally known as TOP Soccer. Each week, college kids volunteer their time to buddy up with children with special needs to learn how to play soccer. They spend the time doing warm-ups and eventually playing the game. We asked if it was only for children with a diagnosis, since we were pretty certain that if the Quail went to soccer, all hell would break lose when Zuzu heard. Coach K said that absolutely Zuzu was welcome. They meet one night a week at a local field and generally have enough extra buddies that Zuzu could be assigned one as well. Perfect.

Except, for the one thing we didn’t think through. It’s for ages 5 and up. Not, 2 and up. And with us all heading there to watch, a certain someone, was bound to notice that her bigger sisters were going to be running on a sunlit field after a ball with lots of energetic onlookers cheering them on. So we planned ahead. We had water and snacks for all 3 and an extra ball intended to entertain little one who didn’t meet the age requirement off the field. Unfortunately it wasn’t sufficient. We spent the first night chasing her back off the field and attempting to cheer along between hollers at her to get back here as she repeatedly giggled over her shoulder running into the crush at full-speed. Sigh.

And then there were the big girls. The big, need-to-get-their-sillies-out-all-too-clear-their-parents-aren’t-in-charge-and-will-take-a-while-to-get-to-them, girls who realized with buddies that are new to them, they could easily negotiate an evening of free-form running and hollering rather than following the lead of their buddies and team-mates into anything even remotely resembling a soccer game. Lovey and I stilled our helicopter propellers from the sideline while my heart-rate inched it’s way higher and higher as I noticed each week that one-by-one practically every other kid had started to, well, play soccer. You know the activity we were there for? And there was two-thirds of the Sistred running in tandem with a small goal net over their heads while their buddies trailed along after, trying to tow the line between being light-hearted and affirming versus actually making them do what they were there for. Fortunately for the girls, Sugarplum managed to occupy most of our attention with well timed darts that alternated the field and the parking lot so that we couldn’t really helicopter our way over their behavior. But I was frustrated. And that’s a nice word for it. After the first night Zuzu received a stern lecture about the game, teamwork and sportsmanship and maybe a suggestion to lay off trash-talking the kids on the other “team” when they were going in after the ball. After the second week, she was keen enough to see the disapproving looks I was radiating as she managed to goof off just out of my reach. Later that night she told me she didn’t want to go again. The Quail, she shrugged off my frustration and continued to cheer for soccer night the next Wednesday morning. Zuzu, after two lectures told me she really didn’t want to “play”. As I held in my retort that she was yet to even try, I managed to pull up my mama-pants and ask why. She said she just got in trouble and my lectures had taken away all the fun. That’s fair. I’m not very good at masking my frustration when they willfully ignore instructions. And at this point I was more than a bit at a loss at how to remedy this.

Because the thing is, I really like going. The first week, seeing this large group of kids in my community that I had no idea existed all out playing together with this smiling set of good-hearted college kids- it warmed my heart. It was fun and spirited and well, fun. The Quail and Zuzu loved the warm-up Duck, Duck, Goosing., the ball chasing, the new team-t-shirts and the smiling buddies. The Quail, as usual, was following Zuzu’s lead. And Zuzu, was just not willing to join in the team-spirit of the activity. She wasn’t asked to be a coach- and being coached- it’s just not her thing. The third week I was really, really frustrated. By this week the group broke into two games for most of the session and there were our girls, running with a goalie net over their heads laughing to high heaven. Maybe I should have let it go, after all, if the Buddies or Coaches weren’t going to step in, maybe I should have looked away. Zuzu already hadn’t wanted to come back after private lectures, a public one was not likely to endear her to the activity.

I stepped in. I told the girls they had five minutes to follow game and practice instructions from their buddies and if they didn’t I would be taking them home so that buddies could be reassigned to children who actually wanted to learn how to play soccer. They shaped up. They didn’t join a team, but they practiced with the ball. On the way home I was quiet. Which was more alarming to Zuzu then any lecture. On the drive home she announced how much she was looking forward to soccer next week.

I remained quiet.

And still I remain. I’m really not sure what to do. I had already told Zuzu that she didn’t have to sign up again, but that we need to learn to honor our commitments by finishing out this season. But the thing is, this is not the first time we’ve struggled with this issue. And I don’t want her to take over the fun that the Quail has. The Quail would most likely be willing to participate the same as the other kids, if her sister would, or if her sister wasn’t there. I’m the one that wanted to integrate the sport organized for children with special needs. And others were happy to accommodate me. All were welcome. It’s not lost on me though, the irony of the fact that my two“typical” children, well they are the ones requiring more than a bit of redirection and attention.

I don’t know what to do. And I’m sure this won’t be the last time I feel that way. This weekend I brought it up in the most even-keel tone I could manage.

“Zuzu, let’s talk about Wednesday afternoon. What do you want to do- sit in the stands with a book? Or be on the field- you tell me.”

“On the field.” Her solemn eyes looked into mine. A rarity for her. And I looked back, pulled her into a hug and simply said, “Ok.”

corner view: inner child

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 think my inner child has been playing hide-and-seek for the last decade or so- but in the last year- I’ve had many happy experiences that remind me of the happiness of childhood- running, reading, giggling, playing make-believe, drawing, exploring….now that my girls are moving their way out of the intensive baby years I seem to be able to relax and enjoy both my time with them and my time that’s just for myself much, much more.

corner view: growth

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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“Your life is your practice. Your spiritual practice does not occur someplace other than in your life right now, and your life is nowhere other than where you are. You are looking for answers, insight, and wisdom that you already possess. Live the life in front of you, be the life you are, and see what you find out for yourself.”
Karen Maezen Miller, Momma Zen: Walking the Crooked Path of Motherhood

five minute friday: truth

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

Go:

“NOOOOOOOOO!!!!”

Her hand reached out and slapped mine with a quick reflex reaction to my own hands reaching out to turn off the TV. We had just gotten home from work and school and I wanted everyone in the tubby to wash off the mental anxiety brought in with cold and flu season. They know the routine. This has been an expectation for years now. But still. She has to push. She has to assert. She has to insist that she doesn’t HAVE to do what I want when I want it. In my own flash of anger I smacked back at her small hand as it struck mine a second time. The moment we touched each other I felt the bewilderment of what she was feeling wash over me. I stepped back turning the TV off as I went.

“To time-out. Now. Time to cool down.”

Her voice rose in protest as big tears leaked out of her sad eyes. Her anger had flared at me in the blink of an eye. Just 5 minutes earlier she had been leaping over the piles of oak leaves in our driveway as she chattered on about how she was chosen to run for president in her first grade classroom. The time change this past week, it means it is dark and they are tired when we pull up at home each weeknight. It means we feel an urgency to get in the house and hibernate with no obligations ahead of us for the night. It means we want to eat and read books and watch TV cuddled up together on the living room couch. The order we do that in though, well it matters to me. But pretty much only to me. I want us to come home and get done the things we have to get done before we do the things we want to do. The truth is- that’s all me. The truth is- I’m not as flexible about it as the girls would like. The truth is, I have reasons why I make us do things in the order I do each night. The truth is, those reasons don’t mean much to the independent and strong-willed seven-year-old I live with. She’s spent the day, the week, the month doing what her teachers ask. And at the end of the day spent apart from Momma, she doesn’t always want to hand those reigns of independence back over. She knows she’s capable of making her own good decisions.

This give and take as she grows, it’s hard on me just as much as it’s hard on her. How to not discuss Every. Single. Living. Thing. But how to discuss enough of the things so that she knows her opinions matter. How to teach her to respect others’ authority, while not just believing everything she hears. How to know truth when she hears it and tell it from the fiction that circles her world. How to talk and how to listen.

Our anger set the baby off. She ran to me to be picked up, only to then lean in and bite my shoulder in protest. Setting her down in a second time-out spot I turned to the Quail. She with her high emotional intelligence looked at me solemnly. “Zuzu angry. “ I nodded as her sign for angry shifted to a tracing of tears down her own dry cheeks.  “Sug sad.” These weren’t questions. They were observations. Crossing my legs to sit down on the floor in front of her she leans over and wraps her arms around my neck. “My momma.”

My momma. Their momma. I hug her back and go to call the other two out of time out, turn on the water to the tub and begin again.

Stop.

31 for 21: Day 14: talent

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

Go:

“Momma- remember my talent show last year?”

“Which one?”

“The one at afterschool- where I did gymnastics and concentration.”

“Mmm-hm.”

“Well next year I’m going to do hula-hooping. I’m really good.”

“You are.  You’ve been practicing. That’ll be cool.”

“Well- next year the Quail will have to participate too. I was thinking about it and I think she should do talking.”

At that I stopped typing and looked up at Zuzu from my computer. “Talking? Why talking?”

Truly I was caught off guard by the suggestion that the Quail’s ability to talk was her talent. Both that it seemed a talent to her sister and the fact that we have spent the last three years absorbed by the lack of her ability and trying to rectify that. By definition- her talking is no talent.

“Because she has Down syndrome and she works hard to learn to talk like I learned to hula-hoop. You and Daddy practice with her every day. You and Daddy will have to come to the talent show and show everyone how she does her bite-bites. No one knows what bite-bites are. I told Makaylah about them when she asked why the Quail doesn’t talk. I told her she does talk but it’s hard for her and you have to know her like I do to understand her. I showed her how to know what the Quail is saying.”

Just as she leans down to zip up her new purple boots the Quail wanders into the office and wraps her sleepy arms around Zuzu, wiggling her head into her stomach as she squeezes her tight. “Come on- Quail- let’s go play school- I’m Ms. Dobson- you go get your backpack to hang by your cubby.”

“Kay.” The Quail lets go of her and runs over to give me a quick explanation signing as she presses the words out with intention from her soft round mouth, “Zuzu. Me. School. Play.”  

As I turn back to the computer, I hear them giggling through the hall back to their daily business at hand leaving me with a new perspective on what real talents live in our home and in these girls. These girls that get to take for granted their hard work and natural inclinations and each other. It’s easy to forget how much of your own beliefs and views your children naturally absorb each day and on the other hand, how much you can learn from them when you pause to listen.

Stop.

31 for 21: Day 7: perspective

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

Go:

She giggles as she steps out from the corner, newly able to make her way quietly on tip-toe up to her Dad who stands at the Keurig making a morning dose of energy. She looks back at me crouched in the hall urging her forward. I reach my hands out miming a tickle and she covers her smile with her small hand before rounding the wooden kitchen table at top speed and colliding into his knees.

“BOOO!” she shouts and he mocks a big startle as she collapses in a fit of laughter at his feet.

Ever since she was little she’s been locking eyes with the joke that is to be had. From pretending to drink the tubby water from the small plastic rainbow of dolphin she herds each evening, to reaching slyly into the therapists bag to remove the game she hopes to hide from them before they look for it, to bird-perching her bottom lip out when she catches the sympathetic eye of the daycare worker before running through the sand out of reach from them.

She gets it. She really does. I forget that and I know her. I underestimate her ability to understand what goes on around her and truly and meaningfully be a part of it 100 times a day if I do it once. That’s what happens when people tell you who your child will be before you’ve even had the opportunity to get to know them. She amazes me and her family and her friends and her therapists and her teachers regularly these days by how much she knows that we haven’t already explained to her. This thing called Down syndrome- it isn’t what the experts thought and have tried to explain. It isn’t what I expected. It isn’t what holds her back.

My understanding of it, the understanding of all of us around her- this is what holds her back. Our expectations. Our lack of understanding, our preconceived notions and our prejudices.

Fortunately, from her perspective, that’s ok- she’ll let us try again.

Later that evening as we are sitting down at the kitchen table to dinner, her dad reaches behind him to turn on Pandora and her giggle rises up quietly at first. “Daddy- Look!” she points to a far point in the corner of the room.  He grins as she starts up the game he has taught each of our girls, and dutifully turns his head away from her small body to the direction she is pointing while imperceptibly leaning his cheek a little closer to her. She throws her arms around his neck and smooches his cheek loudly while he startles again. She sits back satisfied. “Heyyyy- you tricked me!!!” he cheerfully bellows as we all crack up.

She tricked him.

He didn’t see it coming.

None of us did.

Stop.