31 for 21: Day 6: family

“Do you want to go out and get dinner?”
Frowning into the phone, I feel fairly certain that my grumpiness radiates off my non-answer enough that my preference doesn’t have to be spoken out loud to Lovey. His question is the token one that is thrown out at some point each Friday even knowing its doomed fate before it appears on his lips. I’ve made the last drive of the week from work to the girl’s daycare to pick them up. They dance around me asking if it’s pizza and movie night and if tomorrow is a home day as they shove pink and blue backpacks and fleece blankets and strawcups and markered papers into my quickly filling arms. We don’t have to go anywhere and so I don’t even really want to think about trying to.  My response is reflexive, not thought out. As the girls shout out the color of their daily stars they landed on to me I whisper, “Maybe next week.” into the phone before clicking it off.
It’s been a long week and the laundry isn’t folded from the weekend before and the bags haven’t been unpacked from two weekends before and the wrappings from Zuzu’s birthday celebrations should have been packed back up and stored until the next celebration rather than being left to the unyielding crayoning, scissoring and glueing of the crafty little hooligans we live with. I didn’t really want to go anywhere.
I never want to go anywhere on a Friday evening.
I want to go back into my cluttered house and ignore the laundry, the dishes, the bills, books, clothing and toy sorting I’ve intended to organize for weeks and spend the evening pondering my gluten-free status and actually read the all of the articles I saved on Facebook throughout the week, and pin more items to my Pinterest boards knowing I won’t actually make any of them and close my eyes glorying in the lack of need to turn the alarm on and eat chocolate-cherry Kind bars while watching Sherlock clips on You-tube as the girls rock-paper-scissor-off Netflix choice rights with the TV in the living room.
Anything but make an effort and publicly parent over nachos and quesadillas. Not even the promise of a margarita can usually pull me out of this pattern of slovenly indulgence. I give in to this instinct most Friday nights. A cheese pizza bakes in the oven while the Netflix UN meets to confirm the order of Fairies vs Monsters vs Ponies. The neon-green, white and orange striped picnic blanket is laid on top of the black patterned living room rug and the Quail lines the stripes up precisely with the inky swirls while Sugarplum dive-bombs her from atop of the ottoman and Zuzu commandeers the remote for herself. Lovey and I eventually trail in and sit on the couch waiting for them to finish their pizza slices and crawl up under our pillow-propped arms or we may meander off to entertain ourselves, knowing that at least two of the three will eventually give up their cartoon images to snooze in our bed to the sounds of Danish voices solving crimes.  Most Fridays it’s a mix of both.
It seems like nothing.
It’s so very plain and ordinary and routine and….comfortable. When one of us try to suggest any other plans, they are typically met with resistance by at least half of us. It takes a lot to get us out of the house on a Friday night with these children. And it’s easy to devalue those few hours spent together as “nothing” going on.
But, to those girls, these unencumbered hours are a comfort. A soft place to fall that lets them relax their brains and their bodies as they cuddle into their parents knowing there are no real expectations of them other than the UN agreement of what order to watch their shows in turn.
And that’s enough.
That’s life.
That’s family.
Knowing that doing nothing together is everything.

#IDSC2015‬ ‪#‎DSAwareness‬ ‪#‎31for21‬ ‪#‎dsam15‬ ‪#‎downsyndrome‬ #ordinaryafters

31 for 21: Day 16

Each fall, we pick apples. It doesn’t always go well. To be honest, it goes more wrong than right. It’s usually too hot, too cold, too windy and we’re too tired, too hungry, too sick and our buckets tip over, our wagons careen down mountainsides, someone else grabs our bag of apples we picked, the apple-cider donut line too long, no one wants to walk, carry the bucket, pick the apples, step over the rotten mush on the ground, take a picture, stand in line. Yet. Still we go. And still I take pictures. And mostly, mostly we come home with apples and bake them in pies and cobblers and crisps and sauces. And think about going earlier in the season next year. Or maybe two times. Or maybe not at all.


31 for 21: Day 12


“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.

Days gone by…

…at lightening speed. Between all the comings and goings, sippy cup washings, emptying of trash cans, reheating of frozen dinners, rewatchings of Frozen movies, chasing of little ones, sorting of orphan bags of socks (why do we repeatedly have more orphans than matches!?!?!?) and washing and rewashings of sandy, sweaty, markered and sauced, pink and purple sparkled leggings and shirts I lose my rhythm. And not because I’m wholly present in my day, but because I’m holding fast to the end corners of my day that are constantly flying out from under me leaving me in a pool of balls that were not only dropped but typically not picked up in the first place. And when that happens it is hard to know where to turn an ear to hear any sort of cadence to begin again with. Do I go back and edit and post the holidays and days that were special enough to capture in the first place, or do I just start from today in hopes of not getting farther behind. And in the time it takes to ponder that, someone falls down, someone gets their hair tugged, someone forgets how to share, an email comes in that needs to be answered, the smell that I can’t quite identify becomes abundantly clear and in need of removal, the bills spill out from the to-be-paid drawer, the alarm clock goes off and the day begins again. Thankfully. And thankfully the pictures continue to exist for editing and posting years after the moments they captured existed to bring me back to the blessedly sweeter scent of the blueberries that got mashed onto the white shirt that the Quail insisted on wearing, the sight of the freckled grin of a newly minted seven year old wobbling on roller skates as she rounds the wooden rink and the feel of the babies hands as she reaches to be picked up because she has noticed that she isn’t getting quite as many snuggles as she used to a few months back when she nursed more frequently.

So how are we now? We’re a pig-tailed pre-schooler who talks in tiny sentences narrating her day as she races after her sisters demanding to be included in their game and is only interested in neh-neh and other side before being settled into her crib at night. We’re a 5 year old who now attempts to tell others in 2-3 word phrases about her friends, her day, her favorite shows and what her sisters did or didn’t share with her. She’s blissfully ensconced in a regular education kindergarten classroom after a sincerely calm year in 4k and a decidedly uneventful spring IEP where everyone concurred that she did well the previous year and remained on par academically with minimal behavioral concerns. We’re a proud second grader who is always asking when Sophie can sleep over and come play and when Girl Scouts will start up again and can we please, please, please go swimming and when are we going to go camping again and when are we going to the beach, and can you please put my hair up in 4 ponytails and then braid them together in the shape of a heart and oh-no- that’s not what I said I wanted Momma now you have to start over and can’t we have pancakes again and I want to watch Youtube versions of My Little Pony meets Frozen mash-ups and my sister won’t share the Ipad and I don’t want to wear that dress it makes me look fat, I only want to wear athletic clothes and Clemson gear and can I have a Barbie doll house for my birthday and I can’t sleep Momma can I crawl in the bed with you and can you please have another baby or can I please crawl back in and come again so that I can be the baby and no you can’t tell me what to do I make my own decisions and why do I always have to clean my room and sweep the porch and I’m gonna be President one day Momma and you all can come live in the White House with me and here’s the schedule I’ve made for my birthday party seven months from now.

And my freetime you ask? What about early morning and late night writings and maybe during your lunchtime? Well those times have been dedicated to other activities. Running in the mornings. Walking or yoga at lunchtime. And clean-up and then Netflix surfing in tandem with Lovey once the littles have settled their noggins after a second, third and often fourth attempt to get to stay up for another cheesestick, drink of water, cooler jammies, warmer jammies, sister too close to me, sister not sleeping next to me, scary monster in the closet thoughts, bad dreams, one more thing I should have told you about what we’re doing tomorrow.

In other words…beautiful, complicated, sad and lovely, overbooked, stripped-down bare, well-medicated, a few minutes late, paperwork strewn over the kitchen countertops, too small of a bathroom for 5 people insisting they all need to be in there at once, doorknobs falling off, paint and plaster peeling, washload buzzing, refusing to eat the spaghetti that Momma made a mere week after insisting they have some when Lisa made the same thing the week before, sand, marker, and Cheerio covered, in need of a run, a shower, a haircut, a dye-job, a trip to the library, Trader Joe’s, Target, a glass of Malbec, the next size up of clothes for each family member, to empty out the crib in the girl’s room so the baby-no-more can start sleeping in their rather than the pack-and-play in our room, maybe I’ll just spread some of the salted-caramel-cocoa-hazelnut spread on a slice of bread for dessert, ok I’m going to sleep, why the hell did I give up caffeine last spring… life.

So- how are you?

corner view, 1 year ago, 5 years ago…

…and maybe just a few others to boot! This time of year I can count on there being a stash of photos in my files of Lovey & the girls as we mark each Father’s Day.

Lovey is the quintessential modern day Dad- which is to say he’s more Mom than me most days. He doesn’t see his role as an aside to his life and neither do they. He cooks, he cleans, he changes diapers, feeds the babies, walks the crying babies at all hours, stays home with the sick ones, paints their sparkley nails, teaches them to change the oil in the car and bake a pie, shops for their purple twirly skirts, pulls their hair up in piggies, takes them to the birthday parties, practices the timed math tests, drives them to their therapies and activities and practices those outside of the weekly visits. He lovingly reads them stories and tucks them in at night as well as greeting them with hugs and kisses each morning. He is their Dad- a kind, loving, gentle and spirited soul who is as blessed to love them as they are to know him.


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!

corner view: close by

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!

Sadly, our family is not. But this past week, Lovey’s parents flew in and paid us a visit and it was so very sweet to watch our girls spend time with their Nana & Bapa…there was cookie baking, swinging, painting, park time, day trips, meals out and in the hotel and in the home, storytime, picnicing, rascalling, laughing and much love.



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!

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


“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 1: It’s Down syndrome Awareness Month!

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

It’s Down syndrome Awareness Month! It’s a month where those of us in the community raise awareness and celebrate our loves that happened to be born with a little bit extra. One way I like to do this is to participate in our cyber-buddy Tricia, over at Unringing the Bell‘s creation 31 for 21. Currently this is hosted by Michelle with Big Blueberry Eyes.

Here’s the skinny- and hop over there to sign up if you would like to play along: You post every day, at least once day, for 31 days (each of them in the month of October, which is Down syndrome Awareness Month) on any topic, to raise awareness about Trisomy 21. 31 for 21! (Topics about Down syndrome are not necessary, though it’s encouraged that you mention why you are taking part in the challenge at some point during the 31 days.)

I’m taking part again for my fifth year because Disability Awareness and Acceptance has always been a part of my make-up. But in February 2009, it hit closer to my home and heart. When the Quail came to us in all her glory we learned after her birth about that little bit extra residing on her chromosomal pattern in every cell of her being. And we believe that about her with all of our hearts- she isn’t lacking a thing. She’s all there. And a little bit extra.

Just like her sisters, who very few, other than the geneticists in our lives; would describe as “typical.” She’s a wonder. We’re blessed to witness the growth of these sisters on a daily basis. That said, I don’t think I’m going to go on rants about stereotypes, or resource listings or basic Down syndrome information this year. That’s already out there. Check back in my archives to the month of October in 2009, 2010, 2011 for my versions of that. I would reckon they still hold water. Or for more up to date information go visit our cyber-pals who are also participating in 31 for 21 and get schooled by them with a personal touch. I know I plan to and Michelle will keep a list of where to find them!

Last year I did something more simple. I shared 31 ordinary things about my extraordinary girl. I had spent almost 4 years going on about what a wonder she is and decided that my contribution to Down syndrome Awareness efforts would be to show the beauty of how ordinary life continues when you have someone with a little something extra in your life. In January 2013 I changed my blog from The Tao of Tulips to Ordinary Afters. This change was significant, primarily to me. It represents a systemic shift in my heart, my mind, my focus. A shift to focus my documentation of our family life as a whole so that the other girls don’t feel diminished or unseen in my eyes or heart. Of course I’ll still note and advocate for those with disabilities and specifically Down syndrome and still talk about how it affects the Quail. Because it would be naïve to say it doesn’t. It does. What matters most to me though, is my continual search for our family’s ordinary afters. A way to show our children one day how beautiful their lives are because they are their lives. To train myself to look with gratitude on what I am blessed with rather than dwell on what others might see in our family as lacking or burdensome.

Life is what you make of it. Those happy, joy filled moments- they are just as real and authentic as the pain-riddled sad and chaotic-3-ring circus angry ones. Both pass in the blink of an eye. Some days there are more of one than of the other. Some days what we are grateful for is the fact that we get to wake up and try again.

Over the last year what I mostly want to write about is inspired by the images my camera shows me along with my addled thoughts that I nurse to in the middle of the night about the domestic scenes from earlier in the days and weeks. Most weeks on Fridays I have taken part in Lisa-Jo Baker’s five-minute Friday writing prompts. I fall in love with these writings as I often come back to them and see them as the momma diary of my heart.

These bits of prose coupled with our favorite family storytelling photographer- Ms. Molly–  coming to visit us this past year where she showed us what she sees in our life is what I want to share this month.

When I got my first glimpse of the session, I quickly wrote to Molly to tell her how with each photo, I could have written a narrative. The whole of them pulled together by Molly’s delicate eye and heart delighted me as much this time as the time she spent Saturday Morning with us a couple of years ago. Seeing these images that represent both a few moments as well as the whole of our family with all of its life and light and shadow and work and play- it makes me proud that I get to spend my days with this dear collection of people. Yesterday morning as I was uploading some pictures to the blog of the Quail from the last year I knew which one I wanted to start with. Molly took so many pictures- but one in particular, this one in particular, of the Quail shone through with the light of her spirit. As I was scrolling to it though, I kept stopping at other ones of her that I still felt that desire to tell a story about. And then it hit me. These images, the way they make me feel, this life that we have created; this is what I want to share this year for 31 for 21. So I’m going to use Lisa-Jo’s format to write for five minutes on one word that comes to mind on these individual images that dear Molly Flanagan* took.

Because this family and life- the ability to have it, to live it the way we choose- this is the gift of the advocates and families that have come before us. Because without them- if the Quail were born to another time and place- I might not have had the gift of her in my life. I might not have the privilege to both raise and be raised by her. I might not have the support and knowledge and confidence that those who have paved the way before me have gifted. I might have been forced into believing that giving her up at some stage along the way was the best thing for her, for myself, my family, my home, my community. I get to keep her though. I get to raise her where she belongs because of the hard work of those that came before her. And that, I can’t say it enough- that is an endless privilege and not one I take lightly- the gift of our family’s Ordinary Afters.

*All images categorized with 31 for 21 this month are courtesy of the talented eye of Molly Flanagan.