31 for 21: Day 20

10628113_10204706246275001_7232160816180901834_nHer disappointment rose in a wail that pierced the sleeping sounds of the family. I felt the momentary panic rise in me, knowing that I had gotten it all wrong. Hesitating while holding her over her pack and play, I tried again as she uttered a quick syllable sounding like “mo”. “Here is your lovey- mo-mo- is it a mo-mo you want? Or more nursing?” The cry rose a second time. I looked at the angry slash of time in front of me- 4 hours till I had to be up. 4 hours to rest if only, she would give in to sleep…

17 months and already something was this important. One last quick scan on the darkness in front of me and Lovey’s voice echoed alongside her cry, “Sugarplum wants the gauze blanket.” There in the middle of our crumpled bed sheets was the Aden & Anais that she had fisted along with her as I lifted her into our bed for a quick nurse a mere 15 minutes earlier. Only I hadn’t seen her do it in my own sleep haze, responding more on instinct and ancient teachings of what mothers do rather than the latest Ferberized suggestions of my generation. Behavior is communication.

No matter how old you are. Whether the behavior is good or bad. What looks like non-compliance for someone who isn’t articulate is often their way of connecting and telling us what they mean. Through any means necessary.

This has been the lesson surrounding our growth into a family. Zuzu was twelve months old when she had her first tantrum. I still can picture her sweet toddling self. She delicately laid herself prone on the floor in response to my denial of her request, careful not to scrape herself up adding injury to insult, looked back at us and commenced into a full-bore wail, fist and foot pounding session. It lasted mere minutes and she was still at the age where you could tip her upside down and her frown would become a grin and she would giggle and run off. As she grew and as the others came along though that trick became ineffective very quickly. Distraction in response to their requests has become less and less of a viable parenting option.

The Quail, she has had to rely on a physical means of communication for the longest of the three. From early on, even though she didn’t have the ability to take the language in her brain and translate it to spoken words, she has always been so very expressive – both in her pleasure and displeasure. It’s this passion without articulation that has been our main worry as to how she would function in a typical classroom. Her ability to say what she knows and be heard as a child with something to say and not just a as a behavior problem. Even with our thorough knowledge of her preferences and exposure to her dialect, we get it wrong. And boy do we know it when we do. That she can articulate.

10378244_10204299764433209_8943734468190431912_nEven still, we had so many things going for us heading into this kindergarten year. Over the summer, we made the decision to pursue an augmentative and alternative communication device (AAC) for her use in the classroom. She had done so well in 4k, really the only issues that stood out academically were her inability to articulate a full sentence. When we first met with Sharon; the district’s AAC specialist, she felt confident that the Quail could make good use of a device. She explained it like this: “It’s like going through life with something to say and duct tape covering your mouth. I think we share these values and understandings of the importance of communication. The Quail has things to say and we should give her the means to say it.” The first time we met with Sharon, the Quail spent the first few minutes happily playing by herself while we talked. As I leaned in closer to concentrate on what Sharon was saying, she suddenly interrupted herself and pointed at the Quail who had been tugging at my arm. “That right there is what I mean- she needs the words, “Look Momma.” She wants to show you something. Turning to her I questioned, “Look?” The Quail clapped her hands and showed me the picture she was coloring.

Something as simple as “Look” we hadn’t thought to put in her vocabulary. And that is the difference between her and the other children. She would learn to say look, just as soon as we thought to teach her it. But she had to be taught it. And we can’t always see so easily what it is that she is asking us for a word for. Beyond the basic, everyday words, we absolutely can’t predict what words she may need in the classroom when those of us that know her best aren’t there to even attempt to translate for her. Once she has the words- she uses them with her own intent and pacing. But to get her to that point it takes oral placement and practice before she can own a given word and pull it with ease from her brain to her lips.

That first meeting was in January of 2013. When we brought our plan to our IEP team, it was met with resistance. The Quail was making progress in her actual speech and had a glossary of signs to accompany it. The SLP at that time thought that really it would act more as a crutch than bridge to get her where she needed to be. We found ourselves in a triangle of opinions on which means of communication to approach most aggressively for the Quail- a PECS, an AAC, sign, speech? There were only so many hours in the day and most of the Quail’s day at that point was around people who knew her fairly well. So a decision was put off until we could more fully commit to it. Even during her 4k year, her teacher told us that while she had been so nervous about not being able to understand the Quail, she found by the end of the year that somehow she knew what the Quail was saying, however she was best able to say it. We are so thankful that it has worked out that way. And that she has managed to survive, even thrive in an environment separate from us. But as the lessons get progressively more complex it is hard to know how long it will take for frustration at not being understood will overtake patience and repeated attempts to articulate. Time will tell if a device will be the bridge to get her to where she wants to be speechwise. It will be up to her and our team to make it a viable option that is both useful and user friendly. We’ve made the decision though to go forward with it and now we wait for insurance approval.

10454924_10204633619859386_2652745411715658649_nIn the meantime, she’s managed to make a place for herself in her class. She has a gaggle of besties that she plays with and talks about and asks to see. I get glimpses inside her head when she starts to share with me what she wants for her birthday this year and starts to tick off the friends she wants to celebrate with. Her teacher tells us how she has honed in on the difference in her body language when she is honestly confused. How she looks you in the eye, shrugs her shoulders and asks for help versus when she chooses to look down and away. Crossing her arms and very much acting out the part of an obstinate five year old- which to hear her teacher tell it, is really not so very different from anyone else.

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31 for 21: Day 14

I was having a moment. Apparently I was being overly affectionate with the Quail. Setting my coffee down on the kitchen counter, I had reached for her as she danced into the room with her backpack in one hand, a baby doll in the other and her favorite owl shaped hat tucked over her freckled forehead. As I pulled her to me, she pushed herself back away.

“Momma Top”

“Stop kissing you?” I asked with a raised eyebrow, reaching again for my coffee mug.

“Ye-s. Tooooo much wet. No touch, Momma. No cake. Time out”

She doesn’t like to hug me post run or post shower. She’s made that clear in the last year. Certainly she doesn’t mind getting wet and splashing until there is more water passively cleaning our bathroom floor than there is left in the tub most nights. But heaven forbid I should have a drop on me when I come near her. Every morning that I’ve gone for a run this summer, I can typically find her either peeking out the back porch screen door looking for me or hiding behind the kitchen door ready to ask me if I was running. Each month as the heat index rose, I found the will to get myself out of bed before sunrise to run laps in my driveway. An easy enough feat once I realized my phone could still connect to our Netflix from the driveway and the vocal stylings of a Benedict Cumberbatch flick or the rumblings of the Braverman family could spur me on. I grew to love this time of day where I could wake up on my own and get a shot of adrenaline coursing through me before I had anyone asking anything of me. Then the girls began to notice that I was up and not telling them to do anything. The prior months of explicit instructions, threats, warnings and sticker charts instructing them to stay in bed until 6 a.m. came into a state of peril. They knew I was up, and even if I didn’t feel like parenting, they felt like kidding. And besides, I hadn’t cared when they joined me in a yoga or work-out video. Hadn’t I loved it when Zuzu would scream her motivations from behind me as I keeled over to the latest Jillian Michael’s work-out?  Zuzu, who, over the summer had developed an affinity for athletic clothes started suddenly popping into my line of sight in neon pink from head to toe full of the day’s questions before I could pause my audio. Then the Quail started noticing that neither her sister nor I were in the house and started investigating. A time or two she even joined me, which as I started yet another lap would devolve into a flurry of complaints for me to stop. Come back. No momma. No run. Eat. Watch TV.

Sigh.

Not exactly the cause for a heart-rate increase I was waking early for. Eventually they started to realize it wasn’t as much fun to watch Mom run and talk at her as it was to attempt to confiscate the remote or My Little Pony dolls before her sister got to it. I tell ya, I’m not on my parenting game at 5:00 in the morning.

Impressed with the Quail’s calm and carefully worded explanation to me as to why I couldn’t kiss her this time I leaned down in front of her careful to not drip; “Ok- Abs- thanks for telling me.” I couldn’t help myself though from making my own pouty face at not having gotten my way or a kiss.

As she scooted around my bended knee she paused, leaned in, kissed me on the cheek and scurried off to begin her day.

31 for 21: Day 13

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“Who are your friends Quail?”

“Miley. Laurel. Brooks. Blair. “

She ticks them off on her fingers without hesitation. These are some of the children she plays with in her kindergarten class at school. Last year when we would ask the same question the answer was Nikaela, Oriana, Miley, Sydney, Kaden and Landon. The year before that Mariah. Such a small thing to be able to list off your friends- and yet in so many ways- this is such a big thing for her to list off her friends- both the literal ability to say their names, to count them on her fingers, to run and play and work with them in her day. The fact that they are friends- and from what I can see- the love-fest seems to be mutual between her and them. Many people worry that when your child has obvious differences they won’t be welcomed into their communities. That the social hurdles will be too much to deal with and your child will suffer so from that. Different friends have come and gone as they’ve moved, changed schools or daycares. The same as they have for her sister. In each instance the thing that struck me as she began to name them as friends in her life was these were children that she made friends with. These were not the children of the family friends whom she only got to see on weekends or special occasions. These were the children of her everyday. Of her community. The ones she sought out in her classroom and on her playgrounds and who seek her out in return. We try to make a point to introduce ourselves to these children’s parents when the opportunity pops up. We’d love to get to know their families- and sometimes the activities we do- they do include those families. But really, for the most part- the children she considers her besties have nothing to do with us. It’s been a couple of years since she would answer Sugarplum and Zuzu as her best friends. Ask her who loves her and that is a different set- that’s Mom, Dad, Sugarplum and Zuzu. But we aren’t her besties. That’s clear now.

The other night we went to a “McTeacher” fundraiser night for her school and from the moment the door to the playroom opened I could hear the chanting- “Quail! Quail! Quail!” I didn’t know who a number of the kids were- but little Miss Rockstar walked in that room like she owned it. Then proceeded to locate her buddies and go play. A while later I heard the chant again and looked up to see her being hugged. Another buddy and the buddy’s sister had found her and they were dancing around together. A few weeks earlier when I was cleaning out her backpack I had found a picture drawn by this buddy that showed the two of them playing in a field with the sun shining and hearts all around. When I shared it on Facebook with the friend’s mom, her teacher commented how,”Laurel worked so hard on this picture today! She kept coming over and telling me that she was making it for the Quail.”

1901275_10203855021354910_3749369764527951080_nRight now her ability to make friends is at an all time high. She has more ability to talk and include herself in her friends’ conversations and to run after them and play. Fortunately now she’s at an age where the majority of the time spent together is on play. There was a period of time two years ago where she began self-isolating- she was being pulled out of her 3 year old class to go to a lot of therapies- private and public school and spending two full mornings a week in special ed as well as being pulled with the students we pay to work with her. And on top of all of that, most of her buddies were able to talk conversationally now. That growth period from 2-3 is stunning for typical language development. To the extent, that one mother told me her son had hurt feelings that the Quail didn’t talk to him when he talked to her. He thought she didn’t like him. She did though. Very much so.We were able to clear that up because the mother took the time to tell us. At that age- she was really only speaking vowels and relying heavily on gestures and sign language to convey her needs. There was very little actual talking back then. At a school friend’s birthday party this past weekend her little buddy asked me why it was hard for the Quail to talk. Such a simple question, asked so kindly. And so we talked a little bit about Down syndrome in simple terms of what it is, what things the Quail does differently, where she might need help and what she can and does do herself. We talked until the little girl’s attention was diverted, by the Quail. Running at top speed hollering her name to come play with her- and off they went. It made me smile- for Laurel, for the Quail, for inclusion and this next generation. I know the time will come when the differences will be daunting. Peer pressure- it’s no easy road to travel through. But I have hope- hope that because the Quail is and has been with the kids in her community since she came along- that maybe, their acceptance of her among and with them won’t have to be such a big thing.

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31 for 21: Day 11

“She’s a beat behind is all. Really that’s all I saw.”

This news came about a year ago from a friend who was subbing for the Quail’s 4k class. I blinked when she told me that. A beat. A pause. A showing of her motor-planning getting the best of her for the moment.

“When it came time for snack and a drink her friends told me that her cup was in the fridge, but when I turned around to get it she was already there opening the door to help herself.” To help herself. She was in her class and helping herself. Following the routine that she knew from the days she had spent there already. When the children danced- she danced. When the children recited both The Pledge of Allegiance and the State of South Carolina Pledge, she put her hand to her heart and turned to the flags. When the children lined up- she lined up.

Or mostly so. She went to the back of the line giggling in an attempt to start a round of hide-and-seek in the classroom. When Mrs. D told us, we were as concerned as she was. Maybe more. A big part of public school is learning to follow the rules- the rules that keep things organized, fun and safe for everyone. This slight deviation from the organized chaos was really only a concern in the event of an emergency if the chaos were to become unorganized. We would have to talk to the Quail about this. She was already familiar with our family’s well-worn mantra, “There’s food time and there’s play time.” We would have to adapt it to there is “There is listen and line up time and there is play time.”

“I’m so glad you pushed against the school’s concerns.” This came in an email from the teacher after having been with the Quail for a good bit of the school year. “The Quail is very popular and has a lot of friends. She is nurturing and takes care of anyone who is sad or hurt. We love that about her.” “ She is doing very well in the classroom. I wish all of the children were doing as well as she is.” Those words let me breathe out. It’s one thing to be philosophically certain of your stance on an issue, such as say- inclusion. It’s another thing to stand back and watch it play out in real time as it wavers between validating and mocking your intent.

But it went well. Put simply- she did fine. I expected less than fine. I expected a bumpy transition. I expected multiple meetings and whispered warnings of this good thing coming to an end. I was prepared with the legalese in the recesses of my brain for any hint that it wasn’t going as it needed to. The Quail- she didn’t need to keep up- that beat, that pause…that was fine. She just had to make progress. That’s what the law requires, what the law allows for and as the previous principal had stated after much scolding and scuffling-in the well-orchestrated dance of an IEP, they will meet her needs individually and legally.

And so they did.

But they did more than that really. They met the Quail with open arms and hearts and brought her into their classroom, now her classroom into her community and welcomed and loved and taught her. She learned so very much last year. The progress- while subtle, was undeniable. Her happiness at getting to go was undeniable. She wanted to be there. She was happy to be there.

I really didn’t have much to say about the school year as it progressed. The weeks went by smoothly with very little back and forth in the adjustment to half days of school, bus rides, lunch ordering and learning to read. In the early spring, we did receive a phone call from the therapists, one day the OT, the next the PT. Both asking for adjustments to the IEP. The Quail- she did not want to leave her class to go with them. Once in the hall, she dallied. She danced. She did everything but walk in an orderly fashion from the class to the therapy room. That first call day she had plopped down on the floor. She wasn’t getting up. She wasn’t moving. And this was a problem. As the therapist detailed the specifics to Lovey over the phone it came out that it had been an issue for a while now, the Quail’s not wanting to leave her class and her friends to go with them. Some days worse than others. The IEP progress update that came home later that month indicated a lack of willingness to not only go to the other room, but to do the work asked of her once in it. Ironically her report card from the regular class had also come home and showed good marks in most everything except the ability to articulate a clear sentence. It seemed she was acing K4 and blowing Special Ed. Later when we met with Mrs. D she talked about the day we had gotten the phone call. That the therapist had been expected 20 minutes earlier and hadn’t shown. That when she did come, the Quail had already had her coat buttoned and was in line, in clear view of the playground- ready for recess. That was what had made her angry. That is why she had plopped down. That was also why therapy is so important- maybe, just maybe if she had been able to articulate what was upsetting her- maybe, it wouldn’t have just come across as bad behavior. Maybe. I don’t really know. The irony is that 2 of the 3 goals on the IEP- well they were playground friendly. The therapist could have worked on those on the playground rather than turning the hallway in to Thunderdome. The update to the IEP helped. They asked permission to move from individual to small group therapy. Once the Quail befriended the little girl, things went back to the typical chaotic calm.

We survived that week. I can’t say that things got tremendously better with the therapists. Notes on later progress reports seemed to center around “working on compliance”. Which I read as therapist speak to explain why little else was getting done. In spite of that nothing peaked or boiled over though. I ran into the district’s behavioral specialist at a gathering at one point and introduced myself. She told me she was aware of us, but fortunately hadn’t had the “pleasure” of being called in to formally meet the Quail. For that we were grateful. Nervously grateful.

In addition to the books, art projects, pictures, songs and dancing the class put on 3 little plays- a Thanksgiving Pilgrim and Indian one, a Christmas Gingerbread one and a Cowboy salute at their mini-graduation. I’m proud to report I cried my little heart out at each and every one. The Quail- her little star shown up on stage as she danced and sang and cheered and bowed. She was all in. And for that super start to her educational career- we remain grateful.

31 for 21: Day 7

 

10455052_10204108154283075_6634118503032178133_n“This is not apraxia. It is still a severe motor planning issue, but not apraxia. She has worked diligently and made tremendous progress in the last two years. If it was apraxia, she wouldn’t be able to talk as well as she does now.”

Lovey and I both heard her say it and it wasn’t what we were expecting. It had been two and a half years since we last had been able to spend time with Sara Rosenfeld Johnson. When you see someone every day, sometimes the subtle changes are hard to recognize. On the drive up to the appointment the Quail had napped in the backseat while we debated how much change had actually occurred since our last visit. Lovey and I had different ideas of how much had changed. Certainly, there were more words the Quail could approximate now. Absolutely we heard examples of two word phrases from her and at times even more when she tacked a name or angry no to what she wanted. But at 5 years old, she still didn’t have the capacity to tell us everything she felt the need to, and for her- that was an incredibly frustrating process.

“No shirt. NOOOOO!”

A version of that phrase was a common morning routine. The Quail, she knows what she wants to wear. And this summer that consisted of what she called her “Frozen” or “Camp High-Five” shirt. The thing is, there are seven days in the week and that is only two shirts. Two shirts that after a single wearing would morph from white to sand and red clay colored with an outline of her lunch of dinosaur noodles with red sauce, the remnants of the purple or brown marker she had used to draw with, the dripped pattern of the purple popsicle, frosted cupcake or juice she had enjoyed during an afternoon snack. In other words, she was limited to a single wearing a week because her parents couldn’t find a few free weeknight hours to spray, rub, soak and wash her beloved shirts back to their original (or something closely approximating) shade of white. That meant 5 days a week of early morning, tired, hungry and grumpy negotiations about what she was to wear that day. Fortunately Zuzu eventually gave up her Camp High-Five shirt to the cause and another family friend had a spare and donated it as well. And yes. All three of those shirts would get worn each and every week. Her sister’s Frozen shirt- well that was off limits. But we all have our limits.

“You wore Camp High-Five on Monday Quail. It’s dirty remember? You had Dinosaurs for lunch that day and it was hot outside. It’s coated in sand and sauce. You can wear it next week.”

Leaning down, I reopen the dresser drawer that the Quail has just slammed shut in frustration. Quickly pulling my fingers back as she reaches to push it closed again I see her face twist in anger.

“Are you angry honey?”

“Ye-ah” Her face crumples as she sits criss-cross applesauce in front of the dresser. What she wears should be her choice. And for the most part it is. Zuzu runs over and pulls her own Frozen shirt from her drawer and the site of it stirs the Quail’s cooling anger again. “NO Zuzu! No! My Frozen. Mine!” Her little hand curls into her chest as she pushes herself up from the ground about to launch her small but stout self after her twiggy sister who dances just out of reach from her. Zuzu opens her mouth to tattle that the Quail is being mean even though I’m sitting there witnessing it in real time. I intervene, suggesting Zuzu dress in the bathroom and push aside the dozen shirts that continue to go unworn in the months since they were last washed. “How about this one. You like purple- it has purple stripes.”

“NO MOMMA. NO. Dah-rk puu-ple.”

Ah- dark purple- this I can do. Lifting up the tangled mass of patterned and striped yellow, red, blue, pink and white shirts I find one of two dark purple shirts that she favors at the bottom of the drawer. “This one?”

“YES!!!!” She squeals leaning in to do a little dance of happiness as her small soft hands unfurl to clasp my cheeks and she presses her nose to mine. Yes. That shirt, the dark purple one is the one she wanted to wear. The one that until recently she couldn’t articulate the difference between it and a dozen others in a clear enough speech pattern for me to get it right on the first or the forty-first try. Softly inhaling her morning breath , I smile and pull her down into my lap to help her get the shirt on before moving on to the pants. And the socks. And the shoes. And the hairclip. The things that I know matter to her but that she has to work so very hard to make understood. It’s these little basic, ordinary, everyday choices that we all make without a second thought that urge Lovey and I on to work and work and work on her speech. It’s not because we think she isn’t whole. It’s not because we think she isn’t perfect the way she is. It is not because we think if she doesn’t walk and talk and act like the mainstream she doesn’t deserve her place in it.

Not. At. All.

10409786_10204107563068295_6007311068266698776_nIt’s completely the opposite. Once upon a time, a child with a label of Down syndrome (or a thousand other special needs labels) would not be considered worth medical and educational care. They were seen as less than, incomplete, a mistake, someone not worth affording the opportunities to receive basic care that the rest of us can take for granted that we have a choice to either sign-up for or not. When my older sister was 6 years old she had yet to be able to walk. My mother, she asked her doctor to refer her to physical therapy so that they could learn the exercises that would strengthen her muscles and help them remain pliable so that she wouldn’t end up unable to move by unintentional neglect. But that doctor did what was common in that time. He said no. That it would do no good so he wasn’t going to waste everyone’s time, effort and money. At that time the only way to receive specialized care was to live in a specialized setting. An institution. Ironic isn’t it? In the year that she was seven, after having been at the institution and under the specialized care and therapies that the doctor had sworn would not benefit her she took her first steps.

10288718_10204108094241574_2089307072020858884_nThe Quail, she is still learning to talk. To put together the words that will tell the world who she is, what she knows, what she wants and how she feels in her own words and way. Because those things exist. Her thoughts, her preferences, her opinions they matter. She works hard each and every day to do what the rest of us are blessed to come by easily and take for granted. Our visit with Sara was a heart-warming one. One that said she has progressed and will most likely continue to progress. That the effort and love we put into helping her say the things that matter to her are worth the effort. That she is worth the effort. That just because it isn’t coming easily to her doesn’t mean that we should lower our expectations for her. It’s best to shoot for the moon as Mr. Peale says, even if we miss we’ll land among the stars.

Or in our case, the dark purple shirts and quiet mornings.

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.

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.