I know I can….I know I can….

10154353_10203677323792582_4540840338547505571_n“No Momma. I put on the diaper by my own self. Not you.”

Pulling the tab across her own belly on her own diaper, Sugarplum giggles with the pleasure of the tab staying in place. Grinning up at me, she reaches her pudgy fingers out to pull my head down to that sweet belly and I inhale the freshly-diapered, powdery smell from the Pampers she still sleeps in. I smile wide in spite of her monkey antics and indignant insistences of independence and tickle her belly lightly as the giggle morphs into a chortle and finally an all-out hoot as she bows her small wiggly body around me. It won’t be long now and there won’t be any diapers on our market lists. A check-off I’m both finally ready for and hesitantly dreading. I clean up the box of wipes and unused crèam tripping over her little matchbox car as she grabs her blankie and flies out of the room yelling at her sisters that it’s time for bed.

 

1441222_10202498882732292_47446696_n“No momma. I do it myself. Not. You. Momma.”

Pulling the math sheet over and away from me, the Quail lays her body across the bottom half as her arm encircles the top so that I can no longer continue to read the instructions to her. At first, it frustrates me. All summer we have set aside a few daily minutes to work on math because it was noticeably hard for her in Kindergarten. And every day this summer it remained hard for her. She speeds through the numbers ignoring the sevens and twelves and thirteens that just last month she recited precisely with carefully articulated consonants and vowels. We would pull out a set of wooden blocks and instead of touch-counting them, she smoothed the chipped paint and textured images of each side as she lined them up oh so precisely that the mere movement of one pushed them all out of line, upsetting her, me and the applecart. But we did it. We didn’t always like it. Sometimes I poured a glass of wine while we worked on it. We counted and pushed the blocks across the table and wrote and erased and smoothed the rubber filings off the page and onto the carpet. Night after night. And now I expect to need to help. In spite of increased ADD medication and classroom support, I assume that her needs remain. And I act accordingly. And then, she stops me with a full sentence. A sentence that a year ago she would have been hard-pressed to articulate. And I grin back and sip my wine and wait. I lean in a couple more times. Old habits die hard for most of us. She eyes me, utters no and starts to shove her hand into mine as a not so friendly reminder of her instructions. And I pull back my hand again and tell her to please tell me if she needs help. And I wait. And she gets the answer right and the next one wrong and I chew my bottom lip debating the merits of my not correcting her and my desire to prepare her to demonstrate more than what people expect of her. To demonstrate what I know she’s capable of. Except, I get it wrong too. As well as I know her, I underestimate her time and time again. Glass houses and all.

Finally she hesitates and turns the eraser to the seven as she notices she wrote the sum rather than the part. We both smile as she erases with enthusiasm and shoves her chair back from the table ready to run to the kitchen. “Show your Dad!” I holler after her as she drops the page on the pantry floor and streaks down the hall after her sword-and-baby-doll-wielding little sister. Picking it up I show Lovey and then carefully tuck it in to her homework folder. That night I wasn’t needed there either.

 

DSC_9993“No. I won’t do it. You don’t know what the teacher said. I know what I’m supposed to do.”

Zuzu’s voice hits a pitch that causes my eyes to swing shut and my lips to form a hard line. I started out calm in what I considered to be a helpful voice pointing out that if she doesn’t do one more math problem tonight she won’t finish them at the pace she set for herself since she has dance on Monday nights starting tomorrow.That’s how it started out. That quickly turned ugly as she heard my implied criticism of her burgeoning time management skills. So I try again with different words in a frank tone to point out that she has only three nights available to do the five problems left, so one a night won’t get them done by Thursday morning. She covers her ears, stomps her feet and storms out of the living room and I open my eyes to the three-year old now standing in front of me interpreting the situation quite simply, “She mad Momma.”

Indeed. As she rushes back in the room to grab up her binder and pencils I tell her she’s right. She doesn’t have to listen to me about this. She can do it her way and see if that works out. Hunching her shoulders against the sudden stillness of my helicopter blades, she turns with her things to the living room and starts over again explaining the rules as she understands them to her father. He, calmer than me at this point, doesn’t elicit much better of a reaction. Sighing, I pick up Sugarplum and carry her in to the kitchen to keep me company while I clear off the table to wash away the scene and the dishes. We frequently clash over homework, Zuzu and I. It used to bother me. I explain what I understand thinking I’m helping her and she starts to cry or yell. Now though, entering third grade I’ve seen this enough to see it for what it really is. Not disrespect or general orneriness or rebellion. It’s anxiety that she might not know something in front of the person she loves so very much and tries to be like at every turn of the day. I wish I could help her. That she would take my suggestions and explanations for what I know to be true about our lives. But she is my daughter. She is strong, confident and sets a high standard for herself. Last year her teacher gave me permission to back off of the homework argument. “She’s not going to let herself fail. It’s not worth your relationship.”

Two nights later we unload our Happy Meal boxes and as I move her pink striped and owl covered messenger bag from her chair to the pantry I ask if she would mind if I peeked in on her math homework for the week. She eyed me over her cheeseburger and said she knew it was done and not to worry. As I stood their holding the bag silently she acquiesced and said it was fine. Opening the binder I pull out the sheet and notice that she did the extra problem. Not when I asked her to. But on her own terms, in her own time. She wasn’t going to let herself get in trouble for not getting it done. Smiling I closed up the bag as she mutters that she told me she knew what to do.

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It’s clearly visible now, each of their desires to do things all by their own selves and be recognized for the competent little humans they already are. Bittersweet is what it is. This growing, growing they insist on doing while I’m sleeping and working and catching and dropping the balls of our daily circus. I watch for it. I lean in and ask questions and take pictures and listen closely in order to watch for the changes that continuously emerge somehow unseen in their walk, their routines, their words and stories and play and work. Their stories that now have details between their giggles and tears and tantrums like-

“I choose the Frozen shirt not the butterfly shirt Momma!” and

 

“My birthday. Miley. Blair. Laurel. Dance bag like Zuzu. Dark blue. Sleep over. Popcorn.” and

“I am doing competition dance and jump rope team and Quest and Scouts!!! I can do it. It’s not too much”

Stories that really mean

“I know what I want.” and

“I have my own dreams too.” and

“See how I’ve changed? Do you see me?”

Beautiful, if still halting  and hurled phrases whispered and shouted and sang and played out with the Magic-clip dolls and My Little Ponies and rituals and schoolwork by all three of those girls now.

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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.

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31 for 21: Day 29: corner view: traditions

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.

Traditions this time of year lead us galloping from one month to the next. When school starts up we are thrown into a pattern of apples and pumpkins and gatherings and celebrations that leave us wondering how another year can pass in the blink of an eye. We have school activities and parties, camping and apple picking. Birthdays and Buddy Walks. Pumpkin patches and Festivals. Visits to the mountains and beaches. Unfortunately that leaves little time for writing and reminiscing as I’ve noticed that my ability to organize the multitude of stills and phrases in my head drops off significantly as our activity level builds. The joy of having school age children is there is much celebrating to be done before the actual holiday even starts. With that said- here was last year’s Halloween festivities. We’re never quite sure at what stage the children will start understanding what we are doing and why. Last year we thought our little Bunny would still be in a watchful mode. But she strode around our town’s festivities with her candy bucket going from person to person just like she knew what to do, only stopping when it was time to unwrap another sucker. When the girls went to the face-painting booth, I naively assumed that it would just be for the two elders. But that little bunny of ours stood her ground, tipping her cheek for the paint and carefully selecting a large, veiny eyeball to decorate her sweet costume, while her two rock star sister’s went with slightly sweeter adornments. The first year that the Quail was able to walk through the festivities she looked down at the first piece of candy in her bucket, plucked it out and deposited it in the next candy giver’s stash. She made her way through the parking lot that way, giving as much as she got.