scouting

About a year and a half ago I asked Zuzu if she would like to be a Girl Scout. There was an informational meeting scheduled for that weekend.

“Yeah!!! Let’s be Girl Scouts!!! Let’s beat those Boy Scouts!!!”

Um, no. Not the point of Girl Scouts, and in fact a very good reason to become a Girl Scout. So we put our name in the hat and waited. And waited. And finally we got the good word- we had a troop and even better the new troop leader goes to the same daycare/preschool we use and could take Zuzu with her to the meetings, which were scheduled during my work hours and the Quail’s weekly occupational and physical therapy. Really, it couldn’t have been better planned. Zuzu has been known to come home all mopey on Mondays because her sister gets picked up from after-school care and she doesn’t get to play with her. And this group of girls, or at least those signed up for it, are some of our favorite little buddies in our community.

Zuzu in all her fervor and excitement then proceeded to go invite a series of other little buddies to join, and a number of them did. All told there are about a dozen newly designated sunny little Daisy Scouts in our town. From the moment Zuzu got word that her troop was forming and that Ms. Debbie was going to be the leader, she started seeking her out with questions:

“Ms. Debbie- will we sell cookies?”

“Ms. Debbie- how much will the cookies cost?”

“Ms. Debbie- if they cost $3.50 how about we charge $5 so we can make more money!”

“Ms. Debbie- I gave the other little girls homework so we would be ready for the meeting.”

And so on and so forth. One day when I picked her up she told me she wasn’t ready to go home yet because she was making notebooks and buttons for each of her fellow Daisy Scouts. And sure enough- stuffed in her backpack were bits of torn and stapled cut up papers and markered circles with the names of her friends.

This girl was born to be a leader. When she was young we had her in dance class. Our little daycare/private school took her each Wednesday. She enjoyed it, but didn’t really seem to burst with the enthusiasm she was known for. By the third year of class though her teacher recommended we move her to a new group because she was essentially using her as a little dance assistant by that time in order to get all the kids to their spots. Unfortunately , as a dual-working-out-of-the-house set of parents that wasn’t going to work for us.

So we moved on to gymnastics. It was ok, she is spritely, but with her class there was a LOT of waiting her turn, something that isn’t easy for her high-energy-self. When she was moved into an intermediate class there, she found herself in amongst girls quite a bit older and bigger and our brave girl started to quake. And then to complain. And then to ask to not go. We finished up the session and then told her she didn’t have to sign back up if she didn’t want to. She decided it “might be good to take a little break.”

So for a year we didn’t really have any extra-curricular, until Daisy Scouts was ready for us. The very first night of class we walked in both a little anxious. Zuzu- she’s not like the other girls. She doesn’t sit quietly reading and coloring. She whooshes. She zooms. She full-out runs. And chatters. And asks questions. And directs traffic. I had spent the morning reminding myself that scouting is about building confidence and leadership in young girls, two traits that Zuzu already had in abundance. And this was not about my micro-managing-helicoptoring her. Which would be hard for me, what with my preference towards social niceties. Well when we walked in the room we were greated by a tribe of chattering girls. All full of colorful enthusiasm and energy. Zuzu was not the most boisterous by a long stretch- these were her people.

For the next few weeks she came home bursting with the Girl Scout law and the characteristics and values it was teaching her- sharing, helpfulness, honesty, fairness. She loved the explanations and the little embroidered daisy petal patches that she was growing on her small deep blue vest.

We started our troop partway through the school year and so we got off to a bit of a late start in the age-old tradition of Girl Scout Cookie sales. We were told that in spite of this, the starting goal for each girl would be to sell 100 boxes. We would have one cookie booth that we could take part in to meet that goal, and otherwise we were to attempt individual sales. I have to say- this is the part of scouting that I have been least interested in. I don’t like going and asking someone to buy something or to donate something. Of course, the goal wasn’t for me to sell 100 boxes (even though when Zuzu joined I proudly paid my own dues and renewed my childhood membership to the Girl Scouts of America), it was for her to. But nowadays- people don’t really go door-to-door. At least not when you don’t know most of your neighbors. Our first attempt at sales was the first cookie booth. Zuzu was so excited the morning leading up to it. On her own initiative she made 3 different signs letting people know when and where she would be selling cookies and begged us to walk her around the neighborhood hanging her sign. I went ahead a snapped a picture and put it on Facebook. And lo and behold….people bought cookies! Next she decided to make a “commericial” to sell her cookies- so I put it up on Facebook and again- people bought cookies!

That afternoon we joined two of her troop-mates outside of our resident Lowe’s and the spirited little girls accosted, I mean asked passers-by to buy their cookies. The girls had lots to learn in this experience about customer service, money management, and being careful with the cookies. I was only at the table for 45 minutes, but I was beat by the time we headed home. That day we sold enough boxes and each girl got credit for 11. The next day she started calling our relatives. Unfortunately most of them don’t live near by. One thing the Girl Scouts do though is participate in a “Cookie Share”. When people pay for cookies,  instead of getting the cookies- the cookies are then wrapped up and shipped to soldiers overseas. This seemed like a wonderful opportunity to do service for those doing service for us. We managed to sell 29 of these donations.

The next week we talked during school drop-off and pick-up about people that she knows that might like to buy, her friends, her teachers, her after-school care staff, previous teachers. Each morning she would tell me no- that she was too shy to ask, and then 3-4 afternoons a week she would surprise me with a new order. A few were pipe-dream orders- little friends with cookies in their eyes. I was careful to check with their parents before placing the orders. Then on the last night to sell cookies Zuzu realized she hadn’t called her Nana and Bapa about cookie sales yet and they were coming to visit soon. So she called and sure enough they bought. When she went back to write down their orders she realized she was only 4 boxes short of her goal and went back to proudly tell them. They of course, being sweet grandparents, happily bought 4 more boxes for the soldiers and Zuzu met her goal!

I hadn’t asked anyone at my work directly to buy cookies. Lovey hadn’t either, we shared her commercial and talked about her efforts on Facebook and during the last few days of the sale I reminded her that if she wanted I would happily hang a sign-up sheet at work to buy cookies. She made it. I hung it. We got more cookie orders. A number of folks commented that when the child asks, they will donate. I’m glad she worked so hard on this in her own way. She sold in total 115 boxes in three weeks.

I’m so proud of her work, her attention to detail and her enthusiasm for the Girl Scouts. She seems to have found her calling.

five minute friday: write

…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.

 DSC_3374

Go:

“Momma. I need a pen. I need to write down how well I did on my math test and leave it for Daddy to read when he gets home tonight.”

“Q-u-a-i-l. Good! Good job writing your name! You did it all by yourself!”

“Momma, here’s the list. I asked the Quail who she wants to come to her birthday party and then I wrote it down for you.”

“Me. Yes. Write. Name.  Me. “

They do what they see, right? They learn from what we do. Momma typing on the computer. Daddy writing the grocery list. Their teachers writing on the pro-boards. Their friends coloring in the valentine hearts. And they pick up their pens, and their crayons, and their markers and their chalk and they scribble and turn the paper and write the letters they’ve studied on the refrigerator, on the TV, in the books we read to them, in the books they are learning to read to themselves.

“Momma- let ME make a webpage. Let ME type in the webpage I want. Let ME write the list. Let ME call Gramma by myself. Let me write the story that goes with that picture”

Suddenly they are not the babies I hold, and wipe up and dress and feed. Suddenly they are individuals with opinions, and ways of doing things and rules they want to follow and enforce of their own. Suddenly they are alternate versions of myself writing their own story that I can’t put down.

Stop.

 

five minute friday: hero

…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:

It’s the giggle from under the covers as she sneaks up into the bend in my arms in the early morning shadows before I’m fully awake. It’s the self-possession of her stance as she defies my instructions to put a warmer coat on. It’s the calmness in her voice as she turns away from the car, heading into the elementary school,whispering that she is not very happy with me today.  It’s the light in her eyes as she sees me enter her room at school to volunteer for the class party.

It’s the excitement in her voice as she tells me about her school project where she has to create a musical instrument and has decided to make two so she can give Ms. Allen one as well because she knows she loves music. It’s the pride in her voice as she instructs the Quail to come with her so they can pack their lovies for the weekend trip. It’s the spirit in her voice as she softens it to talk to her sister about how to be kind and not to tell people no so much if she wants to have friends and people to play with. It’s the thump against the wall as she cartwheels down the hall with her little sisters in hot pursuit. It’s the assurance of her stance as she calls her little sister’s into her room to play school with her.

It’s the boldness of her suggestion to Ms. Debbie as she spots her coming down the daycare hall and runs after her to ask if we might could sell the Girl Scout cookies for a dollar more so we can make more money for the troop. It’s the squeeze of her sister’s hands as she pull’s them back to the side of the car at daycare pick-up. It’s the urgency in her voice as she stops me from driving to remind me to finish the buckle on her sister’s carseat.

It’s the pluck of her insistence that when she grows up she will be a teacher, a momma and then a principal to make sure everyone does what they are supposed to. It’s the tremble in her sniffle and sighs as she turns away from me to retrieve her pencil and try the timed math test over again. It’s the graceful curve in her neck as she leans down to pick up the baby whispering to her how much she loves her. It’s the running leap into his arms as Daddy opens the kitchen door at the end of the day.

It’s the rush in her voice as she lists off the numbers to Gramma’s phone in her excitement to call her with no help from us. It’s the vibrato in her tune as she unconsciously improvises lyrics for the camera.  It’s the persistence in her requests as she begs to take a shower with me, sleep with me, read to me, sit by me, come eat lunch  at school and watch another episode of My Little Pony.  It’s the thoughtful card explaining how she is giving me my childhood memorabilia back as my Christmas and birthday presents because she knows they are just as important to me as they are to her.

It’s the disappointment reflected in her eyes as she bears the weight of my overtired frustration at the end of a long day. It’s the tight squeeze of her skinny arms wrapped around my neck as she welcomes my apology into her puppy-dog pigtails for raising my voice again.  

It’s all the little ordinary details that make her my daughter, my hero day after day.

Stop.

31 for 21: Day 14: talent

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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 13: full

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Zuzu was just about 12 months old the first time it happened. She stood in the carpeted hallway staring unhappily up at me as I answered her request for another cracker with a not right now. As she wasn’t going to stand for it, she oh-so delicately laid her small body down, ensuring not to bump or bruise herself and set to wailing and kicking after a quick glance in my direction. My lips turned up as I turned away to hide my laughter at her first tantrum.

Within a year it was not nearly so cute and the next year after that it was downright infuriating. These days when the fury bursts from her you can feel the floors shake as she stomps her twinkle-toes sneakers back into her bedroom.

But we knew it was normal development emotion-wise and set in for the duration. Like clockwork at her next half-year mark she would set into a new range of developmentally expected behaviors that would ease up as her birthday approached. Convenient isn’t it?  The sudden return to being a sunny little bout of sunshine just in time to ensure a good birthday gift or 12. Downright Darwinian.

Then along came the Quail. We had read and bore witness to a series of offhand comments about “those kids”. You know God’s angels, the sunny, happy-go-lucky carefree children who never get angry? The passive full of light and good cheer children who didn’t know any better than to just grin at you and passers-by? Even though she showed a full range of emotion, these images held enough water to make me think that perhaps the personality trait of cheerfulness itself resided on that 21st chromosome and that our Quail maybe did have a little bit extra. 

That is until about the age of eighteen months. When, one day, the Quail sat happily humming into a plastic microphone in the sun-filled living room. When in skipped Zuzu who also had a song on her lips. Zuzu donned her sweetest “Momma” voice and leaned in to pry the microphone from her sister’s hands. The Quail, she gripped that tiny pink cylinder of plastic firmly with one hand, placed her other little hand square in Zuzu’s face and hollered “STOP!”  Zuzu was crushed as we turned away to hide our giggles and mental high-fives at the Quail’s newfound feistiness.

Enter a year later. And yes, there has been all the typical naughtiness you expect from a pre-schooler, laced with just enough mischievous sparkle in her blue and Brushfield spotted eyes to keep any grown-up from disciplining her too sternly. And then one weekend, perfectly timed with just enough of a snot-filled nose to make us question the origin of her fury; also timed perfectly within a month of her turning 2 and a half; our cheerful little helper, one day out of the blue refuses to pick up her crayons. Not only refuses, she stomps her foot (which we silently applaud since up until the last few weeks her balance wasn’t sturdy enough for her to not topple over in the attempt) and then goes in for the kill. She kicks over the little yellow bucket of crayons she’s been directed to fill. Silence fills the room, as she waits for our response and we wonder briefly at the skill of the kick and the pile of colorful crayons spewed across the black rug. Then she gives her age-old gesture of discontent- a version of flipping us off with her arm and attempts to leave the scene of the crime. I return her to it, with low firm instructions, no longer humming our clean-up song. She plops down, fixes her glare on the rug and growls. This continues for another minute until I’m clear she isn’t going to clean up her mess and so off to time-out she goes as an angry wail fills the house. Finally, shuffling slowly back in, head hung low, bottom lip bird-perched out and her hand sorrying circles on her small heaving chest she bends to pick up first a yellow, than a purple crayon and drops them squarely back in the pail.

Typical pre-schooler right? Shouldn’t have been so surprising. Except we’ve been marveling for months at how much the Quail enjoys helping grown-ups clean-up and this seemed to blow in out of nowhere. Apparently someone forgot to inform her of her abundant cheer that her syndrome relies on. A series of similar versions of the story ensue over the weekend involving, animal puzzle pieces, Cheerios and far-flung cups of kefir. Enough so that by Monday afternoon Lovey declares she’s going to the pediatrician tomorrow. I agree, this behavior is unusual. We know one ear tube came out a month earlier and she’s had a cold for a week and we have entered cold and flu season without the start of last winter’s daily breathing medications. She probably needs to start up her pulmicort and maybe an antibiotic or two.

The next day Lovey calls me at work. “She’s fine.” She’s up to 30 lbs 15 ozs. Her lungs and ears are clear. It’s a cold. That’s all.”

We both sat calmly contemplating what this banal diagnosis really meant. It may very well have been our first visit to a pediatrician that was met with the response of nothing here to see folks.

What it meant was that our ordinary child, was not filled with that magical sparkle that would cheer her all the way through her angelic life. What it meant was that she was developing socially and emotionally on time.

What it meant was we couldn’t be prouder.

What it meant was that we needed to buy a second plastic microphone and keep the bucket of crayons up off the carpet.

Stop

31 for 21: Day 5: pressure

 

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Go:

Just as I arrange myself on the ground I hear little footsteps flying up behind me. First one than the other girl lets out a loud whooping roar. “Get her!!!!!!” As is not surprising, these bear-cub girls of mine pile on top of me with abandon. What is surprising is who lands first. The Quail giggles as she feels the full impact of her sister land on her back flattening us both. The wrestle. They rascal. They run together now. That Quail, she pretty much keeps up with her big sister these days, and together they slow their play, their pace when they can manage for their littlest sister who this time, thankfully has stood to the side with her hands entwined behind her back eyeing the pile up. They do this so routinely that I don’t think much of it other than to quip the old stand-bye at this point of how one day we’ll give birth to a sweet little girl.

“She was really sensory seeking today. That’s unusual for her.” Ginger the occupational therapist we’ve come to love tells me about her session. As I feel the hackles go up on my neck, ready to defend the Quail against yet another label, I, instead share back how earlier at lunch she and her sister had taken to imitating each other as they pressed up against Lovey and I throughout our lunchtime in the restaurant booth. I commented how Zuzu is prone to do this with me. That I often think she would still reside in my womb if left to her own devices, this almost seven-year-old of mine. I tell Ginger how it was noticeable that the Quail was imitating her sister with this behavior during lunch since she isn’t usually one to do that and how once Lovey left the booth briefly Zuzu slipped under the table to her sister’s newly vacant side and commenced a round of in-house dog-piling with her always-willing-partner-in-crime.

As we talk, Ginger points to the Quail who by this time has worked a large heavy wooden box across the floor and continues to press it into circles across the sleek, new floor. We pause and then Ginger goes on to say that they went ahead and did a number of sensory based activities in both OT and PT to help her center herself and afterwards she worked for a long time in quiet concentration on her table work.

Later that evening as Zuzu pushes her kitchen chair as close up to mine as she can manage without getting scolded to put it back in its place, I think back to Ginger’s explanation of the good the sensory pressure did for the Quail and find myself wondering over her sister. These sisters- they are so alike in the most unexpected of ways.

Stop.

31 for 21: Day 4: five minute friday: write

…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.

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

Go:

I pull the tub’s drain cover and wrap the toddling Quail in her towel, just as Zuzu positions herself at the stepstool between us. “H-A-T” she recites pushing the small square of paper over to me. And there it is, in her four-year-old scrawl. She licks the graphite tip of the pencil mildly as I grin over at her.

“Was Daddy helping you write about his hat?”
“No Momma- I did it. I wrote it.”

And just like that, she cartwheeled into the world of big kids. She did it herself. Probably someone unknown to us helped her figure it out- but as far as our parental involvement was concerned her ability to write and spell and read and talk appeared like magic.

“If I make the dots large enough, she knows now to connect them and form the A. She’s getting good at it. These three were hand over hand, but this one here on the end she did on her own!” Our Early Intervention worker handed over the orange construction paper for us to pin to our fridge a few months ago. Since then they have worked diligently on the next letter in her name with a goal of fading back the prompts and her writing her first name independently before her fifth birthday.

Magic versus practical. So different from her sister’s path into big kid-land. And yet, in the end, they are both there. They’ll both learn to write, to read, to speak and to spell. Lucky for us, Zuzu is a big fan of playing the role of the instructor. Lucky us, the Quail idolizes her. Lucky them, we can take either path to get them there.

Stop.