"Evie, eat your food, don't play with it." Chloe chastens gently as the little girl giggles, oatmeal dressed in her hair.
Chloe signed "no more" to her and Evie only giggled, sassily shaking her head as she continued to paint with her food.
Evie was two and a half years old and the terribles twos had hit the Bella's home as they would any other family, and Evie was no exception. Her disability didn't limit her: The way Beca saw it, there was no way to tame the wild spirit that was Evie because her joy was contagious and her spirit determined.
But she needed her bounds just like any other two year old, because her extra chromosome didn't make her any different. They just had to learn what worked for her, learn her cues and what made her tick. Down Syndrome didn't make her any less susceptible to lesser discipline or favoritism. She just needed a little more attention and help than Beca's other two.
When they went out in public and Evie was misbehaving, people often felt pity and blamed it on her disability, but Beca knew that wasn't the case. This didn't define her and her actions didn't have to anything to do with it. She was like every other two year old, sassy, smart, curious, and she wished people would stop putting a label on it. If any other child had acted out the way Evie did, they'd call them "naughty" and tsk their tongues.
It irritated Beca that just because Evie looked a little different, people had their assumptions and brushed it off, pitying the little girl for "not being in control", or they'd turn red in embarrassment when their kids would watch her.. But Beca knew she was smart, and Evie knew how to turn on her little faces and attitudes in a snap of the finger.
Beca wished that when other parents kids had asked questions aloud in public that parents would teach their kids to treat others the same, despite their looks. That the kids and parents would come up to them and say "hello" instead of pushing them along quickly out of embarrassment, or looking away because they didn't know how to react.
She encouraged her kids to talk to the child or person with the disability and say "Hello", instead of asking the caretaker. She wanted them to see them as any other human instead of with labels. She wanted them to know it was okay to have questions but not ask them in a rude manner. She wanted them to see that they were all human.
"Rosie, can you put your coat on, please? The bus will be here soon." Beca instructively commands of her daughter as she comes down the stairs, stretching her arms behind her head.
Beca yawns as she shuffles into the kitchen in her flannel pajamas, grabbing the kids lunch boxes from the fridge and shoving them into their backpacks. Rosie was starting 4k and Teddy, kindergarten.
Beca had barely made it out of bed on time to wake them up for their first day after staying up all night with Evie, who had refused to go to bed in the storm of anxiety. She wondered how without caffeine, how would she survive, and how was Evie wide awake? She was thankful for the Bella's living there, otherwise her kids would never get an education.
"Mommy, can you help me tie my shoes, please?" Teddy asks, holding out his foot.
Beca pulls out the kitchen chair, setting his foot on her lap and she ties them, explaining every step and letting him attempt the other foot. Rosie comes in, dragging her jacket behind her and Beca throws her head back in irritation.
"I told you to put that on five minutes ago, Miss Rosie."
"It's itchy." She whines, and Beca furrows her brows, looking at her sternly.
"And it's also chilly outside today. So unless you want to become a human popsicle, I'd suggest you put it on." Beca jokingly reasons, chuckling lightheartedly while still being stern.
Chloe lifts Evie from her highchair, hoisting her on her hip and preparing for the ever dreaded bath time. Evie had a long list of things that would send her into sensory overload or things that would just set her off, and bath time was one of them. The girls would take turns on who would "go for a swim with Evie" that day, and since Beca had to go straight to work today, Chloe would.
The other Bellas all had jobs too. After all, they wouldn't have been able to afford this old, unused college sorority house without each and everyone of them had something to contribute. It takes a village, that was their motto, and Chloe was thankful that she worked extremely part time because she loved her days with Evie when she wasn't at daycare, and Chloe wasn't working.
The girls took turns on their days off and watched Evie and took care of things in the home. It was never a chore to them to who had Evie, they actually loved spending time with the little girl. Sometimes they would all plan a day off so they could spend time with her because she loved each and every one of them, just not all at once. She hated loud noises and the ambiance of the house was too much sometimes. But every now and then she loved all the attention, especially from her siblings.
Rosie and Teddy only went to half days at school for now, and Beca decided that particular day that she would finish up with her clients on discussing their music and hurry home so they could have a zoo day. The weather was cool in the morning but was supposed to warm up, and the zoo was especially calm during the fall. Evie hated all the crowds and overstimulation and Beca often carried her headphones in her purse to cancel the sounds.
Going out in public was an exciting event with the Bella's, one might say "the circus is in town", because seeing the large group was often strange to other people. There was a ratio of eleven adults to three children, and Beca believed if she didn't have kids, the group probably would still struggle to take care of a dog. They were dysfunctional, they had chaos, but at the end of the day things got done and they worked well together and Beca was thankful for that. They had a system, and it worked.
"Ready, Teddy?" Beca smirked at the corny rhyme, but she loved to see him smile.
She grabbed his hand and smiled down at him while assisting Rosie with her backpack with her other. They had once again managed to get the kids out the door on time to walk to the bus stop, and everything felt like it was going to be okay. These were the days she lived for.
After reading Teddy and Rosie their bedtime stories, Chloe quietly closed the door until there was barely a stream of light coming through the crack. Chloe and Beca shared a room and so did the other Bella's so that the kids could have their own room. Chloe knew that Beca cried at night still, no matter how hard she tried to muffle her heavy sobs, but tonight was a particularly off night for Beca. She had lots of rough nights in the last month since Jesse had passed, but something was really different than normal.
Beca was a mother, she couldn't just stop being one when something bad happened. She felt like she had to stuff her feelings and through up a wall so that the kids wouldn't sense that there was something off. After all, kids were great at sensing something wrong, and she didn't want her children to feel uneasy or tense.
Beca was thankful that they were still too young to understand what happened. Teddy would still ask about Jesse, but the crisis was easily averted. Not that Beca didn't want them to feel like they couldn't talk, but he was only three after all. And Rosie was just a year old and a half. It saddened her that Rosie would never truly know her father and Teddy would probably forget too. And she cried about that too, in the last seven months.
"Hey Sweetie," Chloe cooed as she slid out of her slippers and crawled under the covers next to Beca as she shook.
"What can I do for you?" Chloe asked and Beca only dismissed her.
Chloe knew it would do no good to ask her how she was because she already knew the answer and didn't want her to feel worse, so she knew the best thing was to listen and ask what she could do to help, even if Beca didn't know. But she knew Beca found some comfort in knowing someone was there to listen, she certainly did at least and it was a gesture, a phrase so small but it meant a lot, and could be so helpful. If only Beca would open up, or at least let Chloe sit there beside her. She knew to give Beca space, but she wanted so desperately to help. So she accepted the days when Beca just wanted to be alone, and cherished the times she could be there alongside her.
Beca looked only like a small lump under the covers, a shaking anthill of a woman. She was small but mighty and her sobs filled the room and echoed down the hall, no matter how much she tried to drown into her pillow. Her cries of despair and sorrow came in waves, from just tearing up to letting the heavy tears blend into the shower water. Either way, Chloe was there to help pick up the pieces, and so were the others. They helped her put them back together.
"Thank-you for putting them to bed, since their own mother is too crappy to get herself together to do it herself." Beca finally mused angrily between sobs, still underneath her covers.
"Beca, this isn't your fault. And taking time for you doesn't make you a bad mother. He was their father and your husband. You need time to accept the fact that it isn't like that anymore and it's a big change!"
Chloe reassuringly rubbed her back, running her fingers through the ends of Beca's ratty hair that she hadn't washed in days. She knew Beca struggled to do normal daily things and follow the routine that they used to. But Beca was stubborn and refused to take time for herself because she felt selfish doing so, and she had two young kids who needed her.
Beca knew was unfair to expect the Bella's to pick that up and take her responsibilities for her when she was their mother and they needed her more than other. Even if it took Beca an hour to wash a few dishes, she was gonna do it. She was determined to do these normal things because she wanted to learn to cope and adjust to life on her own. She graciously accepted help when she actually was too drained, but when it came to her kids, she wouldn't give up until she had run a marathon over burning bridges for them.
"My duties as a mother don't stop just because something in my life did. It's my job to protect my children and teach them to process emotions, but how can I do that when I can't even do so without putting up walls?" Beca's lip quivered, eyes red.
It was true. Beca didn't properly express her emotions and it had taken the Bella's years to understand that when she was ready, the walls would come down, but first they needed to do some pushing to get Beca to let them help her take them down.
"I don't know if I can be strong for all of us, but I have to be. Because it's not a choice for me to give up because with kids it's not just about you anymore. And it certainly isn't something I should expect you guys to jump in and take over. I appreciate your help, but I can't just hand it all over to you while I grieve."
Beca's voice hold a certain angsty tone, looking and begging for Chloe to hear her out, to hear her plea. She loved that the wanted to help and she was more than willing to let them jump in and help her, but she didn't want them to take over. She was a mother, and her duties didn't stop just because her world felt like it had. She worried that she had burdened them, and things were only getting more complicated."Beca, it's okay to take a step back and just breathe. It's okay to fall apart. Keeping it in will only make you feel like you're breaking. So whatever you need, whatever you're feeling, you can feel it all over my shoulders.""Chloe, I don't have time." She gritted her teeth, feeling a wave of frustration wash over her."Bec, there aren't specific times that you can grieve. Grief comes in waves." Chloe comforts her reassuringly. "It's okay to stop sometimes, and let yourself feel everything. Or it's okay to feel numb.""Not when you're a mom. Because one day you'll be driving your kids somewhere and you'll just wanna stop because you're crying so hard you can barely see the road, and you're little boy asks why you're so sad and your heart breaks all over again because your kid has to watch you fall apart. Then, at that moment I don't get to because I've gotta be a parent. I gotta comfort my terrified kid!""Beca," Chloe coos softly.
Why couldn't Beca realize that she didn't have to be supermom and hold it together? It was healthy for kids to learn about emotions, Beca didn't have to be embarrassed about having them. And if the kids had questions it was better to answer than it was to shield them from thinking that their mom ever had them. She didn't want them to be insensitive.
There was a time and a place for it, and sometime Chloe thought that the kids should learn about sadness. Of course if it was bad, she should excuse herself, but if she starts tearing up, she shouldn't feel like she had to hide it, no matter how much she thought the looked up to her. However, Beca disagreed and their parenting opinions deferred, despite Chloe not being a parent."You don't just get to stop being a mom and throw away everything. I just need time to breathe, and I can't do that when I've got meals to cook and places and a job to be at. I'm afraid to fall apart because I have responsibilities and if I start crying, I'm afraid I won't stop. I don't want you guys to ever feel like you have to do it all for us, and take care of us.""I have a feeling there's much more than that." Chloe implies. "Why would you not just accept our help, Beca? We love you, and if we ever felt that it was trouble, we wouldn't have offered to move in. We're the Bella's Beca, it's for life!""I know Chloe; But I'm afraid you don't know what you're getting into. That you'll hit the ground running."
"Beca, this isn't a contract, we're not being forced into living here because we have to. You should never feel like a burden for needing help. I'm sure the girls and I are aware that this isn't college anymore. We are here to help with children, and nothing is going to be easy, we know that.""Did you know that you'd be getting lots of sleepless nights and giving up a lot? Because it's worth it when you have kids, it is Chlo. But I kissed a lot of things goodbye that I did. Like when I didn't have to worry about the kids and finding a babysitter.""But now you have ten babysitters, ten others that love your children like their own." Chloe smiles lightheartedly."You don't get it. This isn't just fun and games, this will change your life.""Change is good Beca, it's a part of life. And I wouldn't be here if I didn't want to or wasn't willing to accept that. Beca, I'd give up singing acapella for you and the kids, that's how much I love you guys.""Would you still feel that way if I told you that as of this morning, you'd be taking care of three kids now? That now, you're in for more than you bargained for? Because, I'm... pregnant." Beca bitterly sniffs and Chloe's jaw drops.
Chloe studied Beca's countenance, waiting for her deadpan expression to turn into something that signified that she wasn't robotic. Anything that showed that she was a human just going through something. Chloe wanted Beca to let her comfort her, to lose her conspicuous glare and facade. She so badly wanted her to say something, anything, Chloe wanted to feel that she knew the right thing to say to Beca.
"Oh Sweetie," was all Chloe could think of, her throat suddenly constricting on itself, but she wanted nothing more than to comfort her, despite how she herself felt at that moment.
"This doesn't change anything. I want to be here for you Beca, I just need you to try and open up, even just a little. I want to help, why won't you let me?" Chloe demands to know, becoming a little more stern.
"Because it's never been easy for me Chloe. I've always shut people out because I'm afraid to let people in. I'm afraid to get to close only for people to run away like my dad gave up on his marriage when things got tough."
"Beca, you are nothing like your father! Under that tough exterior, the real Beca is a softie who is selfless and stops at nothing to make her friends happy. Beca,you offered to give up your spot singing for Khaled, just to be with us. Does that sound like someone who isn't considerate of others? Does that sound like someone who doesn't deserve time to herself?"
Beca's heart ached: She felt gratitude, anxiety calmed by the presence of Chloe in that very moment because Chloe had done nothing to show that she was ready to leave otherwise. She wanted to open up, and she was willing to try, but from aloof. It took a huge fight and some singing her freshman year for the group to open up and she slightly chuckled as she pondered whether or not Chloe was still corny enough to initiate them to do so.
"We can start by doing your normal tasks, slowly and a little bit at a time. And when the kids go down for a nap, you take time for yourself. Paint your nails, cry, watch your favorite show. But don't feel like you can't take a break in between either, just to step a way for a moment. We've got the kiddos." Chloe lists, smiling as she watched Beca unsurely accept her advice.
"I can't stress enough that if you need to cry or take a break in the middle of something, let us know, it's not a problem! We want to help you but you need to communicate with us and we'll jump in. It doesn't make you a bad mother by any means. The fact that you worry about the mistakes you make as a mother shows a lot about your character. It's gonna take awhile, but eventually it's gonna start to hurt less and less."
Beca's anxiety increased tenfold and she couldn't hold it back anymore. She wanted to tell Chloe everything, she wanted to tell her about finding out she was pregnant and how much she missed Jesse and wished he would have been there to find out with her. She wanted to be open to accepting help and need help figuring out their next steps.
She wanted to tell her how they had discussed having a third child but she hadn't wanted it to happen like this. And Chloe would let her feel her feelings all over her shoulder, as long as it took, just listening to her because it was the only thing she knew how to do. She listened as Beca was like a tea kettle spilling over, whistling and bubbling over.
She listened to everything she had to say for the next three hours that night. When she finally took a breath to calm down, finally paused and stopped to see Chloe was still adamantly listening, she smiled a bit with gratitude and comfort. She knew deep down she wouldn't have wanted anyone else here with her to listen, that she found comfort in Chloe and Chloe was the only other person besides Jesse that could break her walls and Beca would feel totally comfortable.
In that moment, she felt comfort and temporary relief from the unknown because she felt like no matter what, they'd be okay. She was one heck of a lucky friend that the group of Bella's had no longer existed as an organization, but as a family. Her two older kids were in the room next door, and she had an entire family behind her.
"So, what's next?" She finally spoke after a moment of grateful silence.
"First things first, you need to make an OB appointment in the morning to confirm the pregnancy." Chloe demanded gently as she continued to hold and console Beca.
Beca hated that everything had to happen this way, but she was glad she had a village in her corner. Everywhere she turned there was someone there who showed they loved her, loved each other. As sappy as it sounded and as tough as Beca liked to be, she was a big softy on the inside and everyone knew it. But being soft didn't make her weak, it wasn't a definition of her. The Bella's would joke and tease her for her sassy facade, and knew only to push her out when if was in her best interest. She had been through so much and experienced so much adventure, all because she had a family that wanted what was best for her. The Bella's had helped Beca mature and grow emotionally, develop.
And as much as Beca hated to ask for help, she knew she needed to because they didn't have all the answers, but the girls would fight like crazy to help her figure it out. Beca hated to admit it, but she looked up to Chloe and the others, even though at one point she was the team leader. They relied on each other, that's how the foundation of their family, and any family should be.
"I love you, awesome nerd." Beca leaned over, Chloe embracing her tighter and smiled as she realized that Beca hadn't called anyone that in a long time.
Beca's heart hurt as she processed these emotions, old and new. She was so happy that she could cry, she was anxious but felt comfort in Chloe's touch. Actions spoke louder than words for Beca, and she saw that Chloe really wanted inside her mind. Wanted to know what made her "tick" per say.
She wanted to know how to help Beca and comfort her in times. She wanted to know when to help and when it was time to back off, and Chloe had gotten pretty good at the cues, better than the rest at least. She knew when to push Beca, and when to let her figure things out on her own. Beca was determined mostly, but a little stubborn. Most of the time she wouldn't ask for help but when she did, Chloe and the others knew that she really truly needed it.
Her heart was full to bursting and she praised God in this moment for the family, not just blood, that she still had, even though she missed Jesse daily. But she knew Jesse was probably smiling in comfort knowing that God had left her in the good hands of the Bella's.
She couldn't explain how she felt anxious but also so happy and comfortable she could cry. It was kind of like performing a song for her: She felt anxious but the Bella's were right there alongside her, so she also didn't want it [the song] to end. But these crazy life adventures were only just beginning.