Ella & Liliana Keathley-helms' essay
Our mommy is so special! She loves us very much. She loves us even when we are rotten. She loves our brother Jack when he has a poopy diaper and our daddy when he is sweaty and stinky and has not shaved his face. She comes to all of our soccer games and ballet recitals, and she claps really loudly. Our mom makes big special cakes every year on our birthday. She teaches us how to make cookies and teaches us words in Swahili like "Rafiki" and "mtoto." (They mean "friend" and "child.") She reads us lots of chapter books. Our mommy fixes our hair any way we want it. She helps others like when she went to Africa to build houses. Our mom loves to play with us and have fun with our family. She is the best mom in the whole world!
- Ella Isabel Keathley-Helms and Liliana Gabriel Keathley-Helms, 6, Corpus Christi Catholic School
Six-year-old twins Ella and Liliana Keathley-Helms are thoughtful about not interrupting each other, though one might finish the other's sentence if the latter has been distracted by a book or the antics of brother Jack, 3.
In that stream of friendly chatter might come a word or two in a foreign language - that's the Swahili they've learned from their mother, Tasha Keathley-Helms, a Kansas University doctoral student focusing on East African studies.
"She teaches us how to make cookies and teaches us words in Swahili like 'rafiki' and 'mtoto.' (They mean 'friend' and 'child')," the twins wrote in their Mother's Day essay for the Journal-World. "She helps others like when she went to Africa to build houses."
Tasha spent summer 2005 in Mozambique, researching for school and building houses for Habitat for Humanity - "multitasking," she says.
That's a way of life for the 28-year-old mother.
"I always knew I wanted to be a mom," she says. "It was a surprise to start off with two."
Tasha and her husband, Derek, devised a schedule that frees them up for family and career time, too. And the children are busy - there's kindergarten in the morning at Deerfield School and afternoon at Corpus Christi Catholic School. There's soccer and ballet, tea parties with Jack, finger-painting with mom.
The family living room is decorated with children's artwork. Ella's abstract blur and Liliana's sun image are painted in blue, maroon and gold, and framed for display. A painted vase with children's names is on the kitchen counter. An affectionate card for Jack stands atop the fireplace.
"They're great children," Tasha says. "They're thoughtful, smart, happy and goofy. Regular kids."
She also calls them adaptable, which will factor into the family discussion about the research work Tasha needs to complete for her dissertation. That might include at least a year in Tanzania while Tasha collects data, with family at her side.
"Kids can make the transition well," she says of the possible move. "They can fit in almost anywhere if they're young enough. They're not old enough to know what they're missing."
Tasha acknowledges that one of the challenges for the family is the perception that she and Derek are too young to be making such choices.
"People see us as young parents," she says. "But we've done fine. We can make our own decisions."
Nor is Tasha worried about balancing academia and family in future.
"I haven't ever gone to grad school without family because we started so young," she says. "I'll have family issues covered long before I'd be up for tenure."
In the pink bedroom the twins share, Liliana pours an invisible cup of tea for Jack, who pops the toy toaster lever to eject two plastic slices of bread. Ella looks through an American Girl catalog of dolls and points out her preferences. Recently, Tasha says, the girls led their classmates - girls and boys - through a session of the Twelve Dancing Princesses, a made-up game they love to play.
"We love to play and paint," Liliana says. "Especially with mom."