Sunday, January 24, 2016

Dear Gwen: Month Ninety-Three

Dear Gwen,

Today, you are ninety-three months old.

Well, we had Christmas! On Christmas Eve we had your Gramma Karen and Grandpa Keith over for brunch and gift-opening. You pretty much cornered your Grandpa and made him play with you the whole time – which I’m sure he didn’t mind at all. On Christmas morning it was just the three of us, relaxing together, enjoying each other and our many many gifts, and staying in our jammies pretty much all day until it was time to go to Gramma’s for a delicious dinner. As always, we all got very spoiled, and had a really lovely and low-key Christmas.
There were other adventures over Christmas break, of course. I took you and your friend Rhyan to the Winter Wonderland skate, an annual tradition. And then there was the day we drove up to Mt. Washington with our friend Tricia and her two boys, to go snowshoeing together. For the last couple of winters, you have complained and asked, “What’s the point of winter if there isn’t even any snow?” Well, there was no lack of snow on the mountain! We walked around a beautiful winter wonderland, and you got to build a snowman, make snow angels, and get your fill of snow (both literally and figuratively – why can kids never resist eating snow?).

For New Year’s Eve, you and your Dad went to the Family Finale at Beban Park (I was performing at the theatre that night so couldn’t join you). And a couple of days later, we hosted an enormous open house where you got to play with a wide variety of kids throughout the day in the upstairs loft. There were crafts, board games, general shenanigans, and, as the evening wore down, the half-dozen kids who were left started producing plays for the small yet appreciative audience of adults. Has the theatre bug bitten you?
This has been the month of broadening your pop culture horizons. When I was a kid, VCRs were just becoming a thing – I can remember my parents renting a VCR, along with a few movies, once in a while before they decided to take the plunge and buy their very own. This meant that if I wanted to experience the excitement and novelty of watching a movie, I watched what they chose for us to watch – and I was exposed to a lot of media that wasn’t necessarily geared towards a kid’s tastes or sensibilities. Sometimes this meant I saw something scarier than I should have, but this was infrequent – for the most part, watching “grown-up” movies meant that I had a broader and more mature taste than I would have otherwise. Set against this backdrop, your stubborn insistence on watching the inane mind-numbing treacle that is most children’s television programming – and the fact that Youtube and Netflix make this garbage constantly available - makes me CRAZY. This past month, however, we’ve made some serious progress on the road to better taste in movies.

It all started, of course, with the news that there was to be a new Star Wars movie. Your dad decided to sit down with you over several weeks and watch the original trilogy. It sometimes took two nights to get through a whole movie, but you were super interested and engaged with the story and characters, and looked forward to the next movies with excitement. We finished watching the third movie right before Christmas, and then on Christmas Eve Day – after spending the morning with your grandparents, eating waffles and opening presents – the three of us went to the theatre to see “The Force Awakens”. It was SO awesome to sit with you and your dad in a theatre full of people who were just as excited as we were, and to know that you were enjoying the movie too! What a big milestone, to see your first not-kids’ movie on the big screen. It was such a fun day! We then got to teach you the important concept of “spoilers” and how if anyone asked you about the movie, you should just say “I saw it, it’s great, and you should see it too.”

The fun continued over Christmas break, when we got you started on a healthy diet of Red Dwarf – finally, the introduction of British humour! That wise old Santa had brought us the entire box set of Red Dwarf DVDs, for our family to watch together, and we’ve watched several so far. You really enjoy the show, its humour, and the two main characters. Oh, and the cat, of course!

About a week ago, Dad decided it was time to show you The Martian. I’m not sure the average seven-year-old would like this movie, but you are very, very, interested in space, and so we thought you would probably like it. And you sure did. You were completely enthralled for the entire movie, no small feat as it is over two hours long! We had a brief discussion about all the adult language you were going to hear, and how we didn’t want to hear any of it coming out of your mouth. So far, so good on that score.

It is SUCH a blessed relief to have you interested in movies that we are interested in too! This has opened up the doors to sharing many more favourites with you, and we’re very much looking forward to that.

Speaking of favourites, last weekend I got to do something super-amazing with you: go to a Raffi concert! What a wonderful treat to sing and dance along to so many beloved songs, along with my very best girl. Like many others my age, Raffi is the music I grew up with, and it was a joy to see him in person; a joy made more than double because I got to share it with you. Raffi himself is a warm, lovely, wise, and inspiring man.

And one more story of pop culture. On January 10, David Bowie died. He was a songwriter, musician, and actor, an extremely influential and boundary-pushing artist for many decades. His death shocked and saddened people of many nations and generations. That day on social media, there were countless memes, tributes, memories, and mournful posts shared. And that afternoon, you came home from school and told us that in music class, you’d learned a song about an astronaut. “It’s a story-song, a song that tells a story!” you told us excitedly, and sang us some of the words you could remember: “I’ve been floating in a tin can … far above the world ...” Yes, sure enough, your music teacher had exposed you to David Bowie’s “Space Oddity” (aka Major Tom). As you described it, your teacher explained that the song was written by one of his very favourite songwriters, and he had then played his guitar and sung the song to your class. Among all the other stories and tributes that were shared that day, the image of this teacher (whom I’ve never met, so I’m sure my mental image is way off) earnestly sharing that song with a class of six- and seven-year-old kids as a way of honouring Bowie’s memory and sharing his talent, touches me deeply.

Well, I guess that’s it for this month, Gwen! As always, I love you to the moon and back, and I can’t wait to see what the next month will bring.


Thursday, December 24, 2015

Dear Gwen: Month Ninety-Two

Dear Gwen,

Today, you are ninety-two months old.

It’s been a great month. I’ve had occasion, this month, to reflect back on the past two seasons – the enormous transition of selling our house, packing, and moving to a new house – all against the backdrop of your volatile behaviour. Looking back on that time has reminded me of how much better things are now – of how much work you have done to improve your behaviour and your emotional self-regulation. You have really come a long way in the past three months, especially since school started and you began to find your new normal in amidst a new classroom, a new teacher, and a new social hierarchy. I am so immensely proud of you, my girl.

Your report card also shows how hard you’ve been working. It’s no surprise that you are “Exceeding Expectations” in both Reading and Science. The whole report card is great, full of positive marks, but what impressed me the most was the section at the bottom about work habits: Maintains focus, Works independently, Completes assignments, Follows directions. You earned a 3 (Meeting Expectations) on ALL of these! That’s pretty impressive and shows a lot of effort and attention on your part. Way to go!

Fortunately, this is an easy time of year to fling rewards your way. We’ve been attending and participating in all kinds of fun seasonal events, and some of them we’ve specifically told you are because we are so proud of you and want to celebrate with you. We started off the season with a Christmas craft – I bought several boxes of clear glass ornaments, and we set about filling them with either shredded paper or melted crayon bits. I think this was our most successful Christmas craft effort ever, as we made twenty-four ornaments in total and you stayed engaged and on task for just about the entire time. We also made gift tags for them so we could give them to all the friends and family you’d chosen – including your teacher, piano teacher, principal, and many others.

We also put up our Christmas tree earlier than usual this year, so that we’d have somewhere to put all the gifts when we returned with them from English Family Christmas. Of course, as you have every year since 2008, you were hoisted on your Dad’s shoulders to place the star on the tree. It was so special to decorate our tree in our new home!

English Family Christmas was super fun as usual. This year it was held in Gibsons, hosted by your Auntie Sara. You got lots of time to play with your cousins, which is your favourite thing to do ever. After a delicious meal and lots of presents for the kids, we all sang Christmas songs and carols together. I really enjoyed watching you and your cousins Kiera, Hannah, Haylee, and Sara all sing “Let it Go” from “Frozen”.

Just a week later, it was time for your Christmas piano recital. You were originally planning to play a song from “The Nightmare Before Christmas”, but just a few weeks before the recital you decided it was the wrong time of year for that song, and chose to play two Christmas songs instead: “Jolly Old St. Nicholas” and “Angels We Have Heard on High”. As parents don’t attend the Christmas recital (it’s just an informal gathering in the teacher’s home, with pizza dinner afterward) I don’t know how it went, but your teacher assures me you did great!

There was a sad moment at the recital too, though. When I picked you up, you told me that “the pizza party was a ‘serve-yourself’ dinner, and I am TERRIBLE at ‘serve-yourself’ dinners!” I asked you why, and you told me that “I drop things all the time, and it’s hard to find things, and I always start at the wrong end of the lineup.” It broke my heart that part of your self-concept includes “terrible at serve-yourself dinners”. You told me that instead of getting pizza for yourself, you had found a quiet corner to hide in, avoiding the dinner hubbub altogether. Fortunately, your teacher came to find you, and helped you get some food.

After your recital, we headed straight to the Port Theatre to watch the local dance academy’s production of “Frozen”. I had no idea what to expect but I was thoroughly impressed with the way the production was put together and the way the whole school was included. You, who have been no stranger to live music and theatre events in your seven years of life, have never been so engaged and enthralled as you were that night. You laughed with absolute giddy delight when a squad of tap-dancing reindeer performed “Let It Snow”, which just happens to be your favourite Christmas song currently (and you have ALWAYS adored tap-dancing). You wept at the climax of the show when Olaf is melting for Anna, and Anna protects her sister. You have seen me cry at puh-lenty of shows, so you know it’s okay to have that emotional response; it wasn’t the same kind of crying that means “I can’t watch this, I’m afraid, make it stop”, it was the crying that means the art has moved you. We talked later about how this is exactly what art is supposed to do, and how wonderful it is that you have a big open heart that is ready to experience all kinds of emotion!

The next day brought us to the Santa Breakfast at your school. You enjoyed the pancakes and decorating a sugar cookie, but had no interest in actually visiting Santa as he received children at the front of the room. You were content to watch, and told me that “He is a stranger and I don’t feel like having a conversation with a stranger or answering questions from a stranger.” How could I argue with that? We watched for a while and then went on home, where we spent some time preparing for a fun event we had planned for the afternoon: a spa party for you and three of your friends from your new school. I thought this would be a good idea to help you cement some of those growing friendships – it was also really fun for me to meet these lovely girls and get to know them a bit! We had a delightful time applying glitter tattoos, hair chalk, and nail polish. I was really glad to see the four of you getting along so well, and hope that there will be more get-togethers in the future.
Our next outing was to see the Headliners School of Performing Arts’ production of “Into the Woods”. I admit I had an ulterior motive here – not only to enjoy yet another artistic outing with my girl, but also for you to see a musical theatre production starring kids, and see if that was something you’d be interested in doing yourself! No surprise, you are very interested. I think musical theatre would be such a cool outlet for you! We do need to finish out the year at gymnastics first, though – there just aren’t enough days in the week for more than two extra-curricular activities.
This past weekend, with the beginning of Christmas break, we had a full day of Christmas adventure. First we went to see the annual panto at the Bailey Studio – this year, it’s The Emperor’s New Clothes, and it was thoroughly hilarious. You were somewhat unamused when you met the characters after the show – as they all seemed to know your name, and you thought that was pretty weird! Well, your dad and I are pretty much fixtures at the Bailey, and we talk about you (and post about you on Facebook) and you’re pretty damn memorable. I hope you weren’t too creeped out by it! After the panto, you got to watch me and the rest of the group practice for a piece we are performing on New Year’s Eve – you have seen and heard me practice at home, and wanted to see the whole thing.
Next, we went out to Boston Pizza for dinner and finished up the evening at Milner Gardens’ Winter Wonderland. There are always way more Christmas-related events and activities than we can possibly cram in, but you specifically asked for us to attend this one. As we walked through the forest (in the cold, rainy night) we saw a lighted sign pointing the way to Santa – and you surprised us by saying you wanted to go see Santa, and were even willing to wait in a fifteen-minute lineup to do so. You wouldn’t sit on Santa’s lap, but you sat with Mrs. Claus, and the three of you talked for a few minutes while we snapped some pictures. Afterwards, you told me that you didn’t really enjoy it, because Santa asked too many questions – “He should already know all the answers, Mom, if he’s watching me all the time.” I didn’t quite know what to say to that.

Gwen, I am so glad that we are once again getting reacquainted with the awesome kid that you are. As this amazing, wonderful, and yes, turbulent year comes to a close, I am ever grateful that you are my daughter.


Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Dear Gwen: Month Ninety-One

Dear Gwen,

Today, you are ninety-one months old. 

This past month has been full of adventure, starting with Halloween and all the associated shenanigans. For the third year in a row, we went to the NS3 Science Spooktacular Challenge, and you wore your astronaut costume – not because that’s what you were planning to wear for Halloween, but because you thought you should wear “something sciencey” to a science-themed race. You were very disappointed that none of the other kids had that same thought pattern. You did spot one other kid in an astronaut costume, and tried to befriend her, but she didn’t quite know what to make of you, my charming and quirky girl. In any case, the race was fun as always and we enjoyed the uncharacteristically bright sunny day.

The next big event was a classmate’s birthday party – the first one since you started your new school. While waiting outside the school that evening to be let into the gym for the party, the kids – including you – were running around like as only wound-up children can do. As you and your friend Brenna cruised by me, I told you to stop and to stand with me until the door was open. Fourteen seconds later, and entirely predictably, you took off running again and then – also entirely predictably – the sound of anguished wailing came thundering forth from where you laid crumpled on the ground, having fallen and hurt yourself. It was very, VERY hard to be sympathetic for you. Fortunately, the birthday boy’s grandmother was on hand and had a first aid kit in her car, so she bandaged you up and off you went to the party.

Halloween, of course, was a big event. The night before Halloween, we went to the Forest Discovery Centre in Duncan and rode the Halloween Train. What a hoot that was! You loved seeing all the spooky-scary stuff, and had a great time discovering all the displays. On Halloween, you and your dad carved pumpkins, then met Brenna and her dad and the four of you went trick or treating together. You dressed up as a ninja puppy. Trick or treating lasted for over two hours! You had a lot of fun exploring our new neighbourhood, and very proudly went to “the haunted house” (actually just a very well-decorated residence) to get your trick-or-treating dues.

 Another fun adventure we had recently was going geocaching, for the first time in quite a long time and the first time in our new neighbourhood. It was fun to explore with you! You’re not usually interested in going for a walk, but if there is a promise of treasure-hunting – even without an actual treasure – you’re usually game. I’m happy to re-start this activity with you.

You’ve continued in gymnastics this year, and you seem to be a little bit more dedicated and conscientious about your time there than you have been in the past, which is nice to see. You are also pretty good with your piano practice. This is the first year that you are able to understand, the skills and techniques you are learning in your lessons can be applied to music that you actually want to play and are excited about playing. You are currently practicing “Jack’s Lament” from The Nightmare Before Christmas for your Christmas recital piece. You figured this out (with a little help from me) by ear, and can now play it well enough that you can do it with your eyes closed! I could not be prouder! It’s really cool to see the realization dawn that THIS is why we learn music!

Your teacher had us download a cool new app called “Class Dojo” where she checks in throughout the day and awards points (or removes them) for certain behaviours. I can look at your avatar on my phone or iPad and know what you’ve gotten points for that day. It’s pretty neat! I can get an idea of how your day is going before I even get to see you. My favourite part is that I can use these points to start a conversation in the evening – since, like most kids, it’s hard to get you to talk about your day with an open-ended question. If I instead say, “I see you showed someone respect today! How did that feel?”, I might actually get an answer.

You’ve also been matched with a Big Sister at school (through Big Brothers and Big Sisters of Canada). Her name is Christina and you ADORE her. You get to spend one-on-one time with her every week at school, doing art or playing games or just reading together. You were not happy about this idea when your teacher suggested it, but now you are enthralled with the lovely and friendly Christina and can’t wait to see her each week.

On the whole, you are definitely doing better. You are still struggling socially and have a hard time making friends, but I feel optimistic that this will continue to improve as you adjust to the new social culture at your school. The skills you learned last year in Friendship Group are still with you, and you are a friendly and outgoing child. You just haven’t quite learned where you fit within the new structure. However, you are doing so much better at self-regulating and keeping your temper in check. You seem so much less angry and miserable than you did a few months ago. At the end of the summer, you were having multiple outbursts every day. Now, you have one every couple of weeks or so. That’s an enormous shift, and we are so glad to be living in a calmer house!

It’s harder to pinpoint exactly what has helped you make that shift, though. Is it the time you’ve spent with your counsellor, role-playing and discussing your emotions? Is it the dietary changes I’ve implemented, drastically reducing your wheat intake? Or is it just that you’ve started to feel safe and happy in our new home and are calmer as a result? Who knows! Parenting is crazy!

 Well, that's it for this month, Gwen. As always, I am super-duper proud of you and love you a million, billion, kajillion, and seven.



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