Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Dear Gwen: Month Eighty-Six

Dear Gwen,
Today you are eighty-six months old! As your parents and grandparents comment to each other constantly, there is no more "little kid" about you at all. You are a big kid, and being a big kid is awesome!

Let's start with your reading. You are fully unstoppable as far as the written word is concerned. Pretty much anything that you can get your eyes on, you will read. And you would rather read than do just about anything else - which means that you sometimes come home from school with uncompleted classwork, because you chose to read books instead of completing your math sheets. You will still often choose electronics over reading while at home, but it is clear that having so many electronic distractions (tv, laptops, iPad, iPhone, LeapPad, DS) has not prevented you from learning to read and from LOVING to read, which makes your Dad and I very, VERY happy. Hooray for literacy! Your favourite thing to read is still storybooks - you prefer these to chapter books, even though the plots are less interesting, because you still love to look at colour pictures as you read, and chapter books' illustrations are less plentiful and very rarely in colour. You've also started to enjoy some comic books thanks to Free Comic Book Day, such as SpongeBob SquarePants and Teen Titans, and your beloved Chirp subscription has now morphed into a Chickadee subscription, which you adore. Reading offers so many fun options!

Your math brain isn't too shabby either. Last week you asked me, "Is infinity an odd number or an even number?" I don't think anyone knows the answer to that one, but I think it's really neat that you ponder such things!

A few weeks ago you and I made cookies. This is not a rare occurrence at all: you and I have been baking since you were under two years old. But this time, you did everything yourself: from reading and following the recipe to seeking out and measuring the ingredients, all I did was supervise (well, and handle the oven part, because there are some things Mom is not ready to let you do). Baking, I believe, has helped you a great deal to understand math concepts like fractions and multiplying. Figuring out that 1/2 cup and 1/4 cup of flour equal the 3/4 cup that the recipe calls for, or that 3 rows of four cookies on a baking sheet makes 12 cookies, is a really lovely and delicious way to learn math. A few days ago, for Father's Day, we made an apple crisp for dessert, and you did at least as much work as I did for that recipe as well - including dicing the apples for the filling. Yes, Mom let you handle a knife in the kitchen (though it did make me nervous, you did a great job!).

In case you're wondering, this is a homemade JetPack made out of GoldiBlox supplies.
Real Life update: As of this writing, our house is officially sold and we are poised to move into a new (BRAND NEW IN FACT) house at the end of next month. This is super exciting for all of us, and you have been a champ so far in dealing with all the changes. When I look back on the first half of 2015, there hasn't been much going on that is not about this process: we did a lot of planning to figure out what we needed to do to our house in order to get it ready to sell; we did a bunch of work to make that happen, including uprooting every piece of furniture in our house so that we could replace every inch of flooring in our house; we sold outright or packed and stored about two-thirds of the contents of our house, including many things - playhouse, kiddie pool, sandbox, and more - that belonged to you; and then we actually put the place on the market and lived the chaos that is Constant Showings and Interruptions to Our Lives, all while working our butts off to keep our house and yard completely immaculate. I won't say that you were a glowing ray of sunshine through every difficult step of this process, or that you greeted every change with a smile and a song of joy, but honestly? You handled it all way better than we had a right to expect, and I feel so grateful for that. Does it help that you know damn well you are getting a trampoline AND a bunk bed once we move to the new house? Well, it sure doesn't hurt!

In addition to a new house, you'll be starting Grade Two in a new school, one that is a mere 850 meters away from our front door. I'm sure you'll be wanting to walk or bike to school in no time. I'm excited that our new neighbourhood is full of families (all of whose kids will be going to that same school), and figure that as The Kid With The Trampoline you will be able to make friends pretty quick. Your amazing support teacher Miss Kelly arranged for you and I to have a tour of the school together last week, where we also got to meet your new support teacher, who seems equally amazing. The school is lovely, and I think it will be a really good fit for you. So many exciting changes to look forward to!

Naturally, there are sad and scary parts about these changes too. You are sad about the friends you'll no longer see at your school, or at your after school club. I bought you a simple coil notebook and called it your "Keep in Touch" book, which you bring to school and after school club each day to collect friends' names and phone numbers. Just because you don't go to the same school doesn't mean you can't stay friends.

Here's an amazing thing. At seven years old, yes, you still wear a Pull-up to bed. We tried night-training you when we first toilet-trained you at 2.5 years old, but you are a ferociously deep sleeper, and the effort needed to get you out of bed to use the toilet when you were in a deep sleep was enormous, and enormously painful. You were SO miserable! So we soon gave that up, put you back in the Pull-ups, and .... then nearly five years passed. Most of the time, you wake up dry, but sometimes you don't. And although from time to time I would feel concerned or guilty about this, everything I read, or heard through discussion with other parents, indicated that night wetting was still totally normal until the age of eight. So I resigned myself to putting out that monthly cash for Pull-ups, and carried on.

Until one night, a couple of weeks ago, when you abruptly announced when getting ready for bed, "I'm seven. I'm a big girl. I don't need to wear Pull-ups anymore."

And off you went to bed with your underwear on.

And you woke up DRY.

I'd love to end the story with, "And you never wore Pull-ups again!" but that isn't the case. You went without for a couple of nights, then put them on again for a couple of nights, and now it seems that you'd like to just decide, night by night, whether you want one or not. I've even asked you how you decide, but you replied that you had no idea. I'm not honestly sure how to respond - it seems like if I praised you like crazy, it might make you feel ashamed or worried if you decided you wanted to wear a Pull-up for one night (or more), so I'm mostly keeping it low-key, while inside I'm exuberantly proud of you and very excited for the possible end of this era MAYBE coming into sight. Either way, it's pretty cool that you just made the decision by yourself: "I'm seven. I'm a big girl." You really are!

Other than selling/buying a house, this time of year is always full of lots of activities. There was your piano recital, where you played (and sang!) "Tchaikovsky's Waltz" and "Chim-Chim-Cheree". You had your gymnastics fun meet, where you did routines on the floor, vault, bar, and balance beam, and got a medal. We wrapped up the commercial you participated in at VIU to encourage participation in the Canada Learning Bond - holy crap, that one ended up cute!! And now, we've reached the last day of school, so we're kicking summer vacation off with a bang - a trip to the Lower Mainland to visit Playland and Science World this weekend. This is our only family vacation time this summer, so we're going to make it count - the rest of our (grownup) vacation time will be dealing with the move, while you're at summer daycamp having fun. This summer will also see your first time participating in Grandkids University at VIU!

Recently, I had to pick you up from school to take you to a doctor's appointment, and then take you back to school. As we left the doctor's office, I was in my typical hurry, wanting to get you back to school and then myself back to work. You, however, were starting to fray. I suddenly realized that in the hour you'd been away from school, you had missed your morning snacktime, and there was no way you were going to make it to lunchtime without an intervention. "Gwen!" I said animatedly. "Do you know what you get when you mix 'angry' and 'hungry'? You get HANGRY! And that's what you are right now!" You burst out laughing, which was my intent, and then I took you to Timmy's for a bagel to tide you over. You got to learn a new word AND a hangry crisis was derailed! Win-win!

Your delight with Perler beads continues! You designed this Nyan Cat yourself.
Last weekend, we at last went to see the new Pixar movie "Inside Out". I say 'at last' because even though we saw it on opening weekend, you have been obsessing about this movie for a few months now, ever since you saw the trailer. This marks the first time you have anticipated a movie's release, and counted down the days until you could see it. These months of obsession included requesting a book from the library about the movie, so you could read and learn all about it before we even saw it. You also talked about the movie often, quoted from the trailer, and pondered whether the characters would be at Disneyland next time you went there. I was looking forward to the movie as well, and couldn't help but think that this movie - which features the personification of a young girl's emotions Joy, Sadness, Fear, Anger, and Disgust - was awfully appealing to you, as a girl whose emotions are often powerful and out of your control.

The movie was, as expected, amazing. My prediction before the movie was that I would cry at least three times (animated movies are deadly!), but this prediction quickly became meaningless when in fact I spent a good two-thirds of the movie desperately choking back the sobs. My chest hurt for days afterwards. Even YOU cried at a very touching scene featuring the end of an imaginary friend. OUCH, Pixar! Anyway, I was very impressed with the portrayal of mental health/illness and the effects of depression on children. I'm excited that this movie could provide a great conversation starter for families to discuss these issues in an accessible way. But more importantly, you thought it was AWESOME.

Well, I guess that's it for this month, Gwen. As always, we love you a million, billion, kajillion and SEVEN, and are so excited to embark on the next month's worth of adventures with you.


Sunday, May 24, 2015

Dear Gwen: Month Eighty-Five

Dear Gwen,
Today, you are eighty-five months old. And this is the copping-outiest newsletter I have ever written, because we are in the midst of House-Selling/House-Hunting Madness, and it is nigh-on impossible for me to focus on anything other than that for more than fifteen seconds at a time. So, in hopes that pictures (and even videos!) are worth a thousand words, I present the following visuals.



Friday, April 24, 2015

Dear Gwen: Month Eighty-Four

Dear Gwen,

Today, you are seven years old. Where does the time go?

Life with you continues to be mostly fun, with a few frustrations. Recently, you learned the song “Little Rabbit Frou Frou” at school. You sang it for me that afternoon in the car, and took great pleasure in the punchline: “Hare today, goon tomorrow!” I sang a silly little ba-dum-da-dum melody to add a flourish to your performance, and with perfect timing and intonation came the rimshot “tsssshhhh” from the backseat. It was hilarious! I burst out laughing, which made you laugh, and then you wanted to do it all over again. You are so fun!

Another day, you were discussing ponies, unicorns, and pegasi with your dad. “According to my research,” you told him, “Pegasus can fly, but unicorns have to stay on the ground.” We are very proud of you for doing such diligent research, and citing it appropriately.

All kids have charming little mispronunciations that they slowly grow out of, to their parents’ chagrin. You, at seven, still have a few that I’m reluctant to correct you on. Breakfast is still “breffikt”, and roast beef – which one of the piggies has, while another goes to market – is “marf beef”. But we recently discovered a new one, much to our delight – the object a detective uses to search out clues, or a scientist uses to see things more closely, is called a “magna-find glass”. Now doesn’t that make perfect sense?

We’ve been very busy packing and painting and cleaning and organizing and putting a great many things from our house into our new storage locker. The first time you heard me talking about the storage locker, you were very curious and wanted to come with me to see what it was like, so I brought you along. You were excited and animated and enthusiastic about helping me, and when we got there you were quick to tell me that it was a little different from what you expected: you thought it would be like “the ones at the swimming pool”, silver with a yellow key. Our locker is not only a different colour, but, you know, substantially bigger. You remain fascinated by the locker and are always happy to help us with our trips there.

One day over breakfast, you raised your middle finger and asked me what it meant. Hmmm. Where did you see that gesture, I wonder? I told you that it meant a lot of rude, mean things, like “Go away” or “I hate you” or “You’re stupid”. Then we talked about how people would feel if they were shown that middle finger – for example, how would your teacher respond if you showed it to her? “But what if I didn’t know?” you asked. “But now you DO know,” I told you. So, you know, don’t do it!

We had a run of very frustrating and upsetting school days recently, after the Easter break. You returned to school on Tuesday, and mid-afternoon I got an email from your teacher letting me know that “Gwen had multiple moments of frustration throughout the day. I will outline two examples: I had to remind Gwen to use her words instead of grabbing things from people. [A classmate] wanted to put the pencil crayons/pencils away but Gwen didn’t like how she was doing it so she grabbed them from [her] hands and an argument blew up. The other example was during planners. I had to take down the planner message off the board because it was close to the bell time so Gwen threw her pencil and hid in a corner. I had to finish the message for her.  I reminded her to talk less and work more. I hope you will have the time today to remind Gwen of class expectations and also to use her words to explain herself. “ We chalked most of this behaviour up to “holiday hangover”, the return to school after four days off, but we did talk to you about using your words and keeping your hands to yourself.

Then on Wednesday, when you unpacked your backpack at home, you handed Dad and I some flowers you had picked for us. They were not wildflowers or weeds, but planted flowers. When I started to question where you had gotten them, you told us that it had been “Free Garden Day” at school that day. Further questioning revealed that “a kid in a bigger class” had told you about this supposed Free Garden Day, that it was for the whole school (but only a few kids had participated, and no teachers or adults), and that it was the first time ever for this event. Um. It was obvious to me that you had just stolen these flowers from someone’s garden, after being manipulated by another kid. We had a big talk about thinking carefully before doing things that other people tell you to do, asking questions like “Why isn’t the whole school here, if it’s for everybody?” or “Why aren’t there any teachers here?”

On Thursday, I got a text from your teacher that you had “flashed the class and said, ‘Look at my boobies!’” I was completely thrown. I KNOW that you know about privacy and private parts, and also, WE DON’T CALL THEM BOOBIES. I’ve never heard you use that word in your life! I immediately wondered if you had, again, been talked into this by another kid, especially in light of the unusual word usage. When we talked about it that night, this was confirmed: a boy in the class who according to you “hates girls” was hitting, scratching, kicking, and pestering you to lift your shirt. “Higher,” he’d say when you lifted it a bit, “higher,” again and again. So we talked again about not letting people talk you into things you know are wrong, and then we talked about how to protect yourself: get away physically, and use your words, in a LOUD voice. I told you that if you had yelled, “No, get away, stop touching me!”, then the teacher would have looked over to see why you were yelling, and seen the boy bothering you. Then he would have been in trouble instead of you! I emailed the teacher to fill her in, and hoped and prayed that Friday would pass without incident. Somehow, miraculously, it did.

“Mom, can we have a block party?” You asked one morning. I imagined the block parties I’ve heard about (but never attended), where a bunch of neighbours get together for a communal barbecue and social event. But my first instinct is always to ask you what you mean, because sometimes you have a totally different thing in mind, and that was the case here. It turned out you wanted to invite a whole bunch of friends over, and everyone would bring their blocks, and you would all work together to build the biggest tower ever. This sounds super fun, except I can’t figure out how to make sure that everyone gets their own blocks back at the end. Once we find a solution for that, I will totally throw you a block party!
We are, it seems, constantly in a hurry, rushing to school and work and activities and bed without a lot of time to relax and enjoy each other. You are often in your own little world throughout all this rushing, which leads to a lot of frustration on our part, but sometimes makes us laugh as well. Last week when Dad was trying to coax you out of the car so you could go to before-school club, while you just gazed blankly at the handle above the window, you told him in an awed voice, “Dad, I never noticed these handles are so vibrational!” No idea what you meant by that, because I’ve never noticed that either.

This being your birthday, there are grand plans afoot for the weekend. We had your annual birthday photo shoot at Bowen Park last weekend, and today I am picking you up after school and the two of us are going to get manicures together for the first time. You are always asking me to paint your nails, but since I’m no expert and certainly couldn’t do a good job on your tiny fingernails, I figured we should go and get pampered together. Pretty sure that is going to blow your mind, being treated like a big grown-up girl like that. Tomorrow, we are having your birthday party at Boston Pizza, where all the kids will get to wear chef hats and aprons and all the parents will squeal to themselves about how adorable that is, and then you kids will make your own pizzas from start to finish. The next day, your grandparents are taking us all out to lunch at Earl’s. So, it’s a busy weekend with lots of fun, to celebrate how wonderful you are and how much we all love you!

Love you a million, billion, kajillion, and SEVEN!


Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Dear Gwen: Month Eighty-Three

Dear Gwen,
Today you are eighty-three months old! HOLY COW YOU ARE ALMOST SEVEN, how did this happen?!

With our quest to sell our house in full swing, there have been some nostalgic moments recently as I start to come to terms with the fact that this house, the only home you've ever known, the house where you took your first steps, the house where you said your first words, the house where you've grown from a tiny collection of cells into an amazing, creative, funny, smart, and helpful little girl, will soon no longer be part of our lives. It's astonishing! One morning, as we lay snuggling in "the big bed" (every morning still starts with me waking up to an alarm, then waking you up and bringing you into our bed for a cuddle so we can all have a few minutes together before dragging ourselves into the day), I looked at your long-limbed girlbody lying next to me and thought - weren't you JUST a baby?! Didn't I JUST bring you home from the hospital a week or so ago?

This month you and I walked on the ferry to go visit our dear friends Sally, Dean, Rachel, and new baby sister Matilda for a day. It was a lovely visit. We hadn't seen Rachel for a long time, but the two of you got reacquainted quickly. I was very impressed with your patient behaviour that day. Rachel is just three years old, so she plays quite differently from you, and I could see that sometimes her behaviour was bugging you. But you took a deep breath and carried on, making a conscious choice to let it go instead of arguing about it. Good choice - arguing with a three-year-old is a dodgy prospect. I was proud of you, and told you so. Despite the age difference, you and Rachel had a fun day together, and I was so glad to meet Matilda and spend some time visiting with Sally.

The very next day, we had the challenging task of spending a whole entire Sunday out of our house, so that our new floors could be installed. We actually had a pretty fun day! We cruised around a few home improvement stores (which wasn't too exciting for you, except the part where you got to check out all the playhouses and sheds) and went to the library (which was considerably more fun) and wrapped up the day with a late afternoon movie, "Paddington". We all enjoyed the movie immensely. It was a very adventurous day!

Your piano lessons are going really well, and your teacher has commented that you are racing ahead of her lesson plan in some areas. I think this is because you are learning lots of scales and chord changes right now, and you have caught on to the patterns behind these and can learn them quite quickly. It's pretty neat to see your brain latching on to this stuff! You have started to learn some songs that you really like, such as "Bedtime Boogie Woogie". It's so fun to watch you enjoy what you are learning!

Your second term report card at school was terrific. Every item on your report card either stayed the same, or improved. One item - "maintains focus while working" - jumped up TWO grades! Your teacher noted, "Gwen continues to be an enthusiastic learner and is demonstrating some improvements to stay in self-control. She is able to maintain focus until a task is completed, not as interested in policing others, and is able to stop her activity when asked. She is beginning to add more details in her writing and including capitals and periods in her sentences." Way to go, Gwen!

Your social life at school is improving, too. With the excellent help of your school support worker, Miss Kelly, who runs a weekly Friendship Group that includes you and a few other girls from your class, your skills are blossoming and the difficult dynamics among this group are being closely monitored and supported. I must admit, with house hunting on the horizon I'm not entirely opposed to a new school for you - a fresh start away from a certain troublesome classmate might go a long way. On the other hand, the teachers and administrators at your current school are wonderful, helpful, proactive, and engaged, and I'd hate to lose that. Just one more thing to consider in our hunt.

Well, that's it for this month, Gwen. I am so proud of the amazing and creative little girl you have become, and am so blessed to be your mom. I love you a million billion kajillion and six!



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