Sunday, August 24, 2014

Dear Gwen: Month Seventy-Six



Dear Gwen,
Today you are seventy-six months old.



This stage is proving very difficult for you. Part of it may be the change of routine that happens in summer; part of it may be different sleeping and eating habits. But I think the largest part of it is that YOU ARE SIX and there are crazy hormonal things happening in your body and they make you MISERABLE. You have been throwing tantrums the likes of which I have not seen since you were three years old, and since you are now twice as big, twice as loud, and twice as strong, THESE TANTRUMS ARE AWFUL. Many times you have kicked or hit me – sometimes because you were just busy flailing and didn’t think about who might be near you, but other times quite deliberately because you wanted to hurt me. Your dad and I still love you madly, but you are sometimes not easy to like these days.


Here is an example of the rapid and violent mood swings you are subject to, these days. One day, I asked you to clear some of your art supplies off the kitchen table. You were happy to do this. I even volunteered to move the bead project that was under construction, as these are very difficult to move safely and I knew you would be upset if it tipped over. You asked, “Where did you put that bead project?” and I showed you. You then moved to place the big box of beads you were carrying on the shelf right next to your project. Unfortunately, I could see immediately that there wasn’t enough room on the shelf as it was too narrow for the box, and that if you were to let go it would fall, probably opening and/or breaking and spilling your carefully sorted beads all over the floor. I quickly said, “Wait, Gwen, that shelf isn’t big enough.” Before I could finish by suggesting that you use another shelf to store your beads, you flew into a rage. “You want me to put it on my desk! But there isn’t enough room on my desk! Look, my desk is a mess! There’s way too much stuff on it!” While saying this, you swept your arm across the desk and pushed art supplies, projects, and more onto the floor, then continued your tirade. I kept trying to interrupt you and show you the shelf I thought your beads could go on, but you wouldn’t hear a word of it. You stormed across the room and flung your whole body onto the couch (which is something you KNOW you’re not supposed to do, as it could break the couch) and continued raging. I walked towards you, still trying to get you to hear reason, and that’s when you struck out and kicked me, HARD, on the wrist. Immediately, I sent you to your room. My wrist was throbbing, and I was close to losing my temper. The entire incident had taken less than thirty seconds – that’s all the time it took for you to go from cheerful and compliant to raging and violent.



The tantrums have also happened at other places. When I was on vacation earlier this month, we went to a number of playdates together. Two of the playdates included enormous tantrums from you – fortunately, neither of these fits were of the hitting-other-people variety. Instead, you stormed off to be on your own while you sulked and sobbed about whatever particular injustice had set you off (in one instance, it was the fact that your friend was better than you at pumping his legs on the swings). While I applaud the fact that you removed yourself to go work through your emotions, I don’t like it when you walk out of my eyesight in a public place, nor do I appreciate your expressing your emotions by rolling around in the dirt of a playground. Again, this seems like behaviour more appropriate for a two-year-old.


But the more I talked to other parents, the more I discovered that this was pretty typical for your age. Apparently six is pretty nasty, across the board. Why no one told me this ahead of time, I don’t know, but now that I know this, it’s a little easier to accept, all the while hoping madly that the storms will pass soon. It really seems hormonal to me: you are acting for all the world like a fourteen-year-old with wicked PMS. Your dad has a theory that kids who are really difficult at this stage will be easy as teenagers. I guess we have seven more years before we find out if he’s right.


Enough of the negativity, though. This month has also been full of a lot of fun times. It started off with a trip to Powell River to visit Grannie and Grandpa, and for the first time ever, stay with them all by yourself for a couple of nights. You were nervous about this idea at first, and we spent many weeks talking about it and boosting your confidence so you would be ready. When the time came for Dad and I to say goodbye to you in PR, you were very happy and excited to spend time on your own with your grandparents. While in Powell River, you played mini-golf, went to the farmers’ market, rode on a small train, watched movies, and ate many ridiculously delicious treats. Grannie and Grandpa say you behaved perfectly (!!) and were an absolute delight to have around. You say you had a great time and will definitely go back next summer. I’m hoping that next time around we can leave you for four to five nights, which will end up being enough of a break for us to actually be worth all the back-and-forth travel, and maybe even save us some money on summer childcare.

video

When your grandparents brought you back to the Island, the four of us (poor Dad had to work) went to Chemainus to see the murals. We ended up doing a horse-drawn carriage ride, which wasn’t really part of the plan but turned out to be a terrific idea, as the tour guide gave us so much information about the murals that made them so much more enjoyable. It was a really interesting and educational tour – plus, you know, a HORSE! It was a lovely way to spend the day.

One fabulous Gwen moment I need to record happened while your grandparents were visiting after your time in Powell River. We were talking about birthdays, and since you have recently learned the actual month and day of your birthday (instead of just saying it is in the Spring), I was quizzing you about it. You correctly named the date as April 24th. “What year?” I asked. “Every year!” True enough!



The next couple of days, in addition to various playdates, also held a new experience for you: I’d signed you up for a “Body Smart” sexual health workshop for you to learn about your body and how to take care of it. The workshop was held outdoors at a park for one hour a day for two days. I was really impressed with the program leader, who did a great job of engaging the kids and keeping things at an appropriate level. You learned about the proper names for your body parts, which is not new for you, and about different kinds of touches (safe, unsafe, and secret), which was new for you. I think you enjoyed the class, especially the two songs we learned (My Body is My Body and I Love My Body).


You have often said that you wanted to have a beach party, and this month, we finally did it. We invited a bunch of friends to meet us at Long Lake for an afternoon of fun, food, sun, and swimming. It was a great time! We might have to make that an annual tradition.

And the final adventure of the summer was, of course, the Vancouver Island Exhibition. We had an absolutely great time at this event! We enjoyed midway rides, great entertainment, delicious (and very unhealthy) food, interesting exhibits, and all manner of fun. There is always so much to see and do at this fair. I think your favourite thing was the “Farmer for a Day” game in the Kid Zone, which you probably did about 12 times in the two days we attended the fair. For some reason, you are kind of obsessed about milking cows, and after milking the plastic cow for a while, you wanted to move on to the real thing. It turns out you can’t do that at the fair … in fact, the only cow-milking that goes on is done by machine, which did NOT impress you. But by sheer luck, we were in the right place at the right time to milk a goat, so at least you got to milk something!


What a full and fun month. I guess your dad and I just wish that all this fun and enjoyment would lead to better behaviour and appreciation, but that doesn’t seem to be the case at this point. We’ll keep trying. Next month will hopefully see the beginning of Grade One for you, and a whole new set of transitions and activities, with all the challenges that will bring. Even on the difficult days, we love you and are proud of you and will keep doing our best to teach you what you need to know.


Love,
Mama

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Dear Gwen: Month Seventy-Five

Dear Gwen,
Today you are seventy-five months old.


The age of six is pretty different. You have always been an independent child, but that is ramping up even more now. A couple of weeks ago, we went to one of our favourite summer events: a free outdoor movie, shown on a giant inflatable screen, at a local park. It just so happened that you ran into a familiar face – an older girl who goes to your school and had been at the same birthday party as you just a week earlier. You were fast friends and watched the whole movie together on her blanket (and sometimes cuddled up together in your new sleeping bag). This was a real switch as usually you spend the whole time sitting on my lap.


On the same evening, you and I were walking together through the park and you asked my permission to run ahead. I agreed that you could, then watched you run towards our destination. When you reached a park roadway, you stopped, looked both ways, and then crossed safely. I was SO impressed! We talk about road safety all the time, but there’s no better way to know that you’re actually taking it in, than watching you demonstrate it without any prompting. Way to go, six-year-old!

On Preston's Batman birthday card, you wrote:
"Have the Battiest birthday make sure the Joker doesn't get you birthday boy. Love, Gwen."
 On Canada Day, we all went out to the parade together, which was a lot of fun. It’s sure great to have Dad around this summer to join us in our family outings. This is the first summer since you were two years old that he’s been able to do that, and it’s pretty terrific.


You have started summer camp and are enjoying it a lot. You went to the same camp last year and had a great time, but I think this year you are even more excited about it. You even told me that you look forward to going every day! Despite your excitement, you are invariably shy and clingy at the morning drop-off, holding tight to my arm and very hesitant to join the other kids in their activities (even when they are doing stuff you LOVE, like Rainbow Loom). I saw the same pattern when you were going to preschool: when we arrived in the morning, the other kids would be involved in some kind of craft activity together, but you never wanted to join them right away, preferring to sit at your own table and do your own thing for a little while. Then, when you were ready, you would join the group. One of the leaders is absolutely great at helping you feel at ease during this time. He always has some task or another to do – bringing out more board games, setting up an activity, choosing which toys to use that day – and he always invites you to help, which you are happy to do. Dad pointed out that he was the same way as a kid: he was always more eager to spend time with adults than with other children.


Every day you come home from camp with great stories of what you have done that day. You always have so much fun, and no wonder: the camp schedule is jam-packed with enjoyable, and sometimes educational, activities. This week alone you’ve gone ice skating and bowling, had a science day and a summer sports games day, and enjoyed a pancake party! No wonder Dad wishes he could go to summer camp, too!


Another sign of your independence is the shrinking of the bedtime routine. As your interest in reading has grown, you have started to request that you be allowed to read for a while after I tuck you in and say goodnight (in addition to the story I read you beforehand). Because you are excited about getting to read, and because my tucking-in and prayer-saying and lullaby-singing is no longer the last thing you do before sleep, you are way less interested in drawing out that part of the routine. Many nights, all you want is a quick hug and kiss and then for me to get the hell out of there so you can do some reading. Sometimes this is a relief for me as I have lots to get done, but I’m also not going to let go of our nighttime snuggles without a fight! I can see the time coming – it’s distant, but it’s coming – when I will just have to say, “Time for bed, honey, goodnight,” and you trot off to take care of all your nighttime routines yourself with no assistance from me. So I better get those cuddles while I can.


Earlier this month you took swimming lessons. Sea Otter is the first parent-free level, and the one that most kids have to take multiple times before they pass – this was your second time at the class. Back in March, when summer registration began, I signed you up for the daily-lessons-for-two-weeks format, rather than the twice-a-week-for-six-weeks format, because I didn’t know what our vacation plans might be and didn’t want them to interfere with lessons. This turned out to be a BRILLIANT plan, and I would never go back to the other lesson format. The consistency of going swimming every single weekday worked so well for you. You enjoyed the sure knowledge that every day was a swimming day, and you were able to retain the learning so much better. To nobody’s surprise, you passed with flying colours and will be moving on to Salamander next time around. One thing I noticed with your lessons, though, is that you were consistently far more interested in swimming around and doing your thing than you were in listening to your teacher. Your swimming ability is incredible, but focusing and listening to safety rules is important too.


This month we discovered that you can quote entire chunks of dialogue from The Lego Movie. I have decided that I very much prefer watching your renditions than watching the actual movie. It is pretty hilarious!


One thing we have struggled with lately is that you are starting to get kind of spoiled, with all these great adventures going on. I’ve noticed this with you before, and I’m sure lots of people could point out that it’s a widespread phenomenon with “kids these days”: a real attitude of entitlement. Where it bugs me the most is when we go out and have a super fun, Gwen-centric day together and everyone’s having a great time and then suddenly you decide that you want ICE CREAM on top of everything and if you don’t get it, you are devastated and furious and inconsolable and hell-bent on destroying everyone’s good mood. Instead of being grateful for all the stuff that went RIGHT, you are enraged about the one or two things that didn’t go your way. In an effort to curb this habit, we are really encouraging you to be more grateful, both inwardly and outwardly: insisting that you say thank you at EVERY opportunity, and also reflecting before bed on at least five things you are grateful for that day. You often list things that are really thoughtful and lovely, such as “parents who love me,” so hopefully you will start to make gratitude a habit and lose the entitlement attitude.


Well, it’s been a great month as always, Gwen. We love you so much and are so proud of you. Till next time!

Love,
Mama

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Dear Gwen: Month Seventy-Four



Dear Gwen,
Yesterday you turned seventy-four months old.


I get the unique experience this month of having spent time away from you – a whole week! – right before your newsletter was due. This means that it was really obvious for me to see how much you are growing and learning – when I got back from my trip, I could see you had changed a lot while I was gone.

You can completely and totally read now. And you love to read! I’m encouraging you to read any time, any place, at any moment that you formerly would have requested to play on my iPhone or watch a show. I’m trying to have books available to you at all times – for example, I found a small backpack and filled it with some of your books, then put it in the backseat of the car. This has been a big hit, and you’ve already brought the backpack into the house and restocked it with new favourites after reading the original collection. I present reading as the permanent alternative to boredom, which it has always been for me, and you are definitely pretty happy about never being bored again, as you HATE being bored. So, reading is a huge part of your life now, and we are all thrilled about that.

Two months ago, you would read most sight words but get frustrated and quit when you ran across a word you didn’t already know. One month ago, when I asked you how your TA helped you read at school, you told me how she used her finger to cover up most of an unfamiliar word, revealing one letter at  a time as you sounded it out. Now, you will do this yourself with your own finger. You are a reader, and it’s true, Gwen – you never need to be bored again.

Before I left on my trip, the whole family got to go see Cirque du Soleil in Vancouver, performing the show “Totem”. It was absolutely amazing. I think this is my 7th Cirque show, and it is possibly my favourite. The trapeze act alone was just so charming and original. And, well, there was a Jaws reference, so I’m pretty much obligated to love the show. It was also a lot of fun to watch you reacting to your first Cirque experience. I think most of the time, you were too enthralled to even applaud! One of the acts you were really taken with was a clown who had tin pots of various sizes attached to his body, and played music by bouncing a ping-pong ball on the different pots. When you got home after the circus, you spread out all our pots and pans to experiment with the technique yourself.

This month has been marked by a charming obsession with “Philadelphia Chickens”, a book and CD set of “the imaginary musical revue” by Sandra Boynton. The songs are hilarious, and you know every lyric – which isn’t surprising, since for several weeks you insisted on listening to that CD every time we are in the car, and also while waiting to fall asleep at night. Now in the car we don’t listen to the CD – we don’t have to, because you can perform the whole CD yourself. It’s pretty terrific to hear you singing the various musical styles – show tunes, barbershop, jazz, blues, ballads – with all the enthusiasm and joy that you bring to everything you do. Your musicianship is improving greatly with all the practice!



Your piano lessons have wrapped up for the year, and I for one could not be happier about that. Towards the end of the year, classes were becoming quite a source of drama and conflict for us. I saw you constantly struggling with keeping your focus on what was in front of you rather than the highly distracting environment (five other kids and their parents) around you, and you often lost. When you made mistakes or got too flustered, you would refuse to play at all, and sometimes tears would ensue. It wasn’t exactly the positive experience I would have wanted you to have. That said, though, you never wanted to quit piano, and you had lots of triumphs in the program. This year you learned to play with both hands at the same time, to share the melody between hands, and to play “bridges” (fifths) with the left hand. You also learned the G scale and two A minor scales (harmonic and natural), so you’ve been introduced to a few sharps, and many new musical terms: octavia, loco, and DC al Fine, for example. You chose to play your own composition, “Droplets”, for your year-end recital. As always, you were composed and self-possessed on stage during your introduction and performance. We were so proud of you!

Your other extra-curricular activity, karate, does not end for the summer, but you did get to attend a cool semi-annual event where you got the opportunity to compete on teams and receive medals for your performance. I was really glad you got to participate in this: getting you to your 4:15pm class has been a real challenge for us now that both your parents are working (Dad has a summer job at the university), so you haven’t have the opportunity to grade in karate for quite a while now, and that has caused some frustration and disappointment for you. The summer class actually has a better schedule, so hopefully you can attend class more regularly and make up some ground over the next couple of months. 


Kindergarten has ended for the summer – rather abruptly, unfortunately, due to a teachers’ strike. Your dad and I support the teachers, and have tried to explain the strike to you in terms you can understand: that there are people who are bullying the teachers, and that the teachers won’t go back to work until the bullies stop. I’ve also talked about the teachers not being able to have the things the students need in order to learn. A couple of days ago, we got the chance to attend a rally and show our support for the teachers publically, which I was very excited about. We were part of a crowd of some 700 people marching through town with a police escort, proudly carrying our signs. Later in the walk, your usual “independent spirit” took over and you bolted away from me through the crowd. There was no way I could maneuver my way through the people in order to find you, nor could I make myself heard to you over the noise. Once or twice you surfaced, looked around and caught my eye, then raced away from me again. It was rotten, crappy behavior, and that kind of defiance is becoming more and more common from you, I’m sad to say. After a few minutes we found each other again, and all was well, but man was I mad. And you didn’t seem to understand why, or really care.

Anyway, as I was saying, kindergarten is all done for you now, though unfortunately you won’t have your final report card until the strike is resolved (which doesn’t seem to be on the horizon any time soon). I think it’s safe to say, though, that you’ll be going on to Grade One in the fall (or at whatever point the schools return to full-time operation). I don’t think they can fail a kid who can read!

So, next week it’s on to summer activities. You’ll be spending one day every week with Gramma, and the rest of the week with a summer daycamp through Parks and Rec. For the next two weeks, you’ll also be taking swimming lessons every day after camp. These activities should kick off your summer pretty well!



Well, I guess that’s it for this month, Gwen. As always, I love you as far as the moon, bigger than space, and a million, billion, kajillion and six.



Love,
Mama

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Dear Gwen: Month Seventy-Three

Dear Gwen,
Today you are seventy-three months old.  I still can’t believe you’re six! 


You are growing up and learning so many new things. Your reading skills continue to improve at a rapid rate, and you are also learning to tell time; you told me recently that you had the wrong kind of clock in your room (a digital clock) and that you didn’t know how to read it, so I added an analog clock to your wall as well. So far, you know what the minute and hour hands do, and can identify “o’clock” and “thirty”. Pretty cool!

 You have been telling us lots of stories about your kindergarten experiences lately, including the big spring event which was the addition of an incubator and several chicken, duck and goose eggs to your classroom. You were pretty excited when the eggs started to hatch – and a couple of days ago, you even got to hold a chick! Kindergarten sure is neat.

On the other hand, some sad things have happened at kindergarten too. The day before your birthday, we discovered that you had taken a toy from your classroom and put it in your backpack. After questioning, two different stories emerged: one, that you had been playing with the toys and with your purse, which you had taken for show and tell that day, and forgot the toys were in your purse when you put it in your backpack; the other, that you had thought the toys would be fun to play with at home, so you consciously chose to take them from your classroom. Whatever the truth might be, we needed to make it very clear to you that stealing was a BIG no-no in our family, and we came down on you hard. I couldn’t believe that after having our car broken into, and then our house broken into, and how awful it was to have so much stolen from us, you would steal from someone else. We decided to have you write a letter of apology to your teacher and, of course, return the toys to your class. Hopefully you have learned your lesson!

And more recently, just a week ago, you came home from school in a shirt that was different from the one you’d worn to school. I’d sent you in a really lovely sleeveless plaid button-down shirt in bright spring colours – no doubt a birthday gift from your grandparents. So why were you wearing a cast-off t-shirt from the lost and found when you got home? Because at recess you’d gotten really hot and taken off your shirt, and your teacher decided something without buttons might be less tempting and more likely to stay on your back. This incident did cause me to reflect on how casual we are about nudity at home – and have a talk with you about the fact that it’s not okay to do that outside our house. But mostly it made me laugh!

For the most part, you are not too fussy about your clothes. I generally pick out your outfits for you, but this is not because I don’t trust your taste – it’s because you are vehemently NOT a morning person, and if I require you to make decisions about your clothes on top of everything else you need to get done in the mornings, it would probably break you. (Or at the very least, make us all late for work and school.) So, I choose your clothes, and most days I physically help you get dressed, just so that process doesn’t take forty-five minutes. There is one clothing decision that you end up making for yourself in the mornings, and it is pretty much guaranteed to be the most nightmarish part of our day: the choosing of the shoes. 

If there is a way to choose inappropriate footwear, you will do it. If it’s sunny, you want rainboots. If it’s cold out, you want dress shoes. And lately, all you want, every day, no matter what the weather or the activity you are heading to, you want to wear these ridiculous gel sandals that really, are wrong for everything. And every single day when you choose the most awful, inappropriate shoes possible, and we try to redirect your decision, you argue and fight and whine and throw a fit and burst into tears and insist that we never let you do anything you want to do. It doesn’t matter how calmly we explain to you that your feet will be way too hot in rainboots; that your dress shoes will get ruined on the playground; or that your stupid awful pointless gel sandals will be filled with sand the moment you step outside; you are outraged that we are curbing your freedom in this way. OUTRAGED!

(We may have hidden those shoes while you were at school one day. I just don’t like having that much drama so early in the morning. EVERY morning.)

You had a start of your fifteen minutes of fame this month, with your photograph appearing in the local paper. You and your dad went to the RCMP detachment open house a few weeks ago: you had a tour of the police station, got fingerprinted by the forensics team, tried on a riot officer’s helmet, watched dad try to walk the straight line with drunk goggles on, sat in a police cruiser, and even held a SWAT officer’s gun. It was your turn on the police motorbike that got the photographer’s attention, though! The event got rave reviews from both you and Dad.

Later that same day, I took you to another event: a Rainbow Loom meet-up at the local Michael’s store. You’ve become enthralled with the Rainbow Loom, like most kids between 5 and 12 these days, and you’ve been wanting to go to a meet-up for a while. I wasn’t sure how it was going to work: the meet-up was for two hours, but surely you couldn’t sit with a group of unknown kids and play with rubber bands for that length of time, could you? Well, as it turns out … other than a brief snack break, yes you could, you can, and you did. You sure love your Rainbow Loom!

Speaking of your boundless creativity, the other crafty gift you got for your birthday was a pottery wheel. Your first impulse was to make a small bowl for your beloved kindergarten teacher, which you gave to her after bringing it for Show and Tell. I think she was touched by this: she sent home a thank you card calling you a very thoughtful girl, and a true artist.  


That's it for this month, my girl. I'm looking forward to a summer of adventure with you!

Love,
Mama

 


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