Sunday, June 26, 2016

Dear Gwen: Month Ninety-Eight

Dear Gwen,
Today you are ninety-eight months old.

This is a really fun time of year. The level of activity ramps up, with lots of year-end performances/events/recitals/outings/etc., but at the same time the extra-curricular stuff is winding down and dropping off our calendars, one by one. It’s a great feeling. As I write this, both your gymnastics and piano lessons are done for the summer, and you have only a few days left of school and of after-school fun with your babysitter.

I made some lovely thank you cards for your teachers this year, and when it was time to fill them in you decided that “every good card needs a poem on the inside”, so we quickly made one up. I wrote it out on a scrap piece of paper, along with the teachers’ names, and left you to copy the text and fill in all five cards. To my surprise and pleasure, you actually did this, and did an awesome job too! Here’s a photo of one of them.

Your year-end events for piano and gymnastics both went well. At your piano recital, you very proudly played the Star Wars theme. At the gymnastics fun meet, you struggled a bit: you forgot your floor routine partway through, but you followed the old stage advice “the show must go on” and just made up some moves until the routine was finished. I thought this was a good idea! You were disappointed with yourself, though, and a little frustrated. The meet also gave Dad and me an opportunity to observe you in an environment of other kids – not always a pleasant experience. The coaches had asked everyone to show up 15 minutes early, which we did. All athletes (that’s you) were asked to sit in lines on the gym floor mats while we waited for the meet to begin. This did not work too well for you, and Dad and I had a perfect view of the 20+ kids who were sitting (mostly) calmly and still, and you bouncing around from one place to another: greeting a coach with a hug, chatting with another gymnast, playing with the gym props, lying on your stomach and kicking your legs, and so on, and so on, and so on … It’s not always fun to be reminded of the differences between you and other kids. We really enjoyed watching your routines during the meet itself – floor, bars, beam, and vault – but the most awful and painfully embarrassing moment came at the very end of the meet. The head coach was announcing each athlete’s name so they would come to the large podium, receive a medal, and then pose for a photograph before receiving a certificate and returning to the floor. The coach was doing an especially good job of picking out each athlete’s parents in the audience, directing the kids to pose and smile on the podium long enough for them to get a good photo. Finally, it was your turn, and I had the camera ready. You got up on the podium, then instead of accepting your medal, turned to pick a fight with the coach about the pronunciation of your last name. The pattern of the awards routine was disrupted; there was no lengthy pose for you to get your photo taken. I was so frustrated, disappointed, and yes, embarrassed. Making the whole situation worse? THE HEAD COACH HADN’T EVEN ANNOUNCED YOUR LAST NAME WHEN SHE CALLED YOU. She didn’t announce anyone’s last name – it was a small enough group that she didn’t need to. But you needed to pick a fight about it anyway, because last year when she called you, she’d said your name wrong. And if it happens one way one time, it better happen that way every time, or YOU WILL PICK AT IT.

We went to another year-end event, the Family Barbecue hosted by the Nanaimo Theatre Group. I am actually part of the committee that runs social events like this, and I was one of the main organizers of the barbecue, so … yeah, we kinda had to be there – despite the rain. The barbecue turned out pretty well, actually – we had about thirty people in attendance, including a good group of kids, and you had a lot of fun playing with Graham and Genevieve.

We went to a check-in visit with your counsellor earlier this week. She has a large and wonderfully well-trained dog, Jake, who is often part of your sessions together, and this visit was no exception. At the end of your time together, you got to feed Jake a banana while we watched. You broke the banana into chunks and made Jake do different things in order to get each one. I was very impressed with the way you used your voice and actions to control Jake, a large and strong dog. Your usual fidgety, distracted nature was not in evidence, and you needed no assistance from the adults around you to make Jake follow your commands. It was really impressive to see, and it made me look forward to the time when we get our own dog.


Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Dear Gwen: Month Ninety-Seven

Dear Gwen,
Today you are ninety-seven months old.

What the junk!?
As usual, it’s been a full and busy month. A few weeks ago, you participated in your first cosplay contest, dressing up as Rey from Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Your dad worked incredibly hard on your costume, though sad to say you were less grateful than you should have been for his efforts. Nevertheless, you were patient and devoted enough to do a LOT of waiting around on the day of the contest, and the efforts paid off as you took second place in your age category. Impressive … most impressive! 


The Star Wars obsession continues with your piano practice. In late April, you taught yourself how to play the first part of the Star Wars main theme, and your piano teacher supported you by writing out the music for the next section (in the same key you’d already chosen) and encouraging you to play the piece in your upcoming recital. At any time of day, we just might hear the Star Wars theme grandly echoing through our house as you practice and prepare.
A little bit late this year, but we did get our usual annual family photo shoot done, this time at the decorative gardens of VIU. I love the bright colours of the photos, and I am awed again by how grown-up you’re getting. This was especially obvious when I took last year’s photos out of the frames and put them in our photo album next to your six-year-old pictures … what an enormous change in the past two years!
Late April saw us attending your school in the evening for the Spring Concert. We were looking forward to your performance, of course, but didn’t have high hopes for an evening of stellar entertainment. Boy, were we wrong! Your amazing music teacher, Mr. Derksen – the same man who played “Space Oddity” for your class on the day of David Bowie’s death – had arranged a full program of classic rock songs, all with LIVE ACCOMPANIMENT. Not only that, but these songs were not presented in the usual “group of kids stand in three rows and sing” format – no, these songs were PERFORMED. From the young man who played an enthusiastic air guitar to “Johnny B. Goode” to the class, who performed highly amusing and entertaining interpretive actions to the Beatles’ “Help”, every group’s song featured fun and enjoyable performances. I can’t miss writing about the class who performed “Space Oddity” itself, with a cardboard rocket ship that “blasted off” thanks to a pulley system, while several students cavorted around with bright yellow stars. Your class performed “Three Little Birds”, a reggae song – and I put aside my hatred of reggae for one night to enjoy and applaud you all. Mr. Derksen had noticed your efforts in learning and performing the actions, and put you on Stage Left at the edge of the class to encourage everyone else to follow along. You also started doing an echo, of your own volition, which Mr. D. liked and told you to keep up. On the night of the concert, another girl started echoing along with you, which did NOT amuse you!

I happened to mention at the dinner table one night that I had bought tickets to attend “Musical of Musicals: The Musical” in Ladysmith with a friend the following week. Thoughtfully, you told me, “That sounds like a really good title. And I like musicals. Can I come?” Well, who could say no to that? After double-checking with some of the cast and crew members that I knew that the content was suitable (ish) for kids, I bought another ticket, and off we went for a night of musical fun. The musical (of musicals, the musical) is a pretty funny show. Presented in five scenes, each scene is written as a parody of (and homage to) a different composer or team: Rodgers and Hammerstein, Andrew Lloyd Webber, Stephen Sondheim, Jerry Herman, and Kander and Ebb. The show is packed with in-jokes and references to the shows written by these composers, so a knowledge of these musicals definitely adds to the fun – and I’m happy to say that you were familiar enough with various musicals to be able to catch a lot of the jokes. You had brought along a notebook to write down questions in case you were confused, but I don’t think you wrote down any questions – just “Corn – silly guy!” about the opening scene (an accurate observation) and then settled in to enjoy the show. The final scene, set in a “Cabaret” in “Chicago” featured the usual scantily-clad girls, one of whom is advised to sell her body in order to pay the rent – which led to a conversation a few days later when you asked me, “How can someone sell their body? That’s just made up, right Mom?” After the show was over, some of the cast and crew (friends of mine) came over to say hello, and Nikita, the stage manager, gave you a tour of the booth and the backstage. You soon came onto the stage proper, happily cavorting around and leading my theatre friends to comment (as if I didn’t already know) that I had very effectively passed on the gene for performance to you.
Speaking of which – I’m in the process of signing you up for your first ever musical theatre class with Headliners Studio! Hopefully, instead of gymnastics, this fall you will be going to rehearsals every week, learning and practicing and then, before Christmas, performing a full-length musical with your troupe at a local theatre. After sending in your registration form, you were full of questions. “Which part will I get to play? Will there be two acts? Will I be in both acts? What if I just have to do props, like Mom, and not get to talk and sing?” Of course, most of these questions can’t be answered until your director makes these decisions, but you did ask one question I absolutely knew the answer to: “Mom, will you come and see the play?” “OF COURSE I WILL! I will be right there in the front row, cheering and hooting.” To which you primly said, “Mom, that’s not being a good audience. There’s no cheering at a play.” We agreed that it was okay for me to cheer at intermission and at the end of the play. Whew.
You told me a charming story on the weekend about an experience you had at school last week. A substitute teacher was filling in, and didn’t know everyone’s names quite yet, so somehow made the error of putting you on the boys’ team when she divided people up for a game. You were thrilled, and proved to be the secret weapon, as the game involved each team making up trivia questions for the other. The girls’ team would ask things like, “What colour are Princess Elsa’s eyes?” and who on the boys’ team would know the answer? Well, you, of course. Then you would help the boys’ team come up with questions like, “Who is C-3PO’s friend?” to which no-one on the girls’ team had any response. “I liked being on the boys’ team, Mom, because I’m kind of a boyish girl.” “Well, maybe you’re just a kid who knows that you can like all kinds of different things, instead of a kid who thinks that some things are for boys and some things are for girls.” “Hmm. Yeah. That’s what I am.”
You’ve been invited to a friend’s birthday party next weekend, and for once in our lives we actually had time for you to sit down and make a card for her. You’d think with all the craft supplies I have on hand, this would happen more often, but somehow we are always too rushed. Anyway, the card you made was quite amazing. You put a LOT of work into it – I think it must have been about a half an hour, all told. I have to admit, too, that I really enjoyed helping you out with a technique or two to bring your idea to life. Your new and improved attention span is REALLY cool! Later that same night, I had a group of women over for a cardmaking class, and I showed them all your card – they all agreed that it was a wonderful card. When I reported this to you the next day, you humbly offered to teach them all how to make it. What a generous soul you have!
You were marvellously generous with me this month for Mother's Day, too. This is the first year that you spent your own money on a gift for me, but more than that - you figured out what you wanted to get, made sure you had enough money, and asked me to take you to the store to get it on a day we were already heading out together. In short, YOU HAD A PLAN and an appropriate way to enact the plan. I was blown away by your forethought! After your piano lesson, we went to the grocery store, where you first told me I had to wait in the car, but after considering the busy parking lot, decided it would be okay if we walked in together and then I waited for you at the front of the store. You chose the gift, brought it to the checkout, paid for it, and then walked back to me, gallantly trying to hide it behind your back. When we arrived home, you decided four days was too long to wait to give it to me, and presented me with my early Mother's Day gift - beautiful tulips and a handmade card reading, "My BFF for meny happy yers! Happy Mothrs Day!" It was the sweetest gift ever!

Well, I think that’s all the news for this month, Gwen. As always, I love you a million, billion, kajillion and EIGHT.

Your BFF,

Monday, May 9, 2016

Family Chore Time

As crazy as it sounds, we have been in our "new" house the better part of a year now (nearly 10 months). When we bought this place, I swore - a la Scarlett O'Hara - that we were going to TIDY and CLEAN and DUST and not let the place fall down around our ears. After all, the reason [I was constantly told] that our old place was a mess was because it was too small - our new house is 1.5 times bigger, so this shouldn't be a problem, right? And furthermore, it is BRAND SPANKING NEW. If you can't keep a brand new house from looking like crap, you have a serious problem.

(I also swore never to garden again. This has not been a hard promise to keep.)

Anyway, as we are now feeling quite settled and normal and content, the time had come to institute a family chore plan. This coincided nicely with Chris and Gwen's shared desire for a pet, which was starting to recur more often in conversations in the past few months. Please recall that the MINUTE I told Gwen we had officially bought a new house, she replied, "So now we can get a dog, right?" I am not at all against the idea of getting a dog, but I do find myself as the voice of reason when I point out the things that need to happen before we are ready to adopt a pet, and one of those things was Getting The Chores Sorted Out. We are pretty good at sorting out the day-to-day stuff like laundry, dishwasher loading/emptying, etcetera - though I will admit that from time to time the kitchen looks less like a small happy family of three just had breakfast and more like forty-five people just used it for a three-day drug-fueled food-binge - but the more infrequent tasks like vacuuming, dusting, cleaning bathrooms, changing bedsheets, and so on were either only being done by me, or only being done after significant nagging by me, and neither of these were happening often enough. So I laid down the law: There will be no dog joining our family until we are all, as a family, proven effective at doing chores.

Thus was Family Chore Time established. On Saturday mornings, after a lazy morning in bed snuggling and reading and lounging around, we all follow our individual chore lists and get the house clean. Gwen's list includes cleaning her room, helping me dust, and tidying up any of her personal items in the common spaces of living room/kitchen. She also has to clear off her bathroom counters so I can wipe them down. These are pretty easy jobs, and in fact the big one - Clean Your Room - comes with an itemized list to make this overwhelming job more manageable:
- Pick up all your books and put them on your bookshelf.
- Pick up all the clothes on the floor and put them in the dirty laundry hamper.
- Pick up all the art supplies and put them away in your art drawers. 
- (and so on)

This may seem micro-managey - and it IS - but for Gwen, "clean your room" is vague and discouraging and seems like it will take FOREVER. Looking at one item on the list, completing that item, and then going on to the next, has at least a chance of success.

Of course, in the real world, this process looks more like this:
Me: Time to clean your room! Here's your room cleaning list!
Gwen: grumble grumble grumble okay.
Me: (Goes to do my own toilet-scrubbing chores for twenty minutes, then returns to check on Gwen)
Me: How's it going:
(Repeat for four hours)

So, yeah, we're not exactly in the "Ready for Dog" territory yet. I was hopeful, when we started this a month ago, that Gwen would eventually realize keeping her room clean through the week = less time spent cleaning it on a sunny Saturday morning when she could be doing ANYTHING ELSE MORE FUN, but that hasn't sunk in yet. We'll keep at it. In the meantime, though, I really like the fact that the house is cleaner, and that I am not doing 100% of the cleaning/nagging myself.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

May the Fourth be with you

Happy Star Wars Day! Gwen taught herself to play this on the piano. We are a proud, nerdy family.


Sunday, April 24, 2016

Dear Gwen: Month Ninety-Six

Dear Gwen,

Today you are ninety-six months old.

Also known as “eight years old”.

The last month, as always, has been full of adventures. It started off with our trip to Powell River, where you’d been staying with Grannie and Grandpa and your cousins for the past several nights over Spring Break. We were SO proud of you for being apart from us for so many nights without any homesickness! It seems that our strategies of not talking to you on phone or Skype, and having Grannie and Grandpa make no mention of our existence at all, really worked out. Of course, WE missed YOU like crazy because it was so weird to go so long without talking to you!

You had a wonderful time in Powell River and we were so grateful that you were able to have so much time with Grannie and Grandpa. They enjoyed their time with you too, though I’m sure they were also grateful when their houseful of grandkids went home and it was suddenly quiet and peaceful! Your Auntie Sara and Uncle Dave arrived shortly after we did, so the whole family was there to celebrate Easter together. Our first afternoon there, we went for a nature walk in the woods, which was really fun. Of course, “really fun” means something different for adults and children. While adults enjoy walking the trail, admiring the views, and enjoying conversation, kids view the trail as more of a guideline, and would rather race up and down tree trunks, climb on stumps, balance on cliff-edges, and basically find infinite new ways to terrify their parents and grandparents. Whee!

The next day, we had vague plans to take all you kids to the swimming pool, but the universe had other plans – creepy-crawly little vermin plans, to be specific. We discovered that you and at least one of your cousins had head lice. UGH! All our plans for the day were scrapped as we shifted into detect-and-destroy mode. You three kids were lined up in the living room, watching a movie while the adults painstakingly combed through your hair to find every last bug and nit. I gathered up every piece of laundry and linen I could find in the house and hightailed it to the laundromat, hoping to get it all washed faster than I could by doing twenty loads in Grannie’s teensy washer. (It still took a long time, and a LOT of quarters!) Grannie was especially annoyed, as she’d managed to get through the entire parenting process without her daughters ever having lice – and now, her grandkids had brought the plague to her. It wasn’t exactly what anyone had planned for our Easter weekend together, but we all did what we had to do to deal with the situation. The hardest part of this for you, in addition to all that sitting still, was sleeping without your beloved stuffed Sheep that night – Sheep had to spend the night in the freezer to make sure she was louse-free. Had we been at home, we could just pick out another stuffy for you, but Sheep was the only one (the chosen one!) that you’d brought on your trip, and now you had to sleep without her. It was not an easy sleep for you – and I would know, as I shared the bed! (Not a restful sleep for me either!)

On Sunday morning, you kids woke up to discover that the Easter Bunny had visited! Instead of just leaving piles of chocolate on every available surface, as he did last year, this year that crafty bunny made a treasure hunt for the three of you to follow. Even cooler, the clues were all things specific to each of you: one of them about your piano lessons, one of them about Scott’s passion for all things Harry Potter, one of them about Andrew’s woodworking, etc. What an awesome guy that Easter Bunny is! Auntie Sara had been reminiscing the day before about when we were kids, and how I used to make treasure hunts for her, and how they were the most fun thing ever. I have fond memories of that, too. Pretty neat that the Easter Bunny came through this year and created a treasure hunt just for you! It was sure fun for Auntie Sara and I to watch you kids follow the clues together!

That afternoon, after saying goodbye to your grandparents, cousins, and aunt and uncle, you were not in such a happy mood. I can understand that – goodbyes are hard, and going back to reality after such a super fun vacation is an extra challenge. On top of that, you were overtired, oversugared, and just plain wound up. I kept trying to reassure you about how nice it would be to sleep in your very own bed that night, AND you would have your beloved Sheep to snuggle with. As we began our packing, though, we made a sad discovery – Auntie Sara, meaning to grab Scott’s stuffed bear, had accidentally taken Sheep instead! Sheep was well on her way to the Sunshine Coast by the time we discovered this, and there was nothing to be done. You were DEVASTATED. “You PROMISED I could sleep with Sheep tonight!” you wailed at me. “You broke your promise! You’re a bad mom and I can’t believe your promises!” I was so sad for you, and there was nothing I could do to resolve it.

Things got worse after we landed in Comox. We have made it our tradition to stop at the McDonald’s in Courtenay, which has an enormous playplace, for dinner and some run-around time before the drive down to Nanaimo. So imagine our dismay when we pulled up to the restaurant and found it was closed for renovations! The management must have decided that Easter Sunday was a good time to close, as everyone would be having their family dinners and no one needed a Big Mac. You lost your mind all over again – Mom and Dad had broken ANOTHER promise!! You were inconsolable. What a frustrating day. All I could promise now was that tomorrow (after a good night’s sleep) would be better! We finally got home, got you into bed, and breathed a sigh of relief that this day was over.

The following week had some exciting things to look forward to: first, you got the cool new haircut you’d been looking forward to for weeks. You’d first spotted this style on your LumberJanes book series, and decided you’d like to try it for yourself. It took me a while to get used to the idea. I took you to Serenity Hair Salon, and after a brief consultation, you were ready! The stylist wrapped the hair she was about to cut in two long ponytails, so your hair could be donated to make wigs. Snip, snip, snip – then buzz, buzz, buzz, and the hair was gone! You are enthralled with this new style, and I agree it looks terrific.

The next exciting thing is that our new after-school caregiver started working with us! You now get to walk home every day after school and spend two hours with this fun and energetic teenager. You are really enjoying your time with her, and I am so happy that you’re happy. (I’m also damn near ecstatic that she empties the dishwasher before I get home!) The fact that you are already settled, calm, and fully transitioned into “home/family” activities before Dad and I get home really sets us all up for a good evening together. On days that you have piano lessons or gymnastics, you are already dressed, snacked, and ready to go when we get home. How awesome is that!?

Dad has set up your trampoline, and you have been out on it pretty much every day. I also encourage you to get out on your bike whenever possible. We’re starting to see more sunny and warm weather, which is wonderful – summer is coming! We didn’t have much of a chance to enjoy our new home and explore the neighbourhood last summer, as we moved at the end of July and spent all of August unpacking, so it feels like we get to experience our home anew in the Spring and Summer seasons. 

This past weekend, naturally, has been full of birthday shenanigans. On Friday night, we had your Gramma and Grandpa over for dinner – you chose turkey tacos for your birthday meal – and enjoyed a fun visit with them. Then last night, three of your friends came for the long-awaited sleepover party. You kids ate pizza, decorated sleep masks with glitter glue, watched (part of) a movie, played video games, jumped on the trampoline, and made ice cream sundaes for dessert. And finally, at 11:30 … about two hours after you’d all gone to bed, and about three seconds after I told you all to shut up and go to sleep … you were all happily snoring. It seems the party got a rave review from the kids, though I don’t think your dad and I will be in any hurry to repeat the experience – we are all pretty tired today!

Gwen, you are a terrific kid and we’re so glad we get to be your parents. Happy Birthday, my girl.




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