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.


Saturday, October 24, 2015

Dear Gwen: Month Ninety

Dear Gwen,

Today, you are ninety months old. Also known as SEVEN AND A HALF.

You are craving more independence and autonomy lately, and for the most part I am happy to support that. For example, you walked home from school one day a few weeks ago (when I had the day off work and was able to greet you at home). The route between school and home doesn’t involve crossing any streets, so I’m open to finding ways for this to happen more often. Unfortunately, you don’t seem to understand that there is a link between showing us how responsible you are (by listening to our instructions and following them without drama) and being given more independence. 

 Another example of your new interest in independence is your willingness to play (and read … more on that in a minute) independently. I say independently instead of alone because, for the most part, you still want to be physically near us – but your need for us to be directly interacting with you or participating in the same activities is lessening. For example, a few days ago I had work to do in my craft room, and you wanted to play with your Lego. We decided that you would bring your Lego bin to the craft room, and we could work together on our separate projects. It was enjoyable for both of us. You do play on your own in your room sometimes, but for the most part you still enjoy being near at least one of us.

The reading, of course, is constant. Upstairs, downstairs, even in the bathroom …. The books are omnipresent, and who could complain about that? (Well, your teachers do from time to time, when you’re too engrossed in a book to notice that your attention is needed on the day’s lesson…) Your fascination with chapter books is growing, and I’m grateful that so many publishers and authors obviously understand that kids at your stage of literacy really want to grip on tightly to the familiar stories, characters, and structure that book series – as opposed to standalone books – offer. Your current favourites are Geronimo Stilton, Thea Stilton, Judy Moody, and the Jewel Fairies. You are still interested in story books too, and it’s anybody’s guess which variety of book you will bring home from the school library (where you are allowed to borrow TWO books at a time!). A challenge for Dad and I is to try and remember, at the end of the week, everything you’ve been reading, so we can write it on your “Home Reading Book” and return it to your teacher. Pretty sure this particular tool of encouragement isn’t needed, but we carry on with it anyway.

One of the things that constantly puzzles me about you is your inability or unwillingness to accept repetitive patterns. For example, you hate (HAAAAAAATE) getting up in the morning. So every morning, you whine and argue and fuss and generally ensure that everyone around you is just as miserable as you are. Let’s be clear, no one in our house likes mornings – but your dad and I have managed, in our decades on earth, that whining and arguing and fussing and making other people miserable DOES NOT CHANGE the need for us to get up in the morning. So we just don’t do it – it’s not worth the energy. You, on the other hand, awake every morning with the renewed hope that THIS TIME, whining and arguing and fussing and making us miserable will SOMEHOW ALTER YOUR FATE. The fact that in your over 2700 days on this planet, your whining and arguing and fussing has NEVER ONCE resulted in us thoughtfully tilting our heads, furrowing our brows, and saying, “You know what? You’re right. Mornings ARE awful. Let’s all go back to bed, and forget this ever happened,” doesn’t seem to alter your outlook in the slightest. The message never seems to sink in that mornings – as with so many other parts of life – are just something to be endured, preferably with as little drama as possible, so we can get on to the more enjoyable aspects of existence. This is also the case for pretty much anything you dislike doing, for example playing your piano scales; eating a less-than-favourite food; putting away your backpack at the end of your school day; or tidying your room. With the level of angst and drama inspired by these normal, consistent, regularly occurring tasks, I can’t imagine how parents manage to get their kids to take on chores that are actually valuable to the family at large, such as setting or clearing the table, feeding a family pet, or taking the recycling out. 

We continue to experiment with ways to motivate and reward you. ADHD resources tell us that any given reward system will lose its novelty and thus its effectiveness in a short time frame, and this does seem to be true for you. So, we are far from consistent with our systems. The one we are using right now is a very short-term, specific-reward-based star chart. You and I spent an afternoon in my craft room making gorgeous gold sparkly stars out of genuine, high-end glitter paper – just six stars in total, which you designed and created all by yourself while I created the simple six-square grid on a black background (black is still your favourite colour, and makes a great background for sparkly stars). You are rewarded one of these stars every time we see you handle a frustrating situation in a way that DOESN’T involve losing your temper. When the chart is full, we will go see Hotel Transylvania 2 in the movie theatre. You’re halfway there already, and – dare I say it? – the past weeks have seen a real downturn in your awful outbursts. Where you were once blowing up every day (sometimes even multiple times a day), you are probably only having one a week now. Of course, now that I’ve written that, you’ll probably have three on the way home from school today.

Another thing that is so great I almost don’t want to talk about it … you have stopped wearing Pull-ups to bed. Yes, you wore Pull-ups to sleep well past your seventh birthday, and while they were usually dry in the morning, from time to time they were wet, so we just carried on and waited for you to tell us when you were done with them. And you did, some months ago – just before we moved to our new house, I believe. “Pull-ups are for little kids, and I am not a little kid,” you told me, and climbed into bed with underwear on instead. I told you I was proud of you, and chose not to make a bigger deal out of it than that, which was a good thing, because a few days later you decided you wanted to wear one again. It went on like that for about a month – some nights you’d wear one, some nights you wouldn’t, and there didn’t seem to be any rhyme or reason to it. Then one day as we were all driving to the grocery store, your dad asked me to add Pull-ups to the shopping list. “Hey Gwen,” I said, “We’re all out of Pull-ups. Do you think we need to buy more?” “Nope!” you told me, and that was the end of that. No more Pull-ups at our house! Way to go, Gwen!

 (I have mixed feelings about the fact that I’m pretty sure your interest in giving them up was prompted by your playmates visiting, seeing the package, and asking you about it. On the one hand, hey, kids, shut up, you’re not perfect either. On the other hand, yay, kids, you made my kid stop using a Pull-up and now I don’t have to buy them anymore.)

You’ve been in Grade Two at your new school for about six weeks now – halfway through the first term – and you are starting to settle in a little more. You have one VERY close friend, and are trying (somewhat) to make more. Your teacher reports you are happy, entertaining, and enthusiastic in class. She even noted that you don’t seem to need fidgets or other accommodations at this point. Can we dare to hope that your temperament is evening out after our move? Time will tell. To date we have consulted a pediatrician, a counsellor, a nutritionist, your school support worker, and your teacher, and we have done (and will continue to do) everything possible to follow their various pieces of advice. Your pediatrician, in particular, was quite certain that your outbursts were not particularly related to generalized anxiety or ADHD, but were perfectly normal responses to the enormous upheaval you experienced over the spring and summer, and would eventually pass. I think we are starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel.

This is a comic strip you drew starring Jack and Sally from The Nightmare Before Christmas.
 (Whenever I write something like that, I feel like I’m setting myself up to come back next month and go “NOPE, life is still awful”. It’s really hard to try and draw a conclusion based on incomplete data, but that’s exactly what this newsletter is. And still, I write it, because inaccurate conclusions are better than no conclusions at all.)

Well, that’s about it for this month, Gwen. As always, I think you are the awesomest kid around and I am super glad I get to be your mom. Keep on rockin', crazy kid!

You chose to wear a kimono to Thanksgiving Dinner. Obviously.


Thursday, September 24, 2015

Dear Gwen: Month Eighty-Nine

Dear Gwen,

Today you are eighty-nine months old.

It has not been an easy month. Your temper is on a hair-trigger right now and anything can set you off. Once you’re off, it takes up to two hours to get you back to normal. It’s incredibly draining. I just realized the other day that I am now dreading our evenings and particularly bedtime with a sense of foreboding similar to what I felt when you were an infant, and I knew that I would have to spend anything between 30 minutes and four hours trying to get you to go to sleep. That’s pretty much how bedtime is going currently, too, which makes me want to scream.

Your dad and I are trying really hard to figure out the root of your recent over-the-top emotions. We've noticed that the common thread seems to be that you are very, very rigid in your needs and expectations. Any time that things don’t go as you expected, you will lose your temper and start screaming, crying, or even getting violent. This is especially difficult because you don’t always state what your expectations are before they are violated. For example, a while ago you had a friend over to play. The two of you decided to play dress-up. You decided that meant having a costume parade, and that each of you should parade three costumes each throughout the house for the audience of parents. Your friend wanted to only wear one costume. Before anyone could intervene, you were yelling and crying and nearly inconsolable about how your friend was ruining everything and doing it all wrong.

Right now, it feels like everything is a battle. I have to battle with you to do your backpack jobs (emptying your backpack and lunchbox, putting containers in dishwasher etc.), battle with you to do any homework, battle again to get you to practice piano, battle with you to eat your dinner, and then battle with you to go to bed. Any one of these things takes three to five times longer than it should because instead of just getting the tasks done, we spend time fighting about it. It is tiring, frustrating, and leaves no time for us to do anything fun together or even just relax and have some downtime. I am really, really, REALLY sick of it!
Okay, that’s all the complaining I’m going to do. Now I’ll tell you about the good stuff that’s happened this past month.

You've just started Grade Two, and you seem to be enjoying it. For the first time, you’re in a split class (Grade One/Two). Though being in a new school is challenging, you are starting to make friends, both with the teachers and the students. When I picked you up at school last week, another girl gave you a big hug goodbye, so I thought that was a good sign. You also told me you made “great friends” with the music teacher, thanks to your recognizing a posted of a C scale he had hung on the wall. “Nice C scale!” you told him, and from then on of course you were buddies!
I wrote last month that you’d discovered chapter books, and since then, you have dived right in to this new level of reading. Not only do we read chapter books together at bedtime, but you have also started reading them on your own, which is SO GREAT! I bought you a Judy Moody book at Value Village, and you read it without any prompting from me in only a few days. Then I took you to the library and showed you where they had a whole shelf of that series …. Oh, the way your eyes lit up! You started scooping them all into a pile and took home as many as you could carry. I’m so happy to see you enjoying reading so much.

You've also discovered “The Far Side” by Gary Larson. You really enjoy the cartoons, but you want many of them explained to you. I've learned that explaining a Far Side cartoon to a seven-year-old with very limited life experience and a significant lack of cultural references takes a LOT of explaining. The very first one you asked me to explain involved a full discussion of near-death experiences… not exactly something I expected to tackle at this stage in your life. Hooray for expanding your horizons, I guess?

We had a great visit with your beloved cousins on the weekend before school started. We drove down to Cowichan and all went tubing on the Cowichan River, which was fun, relaxing, and silly! We also played board games, watched movies, read books, jumped on the trampoline, and had lots and lots of lovely visiting time. You even got to have a sleepover with your cousins, with all of you camped out in the loft on various air mattresses. Yay for cousin time!

Dad and I went to see our new family counsellor for the first time, and she prompted us to try and bring as many familiar things into our new home as we possibly could. Meaning, if we used to spend time baking together, we should do that. If we used to listen to certain music, we should do that. Any of our family traditions or décor that would help you relax and understand that we are home, and we are together, and everything important has not actually changed that much – we should do that. So, we've been doing quite a bit of baking. We made lots of muffins for school lunches, we made some crazy frozen banana-caramel-chocolate concoction, and we even made some cool toast-kabobs for dinner one night. And let’s not forget some truly epic birthday cupcakes! We also hung your most recent birthday pictures in the same frames we've used every year since you were born. We didn't bother hanging them in April when they were taken because we were told not to hang photographs in a house we were trying to sell, so this is the first time the photos have been hung, and they’re the first photos to be hung in our new house. I don’t know if any of this is helping you, but at least it’s fun!

One night, out of nowhere, you decided to set up a spa in your room with me as your client. You brushed my hair, "massaged" my shoulders (which involved stroking them so gently it was a struggle not to laugh), painted my toenails, and did my makeup. Oh, and you provided entertaining reading material and relaxing music (live, on the piano) while I soaked my feet. It was such a fun time, for both of us. One of my favourite parts was that after my spa experience, you asked me to "post a comment" about it, which it turns out means I should write on your door sign.

Your extra-curricular activities have started up again. You've chosen to be in gymnastics again, and you’re also in your fourth year of piano lessons. It makes for a busy week, but there are a few things that help it work “smoothlessly” (as your dad would say). One, the activities start a little later in the evening, which means we are not rushing to pick you up from your after school club and racing to make it on time to the start of your lesson/class. Two, your after school club is close to work, which cuts down on our rushing even more. We make sure to have a high-protein snack waiting for you in the car when we pick you up, and then dinner is on the table as soon as you get home so that your bedtime doesn't get too delayed. Hopefully as we all settle into these routines, it will all be worth it for the enjoyment and enrichment you are getting.

Last night we got to go to your school and meet your teacher for the first time. I can't believe you're in Grade Two! Your teacher says you are adjusting well to your new school and have made some new friends. We got to meet one of your friends last night, too - Brenna. We'll definitely have to arrange a playdate soon! You and Brenna apparently like to spend your recesses in a "Bug Boogie" exploration club, in between practicing song-and-dance arrangements to Nightmare Before Christmas songs. Sounds like a match made in heaven!

Well, that's it for this month, Gwen. I love you a million, billion, kajillion, and seven, and I look forward to seeing what the next month will bring.


Friday, September 4, 2015

The Shower Curtain Conundrum

Gwen’s current fixation is the movie “Hotel Transylvania”, which is about a young vampire girl, Mavis, who longs to explore the world outside her castle. Gwen is no stranger to this dark/spooky aesthetic: the very first movie she loved enough to call her favourite was “The Nightmare Before Christmas” – a movie most two-year-olds, as well as kids much older, find too scary. She also adores “9” which I don’t think was EVER meant to be watched by kids, being a thoroughly dark and frightening post-apocalyptic quest of a movie. “Hotel Transylvania” is, in comparison, fairly light – in that, you know, no one DIES or anything.
Anyway, Gwen has been referring to herself as a vampire for a year or so, now, and has requested that we decorate her new bedroom to look like Mavis’s castle. We are geeky can-do types, so we’ve agreed in principle (haven’t actually managed to get to the décor stage yet with our unpacking and organizing processes).

The bathroom, though? I’m not convinced. The countertop is brown, and that’s not something we can (or want to) replace, so I’d kind of like the décor to suit that. That’s pretty much the only stipulation I’ve made (in my own head, because it’s not like anyone else listens to me). I did promise Gwen that she could pick out her own shower curtain and décor for the room. I thought she might choose something like these:

But no. My charming little badass girl wants this one:

We went to Wal-Mart the other night to check out the selection and this is the only one she would consent to. Could I talk her into getting one with fun designs and colours as befitting a fun-loving child? Not on your life. Could I talk her in to getting a black-and-white striped one? No I could not. Could I talk her into getting one with a cool tree design on it with the promise that I would sew rubber bats all over the branches? I almost did, until she spotted the one that was as black as her traitorous heart.

I bought the stupid black shower curtain and went to pick out towels, where Gwen continued to insist that BLACK IS THE ONLY COLOUR WORTH HAVING and I grumbled inwardly about how stupid the bathroom was going to look. Then my mom pointed out that the black towels would all have to be washed separately from any other towels or indeed, any other laundry that we own. That is just plain NOT GONNA HAPPEN. So I put all the towels back and told Gwen that she could try out the black shower curtain for a few weeks, see if she really liked showering in the dark, before I committed to buying matching linens and décor.

All of this has caused me to wonder why I care about bathroom décor in a bathroom I don’t even use. I don't have any answers for that, but I did sit the kid down with an iPad the other day and we did a Google Search for "fun shower curtains", just to open her brain a little bit. She was excited to know that there are shower curtains for all kinds of hobbies and interests, including:





 Jack Skellington!

And many, many more!


Anyway, hopefully she now understands that there is a whole world full of fun, ridiculous, colourful, or at least interesting options out there, and we will be able to agree on one of them. Stay tuned!


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