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.



Thursday, March 24, 2016

Dear Gwen: Month Ninety-Five

Dear Gwen,

Today you are ninety-five months old. One month short of eight years.

 Earlier this month, you brought home a report card I can only describe as AWESOME. It is ALL 3s and 4s (“Meeting Expectations” and “Exceeding Expectations”). In eight of the twenty-four of the scored areas, your score improved (either from 2 to 3, or from 3 to 4). You are ROCKING this school year! This is especially impressive given all the transitions you went through in the summer and fall. Your parents and grandparents are incredibly proud of you!

The excellence of your report card makes the contrast between your school progress and the stories of your day – which are primarily about your experiences at after-school club, due to your short attention span and the fact that after-school club is the last part of your day before we see you – really, really sharp. Just about every day when we pick you up from club, one of two things happens. Either you are upset about the way you’ve been treated (shunned and/or bullied) by certain kids, or the leader is pulling us aside to tell us about how you misbehaved that day (usually in response to the way the other kids treated you, which seems to happen at specific times when the leader is not closely supervising). Sometimes, it’s both. Oftentimes, this misery carries over for an hour or more into our evening as we try to console you and get you past whatever feelings of rejection and injustice you are feeling. It got to the point where we dreaded picking you up from club, because we knew how unpleasant the experience was going to be.

It all came to a head when your Dad and I tried to discuss these ongoing difficulties with the club leader, who was the exact opposite of receptive and collaborative. This conversation told us all we needed to know about her approach to problem-solving, and we understood that nothing was going to improve. So we started looking at other options. Having watched you struggle to connect with other kids in a large club setting, and meanwhile thrive and blossom in the one-on-one time you get with your Big Sister Christina, I decided to find a sitter to provide after-school care in our home every day. I posted about my search on Facebook, in case anyone knew anyone suitable, and I was immediately and consistently gratified by the response – not that it helped me find anyone, but that everyone who has ever babysat you before posted on the thread about what a wonderful kid you were, and how much they enjoyed their time with you, and wished that logistics or geography allowed them to take the job. That was so cool! After several interviews, we have hired a young woman to start with us next week, and we are all excited about this change.

 The past two weeks have been Spring Break for you, and there has been no shortage of adventure. For the first week, you attended a day camp at the after-school club you used to go to before we moved. You loved re-connecting with the kids and leaders there. Yes, it was inconvenient to drive across town twice a day, but it was worth it for you to have such a fun and positive week. Then last Sunday, you and I walked on the ferry to Horseshoe Bay to meet Grannie and Grandpa. They took you to your great Auntie Liz’s house to join in her annual Spring Break adventure, wherein she takes all four of her granddaughters to Chuck E Cheese for a day. This year, it was two grandmas and FIVE granddaughters! From what I hear, you had a wonderful time. The next day, you and your grandparents headed up the Coast, picking up your beloved cousins Andrew and Scotty on the way to Powell River. I can only imagine that the three of you are having all kinds of fun together, and hopefully not driving your grandparents too crazy. The house is sure quiet here without you! We, along with your Auntie Sara and Uncle Dave, will be there soon for Easter weekend. We are sure grateful to Grannie and Grandpa for taking care of you this week!

There have been a few Spring-like days over the past few weeks, and we’ve used them to teach you how to ride your bike without training wheels, which you picked up faster than I could have imagined. We also bought you a brand new, bigger bike, but opted to have you stay on the more familiar bike for a while yet, until you are super comfortable with the new balancing technique. I’ve got to say, watching you learn this skill has been one of the coolest moments of parenthood. And for your part, you attacked this learning with a dedication and determination that I don’t see from you too often. On our first day of practice, you told me “I am going to keep trying over and over until I am an expert!” Such a simple statement, and yet it speaks volumes. And you know what? You DID keep trying over and over, and the only reason we stopped is that the clouds had rolled in and the rain was starting to fall. The next day we were at it again, and by the end of that session you had it mastered – although it was clear by that point that the main reason you were struggling to balance was actually that your bike was legitimately too small for you, and that as you raised your knees to pedal, you needed to swing the handlebars from side to side to get them out of the way. We had unintentionally handicapped you in our wish to make things easier! Oh well, when you get back next week you can start riding your beautiful new bike, complete with handbrakes, a bell, a lock (which you are oddly fascinated with), and of course a new helmet and knee/elbow pads. I can hardly wait!

I took advantage of the fact that you were away for a few nights to clean up (junk out) your room, including pulling out a great many of your old story books that you are well past reading. (Don’t worry, I still saved plenty!) Most of your reading time now is chapter books, such as the “Dear Dumb Diary” series and Choose Your Own Adventure books. You also still love to read comic books and Chirp/Chickadee magazines, as well as the relatively new addition of graphic novels such as “LumberJanes”. When I took you to Horseshoe Bay last weekend, it was such a pleasant experience. Rather than sitting in the noisy, crowded, and always conflict-filled Kids’ Playroom, we sat quietly together and read our books for the entire ferry ride. YEAH! This is what a ferry ride is all about! When you get back from PR, you’ll have a newly-organized bookshelf with easy access to all the chapter books your heart could desire – and the library or used bookstore is always an option when you finish reading all those.

It seems like a long time ago when I heard from another family that the rule for their daughters was, they couldn’t host or attend sleepovers until they were eight years old. Since you were only three or four years old at the time, I thought this was a good strategy. You, of course, after hearing this rule only a couple of times, immediately began planning your eighth birthday party as a sleepover party. Well, now you’re about to turn eight and the plan can finally come to fruition! We are going to invite over three of your good friends, turn the loft into a sleepover paradise, and have a super fun time. We’ll start the full-on planning next week when you get back from PR.

Well, that’s it for this month, Gwen. As always, you are such an awesome kid, and I’m so glad I’m your mom!


Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Dear Gwen: Month Ninety-Four

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

February has been a fun and busy month. I organized some Valentine-themed activities, all very crafty, which were very fun. Starting on the first night of February, I put a foam heart on the wall with something I love about you written on it. It was neat to watch you discover it the next morning. You were even more surprised the next day when that heart was joined by another one! I had planned to keep this activity going for every day of the month, ending with twenty-nine reasons why we love you. Of course, Dad was foggy on the concept and so he hung ALL the hearts he’d made for you on one day. It was fun to watch you get excited about all the new hearts, but when I went back to adding one heart a day the following day, you couldn’t care less – you haven’t looked at the Wall of Love since that time. Sigh. Oh well, it still looks pretty!

Another crafty-love activity we did is one I heard about from a workshop. I cut out a big heart from red paper, and we talked about all the things, people, and activities that you love – those that fill your heart. You drew big and small shapes on the heart to represent each one, and then we hung the finished heart on your bedroom door so you can see it every day.

On Valentine’s Day itself, your dad had bought you some super-fun Star Wars-related stuff (Star Wars takes up a big space in your heart right now!). You got a water bottle that looks like a light saber, an awesome Star Wars chapter book, and a shirt with BB-8 on it. You were thrilled!

You continue to be very engrossed in reading, and Dad and I have learned that if we need you to stop demanding our attention for a little while so we can get something done or, perhaps, have an uninterrupted conversation, we just say you can have “free time”. You are seemingly overjoyed with the opportunity to choose your own activity (usually reading), and don’t seem to notice that “free time” actually means “please leave us alone for a little while”.

Your teacher recently started giving you Grade Three spelling words (even though you’re in Grade Two). You had been complaining about how easy the Grade Two words were, but I wasn’t sure you would be successful in making the big jump to Grade Three words. However, week after week you prove me wrong. These are VERY big words, and you are doing so well with them! We are very impressed, and so is your teacher!

You are doing pretty well in school, it seems. The Class Dojo app keeps me informed of how your day goes. One week, you had 100% positive Dojo points, which is so awesome that I just had to take a picture! You get points for things like Being Responsible, Working Hard, Cardio Work, Being On Task, and Being Ready to Work. Unfortunately, your time at Before and After School Club is not going as well. Your dad and I are struggling to figure out how to help you. There seem to be several factors at play, such as lack of structured/stimulating activity, lack of supervision during certain activities, lack of compatible playmates, and you being targeted by certain kids until you lose your temper and lash out, which then leads to you getting in trouble. It’s very frustrating for all involved.

You’ve made a new friend at school, which is wonderful. Amelia invited you over for a playdate last weekend and I walked with you to her house so I could figure out where she lived. It’s so great to live in a neighbourhood with a school, as it means many of the schoolmates you meet there live within walking distance of the school and thus, our house.

I have been completely consumed with theatre commitments lately, as the play I’m involved in (Office Hours – I’m the Assistant Stage Manager) is about to open. ASM turns out to be an enormous commitment, and I haven’t been able to spend as much time with you as usual, over the past few months. I do try to set aside specific Gwen-and-Mom time, though, and last Friday was one of those times – I had the day off work, so you could walk home from school and join me right away instead of going to after-school club, and we had a sleep-over together on the downstairs hide-a-bed. We got into our jammies, did each other’s nails, read books, and watched movies together. Such fun!

We also got to spend some dedicated time together on the Family Day stat holiday. It was such a beautiful day that we went out for a bike ride together, exploring our new neighbourhood (we didn’t have a lot of time to do that last summer, as we were busy unpacking, and then before we knew it the weather was too cold). We went to the nearby connection to the Parkway Trail and rode for a while, then turned around and came back home. We saw an ENORMOUS ant hill along the trail, and took silly selfies.

Art and creativity continue to be an excellent outlet for you. You drew this wonderful picture in response to a challenge for kids to draw what they want to be when they grow up. You are in a rocket ship with your space dog Zero, and yes that is a disco ball above you. The sun is in the background, and Mars is in the foreground. There are dinosaur bones on Mars waiting to be found. You are a part-time paleontologist, part-time astronaut, and part-time deejay spinning the dance tunes.

Another day, I was doing crafts with a friend of mine who had originally intended to bring her son along to play with you. You were very disappointed that the plans had changed and you had no one to play with. Miraculously, you took a few minutes to shake off your anger, then decided to join us to make crafts. You made this incredible card, which you designed all by yourself.

Well, that’s it for this month, Gwen. As always, you are a super-awesome kid and I’m glad I get to be your mom.



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