Sunday, May 24, 2015

Dear Gwen: Month Eighty-Five

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



Friday, April 24, 2015

Dear Gwen: Month Eighty-Four

Dear Gwen,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Dear Gwen: Month Eighty-Three

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Dear Gwen: Month Eighty-Two

Dear Gwen,
Today you are eighty-two months old.

It’s been a very exciting month. A lot of our family’s time and mental energy is going towards Operation: New House, which means that we have gone out to see some open houses for sale, and we have also been working to get our house ready to sell. It’s been really neat to work on these things as a family, with you as a real participant. As we set out one weekend to go see another open house, you happily told me, “Don’t worry, Mom. I know the ex-patations of visiting an open house.” And you sure do love picking out which room would be yours, and giving us your feedback on the house and yard, and so on. You’ve even been co-operative and helpful in the efforts to put a huge amount of our possessions – including yours – into storage, so that our house will be clean and uncluttered for potential buyers.

You’ve been on your ADHD medication for six weeks now, and my, what a difference. You are just so much less intense now, able to transition smoothly from one activity to another, able to focus on a task without constant intervention and redirection, able to accept disappointment and frustration and work through them without pitching a fit, able to work independently and effectively, and so much more. At the same time, you are no less joyful, creative, exuberant, or hilarious. We were recently reading “My Brain Needs Glasses”, a book for kids about ADHD. The narrator, a child with ADHD, says “I get distracted by noises, and also by my own thoughts. It's really hard to concentrate!" I asked you if you still feel that way since starting medication. "I don't get distracted any more at all, I just sit and do my work. The only thing that distracts me is if someone is talking to me. Then I just answer them and go back to my work." I asked, “Does it make your life easier, to be able to concentrate like that?” You replied, "WAAAAYYYYY easier!” It made me so happy to know that you are feeling the difference too.

Even better, the medication has not produced any unpleasant side effects (knock on wood) and, with a recent switch to morning dose instead of evening dose, your sleep schedule is improving as well. I am very happy to say that you have gone to sleep without melatonin for the past week, and that you are able to fall asleep around 8pm instead of the previous weeks’ time of 9pm, 10pm, or even later. Hooray for sleep!

It’s hard to believe that your Grade One year is halfway over. Your homework has certainly increased over the past month or so; you have a book bag with three books you are supposed to read every week, and you are having weekly spelling tests that you need to study for. Unfortunately, with our busy family schedule, it’s incredibly hard to find time to fit all these things in (we do read together every night, but you don’t always want to spend that brief time reading the books you ‘have to’ read, preferring to choose your own). I admit I am particularly baffled about how to help you with your spelling. Spelling comes very very easily to me, and I rarely have to think at all about how to spell something. Which means I have no idea how to teach YOU how to spell, because, y’know, you should just SPELL! For a language-loving English major like me, seeing your spelling scores of 4 out of 12 just makes my stomach drop, so we’re going to have to sort this out. So far, the only strategy I’ve figured out is to print the words in large print and put them on the wall near your bed, so you can see them as you’re trying to fall asleep, but this approach doesn’t seem to improve your score much. More strategies to come!

The other side of your school experience is, of course, the social aspect. There is a child in your class (code-name Amy) who is making your life pretty difficult in this area. She’s not bullying you per se, but she is attention-seeking and manipulative and doesn’t seem to know how to be a good friend (even though it seems that she wants to). It’s very hard to know what strategies to encourage you to use when Amy starts pushing your buttons. If you ignore her, she starts crying and lies to the teacher that you hurt her; if you engage with her, she keeps pushing and pushing you until you do something hurtful (with words or hands) and then the teacher puts you in a time-out; if you walk away from her, she follows you. The teacher is aware of the situation and is trying to figure out the best solution for everyone.

These days your favourite hobby is playing “Just Dance” on the Wii, and you have also become very aware of pop music and love to sing along to the lyrics. It’s pretty funny to hear. And of course, every song you love is your “very favourite song ever in the world!!!”. Some of your favourites include Roar & Dark Horse (both by Katy Perry), and Uptown Funk by Bruno Mars.

You’ve been learning about kindness at Sunday School, where your teacher encouraged the kids (and their parents) to sign up and participate in The Coldest Night of the Year, a fundraiser for local charities that help the homeless. So last Saturday, you and I bundled up in our warmest clothes and walked 2km as part of our church team. It was pretty fun! Two kilometres is about as far as one should force a six-year-old to walk at one time, I think. I was very proud of you for participating in the event, and proud of you for calling your grandparents to solicit donations. You and I raised $120 to help the homeless in Nanaimo – our team raised a total of $670, and over $30,000 was raised in all of Nanaimo. Pretty cool!

As always, Gwen, we are so proud of you and love you so much. You are such a fun kid and it’s a treat to be your mom. You are my BFF!



Saturday, January 24, 2015

Dear Gwen: Month Eighty-One

 Dear Gwen,

Today you are eighty-one months old - six and three-quarters.

It's been a very busy month. Right after your last newsletter, of course, was Christmas, with all its attendant gift-opening and chocolate-eating and general glee-making. It was great. I'm sure it goes without saying that you got a bajillion presents, and you were gracious and thankful for all of them, which is pretty great. I think the hit of the holiday was the Nintendo DS, which we scored on the online Swap and Shop with about 25 games. You had no idea that was coming your way. You were also ridiculously pleased with the backscratcher you received, which you had specifically asked for. It's a toss-up which one of these items is getting more use ... you use the backscratcher more often, but certainly not for as long a period as the DS.

On Boxing Day, I took you to the Winter Wonderland skate at the arena. This was the first time that my presence at this event was completely extraneous. I ended up just hanging out at the side, taking photos or video of you when you went by. It didn't all turn out great, because the lighting was very low, but it's still a neat memento. I love watching your confidence grow!


For the first time ever, we spent New Year's Eve all together as a family (usually we leave you with a babysitter and go out to party with our friends, and when we say 'party' we mean 'play board games and stuff ourselves with appies' because we are nerds, not goofballs). We went to the "Family Finale" at Beban Park, where they provide tons of entertainment and activities for families - well, let's be honest, it's all aimed at kids, and the parents are just hanging around. It's not like *we* went on the bouncy castle or made jellyfish out of paper plates. But nonetheless, the live entertainment was really fun, and I think we all had a good time. Best of all? The countdown was at 8pm, and then we boogied on home to bed. Yes, non-parents, getting home to bed before 10pm is a wonderful exciting thing when you have kids. Just trust me.

Very early in the new year, I had to be the most hardass mom I've ever had to be one Saturday when I discovered that instead of going to sleep the night before, you had been drawing pictures in one of your storybooks. I was incredibly disappointed that you would treat a book this way. There was no question of your knowing that you were out of line; you have always understood that storybooks are for reading, and activity or colouring books are for drawing. Even as a toddler you never drew on your books (or on the walls or anything else for that matter). You freely admitted that you understood what you had done was wrong. Well, obviously I had to punish you, something that does not come naturally to me.

Also? Some of your drawings were really creative, meaning I didn't know whether to punish you or give you a high-five. Damn it!

When your dad came home and we discussed it, we agreed on two consequences for your behaviour. First, you would have to choose several of your books to be donated to Literacy Nanaimo. Second, you would have to write lines. Yes! Lines, that terrible awful boring punishment that is usually given out to grade school kids (at least, it was when I was a grade school kid). Technically you now ARE a grade school kid, so it seemed appropriate, and I thought that writing lines - two to five lines a day, I'm not a monster - might help the lesson of "I will not write in my story books" fresh in your mind.* I had you count how many pages of your book you had drawn on, and assigned that number of lines to you.

*Sidebar: When I was in elementary school, the punishment for forgetting one's gym strip was to write over and over, "I will not forget my gym strip". The punishment for remembering one's gym strip was to participate in gym. I very quickly made up my mind about which one of these worked better for me.

The big news this month is that you are on medication for your ADHD. It's a very low dose, and you started it only two weeks ago, so it's hard to know what the outcome will be. Unlike every other ADHD med ever, this one is not a stimulant. In fact, you take it before bed and it can cause drowsiness. It also lowers your blood pressure slightly, which causes some kids to have dizziness/light-headedness or even faint when standing up from sitting. So far, none of those things have happened, which is good because it sounds scary! You were certainly tired the first few days taking the meds, but now you have adjusted and the bedtime drowsiness is gone - which is a shame. You have always had trouble getting to sleep, but in the past we could give you a little melatonin. Now we can't because it is contra-indicated with your medicine, so you just lie in your bed for hours waiting to fall asleep. In the morning you are so exhausted that you can't dress yourself.

As far as the positive effects, it's hard to say definitively, but there have certainly been lots of positive moments - transitions, in particular, seem to be easier for you now. One particular moment leaps to mind, when I was calling to you from another room to put down the iPad and come do your piano practice. Now, what kid is possibly going to take that order well!? I'm happy to report that you did. "Okay, Mom," came your cheerful voice, soon followed by your cheerful face as you came to practice the piano. WOW! Your teacher reports you are doing well at school, too, getting all your work done and having fewer outbursts. We'll be going back to the pediatrician in a couple of weeks to report all this, and see how we can adjust things to get you a better sleep.

In writing all this, I confess, I'm not really talking to you, Gwen. I'm talking to every other parent out there who might stumble across this (admittedly very low-profile) blog while they're looking for info about ADHD and medication. I will never forget how it made me feel the first time I stumbled across a blog whose author wrote, with great vulnerability and raw honesty, about how hard it was for her to breastfeed. I was having a TERRIBLE time breastfeeding you, had never achieved what I thought was "successful" breastfeeding, and everyone around me kept telling me that it was supposed to be easy and natural and painless and most of all, that I should enjoy doing it and somehow be grateful for the opportunity. Nowhere around me did I see my own feelings of inadequacy and frustration mirrored, until I saw this blog. So if I have the chance to be that mirror for one other person, to share my own experiences with another parent who is wondering (as I think we all do) whether we are doing the right things for our kids, that is why I write these intimate details.  The quickest and most straightforward way I can explain my choice to try medication is that while I was trying to teach you all the social and organizational and sequencing and attention and focus skills that you need to succeed, all the cognitive behavioural strategies that are going to improve your life, it felt like that Bible verse where the seed falls on the rocky ground. It can't take root and grow, because your brain is not ready to take in any information. I needed your brain to be softer and more open, to give you a baseline where you could start to learn these strategies.

Okay, enough seriousness! What other fun stuff has been going on? Well, you had a playdate with your friend Gracie and introduced her to the joy of frozen blueberries.


You also had a super fun playdate at Jumpin' Jiminy's with your friend Rhyan, but I don't have any pictures of that, because you both were just blurs of colour zooming by me.

One of your new charming habits is that you are finally saying your own bedtime prayers. I have always said prayers with you as part of your bedtime routine, and encouraged you to participate, but until recently you felt very shy or embarrassed about this and wouldn't say anything. I guess a few weeks ago at Sunday School the activity was to make a "prayer list", and you came home with a very colourful sheet of paper detailing some things you love (Mom, Dad, Me, You (meaning God)) and things you wish (to have a 'kitn', to be a 'butrfli'). Since then, you will often pray for these things - and others - at bedtime. It's pretty cute. Tonight when I tucked you in, you prayed for all the people you love to have a good day tomorrow, for us to afford a new house, and for Dad to "get way way way way better with kittens so I can have one." 

This is also the month you invented a new dessert: Whipped Ice (originally called "Ripped Ice" before I foolishly corrected you on the pronunciation of whipped cream, a key ingredient).
You'll need:
Bottle of whipped (or ripped) cream
Bucket of ice cream
Cup of berries (three kinds recommended)
Secret ingredient: sprinkles!

How to do it:
Spray whipped cream into the cup
Pour berries into the cup
Put ice cream in the cup
Add sprinkles, done!

I love how the drawings on the right side clearly show whipped cream being sprayed into a cup, and berries being poured in. Nice action shots, kiddo! And oh yeah - it is delicious!

Well, that's it for this month, Gwen. As always, I love you like crazy, and am so happy I get to be your mom. Keep being awesome, my girl!



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