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!

Monday, August 24, 2015

Dear Gwen: Month Eighty-Eight

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

It's been a hard month. We've been in our new house for a full month now, and the last week has prompted your dad and I to realize - and to admit to each other, and ourselves - that you are struggling. I guess we didn't allow ourselves to understand how massive these changes would be, for you, or how rocked you would be by them. We told ourselves - and others told us, too - that once we were in our new home, you would be so happy and everything would get back to normal. It hasn't. You are one stressed out little kid, and you have no outlet to deal with your stress and anxiety except by yelling at us. And throwing things at us. And hitting us. Which you do, just about every day.

Every attempt to discipline you - even things as innocent as asking you to put your lunch box away, something you have been asked to do every day of school or camp for the past several years - can send you into fits, and have you screaming about how we don't love you, and we are terrible parents, and your special favourite, that we are stupid idiots and that everything we do is useless. If you rant for long enough, you stop making sense entirely, which makes me think that you don't actually know what you're angry about. In calmer moments, we talk about what's bothering you and try to strategize for next time - but when you start freaking out, all those strategies hold no interest for you, and you'd rather proceed on your chosen path to blowing the hell up. You've never done anything halfway, so why should your meltdowns be any different?

Anyway, after finally realizing that your anxiety and anger weren't going away, and seeking guidance and support from some knowledgeable friends, we are going to start family counseling. Hopefully we can learn some ways to help you manage your emotions more constructively. With the start of the new school year only two weeks away, time is of the essence as we certainly don't want you having any meltdowns there.

There are still lots of positive things to update about, however. Just a few days after we moved, you had your very first sleepover! I've always told you that you couldn't have any sleepovers until you were eight years old, but friends of ours were in a bind and the only way their daughter R - who happens to be your very best buddy - could attend a birthday party that the two of you were invited to, was if she slept over at our house. So I agreed. You and R had so much fun together, and, as is typical of sleepovers, didn't go to sleep until hours after bedtime.

Another milestone this month is that you got your first sunburn. You went to a friend's house and though I'd applied sunscreen before you left, you then changed into your swimsuit to go in the pool and didn't add sunscreen to the newly bare areas. You came home with a very red back, with the pattern of your bathing suit straps perfectly showing as white against the angry burn. You poor thing! Aloe vera gel gave you enough relief to get a good night's sleep, and hopefully now you will know why I always insist that you wear sunscreen.

We also got to have a great weekend with Grannie when she came to Nanaimo to see our new house and visit the Sandcastle competition in Parksville. We even got to have a brief, surprise visit from your cousin Scotty, as he flew over from the Sunshine Coast to have his week with Grannie! You sure do love spending time with your cousins. I'm excited that they are coming to visit us in Nanaimo on Labour Day Weekend!

Last week you and I got to go on a week of adventures together, which was great fun. First we went to Victoria, where we visited the museum, Miniature World, and a selection of playgrounds. We also went to Munro's Books, where our friend Sarah picked out some new treasures for you. One of the highlights of the trip, for me, was watching you read through an entire graphic novel (Lumber Janes) in one sitting, while Sarah and I visited. It makes me proud because I, too, used to lose myself in books at your age (heck, I still do!). It makes me so happy that you are learning to love books this way.

We had a wonderful visit with our friend Janice, who fed us pizza and ice cream, took us to a playground, and then shared her amazing collection of sharpies with you for an impromptu art session. So fun! 

We stayed with Uncle Mikey and Aunt Alison, and had great visits with them as well. It was neat to hear Alison talk about how she manages her ADHD. I could see the wheels in your head turning - I don't know if you've ever had the opportunity to meet someone else with ADHD, let alone someone who could talk about her strategies and experiences in managing it. I was really glad you got to spend that time with her. Our trip to the lake with Uncle Mikey was lovely - what a beautiful, secret swimming hole he's found! You built a neat sandcastle in the wet sand, which you were really proud of.

When we arrived back in Nanaimo, we went home for a quick bath and regroup, and then up to VIU for you to participate in a photo shoot. Remember a few months ago when you were part of a video at VIU to encourage people to sign up for the Canada Learning Bond? Well, the director of that video enjoyed your performance so much that he suggested working with you again, as part of a group of multi-generational, multi-ethnic models, for the cover of VIU's upcoming "Report to the Community". Here you were, the lone child working with three adult strangers - naturally, you were a bit shy and awkward at first, but you warmed up quickly and soon started to shine. The shoot took place at three different locations, and we'll have to wait and see which of the many photos ends up on the cover. Here's one that I took of the proceedings - not nearly as great as the professional's photos, of course!

The next day, we headed up-Island and hopped on the ferry to Powell River, where we spent a few days with Grannie and Grandpa. We went to the Blackberry Fest Street Party, and even stayed up super late to watch the fireworks! They were amazing. The next day, after a good sleep-in, we packed up what we needed for a day up at the cabin. The lake was lower than I've ever seen it, and the cabin was nearly on the shore! You were, of course, unfazed by these changes, and did your usual thing - puttering around in the paddleboat for most of the day. We also cuddled in a chair and read a Geronimo Stilton book. I've recently decreed that I am no longer reading storybooks to you - by which I mean, short books by the likes of Mo Willems, Dr. Seuss, and Melanie Watt. This is not because I don't like these books or authors, but because I know damn well you can read these all yourself. If you want ME to read to you, we are going to read chapter books! This insistence has led to the discovery of Nancy Clancy (the older, more mature version of Fancy Nancy), Geronimo Stilton, and even Amelia Bedelia chapter books. There are many more chapter books to come, but the Geronimo Stilton books are a favourite with you right now because they have colour pictures and you LOVE colour pictures!

Anyway, after our day at the lake we headed to Putters for delicious (and enormous!) ice cream cones, then home to Grannie and Grandpa's for a Netflix show and bed. The next day (yesterday), I got on the ferry and left you with Grannie and Grandpa to spend a few days with them in Powell River. I know you will have lots of fun - the plans include mini golf, a movie at the Patricia, and maybe even a hike up Valentine Mountain!

Well, that's it for this month, Gwen. As always, I love you a million, billion, kajillion, and seven, and will keep working to be the best mom I can be.


Monday, July 20, 2015

Dear Gwen: Month Eighty-Seven

Dear Gwen,

Holy moly, didn't that month just fly by? You are eighty-seven months old, summer is in full swing, and we are DAYS away from moving to our new house. Life is crazy and time is flying by!

Last month we took a brief trip to the Lower Mainland to enjoy Playland and Science World. You surprised us a lot with the rides you did (and didn't) want to go on at Playland. Last time we went - you were just four years old - you rode on the kids' roller coaster dozens of times in a row. In my memory, I sat on a nearby bench for nearly an hour while you got your fill of this ride. This time around, you rode it twice and were done, instead obsessing about the nearby giant slide, which I think you went on about fifteen times throughout the day. Despite a LOT of urging from your parents, you flat-out refused to ride the Music Express, or any other grown-up ride (other than the Ferris wheel). Oh well. Grannie watched you for a bit on the kiddie rides so Dad and I could do a few grown-up rides by ourselves. Anyway, we had a lot of fun!

The next day we went to Science World with our friends Sally, Dean, Rachel, and Matilda. You only see these friends a couple of times a year, but Sally and I are always so impressed with how well you play with Rachel. This trip was no different. You are so patient with her and so happy to be with her. I hope you always keep that empathy and appreciation for others. Our time at Science World was too short - we only got to see about a third of the exhibits - so we'll have to go back again soon for a full day of fun exploration.

Your Grade One year is officially over, and your final report card again showed some good improvements. You are ready to start Grade Two at your new school in a couple of months. At one point, you were worried that you would have to start over in kindergarten at a new school, but I was able to reassure you that your new teachers would know how smart and awesome you were, and that you had already finished kindergarten AND Grade One. I think you still have a lot of nervousness about the new school, but we are doing everything we can to help you feel better, and to be honest, I really feel that once you have been there for a week or two, you will be absolutely fine. Last year's experience in the Friendship Group has really, really helped you in your social skills, and you've improved so much. We really saw this improvement when we dropped you off for your first day at summer camp this year. Last summer, certainly on the first day (or any Monday) but also on any random day throughout the summer, you were paralyzed with fear and shyness when we tried to peel ourselves away from you and leave you with the camp leaders. This year, your goodbyes to us on the first day of camp were breezy, casual, and brief. Wow! In fact, this year - at your request - I signed you up for two DIFFERENT summer camps, so you are doing a few weeks here, a few weeks there, back and forth, etc. Which amounts to TWO different groups of campers, leaders, routines, and expectations for you to navigate and acclimatize to. And ..... no problem. No tears, no drama, no shyness. You have REALLY come a long way, and seeing you feeling so much more comfortable in these new settings gives me a lot of faith in your ability to adapt to your new school setting as well.

Speaking of summer camp, whoa Nellie do they keep you busy there! A typical day at your current camp includes three major activities (e.g. Express Yourself Craft, Concert in the Park, and Fairview Playground) as well as group time, free time, and icebreaker activities. You come home BEAT. It's kind of a nice treat for us, because during the school year it is often a battle to get you to sleep at a reasonable hour, but there are no bedtime battles after summer camp. Your leaders tell us you often fall asleep on the bus on the way home from various activities, and you are still quite ready to go down for a solid night's sleep when bedtime comes around. By the time summer camp ends, you'll have a trampoline in your yard, so hopefully you can continue to wear yourself out when school starts!

A week or so ago at summer camp, you reached an important milestone in every kid's life: your first bee sting! You were at camp, about to get on the bus to go to the swimming pool, and a bee landed on your arm, unnoticed. When you put your arm down against your body, the bee got scared and stung you. Your camp leader called me to tell me what happened, which I appreciated, because having never been stung before we weren't sure if you would have any kind of reaction. Another reason she called, she told me, was because you wanted to talk to me. Again, never having been through it before, you just weren't sure how much of a big deal it was and what we needed to do next. I told you that you would be fine, it would stop hurting in a few minutes, and that it was completely fine to carry on with your day and go swimming with your summer camp friends. I asked the leader to keep an eye on you and let me know if anything changed, but you were fine and by the end of the day I think you were kind of proud of your war wound.

A couple of weeks ago you got to participate for the first time in Grandkids University, a really cool program here at VIU where kids get to attend a two day "major" with their grandparents and earn a "degree". You and Gramma Karen attended "Amazing Clay" and made some cool creations, including getting to use the pottery wheel for the first time and seeing a Raku firing. You also learned the history of clay, which you happily recited to me that evening. I think you had a really good time, and you were definitely proud of yourself - you've already told a few of your friends that you went to University. I hope you will come back and try another major next year! Maybe Grannie or Grandpa would like a turn to attend with you.

Speaking of Grannie and Grandpa, we went to visit them in their new(ish) house on Canada Day, when they threw an enormous Housewarming/Canada Day BBQ. There were over 60 people in and out of the house throughout the day! I was glad we got to be part of it, if only for a few hours, before getting back on a ferry so we could go to work the next day. You got to see your cousins Andrew, Kiera, and Hannah as well, which you loved. Grannie and Grandpa's new house is so great for visiting in, and it's so great that there is room for so many people to stay the night. You are looking forward to your time there with them next month - you insist that you'll be brave enough to spend a whole week there without me, so we'll see how that goes! I'm glad you're so excited about spending time with your grandparents, and I'm sure they will spoil you rotten (as is their privilege!).

With our move just a few days away, life at our house has become intensely hectic. Whenever we are at home, we are packing, which to your perspective means taking away everything that you love and enjoy. It's true, I have packed all your books, toys, and games, and almost all of your clothes. But I'm not the meanest mom in the world - your books and stuffies are in an open box that you can access anytime; you got to choose a few special games to leave out; and your bookshelves are well-stocked with books you've borrowed from the library, with my promise to take you back any time you like to get new ones. I don't want you to be totally deprived, and I definitely don't want you to not be able to read! But at the same time ... yeah, eventually we've gotta pack that stuff. And what you may not totally realize, because you haven't been through this before, is that YOU WILL GET IT ALL BACK. In just a few more days, all these dozens (let's be serious - hundreds) of boxes will arrive at our new house, and we will get to open them all up and find homes for all these wonderful beloved items that we've missed so much. It's not forever, my Gwen! Just hang in there a little while longer and I PROMISE things will get so much better!

Somehow, in amongst all the packing, we have found some time for some summer fun. We've had some playdates with friends, including finally getting to meet another family from your new school/neighbourhood. You've spent time at playgrounds and at the McDonald's playroom (ahhhh, air conditioning). You've gone to a friend's birthday party at the swimming pool and we've gone to the Sunset Cinema outdoor movie, Big Hero 6. Although it can be challenging to "steal" this time away from our endless packing, I'm glad we've done that, because this is your summer vacation and it needs to be about more than just this move.

Well, I guess that's it for now, my Gwen. Thanks for being such an awesome kid. We love you a million, billion, kajillion, and seven.



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