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.



Love,
Mama

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.


Love,
Mama

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Dear Gwen: Month Eighty-Six

Dear Gwen,
Today you are eighty-six months old! As your parents and grandparents comment to each other constantly, there is no more "little kid" about you at all. You are a big kid, and being a big kid is awesome!

Let's start with your reading. You are fully unstoppable as far as the written word is concerned. Pretty much anything that you can get your eyes on, you will read. And you would rather read than do just about anything else - which means that you sometimes come home from school with uncompleted classwork, because you chose to read books instead of completing your math sheets. You will still often choose electronics over reading while at home, but it is clear that having so many electronic distractions (tv, laptops, iPad, iPhone, LeapPad, DS) has not prevented you from learning to read and from LOVING to read, which makes your Dad and I very, VERY happy. Hooray for literacy! Your favourite thing to read is still storybooks - you prefer these to chapter books, even though the plots are less interesting, because you still love to look at colour pictures as you read, and chapter books' illustrations are less plentiful and very rarely in colour. You've also started to enjoy some comic books thanks to Free Comic Book Day, such as SpongeBob SquarePants and Teen Titans, and your beloved Chirp subscription has now morphed into a Chickadee subscription, which you adore. Reading offers so many fun options!

Your math brain isn't too shabby either. Last week you asked me, "Is infinity an odd number or an even number?" I don't think anyone knows the answer to that one, but I think it's really neat that you ponder such things!

A few weeks ago you and I made cookies. This is not a rare occurrence at all: you and I have been baking since you were under two years old. But this time, you did everything yourself: from reading and following the recipe to seeking out and measuring the ingredients, all I did was supervise (well, and handle the oven part, because there are some things Mom is not ready to let you do). Baking, I believe, has helped you a great deal to understand math concepts like fractions and multiplying. Figuring out that 1/2 cup and 1/4 cup of flour equal the 3/4 cup that the recipe calls for, or that 3 rows of four cookies on a baking sheet makes 12 cookies, is a really lovely and delicious way to learn math. A few days ago, for Father's Day, we made an apple crisp for dessert, and you did at least as much work as I did for that recipe as well - including dicing the apples for the filling. Yes, Mom let you handle a knife in the kitchen (though it did make me nervous, you did a great job!).

In case you're wondering, this is a homemade JetPack made out of GoldiBlox supplies.
Real Life update: As of this writing, our house is officially sold and we are poised to move into a new (BRAND NEW IN FACT) house at the end of next month. This is super exciting for all of us, and you have been a champ so far in dealing with all the changes. When I look back on the first half of 2015, there hasn't been much going on that is not about this process: we did a lot of planning to figure out what we needed to do to our house in order to get it ready to sell; we did a bunch of work to make that happen, including uprooting every piece of furniture in our house so that we could replace every inch of flooring in our house; we sold outright or packed and stored about two-thirds of the contents of our house, including many things - playhouse, kiddie pool, sandbox, and more - that belonged to you; and then we actually put the place on the market and lived the chaos that is Constant Showings and Interruptions to Our Lives, all while working our butts off to keep our house and yard completely immaculate. I won't say that you were a glowing ray of sunshine through every difficult step of this process, or that you greeted every change with a smile and a song of joy, but honestly? You handled it all way better than we had a right to expect, and I feel so grateful for that. Does it help that you know damn well you are getting a trampoline AND a bunk bed once we move to the new house? Well, it sure doesn't hurt!


In addition to a new house, you'll be starting Grade Two in a new school, one that is a mere 850 meters away from our front door. I'm sure you'll be wanting to walk or bike to school in no time. I'm excited that our new neighbourhood is full of families (all of whose kids will be going to that same school), and figure that as The Kid With The Trampoline you will be able to make friends pretty quick. Your amazing support teacher Miss Kelly arranged for you and I to have a tour of the school together last week, where we also got to meet your new support teacher, who seems equally amazing. The school is lovely, and I think it will be a really good fit for you. So many exciting changes to look forward to!


Naturally, there are sad and scary parts about these changes too. You are sad about the friends you'll no longer see at your school, or at your after school club. I bought you a simple coil notebook and called it your "Keep in Touch" book, which you bring to school and after school club each day to collect friends' names and phone numbers. Just because you don't go to the same school doesn't mean you can't stay friends.


Here's an amazing thing. At seven years old, yes, you still wear a Pull-up to bed. We tried night-training you when we first toilet-trained you at 2.5 years old, but you are a ferociously deep sleeper, and the effort needed to get you out of bed to use the toilet when you were in a deep sleep was enormous, and enormously painful. You were SO miserable! So we soon gave that up, put you back in the Pull-ups, and .... then nearly five years passed. Most of the time, you wake up dry, but sometimes you don't. And although from time to time I would feel concerned or guilty about this, everything I read, or heard through discussion with other parents, indicated that night wetting was still totally normal until the age of eight. So I resigned myself to putting out that monthly cash for Pull-ups, and carried on.

Until one night, a couple of weeks ago, when you abruptly announced when getting ready for bed, "I'm seven. I'm a big girl. I don't need to wear Pull-ups anymore."

And off you went to bed with your underwear on.

And you woke up DRY.

I'd love to end the story with, "And you never wore Pull-ups again!" but that isn't the case. You went without for a couple of nights, then put them on again for a couple of nights, and now it seems that you'd like to just decide, night by night, whether you want one or not. I've even asked you how you decide, but you replied that you had no idea. I'm not honestly sure how to respond - it seems like if I praised you like crazy, it might make you feel ashamed or worried if you decided you wanted to wear a Pull-up for one night (or more), so I'm mostly keeping it low-key, while inside I'm exuberantly proud of you and very excited for the possible end of this era MAYBE coming into sight. Either way, it's pretty cool that you just made the decision by yourself: "I'm seven. I'm a big girl." You really are!


Other than selling/buying a house, this time of year is always full of lots of activities. There was your piano recital, where you played (and sang!) "Tchaikovsky's Waltz" and "Chim-Chim-Cheree". You had your gymnastics fun meet, where you did routines on the floor, vault, bar, and balance beam, and got a medal. We wrapped up the commercial you participated in at VIU to encourage participation in the Canada Learning Bond - holy crap, that one ended up cute!! And now, we've reached the last day of school, so we're kicking summer vacation off with a bang - a trip to the Lower Mainland to visit Playland and Science World this weekend. This is our only family vacation time this summer, so we're going to make it count - the rest of our (grownup) vacation time will be dealing with the move, while you're at summer daycamp having fun. This summer will also see your first time participating in Grandkids University at VIU!


Recently, I had to pick you up from school to take you to a doctor's appointment, and then take you back to school. As we left the doctor's office, I was in my typical hurry, wanting to get you back to school and then myself back to work. You, however, were starting to fray. I suddenly realized that in the hour you'd been away from school, you had missed your morning snacktime, and there was no way you were going to make it to lunchtime without an intervention. "Gwen!" I said animatedly. "Do you know what you get when you mix 'angry' and 'hungry'? You get HANGRY! And that's what you are right now!" You burst out laughing, which was my intent, and then I took you to Timmy's for a bagel to tide you over. You got to learn a new word AND a hangry crisis was derailed! Win-win!

Your delight with Perler beads continues! You designed this Nyan Cat yourself.
Last weekend, we at last went to see the new Pixar movie "Inside Out". I say 'at last' because even though we saw it on opening weekend, you have been obsessing about this movie for a few months now, ever since you saw the trailer. This marks the first time you have anticipated a movie's release, and counted down the days until you could see it. These months of obsession included requesting a book from the library about the movie, so you could read and learn all about it before we even saw it. You also talked about the movie often, quoted from the trailer, and pondered whether the characters would be at Disneyland next time you went there. I was looking forward to the movie as well, and couldn't help but think that this movie - which features the personification of a young girl's emotions Joy, Sadness, Fear, Anger, and Disgust - was awfully appealing to you, as a girl whose emotions are often powerful and out of your control.

The movie was, as expected, amazing. My prediction before the movie was that I would cry at least three times (animated movies are deadly!), but this prediction quickly became meaningless when in fact I spent a good two-thirds of the movie desperately choking back the sobs. My chest hurt for days afterwards. Even YOU cried at a very touching scene featuring the end of an imaginary friend. OUCH, Pixar! Anyway, I was very impressed with the portrayal of mental health/illness and the effects of depression on children. I'm excited that this movie could provide a great conversation starter for families to discuss these issues in an accessible way. But more importantly, you thought it was AWESOME.

Well, I guess that's it for this month, Gwen. As always, we love you a million, billion, kajillion and SEVEN, and are so excited to embark on the next month's worth of adventures with you.


Love,
Mama

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.

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