Thursday, July 24, 2014

Dear Gwen: Month Seventy-Five

Dear Gwen,
Today you are seventy-five months old.

The age of six is pretty different. You have always been an independent child, but that is ramping up even more now. A couple of weeks ago, we went to one of our favourite summer events: a free outdoor movie, shown on a giant inflatable screen, at a local park. It just so happened that you ran into a familiar face – an older girl who goes to your school and had been at the same birthday party as you just a week earlier. You were fast friends and watched the whole movie together on her blanket (and sometimes cuddled up together in your new sleeping bag). This was a real switch as usually you spend the whole time sitting on my lap.

On the same evening, you and I were walking together through the park and you asked my permission to run ahead. I agreed that you could, then watched you run towards our destination. When you reached a park roadway, you stopped, looked both ways, and then crossed safely. I was SO impressed! We talk about road safety all the time, but there’s no better way to know that you’re actually taking it in, than watching you demonstrate it without any prompting. Way to go, six-year-old!

On Preston's Batman birthday card, you wrote:
"Have the Battiest birthday make sure the Joker doesn't get you birthday boy. Love, Gwen."
 On Canada Day, we all went out to the parade together, which was a lot of fun. It’s sure great to have Dad around this summer to join us in our family outings. This is the first summer since you were two years old that he’s been able to do that, and it’s pretty terrific.

You have started summer camp and are enjoying it a lot. You went to the same camp last year and had a great time, but I think this year you are even more excited about it. You even told me that you look forward to going every day! Despite your excitement, you are invariably shy and clingy at the morning drop-off, holding tight to my arm and very hesitant to join the other kids in their activities (even when they are doing stuff you LOVE, like Rainbow Loom). I saw the same pattern when you were going to preschool: when we arrived in the morning, the other kids would be involved in some kind of craft activity together, but you never wanted to join them right away, preferring to sit at your own table and do your own thing for a little while. Then, when you were ready, you would join the group. One of the leaders is absolutely great at helping you feel at ease during this time. He always has some task or another to do – bringing out more board games, setting up an activity, choosing which toys to use that day – and he always invites you to help, which you are happy to do. Dad pointed out that he was the same way as a kid: he was always more eager to spend time with adults than with other children.

Every day you come home from camp with great stories of what you have done that day. You always have so much fun, and no wonder: the camp schedule is jam-packed with enjoyable, and sometimes educational, activities. This week alone you’ve gone ice skating and bowling, had a science day and a summer sports games day, and enjoyed a pancake party! No wonder Dad wishes he could go to summer camp, too!

Another sign of your independence is the shrinking of the bedtime routine. As your interest in reading has grown, you have started to request that you be allowed to read for a while after I tuck you in and say goodnight (in addition to the story I read you beforehand). Because you are excited about getting to read, and because my tucking-in and prayer-saying and lullaby-singing is no longer the last thing you do before sleep, you are way less interested in drawing out that part of the routine. Many nights, all you want is a quick hug and kiss and then for me to get the hell out of there so you can do some reading. Sometimes this is a relief for me as I have lots to get done, but I’m also not going to let go of our nighttime snuggles without a fight! I can see the time coming – it’s distant, but it’s coming – when I will just have to say, “Time for bed, honey, goodnight,” and you trot off to take care of all your nighttime routines yourself with no assistance from me. So I better get those cuddles while I can.

Earlier this month you took swimming lessons. Sea Otter is the first parent-free level, and the one that most kids have to take multiple times before they pass – this was your second time at the class. Back in March, when summer registration began, I signed you up for the daily-lessons-for-two-weeks format, rather than the twice-a-week-for-six-weeks format, because I didn’t know what our vacation plans might be and didn’t want them to interfere with lessons. This turned out to be a BRILLIANT plan, and I would never go back to the other lesson format. The consistency of going swimming every single weekday worked so well for you. You enjoyed the sure knowledge that every day was a swimming day, and you were able to retain the learning so much better. To nobody’s surprise, you passed with flying colours and will be moving on to Salamander next time around. One thing I noticed with your lessons, though, is that you were consistently far more interested in swimming around and doing your thing than you were in listening to your teacher. Your swimming ability is incredible, but focusing and listening to safety rules is important too.

This month we discovered that you can quote entire chunks of dialogue from The Lego Movie. I have decided that I very much prefer watching your renditions than watching the actual movie. It is pretty hilarious!

One thing we have struggled with lately is that you are starting to get kind of spoiled, with all these great adventures going on. I’ve noticed this with you before, and I’m sure lots of people could point out that it’s a widespread phenomenon with “kids these days”: a real attitude of entitlement. Where it bugs me the most is when we go out and have a super fun, Gwen-centric day together and everyone’s having a great time and then suddenly you decide that you want ICE CREAM on top of everything and if you don’t get it, you are devastated and furious and inconsolable and hell-bent on destroying everyone’s good mood. Instead of being grateful for all the stuff that went RIGHT, you are enraged about the one or two things that didn’t go your way. In an effort to curb this habit, we are really encouraging you to be more grateful, both inwardly and outwardly: insisting that you say thank you at EVERY opportunity, and also reflecting before bed on at least five things you are grateful for that day. You often list things that are really thoughtful and lovely, such as “parents who love me,” so hopefully you will start to make gratitude a habit and lose the entitlement attitude.

Well, it’s been a great month as always, Gwen. We love you so much and are so proud of you. Till next time!


Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Dear Gwen: Month Seventy-Four

Dear Gwen,
Yesterday you turned seventy-four months old.

I get the unique experience this month of having spent time away from you – a whole week! – right before your newsletter was due. This means that it was really obvious for me to see how much you are growing and learning – when I got back from my trip, I could see you had changed a lot while I was gone.

You can completely and totally read now. And you love to read! I’m encouraging you to read any time, any place, at any moment that you formerly would have requested to play on my iPhone or watch a show. I’m trying to have books available to you at all times – for example, I found a small backpack and filled it with some of your books, then put it in the backseat of the car. This has been a big hit, and you’ve already brought the backpack into the house and restocked it with new favourites after reading the original collection. I present reading as the permanent alternative to boredom, which it has always been for me, and you are definitely pretty happy about never being bored again, as you HATE being bored. So, reading is a huge part of your life now, and we are all thrilled about that.

Two months ago, you would read most sight words but get frustrated and quit when you ran across a word you didn’t already know. One month ago, when I asked you how your TA helped you read at school, you told me how she used her finger to cover up most of an unfamiliar word, revealing one letter at  a time as you sounded it out. Now, you will do this yourself with your own finger. You are a reader, and it’s true, Gwen – you never need to be bored again.

Before I left on my trip, the whole family got to go see Cirque du Soleil in Vancouver, performing the show “Totem”. It was absolutely amazing. I think this is my 7th Cirque show, and it is possibly my favourite. The trapeze act alone was just so charming and original. And, well, there was a Jaws reference, so I’m pretty much obligated to love the show. It was also a lot of fun to watch you reacting to your first Cirque experience. I think most of the time, you were too enthralled to even applaud! One of the acts you were really taken with was a clown who had tin pots of various sizes attached to his body, and played music by bouncing a ping-pong ball on the different pots. When you got home after the circus, you spread out all our pots and pans to experiment with the technique yourself.

This month has been marked by a charming obsession with “Philadelphia Chickens”, a book and CD set of “the imaginary musical revue” by Sandra Boynton. The songs are hilarious, and you know every lyric – which isn’t surprising, since for several weeks you insisted on listening to that CD every time we are in the car, and also while waiting to fall asleep at night. Now in the car we don’t listen to the CD – we don’t have to, because you can perform the whole CD yourself. It’s pretty terrific to hear you singing the various musical styles – show tunes, barbershop, jazz, blues, ballads – with all the enthusiasm and joy that you bring to everything you do. Your musicianship is improving greatly with all the practice!

Your piano lessons have wrapped up for the year, and I for one could not be happier about that. Towards the end of the year, classes were becoming quite a source of drama and conflict for us. I saw you constantly struggling with keeping your focus on what was in front of you rather than the highly distracting environment (five other kids and their parents) around you, and you often lost. When you made mistakes or got too flustered, you would refuse to play at all, and sometimes tears would ensue. It wasn’t exactly the positive experience I would have wanted you to have. That said, though, you never wanted to quit piano, and you had lots of triumphs in the program. This year you learned to play with both hands at the same time, to share the melody between hands, and to play “bridges” (fifths) with the left hand. You also learned the G scale and two A minor scales (harmonic and natural), so you’ve been introduced to a few sharps, and many new musical terms: octavia, loco, and DC al Fine, for example. You chose to play your own composition, “Droplets”, for your year-end recital. As always, you were composed and self-possessed on stage during your introduction and performance. We were so proud of you!

Your other extra-curricular activity, karate, does not end for the summer, but you did get to attend a cool semi-annual event where you got the opportunity to compete on teams and receive medals for your performance. I was really glad you got to participate in this: getting you to your 4:15pm class has been a real challenge for us now that both your parents are working (Dad has a summer job at the university), so you haven’t have the opportunity to grade in karate for quite a while now, and that has caused some frustration and disappointment for you. The summer class actually has a better schedule, so hopefully you can attend class more regularly and make up some ground over the next couple of months. 

Kindergarten has ended for the summer – rather abruptly, unfortunately, due to a teachers’ strike. Your dad and I support the teachers, and have tried to explain the strike to you in terms you can understand: that there are people who are bullying the teachers, and that the teachers won’t go back to work until the bullies stop. I’ve also talked about the teachers not being able to have the things the students need in order to learn. A couple of days ago, we got the chance to attend a rally and show our support for the teachers publically, which I was very excited about. We were part of a crowd of some 700 people marching through town with a police escort, proudly carrying our signs. Later in the walk, your usual “independent spirit” took over and you bolted away from me through the crowd. There was no way I could maneuver my way through the people in order to find you, nor could I make myself heard to you over the noise. Once or twice you surfaced, looked around and caught my eye, then raced away from me again. It was rotten, crappy behavior, and that kind of defiance is becoming more and more common from you, I’m sad to say. After a few minutes we found each other again, and all was well, but man was I mad. And you didn’t seem to understand why, or really care.

Anyway, as I was saying, kindergarten is all done for you now, though unfortunately you won’t have your final report card until the strike is resolved (which doesn’t seem to be on the horizon any time soon). I think it’s safe to say, though, that you’ll be going on to Grade One in the fall (or at whatever point the schools return to full-time operation). I don’t think they can fail a kid who can read!

So, next week it’s on to summer activities. You’ll be spending one day every week with Gramma, and the rest of the week with a summer daycamp through Parks and Rec. For the next two weeks, you’ll also be taking swimming lessons every day after camp. These activities should kick off your summer pretty well!

Well, I guess that’s it for this month, Gwen. As always, I love you as far as the moon, bigger than space, and a million, billion, kajillion and six.


Saturday, May 24, 2014

Dear Gwen: Month Seventy-Three

Dear Gwen,
Today you are seventy-three months old.  I still can’t believe you’re six! 

You are growing up and learning so many new things. Your reading skills continue to improve at a rapid rate, and you are also learning to tell time; you told me recently that you had the wrong kind of clock in your room (a digital clock) and that you didn’t know how to read it, so I added an analog clock to your wall as well. So far, you know what the minute and hour hands do, and can identify “o’clock” and “thirty”. Pretty cool!

 You have been telling us lots of stories about your kindergarten experiences lately, including the big spring event which was the addition of an incubator and several chicken, duck and goose eggs to your classroom. You were pretty excited when the eggs started to hatch – and a couple of days ago, you even got to hold a chick! Kindergarten sure is neat.

On the other hand, some sad things have happened at kindergarten too. The day before your birthday, we discovered that you had taken a toy from your classroom and put it in your backpack. After questioning, two different stories emerged: one, that you had been playing with the toys and with your purse, which you had taken for show and tell that day, and forgot the toys were in your purse when you put it in your backpack; the other, that you had thought the toys would be fun to play with at home, so you consciously chose to take them from your classroom. Whatever the truth might be, we needed to make it very clear to you that stealing was a BIG no-no in our family, and we came down on you hard. I couldn’t believe that after having our car broken into, and then our house broken into, and how awful it was to have so much stolen from us, you would steal from someone else. We decided to have you write a letter of apology to your teacher and, of course, return the toys to your class. Hopefully you have learned your lesson!

And more recently, just a week ago, you came home from school in a shirt that was different from the one you’d worn to school. I’d sent you in a really lovely sleeveless plaid button-down shirt in bright spring colours – no doubt a birthday gift from your grandparents. So why were you wearing a cast-off t-shirt from the lost and found when you got home? Because at recess you’d gotten really hot and taken off your shirt, and your teacher decided something without buttons might be less tempting and more likely to stay on your back. This incident did cause me to reflect on how casual we are about nudity at home – and have a talk with you about the fact that it’s not okay to do that outside our house. But mostly it made me laugh!

For the most part, you are not too fussy about your clothes. I generally pick out your outfits for you, but this is not because I don’t trust your taste – it’s because you are vehemently NOT a morning person, and if I require you to make decisions about your clothes on top of everything else you need to get done in the mornings, it would probably break you. (Or at the very least, make us all late for work and school.) So, I choose your clothes, and most days I physically help you get dressed, just so that process doesn’t take forty-five minutes. There is one clothing decision that you end up making for yourself in the mornings, and it is pretty much guaranteed to be the most nightmarish part of our day: the choosing of the shoes. 

If there is a way to choose inappropriate footwear, you will do it. If it’s sunny, you want rainboots. If it’s cold out, you want dress shoes. And lately, all you want, every day, no matter what the weather or the activity you are heading to, you want to wear these ridiculous gel sandals that really, are wrong for everything. And every single day when you choose the most awful, inappropriate shoes possible, and we try to redirect your decision, you argue and fight and whine and throw a fit and burst into tears and insist that we never let you do anything you want to do. It doesn’t matter how calmly we explain to you that your feet will be way too hot in rainboots; that your dress shoes will get ruined on the playground; or that your stupid awful pointless gel sandals will be filled with sand the moment you step outside; you are outraged that we are curbing your freedom in this way. OUTRAGED!

(We may have hidden those shoes while you were at school one day. I just don’t like having that much drama so early in the morning. EVERY morning.)

You had a start of your fifteen minutes of fame this month, with your photograph appearing in the local paper. You and your dad went to the RCMP detachment open house a few weeks ago: you had a tour of the police station, got fingerprinted by the forensics team, tried on a riot officer’s helmet, watched dad try to walk the straight line with drunk goggles on, sat in a police cruiser, and even held a SWAT officer’s gun. It was your turn on the police motorbike that got the photographer’s attention, though! The event got rave reviews from both you and Dad.

Later that same day, I took you to another event: a Rainbow Loom meet-up at the local Michael’s store. You’ve become enthralled with the Rainbow Loom, like most kids between 5 and 12 these days, and you’ve been wanting to go to a meet-up for a while. I wasn’t sure how it was going to work: the meet-up was for two hours, but surely you couldn’t sit with a group of unknown kids and play with rubber bands for that length of time, could you? Well, as it turns out … other than a brief snack break, yes you could, you can, and you did. You sure love your Rainbow Loom!

Speaking of your boundless creativity, the other crafty gift you got for your birthday was a pottery wheel. Your first impulse was to make a small bowl for your beloved kindergarten teacher, which you gave to her after bringing it for Show and Tell. I think she was touched by this: she sent home a thank you card calling you a very thoughtful girl, and a true artist.  

That's it for this month, my girl. I'm looking forward to a summer of adventure with you!



Thursday, April 24, 2014

Dear Gwen: Month Seventy-Two

Dear Gwen,
Today you are seventy-two months old.  Six whole years of Gwen.

You continue to astound us with your creativity, your humour, and your joy.  I recently had a meeting with your teacher, where she spilled the beans on a secret you've been keeping from us: YOU CAN READ, like totally full-on read.  You little stinker, why didn't you tell us?  Maybe you thought we'd stop reading to you if we knew the truth, but in any case, the word is out.  Mrs. Murray told me that the class had received a letter, and you, having never seen the letter before, nonetheless picked it up and read the whole thing out loud to the class.  BECAUSE YOU CAN READ.  She also told me that an Educational Aide is coming to the class a couple times a week to help you with a Grade One reader, a book that no one else in the class is working on.  We are so proud of you!  When we questioned you about this, you didn't seem to think it was a big deal, although you admitted you were really enjoying the reader.  Rock on, Gwen!

Your math skills are also really impressive.  We had the following exchange a couple of weeks ago:
Mom: There are twenty altogether, half on this side and half on that side.
Gwen: So ten on this side, and ten on that side.

It took me a minute to realize you'd just divided twenty in half, without even being directed to do so.  You are clearly a genius!

 A big milestone happened this month: you lost your first tooth.  It took me by surprise, since I'd been told by other, more experienced moms that "even once it starts to wiggle, it can take 4-6 weeks to come out, so don't get too excited."  You and I were both excited about your "wiggler", but I downplayed it somewhat, knowing it could still be a long wait until any real action took place.  I certainly still have memories of my own wiggly teeth, hanging by a thread for what seemed like week after excruciating week, and the knowledge that actually pulling it out would hurt, even as the flapping tooth itself drove me crazy and got in my way.  All of this was still a long way off, I thought, which was why when you came home from after-school club last week and asked me to look at you, I nearly flipped my lid to see a perfect little gap where your tooth used to be.  I hadn't even had a chance to warn you that sometimes it hurt!  And there would be blood!  And here you were, one tooth short and proud as anything, and I hadn't even been there at the big moment! 

Apparently the moment came and went without much fanfare at all: it didn't hurt, you told me, and it hadn't bled.  You had bit into a granola bar at after-school club and POP, out it came.  One of the leaders quickly rescued it and put it into a Ziploc bag for you, thank goodness, because now it's time for the TOOTH FAIRY!  Your heroic dad produced a perfect little box for you to decorate with stickers and pictures, and encouraged you to put your tooth inside, with no mention of the traditional "under the pillow".  The next morning, before even waking up fully, you told me in a thick sleepy voice that the Tooth Fairy must have come, and that you needed to check immediately.  You were pretty thrilled with the $2 she left for you.

This month also marked the beginning of your long-awaited Hip Hop class, which you are really enjoying.  You have learned some good moves, like the bounce, the grapevine, and the hip rock, as well as revisited some old favourites like "jump across the river" (which seems to be a staple in any children's dance class, no matter the genre).  You continue to be challenged by the concept of staying on task and focusing on the teacher's instructions for the entire 45-minute class, but despite your need for redirection, you are clearly learning, with some choreography being repeated and shown off at home.  I hope as your attention span gets longer that you will be able to attend dance and other physical classes, at is is obviously something you enjoy.

I wrote last month about your interest in making and sending cards for the people you love.  You decided recently to "mail" a card to Dad, and after I convinced you that you didn't actually need a stamp (because they are expensive!), you agreed to just put the card in our mailbox, which hangs on the outside of our gate.  When you finished the card (complete with envelope), you put on your coat and boots, marched out to the gate, REACHED UP AND OPENED IT, walked out, then reached up on your tiptoes to put the envelope inside the mailbox.  Then walked back into the yard, closed the gate, and came back into the house.  It seems like only last week that we built a fence to keep our future offspring safely trapped inside, but clearly, you are only here because you choose to be.  What a startling revelation.

Your passion for arts and crafts continues unabated, and our house is full to bursting with your creations.  You brought home yet another interesting picture the other day, and hastened to explain to me what it was: a girl with wings, flying over a mole, "like in my poetry book."  I knew exactly which book you meant, and even what poem.  Here they are, side by side: Frank Newfield's illustration for Dennis Lee's poem "Flying Out of Holes", and your interpretive fan art.

Well, that's it for this month, Gwen.  We are really excited about celebrating your sixth birthday with you, and all the things this next year will bring.  We love you bigger than space, and are so happy to be your parents.



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