Sunday, July 24, 2016

Dear Gwen Month Ninety-Nine

Dear Gwen,

Today you are ninety-nine months old.

Summer is in full swing and we have had a lot of adventures, with more on the way. You kicked off your summer vacation with your Gramma Karen and Grandpa Keith, who picked you up on the last day of school and took you for a sleepover and a day of fun in Nanoose and Parksville, including a game of mini-golf where you got a hole in one! As always with your grandparents, you had a great time. The day after that was Canada Day, for which we drove down to Chemainus and took in the festivities there. The weather wasn’t great, but you had a wonderful time: you got your face painted and then had a caricature drawn of you, rode a pony and danced onstage with a terrific band. 

Most of your summer will be spent at the Girls Get Active summer camp, which is a good fit for you. When they say “active”, they mean it! A typical day might include field games, a craft, and an out-trip of some kind. They keep all the kids very busy with a wide range of activities, and you come home tired and ready to relax for the rest of the evening. (Yesterday, you came home and read for a straight hour while you waited for dinner to be ready, even turning down an invitation from a friend to meet at the playground because “I’ve had enough of outside for today”.) I’ve also noticed that you are eating a lot more, at least during the day while you’re at camp. I usually pack just four items in your school lunch, but in your camp lunch you will happily eat six or eight! I’m not sure if this is purely because you’re using so much more energy, or if the fact that you have more than fifteen minutes to eat has something to do with it – but either way, I’m glad you’re getting those calories in.


Your end-of-year report card was terrific, which is no surprise. One example is that you started the year with a “2” (Approaching Expectations – they used to call it Needs Improvement in my day) in “Works and plays cooperatively with others”. You ended the year with a “4” (Exceeding Expectations). That’s huge progress! You also got 4s in Reading (duh), Oral Language, Mathematics, Self-Confidence, and Independent Work. That’s amazing! I think you tend to believe that your ADHD brain holds you back a lot more than it actually does. We had a great time looking through your “Special Work” folder for the year, seeing all the awesome examples of your work. Your diagram of “How to Have a Good Day at School” was especially great, and it amused me enormously to see “Read other books by Gwen B!” on the back of a story you’d written.

Left: If You Give an Octopus Some Oatmeal, by Gwen.
Right: Read more books by Gwen B.! If You Give a Meerkat Some Milk
If You Give a Butterfly a Burger
It’s wonderful to see that you are more willing to write than you have been in the past. You’ve always had loads of wonderful ideas and stories to share, but were frustrated by the process of writing them down. I don’t know what’s caused the shift, but I’m happy about it! You are participating in the library’s summer reading club, as usual, and in addition this year I have put YOU in charge of writing down the books you read in your book log. No one else needs to read the log, so it’s entirely appropriate to be self-monitored; and you read more than one book a day, so you never lack for something to write down, and have no temptation to “cheat”. (In fact I doubt that idea would even occur to you.) For the past two weeks, you and I have made a Sunday afternoon trip to the library to load up with books and stamp your book log – your reading continues to be an enormous part of your life, and we are finally at the point where you choose to read chapter books more often than storybooks. Most joyously of all, you and I have started reading the Chronicles of Narnia as our bedtime story. We just finished the first in the series, The Magician’s Nephew, which ends with a number of elements that link to the most famous one in the series, The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe. You have seen the movie of that second book, and even read at least part of it in school last year; it was AMAZING to watch your realizations about how the stories link, and are all part of a bigger story, as we finished the Magician’s Nephew. I’m so excited to continue reading these books with you!  

For the second year in a row, you got to participate in Grandkids University, this time with my mom, your Grannie Maureen. The two of you signed up for “Creating, Baking, and Tasting …. Oh My!”, otherwise known as “Baking”, for your major. You made blueberry-cranberry-lemon loaf, almond crescent cookies that I was COMPLETELY unable to stop eating, burger buns on which you got to eat burgers for lunch on the second day, and a lemon meringue pie. You also got to participate in the fun afternoon activities, such as getting your hair coloured by the Hairdressing students, playing in the gym with the other kids, and eating pizza and chips. It was a very successful and fun two days - Grandkids U is such a cool, unique program, and I’m pretty proud of our institution for putting it on every year!

One of the fun summer activities I had planned for us turned into a flop. We were all looking forward to the big-screen outdoor movie event put on every summer by Coastal Community Credit Union. We’ve gone to one of these every year, seeing The Croods, Rio, Big Hero Six, The Lego Movie … this year, they were showing The Jungle Book in Nanaimo, which I thought would be too scary for you, so we decided to drive to Duncan to see Zootopia. Well, who could have predicted that we would have to quickly exit the park, in the pitch-black, picking our way through the “rows” of lawn chairs and air mattresses, about half an hour before the movie’s end, because you were too terrified to watch any more? I guess now that we’ve had to leave big-screen Disney movies more than once, we are going to have to start pre-screening them for you. Your dad is quick to point out that the environment – the enormous screen, the outdoor park, the being surrounded by strangers – may have added more fear to a sequence about jungle animals going “savage” and attacking other animals than you may have experienced if we’d watched it at home. This makes sense, but I will never be able to wrap my mind around the fact that you would happily watch 9 and The Nightmare Before Christmas on a daily basis, while other films and TV shows that seem totally innocuous cause you to freak right the heck out. I’m reminded of that one episode of Arthur the Aardvark, and that other episode of Peg + Cat, as well as the most recent outing to Zootopia.

One more thing I must write about before ending this newsletter – a couple of weekends ago, we went as a family to a barbecue hosted at a friend’s house for the entire department of Dad’s coworkers. You know a few of them, because they are our friends – Johnny and Tami, Eric and Arwen – but mostly they are all strangers. And most importantly, there are a lot of them, and they are all adults, and because of the weather everyone was hanging out inside instead of out in the yard, so it was an intense and crowded situation for anyone, not just a kid. I figured we would stay for an hour, then you and I would go home, letting Dad stick around to hang out with his colleagues as long as he liked. Well, you surprised us. We brought along one of your favourite activities, the sketchbook and stencil set where you get to design clothes, hairstyles, and makeup for the figures already drawn on the pages. You quite happily sat at the table in the middle of this loud, enormous crowd, and entertained yourself with it for nearly two hours. Not only that – after dinner, when dessert was served, you were quite confident to work your way through the crowd and fetch your own dessert, turning down my offer of help. We ended up staying at the party for nearly three hours in total: you tried new foods, interacted appropriately with those around you, and seemed happy and content to be there. We have NEVER seen you display that kind of comfort and confidence in that environment before – it was amazing!

Well, that’s it for this month, my Gwen. As always, I love you a million, billion, kajillion, and EIGHT, and I’m looking forward to the rest of our summer adventures together!


Sunday, June 26, 2016

Dear Gwen: Month Ninety-Eight

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

This is a really fun time of year. The level of activity ramps up, with lots of year-end performances/events/recitals/outings/etc., but at the same time the extra-curricular stuff is winding down and dropping off our calendars, one by one. It’s a great feeling. As I write this, both your gymnastics and piano lessons are done for the summer, and you have only a few days left of school and of after-school fun with your babysitter.

I made some lovely thank you cards for your teachers this year, and when it was time to fill them in you decided that “every good card needs a poem on the inside”, so we quickly made one up. I wrote it out on a scrap piece of paper, along with the teachers’ names, and left you to copy the text and fill in all five cards. To my surprise and pleasure, you actually did this, and did an awesome job too! Here’s a photo of one of them.

Your year-end events for piano and gymnastics both went well. At your piano recital, you very proudly played the Star Wars theme. At the gymnastics fun meet, you struggled a bit: you forgot your floor routine partway through, but you followed the old stage advice “the show must go on” and just made up some moves until the routine was finished. I thought this was a good idea! You were disappointed with yourself, though, and a little frustrated. The meet also gave Dad and me an opportunity to observe you in an environment of other kids – not always a pleasant experience. The coaches had asked everyone to show up 15 minutes early, which we did. All athletes (that’s you) were asked to sit in lines on the gym floor mats while we waited for the meet to begin. This did not work too well for you, and Dad and I had a perfect view of the 20+ kids who were sitting (mostly) calmly and still, and you bouncing around from one place to another: greeting a coach with a hug, chatting with another gymnast, playing with the gym props, lying on your stomach and kicking your legs, and so on, and so on, and so on … It’s not always fun to be reminded of the differences between you and other kids. We really enjoyed watching your routines during the meet itself – floor, bars, beam, and vault – but the most awful and painfully embarrassing moment came at the very end of the meet. The head coach was announcing each athlete’s name so they would come to the large podium, receive a medal, and then pose for a photograph before receiving a certificate and returning to the floor. The coach was doing an especially good job of picking out each athlete’s parents in the audience, directing the kids to pose and smile on the podium long enough for them to get a good photo. Finally, it was your turn, and I had the camera ready. You got up on the podium, then instead of accepting your medal, turned to pick a fight with the coach about the pronunciation of your last name. The pattern of the awards routine was disrupted; there was no lengthy pose for you to get your photo taken. I was so frustrated, disappointed, and yes, embarrassed. Making the whole situation worse? THE HEAD COACH HADN’T EVEN ANNOUNCED YOUR LAST NAME WHEN SHE CALLED YOU. She didn’t announce anyone’s last name – it was a small enough group that she didn’t need to. But you needed to pick a fight about it anyway, because last year when she called you, she’d said your name wrong. And if it happens one way one time, it better happen that way every time, or YOU WILL PICK AT IT.

We went to another year-end event, the Family Barbecue hosted by the Nanaimo Theatre Group. I am actually part of the committee that runs social events like this, and I was one of the main organizers of the barbecue, so … yeah, we kinda had to be there – despite the rain. The barbecue turned out pretty well, actually – we had about thirty people in attendance, including a good group of kids, and you had a lot of fun playing with Graham and Genevieve.

We went to a check-in visit with your counsellor earlier this week. She has a large and wonderfully well-trained dog, Jake, who is often part of your sessions together, and this visit was no exception. At the end of your time together, you got to feed Jake a banana while we watched. You broke the banana into chunks and made Jake do different things in order to get each one. I was very impressed with the way you used your voice and actions to control Jake, a large and strong dog. Your usual fidgety, distracted nature was not in evidence, and you needed no assistance from the adults around you to make Jake follow your commands. It was really impressive to see, and it made me look forward to the time when we get our own dog.


Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Dear Gwen: Month Ninety-Seven

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

What the junk!?
As usual, it’s been a full and busy month. A few weeks ago, you participated in your first cosplay contest, dressing up as Rey from Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Your dad worked incredibly hard on your costume, though sad to say you were less grateful than you should have been for his efforts. Nevertheless, you were patient and devoted enough to do a LOT of waiting around on the day of the contest, and the efforts paid off as you took second place in your age category. Impressive … most impressive! 


The Star Wars obsession continues with your piano practice. In late April, you taught yourself how to play the first part of the Star Wars main theme, and your piano teacher supported you by writing out the music for the next section (in the same key you’d already chosen) and encouraging you to play the piece in your upcoming recital. At any time of day, we just might hear the Star Wars theme grandly echoing through our house as you practice and prepare.
A little bit late this year, but we did get our usual annual family photo shoot done, this time at the decorative gardens of VIU. I love the bright colours of the photos, and I am awed again by how grown-up you’re getting. This was especially obvious when I took last year’s photos out of the frames and put them in our photo album next to your six-year-old pictures … what an enormous change in the past two years!
Late April saw us attending your school in the evening for the Spring Concert. We were looking forward to your performance, of course, but didn’t have high hopes for an evening of stellar entertainment. Boy, were we wrong! Your amazing music teacher, Mr. Derksen – the same man who played “Space Oddity” for your class on the day of David Bowie’s death – had arranged a full program of classic rock songs, all with LIVE ACCOMPANIMENT. Not only that, but these songs were not presented in the usual “group of kids stand in three rows and sing” format – no, these songs were PERFORMED. From the young man who played an enthusiastic air guitar to “Johnny B. Goode” to the class, who performed highly amusing and entertaining interpretive actions to the Beatles’ “Help”, every group’s song featured fun and enjoyable performances. I can’t miss writing about the class who performed “Space Oddity” itself, with a cardboard rocket ship that “blasted off” thanks to a pulley system, while several students cavorted around with bright yellow stars. Your class performed “Three Little Birds”, a reggae song – and I put aside my hatred of reggae for one night to enjoy and applaud you all. Mr. Derksen had noticed your efforts in learning and performing the actions, and put you on Stage Left at the edge of the class to encourage everyone else to follow along. You also started doing an echo, of your own volition, which Mr. D. liked and told you to keep up. On the night of the concert, another girl started echoing along with you, which did NOT amuse you!

I happened to mention at the dinner table one night that I had bought tickets to attend “Musical of Musicals: The Musical” in Ladysmith with a friend the following week. Thoughtfully, you told me, “That sounds like a really good title. And I like musicals. Can I come?” Well, who could say no to that? After double-checking with some of the cast and crew members that I knew that the content was suitable (ish) for kids, I bought another ticket, and off we went for a night of musical fun. The musical (of musicals, the musical) is a pretty funny show. Presented in five scenes, each scene is written as a parody of (and homage to) a different composer or team: Rodgers and Hammerstein, Andrew Lloyd Webber, Stephen Sondheim, Jerry Herman, and Kander and Ebb. The show is packed with in-jokes and references to the shows written by these composers, so a knowledge of these musicals definitely adds to the fun – and I’m happy to say that you were familiar enough with various musicals to be able to catch a lot of the jokes. You had brought along a notebook to write down questions in case you were confused, but I don’t think you wrote down any questions – just “Corn – silly guy!” about the opening scene (an accurate observation) and then settled in to enjoy the show. The final scene, set in a “Cabaret” in “Chicago” featured the usual scantily-clad girls, one of whom is advised to sell her body in order to pay the rent – which led to a conversation a few days later when you asked me, “How can someone sell their body? That’s just made up, right Mom?” After the show was over, some of the cast and crew (friends of mine) came over to say hello, and Nikita, the stage manager, gave you a tour of the booth and the backstage. You soon came onto the stage proper, happily cavorting around and leading my theatre friends to comment (as if I didn’t already know) that I had very effectively passed on the gene for performance to you.
Speaking of which – I’m in the process of signing you up for your first ever musical theatre class with Headliners Studio! Hopefully, instead of gymnastics, this fall you will be going to rehearsals every week, learning and practicing and then, before Christmas, performing a full-length musical with your troupe at a local theatre. After sending in your registration form, you were full of questions. “Which part will I get to play? Will there be two acts? Will I be in both acts? What if I just have to do props, like Mom, and not get to talk and sing?” Of course, most of these questions can’t be answered until your director makes these decisions, but you did ask one question I absolutely knew the answer to: “Mom, will you come and see the play?” “OF COURSE I WILL! I will be right there in the front row, cheering and hooting.” To which you primly said, “Mom, that’s not being a good audience. There’s no cheering at a play.” We agreed that it was okay for me to cheer at intermission and at the end of the play. Whew.
You told me a charming story on the weekend about an experience you had at school last week. A substitute teacher was filling in, and didn’t know everyone’s names quite yet, so somehow made the error of putting you on the boys’ team when she divided people up for a game. You were thrilled, and proved to be the secret weapon, as the game involved each team making up trivia questions for the other. The girls’ team would ask things like, “What colour are Princess Elsa’s eyes?” and who on the boys’ team would know the answer? Well, you, of course. Then you would help the boys’ team come up with questions like, “Who is C-3PO’s friend?” to which no-one on the girls’ team had any response. “I liked being on the boys’ team, Mom, because I’m kind of a boyish girl.” “Well, maybe you’re just a kid who knows that you can like all kinds of different things, instead of a kid who thinks that some things are for boys and some things are for girls.” “Hmm. Yeah. That’s what I am.”
You’ve been invited to a friend’s birthday party next weekend, and for once in our lives we actually had time for you to sit down and make a card for her. You’d think with all the craft supplies I have on hand, this would happen more often, but somehow we are always too rushed. Anyway, the card you made was quite amazing. You put a LOT of work into it – I think it must have been about a half an hour, all told. I have to admit, too, that I really enjoyed helping you out with a technique or two to bring your idea to life. Your new and improved attention span is REALLY cool! Later that same night, I had a group of women over for a cardmaking class, and I showed them all your card – they all agreed that it was a wonderful card. When I reported this to you the next day, you humbly offered to teach them all how to make it. What a generous soul you have!
You were marvellously generous with me this month for Mother's Day, too. This is the first year that you spent your own money on a gift for me, but more than that - you figured out what you wanted to get, made sure you had enough money, and asked me to take you to the store to get it on a day we were already heading out together. In short, YOU HAD A PLAN and an appropriate way to enact the plan. I was blown away by your forethought! After your piano lesson, we went to the grocery store, where you first told me I had to wait in the car, but after considering the busy parking lot, decided it would be okay if we walked in together and then I waited for you at the front of the store. You chose the gift, brought it to the checkout, paid for it, and then walked back to me, gallantly trying to hide it behind your back. When we arrived home, you decided four days was too long to wait to give it to me, and presented me with my early Mother's Day gift - beautiful tulips and a handmade card reading, "My BFF for meny happy yers! Happy Mothrs Day!" It was the sweetest gift ever!

Well, I think that’s all the news for this month, Gwen. As always, I love you a million, billion, kajillion and EIGHT.

Your BFF,


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