Saturday, February 25, 2017

Dear Gwen: Month One Hundred and Six

Dear Gwen,
Today you are a hundred and six months old. 

 This past month has been characterized by a few very specific events. First of all, it snowed. A lot. And then again. And then some more. SO much snow. We spent a lot of time inside, watching movies, playing board games, and doing puzzles. Because snow SUCKS.

Except one day, for about five minutes, when you were suddenly excited about the snow and wanted me to take your picture. So I did.

Grannie and Grandpa came to town one weekend, and we three girls went to see Oliver! at the Port Theatre. It was terrific!! 

After the show, you went right up to the actress who played Nancy. As Grannie and I caught up to you, we heard her saying, "Thank you!" to you. You posed for a photo with her, and later Grannie asked you what you'd said. "Did you tell her you liked the show? Or that she was a wonderful singer? Or that she lit up the stage?" (All true.) "No. I told her I liked her necklace." 

There was a lot of cuddling. Your hug tank could always stand to be filled. Except for that one night when you were invited to a sleepover-optional birthday party, and I stood strong on my No Sleepovers policy and told both you and the hosting mom that I would pick you up at 9:30. When I arrived, you lost your mind with anger and disappointment. All that nasty two-year-old tantrumming that you would have done the next day due to lack of sleep, you did it all at someone else's house instead. This was not awesome.

Most days, though, you wake up happy (and silly) and we start our day with a snuggle in the big bed. 

I guess we're going to have to come up with a different name for Mom and Dad's bed, as you will soon have a double bed of your own. We sold your bunk bed in anticipation of getting you a new bedroom suite for your upcoming birthday. 

Oh, and the same day, our long-awaited new family member arrived.

The two of you became fast friends. 

You and Pixel make an awesome pair, and adore each other whole-heartedly.

You've been known to serenade him with improvised songs that generally focus on how he is, in fact, a good dog, and also a cute dog.


 Pixel's arrival has nudged you another step towards independence, which is really cool. This month you have been dressing yourself in your own room, making your own breakfast and getting your morning pill (which, because I keep your pills in a daily pill container, prompts you to reflect on what day of the week it is), and sometimes even drawing your own bath and washing your own hair. We are so proud of you!


Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Dear Gwen: Month One Hundred and Five

Dear Gwen,

Today you are a hundred and five months old.

I was hoping that nine years old would be the age of more independence, and though your birthday is still a few months away, that hope is being strengthened week by week as you continue to impress me with your willingness to learn new habits. The latest addition is that you are now willing and able to dress yourself in the mornings. Make no mistake: you've been physically capable of dressing yourself for literal YEARS now. But lying on our bed complaining about how tired you are and how much you wish you could go back to sleep is just SO much more fascinating, so that's generally what you do. Dad puts all your clothes on you as you whine so we can actually leave the house on time; we've never actually experimented with making you go to school in your pajamas. But while we were away in Mexico, Gramma Karen reported that you dressed yourself every day and reported downstairs for breakfast. WHAT?! The jig is up, kid! Since then, I've been putting your clothes on the chair in your room in the mornings (instead of on our bed) and encouraging you to get dressed on your own. Sometimes you are still too tired (aww, muffin) but most of the time this works.

Between Christmas and New Year's, we travelled to Powell River to spend time with my parents, your Grannie and Grandpa. Auntie Sara and your cousins also joined us. The usual fun times, laughter, mayhem, and silliness ensued. You and your cousins get along pretty well, which is nice, and they never seem to get tired of you, even though you're younger than they are. Maybe it's a novelty to have someone so utterly fascinated by everything they do and say. We taught them how to play "Ticket to Ride", which you received for Christmas, and the three of you also spent time at the nearby playground. One night, the Burnikells and the Ottos came over, including many assorted kids and grandkids, and you coloured happily with Ayla and Violet. It was cool!

On the day we were to leave, the morning ferries were cancelled due to weather conditions, so we were still in town for Grandpa's weekly lunch with his dad, Great Grandpa. Your cousins are familiar with this ritual as they sometimes go along, when they are visiting Grannie and Grandpa over summer vacation. At the last minute, you decided to go along too (where the cousins go, so too shall Gwen go). I'm sure Great Grandpa was tickled to have all three of you there to entertain him over lunch!

We finally made it home and then it was time to get ready for New Year's Eve. I was scheduled to sing at the theatre as part of their Gala show; you and Dad, opting out of the Family Finale party we've attended the past couple of years, decided to stay up late and watch Star Wars movies. You actually stayed up all the way to midnight (and beyond) and were still awake to say Happy New Year to me when I got home at about 1:00am. I could tell you were proud that you had reached this big-kid milestone! We all had an enormous sleep-in the next day, and I don't think we got out of our pajamas all day, which made the return to normal working schedules that much harder.

School didn't start up for another week, so you spent a couple of days at Frosty Frolic camp. You've been to enough of these camps now that you can fit in pretty seamlessly, especially when you aren't there long enough to develop any conflicts with the other kids. Two days at camp, and then you went to a double sleepover at Gramma Karen & Grandpa Keith's house. As is our typical routine, we met at Wendy's for lunch to pick you up; you raced across the restaurant to give me an enormous hug when you arrived. It's not often you are that happy to see me, so that felt really really good!

We had your friend Kenzie over for a playdate and sleepover that weekend, serving as yet another reminder that sleepovers are terrible. NOBODY gets any sleep! After repeated warnings from me that you girls HAD to stop talking and go to sleep OR ELSE, I finally pulled you into my bed to sleep with me (say, 10:30pm) and left Kenzie to sleep on the air mattress outside my bedroom. Dad was stuck sleeping on the couch downstairs. The next morning, with all of us exhausted and snippy, I told you I wouldn't be hosting any more sleepovers until at least the end of the summer. 

The following week was back to school and routine for you, and you handled it pretty well. You were looking forward to seeing all your friends and teachers again, wishing them a Happy New Year, and so on. Turns out, though, that your teacher had some kind of a fall over the holidays, and has a broken arm, so she won't be back in the classroom for some time yet; you have a long-term substitute teacher currently, who, fortunately, you seem to get along with quite well. When I encouraged you to make a "Get Well" card for your teacher, you rolled your eyes and told me that you wouldn't be able to give it to her until she got back, so really, MOM, what would be the point, she'll already be well by then?! Oh, fine, what do I know!

Your friends Reilley and Erik invited you to a giant Nerf battle at their school gym, and your amazing Dad made you some amazing armour so that you wouldn't be a giant wimp about getting hit with Nerf darts. There were about 20 kids there, and you had a great time playing Capture the Flag. What a fun idea!

This past weekend you were invited to your friend Arielle's house for a birthday party and sleepover. "Am I allowed to go to the sleepover?" You asked worriedly, referring to my recent no-more-sleepovers edict. "Oh, of COURSE you can go!" I responded. "It's someone ELSE'S mom who won't be getting any sleep, so you go right ahead!" Perhaps not the most empathetic response, but there you have it. When we picked you up the next morning, we were told you'd been awake until sometime between 1 and 2 am. Okay then ... this time I really mean it, NO MORE SLEEPOVERS until August. The way you temporarily morph into a moody two-year-old the next day - full-body temper tantrums at all - just isn't worth it! My new plan is that if you're invited for a sleepover, I'll just come pick you up at 9pm (right around the time the hosting parents are putting the kids to bed). You won't miss any fun, and you might get some sleep.

Another thing that happened this month is that you learned how to tell time! I came across an ad for a free app called "Telling the Time with Flik and Flak" and thought, Sure, worth a try! I downloaded it, you played through the games, and twenty minutes later, you could tell the time. Huzzah! We only have one "analog" clock in our house, in the living room, and I try to remember to ask you to tell me the time from it at least once a day, so that you can practice and solidify that skill. I am not at all surprised that you have been able to pick up the skill from an app that you could not grasp when I tried to teach it to you, because whimsical animated characters and an earnest British accent are so much more engaging than boring old Mom.

Anyway, that's all the news for this month, Gwen! I am super proud of you and so glad that I get to be your mom. Keep being awesome!


Monday, December 26, 2016

Dear Gwen: It's Christmas

Dear Gwen,
Merry Christmas!

I haven't written here in a while. On November 24th your Dad and I were in Mexico for a much-deserved holiday, and December 24th is always a challenging time to sit down and write. So today I'm throwing out my usual 24th-of-the-month schedule and writing to you on Boxing Day. In no particular order, here are several stories and memories of the last two months.

Christmas has been amazing. More than once, you've told us that this has been "the best Christmas ever" and I think this is not only because of the enormous quantity and quality of gifts you've received, but because you are at such a wonderful stage right now: old enough to appreciate all you've been given, and young enough to revel in the pure joy without inhibition. On Christmas Eve morning, Gramma and Grandpa joined us for brunch and we exchanged gifts with them. You received a gigantic (1400-piece) Lego Friends amusement park set. Not only did you display the requisite excitement and gratitude when you received it, but to everyone's amusement (and amazement), you spent the next five or six hours single-mindedly assembling it. No assistance. No lunch break. No meltdowns. I couldn't help thinking this was a great way to make Christmas Eve day fly by!

Your pronouncements about the best Christmas ever are not very surprising. Hardly a day goes by when we are not snuggled lovingly and told that we are awesome parents. It's wonderfully nice to hear! Of course, there are still in between times when you're furious at us and tell us we are terrible parents (although you did tell me recently that even when you're mad at us, you still love us).

Leaving you for six nights in November was really hard. Your dad and I really wanted to spend some time together to celebrate our ten-year wedding anniversary, so we planned a trip to an all-inclusive resort in Mexico. We'd never been on that type of trip before, so we were nervous, and we were also unsure how you would do for such a long stretch without us. We arranged for your Auntie Sara to come for a few days, and then your Gramma Karen for a few days, and we hoped that breaking the time up into chunks like this would help the days pass quickly. Also, we reminded them both not to mention us at all; not to even say encouraging things like "Mom and Dad will be home in three days," because any reminders of our existence could set off a powerful vibe of missing us that was impossible to overcome. Pretending we never existed seems to work the best, and other than one night when you felt a little sad (but then got over it), everything seems to have gone well. I'm really grateful to Sara and Karen for taking such good care of you while we were away!

As usual, you had lots of fun on Halloween. You wore a zombie bride costume to the school Halloween dance, and then dressed as Captain Phasma from Star Wars for trick or treating. This year, you were still in the middle of dinner when the first trick-or-treater knocked on our door, and you rushed to answer it and give them candy. You enjoyed this experience so much, gushing over their costumes and wishing them a Happy Halloween, that I thought you might actually opt to skip trick or treating yourself and stay home to hand out candy with me! You did eventually decide to head out with Dad, but you weren't gone very long - you'd been so excited about Halloween that you'd woken up way too early that morning, and were very tired. You were gone long enough to collect two gigantic bags of candy, though, so it was a successful evening.

There has been a lot of snowfall in Nanaimo recently. I have to smile as I reflect that last year, you complained bitterly about the lack of snow, prompting me to plan a daytrip to go snowshoeing on Mount Washington so you could have the snow experience you craved. This year, there's more snow than there's ever been here in your lifetime - and you couldn't care less. You are over it! Lots of other parents are posting pictures of their kids sledding, building snowpeople, etcetera - you are content to hang out inside and watch movies. Which works FINE for me, because it means I don't have to go out in the snow either! Pass the popcorn!

One awesome thing we got to do in the snow, though, is have our pictures taken. Our amazing photographer-friend, Brooke, did a mini-session one day in a snowy playground, purely to give families the opportunity to have something we never get here: awesome family photos in the snow! I am so pleased with the shots we got, in only a few minutes (that was all anyone could stand, in the bitter cold!). 

For the past few months, you've been rehearsing twice a week with Headliners Performing Arts in their production of "Elf: The Musical". Those rehearsals finally came to fruition and the show opened on December 9th with a daytime performance for several local school classes. Even this day was not without its glitches, though; we had bought tickets for the evening performance, but it was cancelled due to snow and the closure of the VIU Nanaimo campus. I was glad you got to have your school show, since I think all the kids would have been terribly let down if all that build-up had come to nothing on that particular day. And I was secretly kind of glad that you got to have some rest, since you'd spent the previous two days with a full day of school and then a four-hour tech rehearsal. The next day's matinee show went off fine, and then the Friday night show was rescheduled for the following week, so we all came to see you on what should have been opening night but turned out to be closing night. Because of the rescheduling, you ended up doing a double-header performance: your piano recital at 4pm, then rushing to the VIU theatre for a 5pm call for that night's Elf performance (again, after a full school day). This photo tells the whole story of how you were feeling at that point:

Nevertheless, you didn't complain. You got your job done and the show(s) went on! Gramma, Grandpa, Dad and I, and our friends Shannon, Graham, and Dave B all came to see the play, and we enjoyed it thoroughly. You said your line clearly and enthusiastically, and I loved seeing how you sang and danced through all the big group numbers. You worked hard and you knew your part well - we were really proud of you. Still, we're glad to have this behind us so you can have a break from that demanding rehearsal schedule!

Just a few days after we returned from Mexico, it was time to head to Vancouver for the annual family get-together, English Family Christmas. You were so excited to see your cousins! This past year on Spring Break you and your Grannie joined your "girl cousins" for their annual trip to Chuck E. Cheese, and this excursion has strengthened your bond with them considerably, which is wonderful. You are always excited to see Andrew and Scotty, but it's wonderful to see you connecting with your second cousins as well. We all had a wonderful time celebrating and spending time together, and loved seeing all the kids playing together with the various toys and games they received.

One more week of school before Christmas break arrived. The last week of school featured your class's performance at the winter concert: Queen's "We Will Rock You". You auditioned to play the drums and were SO excited to find out you got the part! We were thrilled with your performance: you were so confident and steady, and kept the beat flawlessly. What a champion! We filmed the whole thing, but unfortunately the lighting in the gym was so bad that you're not really visible. We can hear your awesome drumming though! You ROCKED it!

You also shared with us two stories about your school life that made us feel good about how you are interacting with your schoolmates. The first story was that you and a friend were singing a Christmas song at recess, and another kid told you to stop because "it's not Christmas yet." You firmly told him that "I can sing Christmas carols at Halloween if I want to," and carried on. The second story was that you were on the swings, and another girl was saving a swing for a friend. "That's against the rules - there's no saving swings," you told her (which is true, a rule that has bitten you more than once). The other girl got mad and said, "You're going to get coal in your stocking because you're so naughty!" You didn't say anything to her, but said to yourself, "We'll just see about that!" and carried on with your swinging. To me these stories show your confidence and self-possession: not needing anyone's approval or validation, just doing your thing and not letting other people get to you. Not all your stories are like this, so these ones make me very happy and proud.

After all your performances were over, we got to go be audience members at Nanaimo Theatre Group's annual Christmas pantomime. This year, they produced "Aladdin and the Pirates". It was a very funny and enjoyable show, and you even got your photos taken with some of your favourite characters (which you don't usually consent to do) because you loved the show so much.

Well my girl, that's it for this month! I love you a million, billion, kajillion, and eight-and-three-quarters. Looking forward to what 2017 has in store for us!


Monday, October 24, 2016

Dear Gwen: Month 102

Dear Gwen,

Today you are a hundred-and-two months old.

It’s been a great month, with you settling in well to your various routines and activities. It’s taken you a while to feel “at home” with your Elf rehearsals, as the director, kids, space, and structure are all new to you. In fact, a couple of times we even considered cancelling the whole shebang. All due, as usual, to your emotionally reactive nature. On the day the roles were assigned, you were assigned to be a random (meaning, nameless and with no speaking parts) elf. You were devastated and cried all the way home. I tried – several times, over the next few days – to help you understand two important things: First, that not all the roles and lines had been assigned yet, and that you were likely to be given more to do as the rehearsal process continued; and second, that chorus parts are actually THE BIGGEST ROLE in theatre. “You’ll be an elf in this song, and then change into other clothes, and be a New Yorker for this scene, and then change again, and be a store employee in this song, and then change again, and be an office worker in this scene …” at least, that’s what I would have said if you would have let me speak. You preferred instead to shout at me about how miserable you were, and I couldn’t even finish one phrase. (I should note that this was three days later, not on that awful drive home. I know better than that!) Sure enough, at the next rehearsal your director gave you a line: “You bring us down a whole octave!” I’m still not sure that you understand the entire nature of a chorus role and the fact that you will be onstage for probably three-quarters of the entire show, but at least you are happy to go to rehearsals now, and are busily learning your songs and dances (you’ve already memorized your line).

School is going well, and you have made some new friends this year. We’re really happy to see you branching out and connecting with a variety of peers. We’ve given you and your after-school caregiver the freedom and responsibility to arrange your own playdates this year, so one day a week you invite a friend to come home with you after school. We’ve met a few of your friends and there are more to come; and you’re being invited to their houses, as well. It’s wonderful to know that you are building reciprocal friendships.

You seem quite engaged in school this year, and we often hear about the various activities of your day. No surprise, your favourite parts of the week are library time, music class, and science. Last week your class went on a field trip to a nearby beach to learn about animal habitats (on one of the most stormy and blustery days of the year, I might add). You were excited to tell us about meeting a marine biologist, experiencing extreme weather, and learning about how animals adapt to their environment. 

Last week, I got to go to the best parent-teacher interview ever, where I was able to confirm that your Grade Three teacher REALLY GETS YOU. The two of us spent over thirty minutes chatting easily and enthusiastically about how wonderful you are and how much we each enjoy you. Mrs. S. really appreciates your “divergent and creative thinking”, your willingness to contribute, your humour, and your powerful vocabulary. She has no current concerns about your ability to succeed this year – you are right on target!

Through no fault of your own, your school photos this year were pretty disappointing. For context, let me remind you (and our fabulous blog audience) that last year on photo day, you coloured on your forehead with pencil. You THEN remembered it was photo day, and ‘solved’ the problem by pulling the hair out of your meticulous ponytails to cover up your pencilly forehead. And you know what? I paid good money for those photos, because they showed EXACTLY who you are. This year, in contrast, the proofs contained two poses that just made me shake my head. The close-up shot is, inarguably, lovely – but it shows no spark, no glint of Gwen-ness. I can’t find my daughter anywhere in that photo. The wide shot, with your hand awkwardly placed on your hip, makes me wonder if the photographer prompted you by saying, “imagine you’re an alien who doesn’t understand the concept of smiling”. If that’s what happened – you nailed it. Still not paying for these photos! Retake Day is scheduled for the day after Halloween, so that’s bound to be successful.

Right after I wrote your last newsletter, your dad accompanied you to the dentist, where you had three teeth extracted. This was a tearful and screamy experience as you were very afraid of the needles. At one point, after you were already frozen, the dentist needed to apply another needle, and you were terrified, crying and begging him not to. Then he said, “Gwen, it’s already done. You’re frozen, you didn’t even feel it.” Ha! I keep hoping you will re-frame the memories of this experience to identify yourself as a badass who can have teeth pulled and it ain’t no thing. (Because I know there is more of this in your future.) So far, though, you are still sticking to “that REALLY sucked and I never want to do it again”. In any case, your adult teeth are now ready to grow in to the spaces left behind.

At home, you have become quite adept at finishing your weekly chores, and have had a few daily chores added as well. I imagine this will only increase once we add a dog to our household in the near-ish future. I’m really happy that I can count on you to help out. On Saturdays, during family chore time, you are expected to tidy your room; remove your personal items from common areas; tidy your bathroom so I can clean it; and do some dusting. When we first started this a few months ago, it would take over two hours to drag you (practically kicking and screaming) through the process, and you would need one of us to sit with you, painstakingly instructing you to pick up an item, identify it, and put it in its tidy spot … okay, now pick up the next item … it was painful for all of us. Now, you can pretty much do all of it on your own, and you barely even need to see the list. On a school day, you have started to do some of the breakfast jobs yourself: you will get your backpack ready (with the lunch I pack for you, water bottle, and school planner); set the table for yourself, including getting out your morning pill; and pop your waffles into the toaster, all while I am upstairs getting myself ready. Then I come downstairs in time to butter and cut up your waffles, which you are still hesitant to do yourself. We talked recently about you taking on another chore over the next six months, and I laid out some options: doing your own laundry, making your own school lunch, setting/clearing the table at dinner, cooking one dinner a week … you latched on right away to that one, insisting that you could make salads and desserts. (“Salads aren’t dinner,” your dad grumbled, because he would rather serve/eat straight-up carbs and fat and skip the veggies altogether. I don’t think one main-dish salad a week would be a problem for any of us, frankly!) Anyway, I’m glad that our longstanding baking activities have made you feel comfortable in the kitchen, and I’m interested to see how we can branch out into meals. Time to dig out those “cook with kids” cookbooks I bought when you were three, I think!

Last week, we got to enjoy a rare treat: you had a Pro-D day (day off school) that happened to fall on the same day as my biweekly day off work, so we got to spend the whole day together. It was so super fun! We worked on a Halloween craft for your class, wherein you impressed me with your ability to follow multi-step instructions in order to score paper correctly for the project. We also went out to Smitty’s for lunch, and played multiple games of Ticket to Ride (currently your favourite board game, on loan from some friends; we might just have to buy our own copy). You have taken quite easily to this game, probably because you’ve played it on the iPad several times and are familiar with the rules. It’s a pretty easy adjustment to play it “for real”, after that. It sure is fun to play games with you at this level – you hold your own pretty well! Ticket to Ride in particular is a great one, because turns go fast and there is always something to watch and notice, even when your opponents are taking their turns, so there isn’t a lot of time to get distracted or bored. 

Speaking of games, you have had your first brief forays into role-playing games recently. You and your dad have created a Dungeons and Dragons character, and there is a plan in the works for your dad to run a game with you and our wonderful neighbourhood friends, the Logan family. Isley, the oldest daughter, babysits you sometimes; Fiona, the youngest daughter, has had playdates with you and you just went to her birthday party on the weekend. You haven’t spent much time yet with Lynnea, the ‘middlest’ daughter, but I’m certain the two of you will click as well, and I’m so excited for the five of you to play this game together. Coincidentally, one rainy recess break last week, you wandered into the portable classroom where your music classes are held, only to discover it was “Games Day”, a club for students from older grades to gather and play various games over the break, supervised by the music teacher (of whom we are already extremely fond). He welcomed you and invited you to join a game, so you got to try D&D for the first time! You were SO excited to tell Dad and me all about it when you got home. With a bit of questioning, it turned out that the other students were in Grade Six and Seven. “And how did the Grade Six and Seven kids feel about a Grade Three’er joining their game?” I asked. “Well, Mr. Derksen is in charge, and HE said I could join, so they just had to deal with it.” Ha! Rock on, kid!

One more adventure we had on our day off came about completely by coincidence. You’ve been really curious lately about trains, and specifically about how the railroad crossing gates work and how the trains, gates, and vehicle traffic interact. Nanaimo’s roads are frequently criss-crossed by railroad tracks, but the passenger trains haven’t run for years, and I wasn’t even sure whether there were any freight or cargo trains running; I haven’t seen an active train in town any time in recent memory. I reached out to an acquaintance of mine, thinking he might have some information on the subject (he works at VIU as a Computer Technician, and also holds a seat on the Port Alberni City Council – neither of which have anything to do with trains. Nevertheless, he just seemed like a Guy Who Would Know, and my instincts proved correct!). In turn, he spoke to his contacts at Island Rail, who were able to give us the schedule of when a train would be travelling right through a busy intersection. And wouldn’t you know it? One of the days the train would be passing through happened to be on our day off!

We set out on Friday afternoon in the rain and wind to hang out near the Northfield/old highway intersection to wait for the train. We examined the train tracks and the crossing gate so that we could figure out the best place to stand and how it would all work - then, before long, we heard the train whistle! We were both really excited and watched eagerly for it to come round the bend. We saw the light from the engine reflecting off the trees near the tracks before we could see the train itself. Then the train appeared, and the crossing gate lowered, and all the traffic stopped. It was quite surreal – the intersection had been constantly busy since our arrival, which was somewhat surprising in itself, since it was a weekday afternoon. But almost before I could notice it, all traffic had stopped in place, waiting for the train to pass.

As the train approached, it grew so loud, and we could feel the vibrations shaking the pavement under our feet as it passed us! The engineer happily waved at us, blowing the whistle all the time as the train went by. We counted the cars and watched them pass, then the gate raised up again, the train went on out of sight, traffic resumed, and everything was back to normal. It was an exciting interlude, well worth getting rained on!

Well, that’s it for this month, Gwen. Happy Half-Birthday to you, my amazing girl. I’m so glad I get to be your mom and share these adventures with you!



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