Monday, April 24, 2017

Dear Gwen: Month One Hundred and Eight

Dear Gwen,

Today you are nine years old.

Just like I feel every year on your birthday, I'm so proud of you and love you so much that it's hard to articulate just how glad I am to be your mom. These days, I don't love you just because you're my kid - I love you because you're an excellent person in her own right!




Your desire for responsibility and independence is growing in really cool ways. Sometimes you are very resistant to our encouragement in this area (for example, you HATE buttering your own bagels or waffles in the morning), but at other times you take the initiative and get things done without a lot of fuss. For example, you've recently gotten on board with the idea of choosing your own clothes, as well as putting them on in the morning. This habit probably took longer to take hold with you than it does with other kids, but that's okay. You've got it now. And it's pretty fun to see the outfits you put together - you've got a great sense of style.



I didn't write your newsletter last month, because you were away in Powell River with your grandparents, and it was hard to write an accurate update when you weren't with me. So I have lots to share this month! In early March, we got to visit your school for a special event. It was Literacy Day, so the kids were encouraged to dress as book characters; you chose Arthur Dent from The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (because why should it matter that Arthur is a man and you are a girl?). Your class has been working hard on creating a researched book project on the school's iPads, and we got to look at your book, hear about your research process, and read your self-evaluation. It was so cool! You are very enthusiastic about school, especially any creativity-based subjects such as art and writing.



Spring Break brought lots of adventures your way. I drove with you up to Comox one sunny afternoon to meet your grandparents at the Little River ferry terminal; we had lunch together and then you walked back onto the ferry with them to go to Powell River. You were a little nervous about being on the ferry with them, as that's a new experience, but you settled in quickly and didn't have any homesickness at all. Grannie took you to Vancouver, where you got to go to Chuck E. Cheese with your girl cousins and Great Auntie Liz, and Playdium with your cousin Andrew. Then, on the way back to Powell River, you dropped off Andrew and picked up Scotty, so you got to spend time with him at Grannie's house. What fun! I love that you have such strong bonds with all your cousins. In all, you were away from home for five nights, and apparently you weren't homesick at all.



I travelled up to Powell River myself at the end of that week so that we could attend Grandpa's CD Release Party. It was a terrific show! We had listened to the CD a few times in the car, so you knew the songs and were an enthusiastic audience member. I love that you have some favourite songs, and that you were engaged and interested in hearing and watching the band play. At one point, Grandpa Ron was introducing the next song, and mentioned that he'd be playing a cigar box guitar, just like the blues musicians used to play many years ago when they couldn't afford real guitars. "And my OTHER grandpa MADE that guitar!" you called out cheerfully. "That's right, Gwen!" Grandpa answered from the stage. "My granddaughter's other grandpa made this guitar for me!" The audience thought that was pretty charming, and so did Grandpa! (And your other grandpa was glad you gave him credit!)



I mentioned in your last newsletter that we sold your bunk bed/desk combination and ordered you a new, double-size bedframe and mattress. Unfortunately, the bedframe order has had all kinds of difficulties and frustrations, and so you've had no bed for two months. For the first week or so, you were sleeping on an air mattress; then, your mattress arrived (in a cool vacuum-sealed box) and since then you've been sleeping on that mattress on the floor. It's not exactly the big girl bedroom suite we had in mind, especially since many of your possessions have been displaced in the meantime and are just randomly scattered around the room. Hopefully the bed will arrive soon (we're now ordering  from a different vendor) and we can get your room put back together. I will say, though, that you have been a champ through this process, and have never complained about either the chaos in your room or the fact that we've been promising you a new bed for months and have not yet delivered! Thank you for being so patient and understanding!



The approach of your ninth birthday has not done anything to damper your affection and need for closeness (thank goodness!). You are both verbally and physically affectionate, often telling me that I am the best mom ever and that you love me so so so so so so SO much. I soak it all up! I know you won't always want cuddles from me at night, so I try to get them while I can. We even got to have a sleepover one night, on your new mattress! We have finished reading the Chronicles of Narnia, and now you like to just read your own book at bedtime, but you love it when I come and snuggle with you before bed. Sometimes we'll snuggle together and quietly read our own books, and sometimes we'll talk about our day or other things we're thinking about. I really treasure these times.



We've had our dog Pixel for two months now, and your enthusiasm for him is still high. You dote on him and are always happy to give him pets and attention, and encourage him to play with you (he doesn't play much yet, but I'm sure his playfulness will increase as time goes on). At first, you didn't join us on the twice-daily walks, but now as the weather is starting to improve we've found a compromise; you come along on the evening dog walk with your scooter, and you get to scoot around and enjoy the sunshine while Pixel gets his exercise (and his daily sniffing quota) too. You're starting to participate more in our dog training classes, too, and I am glad for this. Before you went away on Spring Break, Pixel growled at you a few times - we realized that this was because he didn't know you were above him in our pack hierarchy. So we had to make sure that he knew you, like Mom and Dad, are also a boss of him. Feeding him, walking him, and practicing commands with him are all good ways to do this. While these things may not be as fun as playing with him, they are just as important when it comes to bonding - and I think you are starting to understand that. I can't wait to see how you and Pixel bond over the coming months and years.



Last week there was a meeting in our neighbourhood park space with a representative from the City, so that we could learn about how to turn the space into an actual park. I was really pleased with how you participated in the conversation - after all, when building a park one wants input from neighbourhood children! - as well as interacting really kindly and gently with several other small children who were in attendance. I could see that someday, you are going to be a lovely babysitter.


 Your birthday weekend was a lot of fun. We started with a birthday party at the Romper Room, the local rock climbing gym. Your dad and I used to go there often, before we became parents, and it was amusing to see how little has changed. We both felt quite nostalgic! You and your friends had a great time climbing for two hours. Some of you were fearless and went all the way to the top on numerous routes; others were very timid and didn't climb high at all. But you all had fun and were supportive and encouraging to one another, which made me happy to see. After climbing, there were snacks, cake, and presents in the party room.

 
The next day, all four of your grandparents came over for dinner. The adults ate slow cooker beef stew, and you ate a hot dog. Oh well, at least I've finally figured out a compromise between wanting to have people over for dinner and wanting you not to dramatically refuse to eat anything worthy of serving to company. We all enjoyed our dinner and some leftover ice cream cake, and then played a game of "Betrayal at House on the Hill". It was funny to see that with our recent foray into watching episodes of TableTop and playing complex board games as a family, you were way more competent and engaged with the game than your grandparents were! I love that we can enjoy board games a little bit more interesting than Clue and The Game of Life!



Well, I guess that's it for this month, Gwen. It's pretty great to celebrate nine years of you (three thousand, two hundred, and eighty-five days!) and I can't wait to see what's next.



Love always,

Mom

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!

Love,
Mom


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!

Love,
Mom

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!

Love,
Mom



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