Monday, July 20, 2015

Dear Gwen: Month Eighty-Seven

Dear Gwen,

Holy moly, didn't that month just fly by? You are eighty-seven months old, summer is in full swing, and we are DAYS away from moving to our new house. Life is crazy and time is flying by!

Last month we took a brief trip to the Lower Mainland to enjoy Playland and Science World. You surprised us a lot with the rides you did (and didn't) want to go on at Playland. Last time we went - you were just four years old - you rode on the kids' roller coaster dozens of times in a row. In my memory, I sat on a nearby bench for nearly an hour while you got your fill of this ride. This time around, you rode it twice and were done, instead obsessing about the nearby giant slide, which I think you went on about fifteen times throughout the day. Despite a LOT of urging from your parents, you flat-out refused to ride the Music Express, or any other grown-up ride (other than the Ferris wheel). Oh well. Grannie watched you for a bit on the kiddie rides so Dad and I could do a few grown-up rides by ourselves. Anyway, we had a lot of fun!

The next day we went to Science World with our friends Sally, Dean, Rachel, and Matilda. You only see these friends a couple of times a year, but Sally and I are always so impressed with how well you play with Rachel. This trip was no different. You are so patient with her and so happy to be with her. I hope you always keep that empathy and appreciation for others. Our time at Science World was too short - we only got to see about a third of the exhibits - so we'll have to go back again soon for a full day of fun exploration.

Your Grade One year is officially over, and your final report card again showed some good improvements. You are ready to start Grade Two at your new school in a couple of months. At one point, you were worried that you would have to start over in kindergarten at a new school, but I was able to reassure you that your new teachers would know how smart and awesome you were, and that you had already finished kindergarten AND Grade One. I think you still have a lot of nervousness about the new school, but we are doing everything we can to help you feel better, and to be honest, I really feel that once you have been there for a week or two, you will be absolutely fine. Last year's experience in the Friendship Group has really, really helped you in your social skills, and you've improved so much. We really saw this improvement when we dropped you off for your first day at summer camp this year. Last summer, certainly on the first day (or any Monday) but also on any random day throughout the summer, you were paralyzed with fear and shyness when we tried to peel ourselves away from you and leave you with the camp leaders. This year, your goodbyes to us on the first day of camp were breezy, casual, and brief. Wow! In fact, this year - at your request - I signed you up for two DIFFERENT summer camps, so you are doing a few weeks here, a few weeks there, back and forth, etc. Which amounts to TWO different groups of campers, leaders, routines, and expectations for you to navigate and acclimatize to. And ..... no problem. No tears, no drama, no shyness. You have REALLY come a long way, and seeing you feeling so much more comfortable in these new settings gives me a lot of faith in your ability to adapt to your new school setting as well.

Speaking of summer camp, whoa Nellie do they keep you busy there! A typical day at your current camp includes three major activities (e.g. Express Yourself Craft, Concert in the Park, and Fairview Playground) as well as group time, free time, and icebreaker activities. You come home BEAT. It's kind of a nice treat for us, because during the school year it is often a battle to get you to sleep at a reasonable hour, but there are no bedtime battles after summer camp. Your leaders tell us you often fall asleep on the bus on the way home from various activities, and you are still quite ready to go down for a solid night's sleep when bedtime comes around. By the time summer camp ends, you'll have a trampoline in your yard, so hopefully you can continue to wear yourself out when school starts!

A week or so ago at summer camp, you reached an important milestone in every kid's life: your first bee sting! You were at camp, about to get on the bus to go to the swimming pool, and a bee landed on your arm, unnoticed. When you put your arm down against your body, the bee got scared and stung you. Your camp leader called me to tell me what happened, which I appreciated, because having never been stung before we weren't sure if you would have any kind of reaction. Another reason she called, she told me, was because you wanted to talk to me. Again, never having been through it before, you just weren't sure how much of a big deal it was and what we needed to do next. I told you that you would be fine, it would stop hurting in a few minutes, and that it was completely fine to carry on with your day and go swimming with your summer camp friends. I asked the leader to keep an eye on you and let me know if anything changed, but you were fine and by the end of the day I think you were kind of proud of your war wound.

A couple of weeks ago you got to participate for the first time in Grandkids University, a really cool program here at VIU where kids get to attend a two day "major" with their grandparents and earn a "degree". You and Gramma Karen attended "Amazing Clay" and made some cool creations, including getting to use the pottery wheel for the first time and seeing a Raku firing. You also learned the history of clay, which you happily recited to me that evening. I think you had a really good time, and you were definitely proud of yourself - you've already told a few of your friends that you went to University. I hope you will come back and try another major next year! Maybe Grannie or Grandpa would like a turn to attend with you.

Speaking of Grannie and Grandpa, we went to visit them in their new(ish) house on Canada Day, when they threw an enormous Housewarming/Canada Day BBQ. There were over 60 people in and out of the house throughout the day! I was glad we got to be part of it, if only for a few hours, before getting back on a ferry so we could go to work the next day. You got to see your cousins Andrew, Kiera, and Hannah as well, which you loved. Grannie and Grandpa's new house is so great for visiting in, and it's so great that there is room for so many people to stay the night. You are looking forward to your time there with them next month - you insist that you'll be brave enough to spend a whole week there without me, so we'll see how that goes! I'm glad you're so excited about spending time with your grandparents, and I'm sure they will spoil you rotten (as is their privilege!).

With our move just a few days away, life at our house has become intensely hectic. Whenever we are at home, we are packing, which to your perspective means taking away everything that you love and enjoy. It's true, I have packed all your books, toys, and games, and almost all of your clothes. But I'm not the meanest mom in the world - your books and stuffies are in an open box that you can access anytime; you got to choose a few special games to leave out; and your bookshelves are well-stocked with books you've borrowed from the library, with my promise to take you back any time you like to get new ones. I don't want you to be totally deprived, and I definitely don't want you to not be able to read! But at the same time ... yeah, eventually we've gotta pack that stuff. And what you may not totally realize, because you haven't been through this before, is that YOU WILL GET IT ALL BACK. In just a few more days, all these dozens (let's be serious - hundreds) of boxes will arrive at our new house, and we will get to open them all up and find homes for all these wonderful beloved items that we've missed so much. It's not forever, my Gwen! Just hang in there a little while longer and I PROMISE things will get so much better!

Somehow, in amongst all the packing, we have found some time for some summer fun. We've had some playdates with friends, including finally getting to meet another family from your new school/neighbourhood. You've spent time at playgrounds and at the McDonald's playroom (ahhhh, air conditioning). You've gone to a friend's birthday party at the swimming pool and we've gone to the Sunset Cinema outdoor movie, Big Hero 6. Although it can be challenging to "steal" this time away from our endless packing, I'm glad we've done that, because this is your summer vacation and it needs to be about more than just this move.

Well, I guess that's it for now, my Gwen. Thanks for being such an awesome kid. We love you a million, billion, kajillion, and seven.


Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Dear Gwen: Month Eighty-Six

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And off you went to bed with your underwear on.

And you woke up DRY.

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

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

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

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

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

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


Sunday, May 24, 2015

Dear Gwen: Month Eighty-Five

Dear Gwen,
Today, you are eighty-five months old. And this is the copping-outiest newsletter I have ever written, because we are in the midst of House-Selling/House-Hunting Madness, and it is nigh-on impossible for me to focus on anything other than that for more than fifteen seconds at a time. So, in hopes that pictures (and even videos!) are worth a thousand words, I present the following visuals.



Friday, April 24, 2015

Dear Gwen: Month Eighty-Four

Dear Gwen,

Today, you are seven years old. Where does the time go?

Life with you continues to be mostly fun, with a few frustrations. Recently, you learned the song “Little Rabbit Frou Frou” at school. You sang it for me that afternoon in the car, and took great pleasure in the punchline: “Hare today, goon tomorrow!” I sang a silly little ba-dum-da-dum melody to add a flourish to your performance, and with perfect timing and intonation came the rimshot “tsssshhhh” from the backseat. It was hilarious! I burst out laughing, which made you laugh, and then you wanted to do it all over again. You are so fun!

Another day, you were discussing ponies, unicorns, and pegasi with your dad. “According to my research,” you told him, “Pegasus can fly, but unicorns have to stay on the ground.” We are very proud of you for doing such diligent research, and citing it appropriately.

All kids have charming little mispronunciations that they slowly grow out of, to their parents’ chagrin. You, at seven, still have a few that I’m reluctant to correct you on. Breakfast is still “breffikt”, and roast beef – which one of the piggies has, while another goes to market – is “marf beef”. But we recently discovered a new one, much to our delight – the object a detective uses to search out clues, or a scientist uses to see things more closely, is called a “magna-find glass”. Now doesn’t that make perfect sense?

We’ve been very busy packing and painting and cleaning and organizing and putting a great many things from our house into our new storage locker. The first time you heard me talking about the storage locker, you were very curious and wanted to come with me to see what it was like, so I brought you along. You were excited and animated and enthusiastic about helping me, and when we got there you were quick to tell me that it was a little different from what you expected: you thought it would be like “the ones at the swimming pool”, silver with a yellow key. Our locker is not only a different colour, but, you know, substantially bigger. You remain fascinated by the locker and are always happy to help us with our trips there.

One day over breakfast, you raised your middle finger and asked me what it meant. Hmmm. Where did you see that gesture, I wonder? I told you that it meant a lot of rude, mean things, like “Go away” or “I hate you” or “You’re stupid”. Then we talked about how people would feel if they were shown that middle finger – for example, how would your teacher respond if you showed it to her? “But what if I didn’t know?” you asked. “But now you DO know,” I told you. So, you know, don’t do it!

We had a run of very frustrating and upsetting school days recently, after the Easter break. You returned to school on Tuesday, and mid-afternoon I got an email from your teacher letting me know that “Gwen had multiple moments of frustration throughout the day. I will outline two examples: I had to remind Gwen to use her words instead of grabbing things from people. [A classmate] wanted to put the pencil crayons/pencils away but Gwen didn’t like how she was doing it so she grabbed them from [her] hands and an argument blew up. The other example was during planners. I had to take down the planner message off the board because it was close to the bell time so Gwen threw her pencil and hid in a corner. I had to finish the message for her.  I reminded her to talk less and work more. I hope you will have the time today to remind Gwen of class expectations and also to use her words to explain herself. “ We chalked most of this behaviour up to “holiday hangover”, the return to school after four days off, but we did talk to you about using your words and keeping your hands to yourself.

Then on Wednesday, when you unpacked your backpack at home, you handed Dad and I some flowers you had picked for us. They were not wildflowers or weeds, but planted flowers. When I started to question where you had gotten them, you told us that it had been “Free Garden Day” at school that day. Further questioning revealed that “a kid in a bigger class” had told you about this supposed Free Garden Day, that it was for the whole school (but only a few kids had participated, and no teachers or adults), and that it was the first time ever for this event. Um. It was obvious to me that you had just stolen these flowers from someone’s garden, after being manipulated by another kid. We had a big talk about thinking carefully before doing things that other people tell you to do, asking questions like “Why isn’t the whole school here, if it’s for everybody?” or “Why aren’t there any teachers here?”

On Thursday, I got a text from your teacher that you had “flashed the class and said, ‘Look at my boobies!’” I was completely thrown. I KNOW that you know about privacy and private parts, and also, WE DON’T CALL THEM BOOBIES. I’ve never heard you use that word in your life! I immediately wondered if you had, again, been talked into this by another kid, especially in light of the unusual word usage. When we talked about it that night, this was confirmed: a boy in the class who according to you “hates girls” was hitting, scratching, kicking, and pestering you to lift your shirt. “Higher,” he’d say when you lifted it a bit, “higher,” again and again. So we talked again about not letting people talk you into things you know are wrong, and then we talked about how to protect yourself: get away physically, and use your words, in a LOUD voice. I told you that if you had yelled, “No, get away, stop touching me!”, then the teacher would have looked over to see why you were yelling, and seen the boy bothering you. Then he would have been in trouble instead of you! I emailed the teacher to fill her in, and hoped and prayed that Friday would pass without incident. Somehow, miraculously, it did.

“Mom, can we have a block party?” You asked one morning. I imagined the block parties I’ve heard about (but never attended), where a bunch of neighbours get together for a communal barbecue and social event. But my first instinct is always to ask you what you mean, because sometimes you have a totally different thing in mind, and that was the case here. It turned out you wanted to invite a whole bunch of friends over, and everyone would bring their blocks, and you would all work together to build the biggest tower ever. This sounds super fun, except I can’t figure out how to make sure that everyone gets their own blocks back at the end. Once we find a solution for that, I will totally throw you a block party!
We are, it seems, constantly in a hurry, rushing to school and work and activities and bed without a lot of time to relax and enjoy each other. You are often in your own little world throughout all this rushing, which leads to a lot of frustration on our part, but sometimes makes us laugh as well. Last week when Dad was trying to coax you out of the car so you could go to before-school club, while you just gazed blankly at the handle above the window, you told him in an awed voice, “Dad, I never noticed these handles are so vibrational!” No idea what you meant by that, because I’ve never noticed that either.

This being your birthday, there are grand plans afoot for the weekend. We had your annual birthday photo shoot at Bowen Park last weekend, and today I am picking you up after school and the two of us are going to get manicures together for the first time. You are always asking me to paint your nails, but since I’m no expert and certainly couldn’t do a good job on your tiny fingernails, I figured we should go and get pampered together. Pretty sure that is going to blow your mind, being treated like a big grown-up girl like that. Tomorrow, we are having your birthday party at Boston Pizza, where all the kids will get to wear chef hats and aprons and all the parents will squeal to themselves about how adorable that is, and then you kids will make your own pizzas from start to finish. The next day, your grandparents are taking us all out to lunch at Earl’s. So, it’s a busy weekend with lots of fun, to celebrate how wonderful you are and how much we all love you!

Love you a million, billion, kajillion, and SEVEN!



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