Monday, December 24, 2012

Dear Gwen: Month Fifty-Six

Dear Gwen,

Today you are fifty-six months old. 

You are changing and maturing a lot, but it's hard to put these changes into words.  A few months ago when preschool started for the year, I felt awed by the fact that you would be in kindergarten in only a year - I wondered if you would be ready.  Now, I know that you will be.  You are becoming more independent and more socially competent, understanding what is expected of you and also able to stand up for yourself and express your needs.  A couple of weeks ago at preschool, when I dropped you off in the morning a playmate repeatedly told you, "You can't sit there, Gwen," when you attempted to join her at the art table.  Not only did you NOT become angry and aggressive towards her, but you remained calm and used your words: "The art table is for everyone, we have to share."  A teacher soon came to back you up and defuse the situation, and sure enough you joined the friends at the art table.  But I was so impressed with how you handled that situation, that I knew you would do well in kindergarten.

You are also getting better at telling stories of your day.  It's not usually something I can prompt you to do, but once in a while you open up and say, "You know what?" and actually follow this up with a fairly lengthy, interesting, cohesive story of events at school.  These stories always provide a totally fascinating glimpse into your day, and I am proud that you are getting better at putting these events into words.  What a neat skill.
 Speaking of proud, one of the highlights of this past month and possibly of our whole year was your piano recital on December 7.   You have been taking weekly group piano lessons since early September, and you enjoy them and are learning a lot.  To prepare for the recital, your teacher brought a microphone to class and encouraged all the kids to get up and talk into the microphone, introducing themselves by name.  Though some of the kids were very hesitant about this, you were SO ready, and needed a lot of encouragement to be patient and wait for your turn.  When your turn came, you burst out of my arms and dashed to the microphone.  "Hello, my name is Gwen and I'm going to play Jingle Bells."  The teacher and I exchanged looks of awe and surprise.  Not only did you understand *exactly* what was expected before a recital performance, but ... well ... as the teacher said, "Do you know how to play Jingle Bells?!"  You walked confidently to the piano, then turned and confessed, "Well, I actually only know how to sing it."  So you sang it.  And the class applauded as you took a proud bow.

"Jingle Bells" turned out to be a bit beyond your skills just yet for the actual recital, but I chose another piece called "Christmas Time" that was within your reach.  When recital night came, once again you were chomping at the bit to get up on stage and do your piece.  Luckily, Mrs. H. knows that little kids are less patient than big kids, and she had scheduled the performance program accordingly.  Your piece was the fourth one played.  Once again, you got up to the microphone and said in a loud, clear voice, "Hello, my name is Gwen and I'm going to play Christmas Time."  I helped you climb up on the bench and push it in so you could reach the keys on the grand piano.  I put your music book on the piano and asked you if you could see the key you needed to start with ("Critter C").  When you nodded yes, I moved to the side and, just like we do at home, counted you in and then pointed at each note in turn.  You played it perfectly!  Nice and loud, steady rhythm, and correct fingering technique.  Sure, it was a very simple piece that only included two notes, but that's not the point - you got up on stage and performed effectively and accurately.  What a grand start to your musical career!
 The very next day was the last session of your Musical Dance Theatre class, and this allowed your dad and me to see the vast difference that an engaged, experienced, knowledgeable teacher makes.  Whereas your usual dance class doesn't allow the parents to stay, as it is distracting to the kids, the last session is "parent watch day" where we get to stick around and see all the things you've learned over the weeks.  In stark contrast to the recital the night before, this class was an utter gong show.  You and your classmates ran repeatedly from one end of the room to the other, mostly ignoring the teacher's instructions but having one heck of a fun time.  At one point, the teacher was trying to gather the 5-6 girls together in a circle to sing a song.  You had decided instead to sit down in your own spot about eight feet away.  One by one, the girls that had been sitting with the teacher got up and came to sit down with you.  When your circle got bigger than the teacher's circle, she warned, "You have to be sitting over here to sing our song!", at which point you just started singing your own song.  Most of the parents found this utterly hilarious.  I hid my face in my jacket.

In any case, it seems really clear to me that you are a kid who needs preparation and rehearsal.  You need the teacher to bring in the microphone prior to recital day and tell you what she expects you to say, then give you a chance to practice it.  You need the teacher (or parent) to walk you through these things and make sure you are ready, that all your questions and concerns are addressed.  Mrs. H. is an experienced teacher who has done dozens of recitals and she is used to this process.  Your dance teacher, a young woman who is about to start university, just doesn't have that experience yet.  And that's okay, because it was still pretty funny to watch.

I have been off work lately, and this has allowed me to participate in some of your preschool Christmas events that I wouldn't normally get to be part of.  A few weeks ago was the big bus trip, a huge highlight of the school year where all the kids and teachers walk to the bus stop and catch the city bus to a nearby shopping mall.  The group takes the presents and toys they've been collecting over the previous weeks to the Giving Tree, where they will then be passed on to kids whose parents can't afford to buy gifts - a wonderful, valuable lesson in generosity and gratitude.  Then the kids all walk down to see Santa Claus and have a group picture taken.  If Santa isn't too busy at the time, the kids get to sing him some Christmas songs - Up on the Rooftop and Must Be Santa are perennial favourites.  Finally, the whole group walk across the parking lot to Swiss Chalet for a pre-ordered lunch.  This year, I met your school group at the mall and walked with you to the Giving Tree, Santa, and then to the restaurant, where I said goodbye and let you enjoy the rest of the day with your school friends.  It was a real treat to watch you participate in this event, and I also got a kick out of being with the other kids, some of whom I have gotten to know well in the past 18 months.  A few days later was another big event: Santa came to your preschool to visit and hand out presents!  Every child got a chance to sit on Santa's lap and say what they wanted for Christmas.  Though you are still quite shy of Santa, you did bravely sit on his lap, though I'm not sure you uttered a single word to him!  Again, I got to be there for this special time, and I was really grateful for that.  At one point, I had three happy kids on MY lap!

These events, and the collection of pictures in your preschool memory book that your teachers put together, has led me to reflect on how much you have grown and changed in the past year and a half.  Specifically, I was thinking about how you were one of the younger kids when you first came to preschool, but now you are one of the older ones with many younger ones having joined this year and many older ones going off to kindergarten.  I guess you won't have that experience again, to be in the same program for two years.  But something tells me you will be showing other kids the ropes by the second week of kindergarten, whether you know what you're talking about or not.

As I wrote last month, we took you to see Rise of the Guardians, which you call the Jack Frost movie.  You loved it, predictably, and were very excited when you received a Jack Frost toy at a McDonald's birthday party a few days later.  A week or so ago, you found this toy hanging on the Christmas tree.

Gwen: Mom, this is a toy, not an ornament!
Me: Well, I didn't put it there. Maybe he flew there by himself.
Gwen (gasping): Did he come to LIFE?
Me: I don't know, what do you think?
Gwen: Jack Frost, can I please, please, please see you come to life?
Gwen (in a lower voice): I would be delighted.

What an imaginative, hilarious, and entertaining girl you are!

Well I think that's about it for this month, Gwen.  You are really growing up and I am so proud of you and so excited to celebrate Christmas with you.  I love you a million, billion, kajillion and four!


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