Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Dear Gwen: Month Twenty-Two

Dear Gwen,

Today you turned twenty-two months old.

I have started telling people that you are “almost two” when they ask your age, and perhaps two years old will mark the turning point when I no longer announce your age in months to perfect strangers but instead round to a quarter-year or so. Don’t think I’m going to stop with the newsletters, though.

This very morning, after I got you dressed and told you it was time to go downstairs for breakfast, you celebrated your almost-two-ness by using a new word and a new concept. You walked to the stairs, then announced “self”. You got upset when I followed you and I soon understood that this meant you wanted me nowhere near you as you went down the stairs BY YOURSELF. I was at once very proud of you, a little bit nervous about your safety, and a whole lot stomach-sinky as I realized the phase we are embarking upon. If left to do it yourself, it can take you upwards of ten minutes to ascend or descend the stairs, and we don’t always have that kind of time. I foresee some disciplinary issues in our future! But, you know, I’m still mostly proud.

It’s been a busy month for all of us. You are now sleeping in a big girl bed instead of a crib, and on the whole we are quite impressed with how easy that transition was for you. I guess most of the problems that relate to these transitions have to do with toddlers actually opening the door and coming out of their room, and parents having to repeatedly put them back to bed. We are really grateful that you don’t know how to open doors yet, but just in case, we’ve put a doorknob cover on the inside of your room, so you’re not going anywhere. In addition, you haven’t really shown any interest in leaving the room: the couple of times you refused to nap, you were entirely happy to just play in your room instead. We’ve take the diaper pail out and childproofed the dresser drawers, so you’re safe to be in there by yourself, even if you do make a heck of a mess by taking out every single toy and book and throwing them on the floor.

We’ve started encouraging you to help us with chores and clean up. After a meal, I ask you to bring your plate and fork into the kitchen and put them in the dishwasher (with help). Sometimes you do it, sometimes you don’t, but hopefully you’re getting the idea. You also like to help me sweep under your chair with the dustpan and brush. When we are cooking or preparing meals, you LOVE to use your step-stool to get up to the counter-level and “help”. You also love to help with laundry, which in your terms means that I pass you the items of clothing and you put them in the washer (or the dryer, or the basket). I talk to you about colours while we do this, but you don’t seem to be getting the concept yet.

Watching your language develop is my favourite part of being your mom. It’s amazing to watch you blossom, day by day: learning bit by bit to communicate about what’s going on around you and inside you. You pick up words and concepts so quickly now, and you are putting more and more words together. A common structure might be for you to notice my necklace and say, “pretty. Necklace. Mama. Mama pretty necklace.” You even know your name now, and more than once have said to me, “Hi! I Gwen.” Then you point at me and say, “Mama!” It’s obvious that you are as excited as I am about your growing communication skills.

You are really enjoying our Mother Goose class and love to sing along and do the actions to the various songs. Your favourites at the moment are “Bananas Unite”, “Roly Poly”, “Twinkle Twinkle”, and the alphabet song. You are the darling of the Mother Goose class because you like to stand in the centre of the circle and applaud for everyone’s singing! I’m sure you think that all those people come to see YOU.
This is not exactly something that I’m proud of, but it wouldn’t be honest not to include it in your newsletter. You have joined the ranks of millions of other children (and adults) and developed a deep affinity (if not addiction) to screen time. Yes, you now watch TV and are also a big fan of Youtube. We don’t have cable, so the TV isn’t on constantly – in fact, we only let you watch your show on weekends. Your dad downloaded two seasons of Blue’s Clues from the Internet and burned it to DVD. There are a lot of crappy, inane kids’ shows, but Blue’s Clues is actually pretty good – well-written, interesting to watch, lots of variety within a comforting structure. So we’re happy to let you watch a few episodes on the weekend. Your dad also lets you watch a bit of Youtube on his lap: mostly clips of the Muppets or Sesame Street, especially old-school stuff that he and I watched as kids.

There is obviously more screen time going on at places other than our house, though, because there are certain phrases creeping into your vocabulary that you did not learn from us or even from your pal Steve. When you want to greet people, you often say “Ola!” And yesterday, I heard you say, “Ariba, ariba!”. This is actually kind of embarrassing for me, especially the “Ola” thing, because I feel like other adults might be judging me as the type of person who lets their kid watch Dora every day for hours at a time. On the other hand, if you started singing about using your mind and taking a step at a time (lyrics from the Blue’s Clues theme, for the uninitiated), I’d probably be really proud. I know, that doesn’t make any sense at all.

We had about a week of very un-February-like weather earlier this month, and it was so awesome to take you out to the playground and let you run wild. I am really looking forward to this summer, when we will be spending lots of time in our yard and on various outings. You really love being outdoors, and you’re old enough now to be safe and entertain yourself in our fenced yard. I have visions of lounging on our new deck, reading a novel and drinking something cold and tasty, while you frolic around the yard and tire yourself out. We’re both slathered in sunscreen in these visions, naturally.

Well, I guess that’s it for this month’s newsletter, my girl. As always, your dad and I are really proud of you, and feel so lucky to be your parents. We love you so much and can’t wait to see what the next month will bring!


Sunday, February 21, 2010

Now she really has bedhead

Encouraging Gwen to take her nap has been growing increasingly difficult over the past couple of weeks. We now regularly employ two strategies. The first is to re-enter Gwen's room 10-20 minutes after laying her in her crib, reminding her that it is sleepy time and that she should lie down, close her eyes, and go to sleep. This is a tip we got from Gwen's caregiver, Denise, and it often works (though everyone agrees that Gwen is a much-better-behaved child while at Denise's house). The second strategy is to check her diaper at that time, because it seems that 10 minutes into naptime is the ideal time for Gwen's bowels to kick into action. At first I thought that being in a dark room without any stimulation meant her body relaxed enough to let go the poop, but in my more suspicious moments I wonder if she does it on purpose to get an extra few minutes of wake-time attention. In any case, a diaper change is often needed in order to proceed to naptime.

So, on February 6th, nearly two weeks ago, Chris put Gwen down for her nap, then came back 20 minutes later to remind her to go to sleep. She ... greeted him at the door. Because she had climbed out of her crib. BECAUSE SHE IS A NINJA.

Well, not exactly a ninja. See, we had this piece of foam wrapped in a pillowcase and tied to the headboard of the crib, because Gwen, like her mom, is a very restless sleeper and tends to crash her noggin into the wood about 91872193456 times a night (approx.). So we very thoughtfully put a pillow there in the hopes that her incredible brain would not become overly damaged. However, her incredible brain eventually lit up with the thought that she could use this pillow as a step up to climb out of the crib.

I remind you that after this daring escape she was not crying or whimpering about being hurt. She had gotten out of the crib safely. When I ascertained that this was the case, I felt the matter was settled. Okay! My kid can get safely out of her crib with the help of a foam pillow, which has now been removed. Let's try to hide the fact that we are secretly proud of her for this, and move on!

But no. Chris disagreed. He lobbied for the next several days about converting Gwen's crib into a bed. I wept and wailed and gnashed my teeth (well, metaphorically - these veneers were pricey) over Gwen's lost babyhood. I felt Not Ready. I protested that we would have to do sleep training all over again, because essentially we were teaching her a new method of going to sleep. I told him that if we tried the bed and it didn't work, we couldn't very well go back to a crib. I complained that it would be utter hell. All my arguments were for naught - I knew what had to be done. Sure, she'd gotten out safely this time - next time we might not be so lucky.

Fast forward a week. A week in which, pretty much every time I went to get Gwen after naptime or in the morning, she was actively trying to get out of the crib. Towards the end of the week, she had figured out how to get her entire lower leg over the bar (ie, the bar of the crib sat perfectly in her 'knee-pit'). She had her arm on the footboard and was trying to figure out how to hoist herself upwards enough to get her other leg over. I was morbidly fascinated in watching this process. She didn't succeed in getting out (safely or not), but it was clear she was not going to give up.

So, last Sunday, after one of those afternoons where no amount of naptime reminding and diaper changing had any effect, I picked her up out of her crib and said, "Gwen, sometime soon you're going to get to sleep in a big girl bed. Would you like that?" "Happy!" she replied. "Oh, that would make you happy?" I asked. "Treat," she confirmed. Okay. LET'S DO IT.

Chris originally thought he was going to have to do some crazy carpentry with sawing off the bars and re-modelling the whole device, but instead we went to Zeller's and bought a bed rail. And also some new sheets, which ostensibly Gwen picked out, because I've heard that can help kids make the transition. Anyway, it didn't take Chris very long to take off the bars and put on the rail, and meanwhile I made dinner and Gwen dumped out a basket of laundry, so everyone contributed. And then, after dinner, we settled in for A Very Special Bedtime.

Gwen did indeed love her new bed. As you can see from the photo below, the bed rail makes it so there is only one spot in which she can get up to or down from the bed. Her first instinct was to jump on the bed, but we reminded her of what the doctor said ("No more monkeys jumping on the bed") and that she might, in fact, bump her head. She was still doing a lot of standing and walking, though, which isn't hard to understand since she has spent the past year or so doing those same activities in her crib.

We tucked her in and gave her lots of kisses and told her to have a really good sleep in her big girl bed and reminded her how proud we were. Then we turned off the light and walked out. Downstairs, I turned on the video monitor in time to see her shuck off the blankets (typical), stand up and march across the mattress (also typical), and walk straight off the unrailed edge of the bed, doing an impressive faceplant onto the floor (ooh, that's new! Four stars.).

Chris went in to comfort her and tuck her back in to bed. She DID NOT MOVE for the rest of the night. I actually went in an hour or so later to make sure she was still breathing.

The next morning, she was fine. She happily crawled out of bed before we awoke and brought a favourite toy back into bed with her. When I went to get her dressed, she invited me to snuggle with her in her bed. I was, once again, full of good cheer. I figured she'd scared herself just badly enough to NEVER again get out of bed in the dark, at least not while walking upright.

We've had a whole week's worth of (knockonwood) incident-free nights since then and I'm feeling pretty proud of our girl for her ease in making this transition. Sure, on Monday afternoon at daycare she burst into tears while watching a Humpty Dumpty cartoon, but what's a little post-traumatic stress syndrome among loving family members, hmmm? She was trepid about going to bed on Monday evening, but less so the next night, and not at all the third night, so I'm pretty sure she's going to be fine. And she is pretty proud of herself and her big girl bed.
The hitch, of course, came at naptime. What toddler in his or her right mind would choose to lie down and sleep when s/he could be playing with a myriad of intriguing toys? Well, apparently not our Gwen, and this was no surprise. She spent last Tuesday at home with Gramma, and had no nap at all. On Friday, she was home with me, and I was determined to make it work. I spent two hours - TWO HOURS - going into her room every single time she got out of bed, to remind her that it was naptime, and that she should lie down and go to sleep. After two hours, TWO HOURS, I was completely out of patience and totally out of ideas. So she didn't nap that day either.
Chris to the rescue, though, as he did something involving her window, a black flannel sheet, her blackout blinds, and painter's tape, and it is now pitch-black in Gwen's room with the light off, even in midday. Yesterday and today, she had terrific (and easy, non-patience-trying) naptimes.
Another milestone reached. Thank goodness she hasn't figured out doorknobs yet, or we'd *never* have a moment's peace.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Stupid Tuesday

I guess it was Mardi Gras on Tuesday, aka “Fat Tuesday”. I celebrated in my own quiet way by renaming the holiday “Stupid Tuesday”. Here is what I did:

After work, I went and gave blood. This is something I very much enjoy and highly recommend to anyone who is able to do so. You get to lie on a bed and read for twenty minutes with no interruptions – they’ll even give you a BLANKET! – and they give you cookies afterwards. And everyone you encounter there will THANK YOU for enduring such hardship, and basically treat you like a rock star. It is the easiest way in the world to save a life. What’s not to like?

Well, if the preceding paragraph has persuaded you to join me in my phlebotomy-related philanthropy, I highly recommend that you take the story below as a great example of what NOT to do.

After donating, I went and ate a bunch of cookies, as is my wont. Then I had about 25 minutes until my belly dancing class, which was held at the same rec centre as the donor clinic. At this point, I could have done two intelligent things: I could have gone to the cafeteria and bought a bottle of water, and/or I could have eaten the leftover pizza I had with me in my lunch bag.

But I did neither of these things! Because I love the planet! And I was full of cookies and didn't feel the need for pizza! So instead I just sat and read my book. Then I went to belly dancing, where I made sure not to raise my arms too much. It was a fun class, and I had no problems. When class was over, I hurriedly changed back into my work clothes and rushed over to my church council meeting. I am the Vice-Chair of council and had been told the Chair was going to be away, so I was leading the meeting. I got there with a few minutes to spare, so I went upstairs to the kitchen to seek out a glass I could fill with water. There were only mugs. So I had a mug of water over the next 30 minutes or so.

I told everyone right off the bat that I had given blood earlier and might be a little light-headed. At 8:30 ... an hour into the meeting, and just as the heated debate was getting, um, heated ... I started to feel reeeeeeeally awful. I was very shaky, and couldn't focus very well. I think I was slurring my words a bit, and I was having a lot of difficulty FINDING the right words. It was a really uncomfortable way to feel, ESPECIALLY as one is trying to moderate an intense discussion.

I didn’t waste any energy trying to hide my wooziness, and in fact I apologized several times as I was sure I was not acting like myself. I kept hoping someone would offer to take over the meeting, but it didn't happen. As the discussion got more heated, the emotional reaction made things worse. My heart was absolutely racing. I started seeing spots, and more than once I wondered if I was going to vomit all over the table. (I didn’t, though.)

I didn't have the brain power to put it together then, but I realized later that I'd eaten nothing but sugar for over 8 hours. When the sugar crash happened, there was nothing to fall back on, and it about destroyed me. I honestly felt like I'd been drugged.

The meeting ended around 10 (Hallelujah!) and I asked another council member to follow me home as I couldn't figure out another way to feel somewhat safe - Chris couldn't leave Gwen to pick me up, and I needed my car the next day to go to work. As soon as I got in the car, I felt better ... I think because it was dark and there was so little stimulation. I got home fine, and told Chris what had happened, and he fed and watered me and put me to bed. He figured I was in a mild state of shock. We both agreed that I had been very, very stupid, but Chris was kind enough not to give me any “I-told-you-so”-related grief.

I was actually still kind of out of it yesterday – whenever I got the slightest bit emotional, my heart would start to race like I was having some kind of adrenaline reaction. I was also yawning all damn day.

So, two things to learn here: while cookies may fill you up, they do NOT substitute for an actual decent meal after having a pint of blood removed from your body. Also, ENOUGH WITH THE OVERSCHEDULING OMG SRSLY.

There are lots of people who, for perfectly legitimate reasons, cannot give blood. I can, and I think that it’s my responsibility to do so. But next time, I will head straight home for a healthy dinner and a night of putting my feet up. I hope you do, too!

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Me Time

One of my New Year's Resolutions was to spend more time doing the things I want to do. I am rocking at this and it is improving my life immensely. A big part of this, of course, is spending less time doing things I don't want to do. One thing I don't want to do is use the computer as a time-killer. I love spending time online, of course: catching up on my blogroll, checking Facebook, goofing around with various other stuff. BUT there is a big difference between intentional computer time and the scenario I find myself in all too often, which is that I fall back on websurfing and email-refreshing for a couple of hours instead of finding something that would actually satisfy my need for mental stimulation. Walk away from the computer and go put on a movie, for Pete's sake.

Another thing I need to back off from is my volunteer work at the church. This is a challenge because the other members of Church Council have learned a dangerous fact about me: I am competent. As such, I am the one who gets called on to do all kinds of stuff. Just last week a fellow Council member, a very pushy one at that, called and asked me to take on a large task. Now, I agree that this task needs to be done. And I know I would be good at it. But as she described it, I also knew that I would find it entirely unpleasant, and that the methods she was suggesting for completing it would make me completely miserable. I was also struggling to think when I could possibly fit it in. And then it occurred to me! An idea so brilliant that I was almost blinded by its stunning radiance as it burst into my mind. I said, "No."

Have you ever done this? I swear, I was almost high afterwards. Chris was sitting right next to me and I bragged to him about it afterwards. "Did you hear me? I SAID NO! She asked me to do something that totally isn't my job, and I said no. IT CAN BE DONE!" I was just itching for someone else to ask for something so I could turn them down.

So, what have I been doing that I enjoy? A few things. I signed up for a Belly Dancing class. We've only had one session so far and it was pretty disappointing, primarily because the music was too loud and the teacher far too quiet for any of the students to hear a damn thing. I'm trying to keep an open mind for the second session tonight, though. I have also been spending some serious quality time (ha) in front of my TV, making my way through the boxed set of Kids in the Hall that I purchased with Christmas money in the Boxing Week sales. I'm really enjoying the show and the special features that give so much insight as to how the show was created - it's an icon of my youth, really.

Probably my biggest time expenditure at the moment, however, has been my foray into cardmaking. You may recall that last year I made Valentine's Day cards, ostensibly from Gwen, for her family members, and I decided to carry that tradition on this year. When I did it last year, I had no idea what I was doing, and no real plan, but I had hoped to improve for this year. A couple of weeks ago, I happened to hear on the radio (yay! Listening to the local station finally pays off!) that a rubber-stamping store was having a grand opening which included a make-and-take card workshop. I thought this would be a great opportunity to learn ... well, anything, since I had pretty much no knowledge to begin with.

I went to the workshop and did something that is very, very unusual for me. I asked questions, lots of them. I drew all kinds of attention to the fact that I am a total newbie and know NOTHING about cardmaking: techniques, materials, tools, lingo, and so on. I’m a blank slate! Usually I am so uncomfortable with the image of myself as ignorant that I fake it, not letting anyone know how clueless I am. I am most comfortable with skills I can pick up very quickly, i.e. in less time than it takes for my “fake it till you make it” routine to get discovered. But I really want to get good at cardmaking, so I decided to throw my ego to the wind and actually try to learn something.

The cardmaking workshop was very informative, even though every participant made the exact same card and thus there wasn’t really much creative process involved. Still, I learned things. And then I got the lady who was teaching the workshop to follow me around the store while I asked like a hundred more questions about everything that I saw on the shelves, how it would be used, and so on. IT WAS AWESOME. I came home all happy and full of knowledge. And no one made fun of me for not knowing everything to begin with. Weird.

I’ve said before that I’m pretty crafty but not really creative. I base that on the fact that I don’t actually create one-of-a-kind pieces, but instead follow patterns and end up with the same things that anyone else would if they followed those patterns. With cardmaking, I am forced out of that rut and have to come up with ideas. I have this great magazine full of beautiful cards, and I look through it and find an inspiration and then use that as a starting point for my own cards. I had a great time on Sunday just playing around, making several thank-you cards. There was no need to make them perfect – the point was to try different things and learn how they worked. It was very freeing. I also love that making a card takes an hour or so, while making an embroidery gift takes weeks or months.

This New Year's Resolution is panning out for me bigtime. I am feeling far less rushed and I am really enjoying most of my non-work hours. Chris and I even get to watch movies together sometimes - we don't have an easy time choosing movies that we both like, but that's another problem altogether. I'm really glad that my "free" time is being used more to feed my soul these days.


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