Thursday, April 29, 2010

Birthday Videos - at last!

Thanks to my new super-speedy laptop, I actually got these videos edited and ready to post the day I shot the footage, which has, like, NEVER happened before. Then I entered upon a two three four five-day odyssey to figure out how to post them. Posting directly to Blogger doesn't work anymore, so instead I have to upload them to Youtube, create a playlist, create a custom player that plays videos from that playlist, then embed that custom player here. If this doesn't work I might just put spikes in my eyes, only probably not, because I am already feeling pretty lousy today (strep throat, my old and familiar nemesis) and Gwen's actual birthday party is coming up so it would be good if I wasn't blind or mutilated during the celebrations.

Anyway. Enjoy the videos, late though they may be.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Dear Gwen: Month Twenty-Four

Dear Gwen,
Today, you are twenty-four months old. Two whole years.

Um, holy crap. How did this happen? Wasn't this you, like, last week or something? SERIOUSLY.

I've been doing a lot of reflecting lately on how much you have changed, but there are many things that haven't changed at all. For example, I remember going to Healthy Beginnings when you were about 7 months old and had learned to crawl, and when it was our turn for introductions I would always say, "I'm Laura, that's Gwen, um ... somewhere [pointing vaguely across the room], she's seven months old and incredibly active. Um, if she bothers anyone, please let me know, and does everyone feel okay if we just keep the doors closed so she doesn't escape?" There was the memorable time when someone interrupted my introduction to say, "Oh yeah, this must be your kid over here, going through the garbage can." Motherhood WIN! Anyway, this is a facet of your personality that is still entirely in force, as demonstrated by last week's events at a friend's birthday party. I was gathering up our stuff inside the party room as you stood just outside, watching a crowd of people playing with bubbles. I came outside to join you, but you were nowhere to be found. I quickly scanned the most dangerous area, the parking lot, and didn't see you. It took a couple of minutes of searching (all the while trying to keep my heart from stopping altogether) but I did find you, and you were still in one piece. I can foresee many, many events like this in our future, and only wish that there was some house-arrest-type device to keep you from straying more than 10 feet away from me.
You are an independent little thing, my girl, and you have very definite ideas about how things should be. When anyone wavers from those ideas, oh, the weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth! Of course, you are not always able to communicate what those ideas are, so we never have any clue when we're about to step on your independent little toes. If we have enough time (and enough patience) to work on drawing you out, guessing over and over again what it is you might want, all the while reminding you to stay calm, we can usually succeed at averting a full-out fit. It's a trying process, but quite rewarding when it works. For example, last week I lay down with you in bed before saying goodnight, a bit of a change from your routine. As I started singing your lullabies, you kept saying, "No," but I couldn't figure out what was upsetting you. "Are you ready for your night-night songs?" "No." "Do you want to stand up with Mama?" (As that is how the lullabies are usually delivered.) "No." "Do you want to sing a different song?" "No." The questioning carried on for a few minutes, with frequent reminders for you to just stay calm and use your words, until I asked, "Do you want Mama to get out of your bed?" "Yes." Alrighty then! Out I got, and bedtime continued with no further upsets.

Sometimes, of course, your independence is truly, teeth-grindingly irritating. For example, you have recently decided that you want to climb into your own carseat rather than have us put you into it. This would be fine if we could walk out to the car, put you on the ground and have you actually climb into your seat. But no. You dawdle along, climbing into the car, turning around a couple of times, listening to the sounds of the outside world and having entire conversations about them, making false starts, deciding to climb back out of the car, reluctantly accepting my persuasion to climb back in, getting halfway up onto the seat but can't quite make it up, and then when I put my hand against your bum to brace you so you can continue climbing, you shriek that you don't want help and because this endeavour has been ruined by the taint of assistance you must start ALL OVER AGAIN. I, being one of the top five least patient people on the face of the earth, do not handle this routine very well. A compromise has not yet been reached.

On the other hand, Gwen, for every moment I spend feeling frustrated with you, there are five when I feel completely and utterly in awe of you. The way your brain works is a constant source of amazement to me. You are SO PROFOUNDLY SMART. I am so incredibly thrilled with your language development, as it allows me to see exactly what's going on in your head, and it's always a treat to get that glimpse inside. Your imagination is thriving, and you make connections that no adult would make. I really do see the world differently when I'm with you, and I love it. A few days ago on our drive home from daycare, you saw a bird, and this is what you said:
"A bird. See it, Mama? Right there! Hello, bird! Tweet-tweet! Oh, where'd it go? Bird fly back home in the sky."

"Bird fly back home in the sky." Listening to you narrate the things you see and hear around you is truly magical, Gwen.

Speaking of your language development (which ... okay, yeah, when I am *not* speaking about your language development? I knew I was kind of a language geek, but watching your growth in this area really makes it clear to me just how deep that passion goes. ANYWAY...), you have a verbal habit that I find immensely charming: you speak to me the way you want me to speak to you. For example, if you want a drink, you say the words that precede me giving you a drink: "wanna drink?" So, to the unschooled outsider, you are offering me a drink. In fact, you are prompting me to offer YOU one. This pattern is also true of "want help?" which means you want help, and "want up?" which means you want up, not to mention a host of others.

Another thing I absolutely love about you is your perseverance. Yes, this is something that can make it hard to be your parent, but I can't help but admire and respect you for it anyway. The other night at the dinner table, you were practicing eating with your fork, which is still a little bit difficult for you. You successfully speared a piece of pasta, but halfway to your mouth it slid elusively off your fork. You were frustrated enough to give a little whine of impatience. Your dad comforted you by commenting that you could eat with your fingers if you wanted to. Settling down after the little spasm of annoyance, you reached your hand towards the noodle. And then damned if you didn't change your mind, screw up your courage and pick up your fork again. I could feel the focus and determination emanating from your side of the table. And yeah, you ate that noodle with your fork. I cheered like mad.

Spring is coming, and I'm certain we're all going to have a wonderful summer. You like nothing better than to be outside, and the temperatures are finally rising enough that I'm happy to be out there with you. I foresee a season of playgrounds, beaches, climbing, exploring, walking 'dis-way' just to see what we might find. It's the stuff good memories are made of, I'm so grateful we have each other to make these memories with.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Year Two in Pictures

Twelve months old

Thirteen months old

Fourteen months old

Fifteen months old

Sixteen months old

Seventeen months old

Eighteen months old

Nineteen months old

Twenty months old

Twenty-one months old

Twenty-two months old

Twenty-three months old

Two years old!

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

T-minus three days until TWO

And last night we had our first really truly oh-THAT'S-what-they're-talking-about temper tantrum.  I thought I knew what tantrums were, but I was wrong.  And I do have the feeling that this is just a sneak peek of what's to come.

Yesterday Gwen spent the day at Gramma's.  The unfortunate truth is that she does not nap when she's at Gramma's (or when she's at home in Gramma's care).  I have made my peace with this and I will tell you right upfront that Gramma is doing everything right.  Gwen only naps about 50-75% of the time when she's under our care, as well.  If it wasn't for the fact that naps still happen 100% of the time at Denise's, I'd think she was weaning off the nap altogether, but it's just not random enough to be a true change in sleep habits. 

When Gwen doesn't nap at home, it doesn't actually cause too big a wrench in the plans.  We might put her to bed half an hour early, but life largely goes on as before.  However, Gramma lives half an hour away, which is juuuuust enough time for an overtired toddler to be lulled to sleep on the drive home.  And then, of course, she wakes up at the end of the drive - about 5pm, two hours before bedtime proper - and is disoriented, exhausted, out of sorts and either listless or hyper.  Perfect conditions for a temper tantrum.

It was 6:40pm and Gwen and I were in her room, trying to wind down before bedtime.  The usual routine is a couple of stories, but if she'd rather play with her toys I am fine with that too. Last night, she was all about the toys.  I kept asking "would you like a story before bed?" and she would cheerfully say "nope!" and continue playing. Then I said, "Alright, it's time to turn off the light," and she lost her mind and wailed "STOOOOOOOORRRRRRRRRRYYYYYYYYYY!" So, I calmed her down and encouraged her to ask nicely (because that's our rule, she has to ask nicely for something, not get it directly after a whine or fit or whatever) so she sniffily asked "Story please," and I said, "Alright, which story would you like?" but now she's been distracted by some other toy so she didn't pick a story and then I said, "do you want a story?" and we started all over again.

After doing this four times she actually got so upset that she flung herself backwards on the floor, not realizing that she was close to the wall and she whanged her head on the baseboard heater.  I felt so bad for her, not only for the physical pain but also for that feeling of being so overwhelmed by your emotions that you just can't physically control yourself.  Sometimes the true depth of how alike she and I are just slams into me, and the empathy I feel when she is hurt or upset or frustrated is so keen, so beyond what I feel on behalf of any other person, that it cuts through me like a laser.  Sometimes I am able to use that empathy as a very powerful tool, and last night was one of those times.

I picked her up and rocked her, humming a weird little tune that Chris made up when she was a colicky infant, which always seems to calm her down.  I cooed soothing little encouragements into her ear as she cried and shook with rage and pain.  "Oh, I know, it hurts.  I know.  Take deep breaths, settle down, that's it."  At some point during this I did turn off the light, having abandoned the idea of a story.  As she started to settle down, I told her some important things.  I told her that I understood how frustrated and angry she'd gotten, and that she'd probably also gotten scared by the power of those emotions.  I told her that it was absolutely okay for her to feel all those things, and that she would always be safe here with Mama and Dada - that we would always love her no matter what emotions she felt.  I told her that everybody feels that way sometimes but that it will always go away and we will feel better eventually.
We cuddled for a while and then continued with our bedtime routine: prayers, songs, being tucked into bed.  Chris was in awe: 30 minutes earlier he'd watched a crazy hyper child enter the bedroom; 10 minutes after that he heard repeated shrieks and arguing, followed climactically by a crash and a howl of pain; and now the child was in bed, calm and content and ready to sleep.  I felt like Miracle Mom.

If there is one trap I fall into in parenting, it's the temptation to fix all Gwen's problems for her. This manifests not only in giving in to her whining or shrieking, but also in not allowing her to see something she might want if she's not allowed to have it. For example, if I go out to the car to get something while Gwen is playing inside, she will want to go outside - and then stay and play outside for half an hour. If that's not convenient, because dinner is about to be served or whatever other reason, I would just tend to not go out to the car - I would try to delay my trip to a time when Gwen won't be watching, so that I won't have to tell her she can't go outside.

Sometimes that's appropriate, sometimes it makes me feel like I'm a prisoner to some insane dictator. I'm starting to realize that it's okay to say no, that I don't have to rearrange my whole life around avoiding saying it.  Last night was another example.

I don't think I have all the answers figured out, but I want to record what happened and how it felt and what I learned, so I can think on it for next time.  I am proud that I stayed calm and let her emotions (ie, need to be comforted) be more important than my own (ie, impatience to get her to bed).  I think the naming of her emotions is a powerful tool for both of us.  And the most important thing, I think, was that I showed her that she was still very loved even though I did not give her what she wanted (a story). I will be continuing to reflect that my job is to teach her how to deal with her emotions, not to just resolve her emotions for her.

I really felt like a good mom last night.  Hopefully nights like that will build up some good karma for the times when I get it wrong.

Monday, April 12, 2010

In Which I Attempt to Trade Web Know-How for Muffins

Here's a laugh.  I read in a parenting book the other day that kids Gwen's age should have a vocabulary of approximately 50 words.  In case you've forgotten, Gwen hit 100 words sometime between 12 and 18 months, and since then I've stopped counting - but I'd be shocked if I learned that it was less than 200.  However, I'm not going to count, so I'm not going to learn that, so there are no shocks in my future on that score, at least.

In the very next paragraph, the book states that children 30 months old should have a vocabulary of about 1000 words.  Yes, you read that right.  Between 24 and 30 months, a child's vocabulary expands to twenty times its size.  (This sounds like I am writing ad copy for Sea Monkeys or something.)  Let's say instead that their vocabulary "twentibles" itself.  (Get it?  Not doubles or triples, but twentibles.)

So, you may have noticed I changed my blog layout.  I did!  I have actually been intending to do this for, um, a couple of weeks now, but I have this attention span problem.  I don't like to get started on any task that might take more than 5 minutes if I have any fear that I may be interrupted before finishing.  And since I am the mother of a toddler, there are actually no times in my life that I may rest assured I will not be interrupted.  So I have an awfully hard time starting things.  However, last weekend Gwen went to her grandparents' house so Chris and I could go see The Rocky Horror Show (live!) in Victoria, and this meant that I had a couple of free hours to myself in my house, and I determinedly sat down with the Blogger Template Designer and got 'er done.

Another thing about my blog.  There are ads on it.  There have been for a while, and nobody has ever grouched at me about it (though feel free to do so now if you like).  In all the time I have had ads on the blog, I have earned a grand total of thirty-four American dollars.  And I can't even have it, because Google AdSense won't pay you any money until you earn one hundred American dollars.  You wouldn't even believe how many hoops I had to jump through to get this far.  Anyway, there are all kinds of things you can do to customize your ads and make them more relevant to your readers (and thus, not only more clickable, but less offensive!), and generally Be Successful At Monetizing Your Blog, but I cannot for the life of me make heads or tails of the info AdSense sends me.  (There is also, of course, the issue of being too intimidated to try and work on it if I fear I may be interrupted.)  If anybody out there is willing to help me figure this out, I will give you some of my American dollars when they finally arrive in real life.  Or some other prize/favour if that is what you would prefer.  I am very good at making delicious muffins.

One more thing about the ads, and then I'll get back to talking about my amazing daughter: when I changed the layout, I changed the colour scheme of the ads to "Match Template" which is supposed to make the ad's colours, well, match the colours of my blog.  (Hey Dad!  You can skip this paragraph!)  First of all, I think that's just freakin' cool that that is an option.  Secondly, I'm not totally sure if it's working, so if you see an ad that's all clashy and obnoxious, tell me and I'll try and fix it. 

So yes, I have this daughter.  I had this post in the works where I described in intricate detail how awful her tantrums were, but really I can summarize it thusly: Gwen's desire to be independent does not make her happy.  It makes her ENRAGED and sometimes ANGUISHED.  By the time you realize that whatever you just did or said threatened her independence, DRAMA HAS ENSUED and you will now have to spend the next 3-10 minutes calming her down.  Once you calm her down, you will have to encourage her to ask for what she wants in a "big girl voice" so as not to teach her that tantrums work.  This may take two seconds, or two minutes, or may cause another tantrum.  You never know!  Unpredictability is part of the fun!

I think we are getting better, as a family, at handling the tantrums.  I have to work on remembering that my job as Mama is not to just make Gwen happy all the time.  The urge to just solve her problems (aka give in to the weeping toddler) is very strong, but serves no one.  I am already better at withstanding the whining.  But let me just say, in case there is anyone out there who hasn't heard: Man, parenting is hard.  I think that will become a refrain around here in the next year.

Anyway, I will close with three pieces of awesomeness. Awesomeness the First: the longest sentence I've heard Gwen use, which she said yesterday: "Monkey have a drink too." Awesomeness the Second: this picture.

(We told her to make a rock star face.)

And Awesomeness the Third: genuine conversations with my daughter.

Me: Gwen, did you have a good time with Gramma and Grandpa?
Gwen: And Fritz!
Me: Yes, Fritz too!  Did you play with them?
Gwen: Playground!
Me: You went to the playground!  How fun!
Gwen: Slide!  Swings!  Grandpa!
Me: Wow, you went on the slide and the swings!  That's so great!
Gwen: Oooh, a plane!
Me: A plane?  Where?
Gwen: Right there!  It's fast!
Chris: It sure is - planes go very fast!
Me: Gwen, do you remember when we went on a plane?
Gwen: Auntie! Andrew! Scotty!
Me: That's right, we went on a plane to visit Auntie Sara, and Andrew, and Scotty.  And Uncle Dave too!  Can you say Uncle Dave?
Gwen: Uncle ... Mikey!
Me: That's pretty close!  (Forgive her, Uncle Dave, she's seen her Uncle Mikey a lot more recently!)


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