Monday, May 24, 2010

Dear Gwen: Month Twenty-Five

Dear Gwen,

Today, you are twenty-five months old. Isn’t that a nice round number? You might have thought that I would use your second birthday as an excuse to stop writing these monthly newsletters, but that is because you are too young yet to be familiar with the real way to spell Mom: O-C-D.

It seemed to me that this month has passed even more quickly than the previous ones, which may have something to do with the fact that the first four months of 2010 have been more or less a countdown to your second birthday, and now that it’s past, it’s like we’re on the whooshing downside of the roller coaster. It may have something to do with the fact that every single weekend (and most of the weekdays) have been full to bursting with birthday parties – after all, all your friends are born in the same season as you – as well as other social obligations. It may also have something to do with the fact that I am writing this a full week ahead of time, because you and I will be out of town and off the Internet-grid for ten days, including the day you actually turn twenty-five months old. So yeah, I’m kind of faking this entry. I'm hoping you don't pick up any brand new skills in the lag time between writing and posting this newsletter, making it completely obsolete.

You are turning into an incredible little kid. You are getting really good at singing – you almost always sing along to the lullabies before I put you to sleep (you know them pretty well, as they are the same two songs every night). You also sing by yourself sometimes, but never when coaxed or when you sense we are paying attention in any real way. I have heard you sing the alphabet song all the way through with only a couple of toddlerisms (right around the “L-M-N-O-P” section, for example) a couple of times, but I can’t get it on video camera because you have no interest in that type of performance. Brahm’s Lullaby is another favourite (that’s what your dad sings to you when he puts you to bed) and it was your Grannie who pointed out that in one of your birthday videos you actually sing the Hockey Night in Canada theme song (I didn’t even recognize it).

You also love to talk. You talk pretty much non-stop with a lot of repeating and clarifying. It’s not enough to point out that there’s a tree. No, it’s more like: “A tree, Mama. Look. Right there. A tree. See it? It’s a tree! Yes it is! A tree! Hi tree! How doing? Hi tree! It’s a big tree. It’s a big tree, Mama! See it? Oooh! It’s big! Hi, big tree! Hi! How doing? How doing, big tree? A big tree. Yes it is!” This may go on indefinitely, or at least until you see something else that catches your interest. You talk the same way about things we are doing or are about to do. “Go outside, Mama? Let’s go outside! Need a jacket – here’s Gwen’s jacket. Get Mama’s jacket too! Here go, Mama! We go outside. Put jacket on, Mama! Need help?” And so on. And yes, you do actually get my shoes and my jacket (if you can reach it) out of the closet so we can go outside. Outside is your FAVOURITE.

We are taking full advantage of your intelligence and willingness to be helpful by encouraging these types of things. You are good at fetching shoes and hats and other outdoorsy gear, and nearly as good at putting them back away when we come inside again. You need hardly any encouragement to fetch your bib prior to a meal (though you can’t get it on yourself yet) and you are happy to take it off and put it back where it goes when you finish eating. You are getting pretty good at tidying up your toys (with help and encouragement) at the end of the day. And the other day when you finished your meal, you did this:

Your independence continues to grow and flourish. Your newest demand is to go up (or down) the stairs “all by self”. This actually means that your Dad and I are not to be anywhere near the stairs while you are on them. We can’t even WATCH or risk the wrath of Gwen. Similarly, you like to get into your carseat by yourself. This adds a lot of time to our journey any time we need to leave the house and has definitely made us reconsider whether or not we really NEED to go out, after all.

We have had lots of adventures in the past month. You adored being surrounded by your grandparents at your birthday party, and it was wonderful to catch up with friends we hadn’t seen in a long time. We went to your first midway, where you were just as crazy about the rides as we’d expected from a girl whose happiest moments are spent swinging upside down by her ankles. We also started a class called “Trail Toddlers”, which features a little nature walk every week with other parents and kids. I’m so thrilled that this class is on Saturdays, as it means that all three of us can go together! We’ve gone on two walks so far and had a great time.

As I write this, you’ve been two for three weeks. And sometimes it feels like every minute of the day is a fight as your Dad and I work tirelessly to herd you from one activity to the next. Last Saturday was one of those days, as I spent nearly an hour with you in your room trying to convince you to nap. I even offered you what I thought was a sweet deal: just get in your bed and lie down for a few minutes and TRY to sleep, and if you don’t sleep then we’ll get up and do something fun. You didn’t even argue with me, just wholly ignored the words coming out of my mouth. There was nothing I could do or say to make you get in that bed. Sure, I could have picked you up and put you there, but then you’d scream and wail and fight, and that seemed to be the opposite of a restful nap-inducing mood. So instead I lay with you on the floor (is it more comfortable than your bed? I don’t get it) for about an hour, hoping you would wind down enough to sleep. It never happened, but I guess you DID get an hour of quiet time.

Mostly, though, life with a two-year-old is pretty entertaining. I love that you talk so much. I love that you are starting to be able to tell us stories about what you did with your day. I love that you see the world in this fascinating and utterly unique way. I love that you are big enough and competent enough to explore the world on your own terms. I love that pictures of you show a girl who thinks life is full of fun. I love that when you want comfort, you come up to me and say, “What’s wrong, Mama?” I love that you approach every day as if it were a wonderful adventure. I love that you mimic words like “beautiful”, “delicious”, and “jolly good”, and then very quickly adopt them into your vocabulary. I love that you pick up your duck puppet, put it on your hand, and then say, "Hi, Gwen. I'm a duck! QUACK QUACK."
We recently went to an event where a well-known author of parenting books put on a presentation about how to raise awesome kids. We learned a lot, but one thing sticks in my mind every day: when she spoke about how to demonstrate unconditional love, the author defined it as the way a parent’s eyes light up when the child enters the room. That is absolutely my experience of parenting you. I AM JUST SO HAPPY TO SEE YOU.

I love you so much and am so glad that you’re my daughter!


Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Oh, Life

First of all, did you know there are still such things as unwashable crayons? Now come on - THAT is the kind of product that needs a recall, pronto. Parents, check your homes immediately! These seemingly harmless crayons mingle easily with the washable ones and they will remain completely undetected until someone scribbles all over the coffee table with the WRONG KIND OF CRAYON. It's times like these that I am glad to be married to a man who sells janitorial supplies and has access to all kinds of wicked cleaning products. Also glad that we decided several years ago not to buy any genuinely nice furniture until our (at the time, hypothetical future) offspring was old enough not to ruin it. Did I mention that two weeks ago, she got ahold of markers and coloured on the suede dining room chair?

Ah well. I'm still in a great mood and nothing will bring me down. Here is one reason I'm in a great mood:
Four days ago, I got close to finishing the book I was reading (and heartily enjoying).
Three days ago, I realized that I was about to leave town for ten days with nothing to read, and I got a cold sinking feeling in my stomach.
Two days ago, I spent some time on Goodreads and picked out a whole bunch more books I want to read.
One day ago, I opened the Goodreads site and my local library's website in adjacent windows and made a bunch of online requests for books on my Goodreads "want to read" shelf.
And today, I went and picked up FOUR books from the library that were sitting in a neat little pile with my name on them.

Folks, the only way this could possibly be more convenient is if someone read my mind to determine what books I would most enjoy, and then delivered them to my door. The current system is still pretty awesome though.

Chris is out this evening at an Our Lady Peace concert. I'm thinking of it as Our Lady of Peace and Quiet because hey! An evening to myself. I've just about finished all the prep for the above-mentioned trip, at least all the prep I can do at the moment. There are always last-minute things: you can't really pack Gwen's lovey until the last possible moment before you leave, for example. There is also a jammie shortage going on: she recently had an aggressive growth spurt and outgrew the last of her footie jammies - which were only a couple of weeks old - so she only has five pairs of pajamas. This means I need to do her laundry the night before we leave so I can make sure to pack every last pair. At least the two-piece jammies we're buying now will last longer. It's alright if her tummy hangs out below the shirt: it's not nearly as sad as her not being able to stand upright because the footie jammies are four inches too short to accomodate her gigantic body.

Complicating the trip-prep slightly is the fact that on Thursday night (the night before we leave), Gwen is staying the night at her grandparents so Chris and I can go see Eddie Izzard live. Holy crap, we are going to see Eddie Izzard live. It all started about four years ago when I was reading some blog that raved about how funny Eddie Izzard was and that everyone should go rent "Dress to Kill". Being a complete and utter sucker for anything recommended on a blog, I rented it. And Chris and I laughed ourselves very nearly to death. We spent the next few months renting it over and over and showing it to everyone we know. That Christmas, he bought me the DVD. And I bought him the DVD. And we had two copies of the DVD, but that was okay, because by then we had lots of friends who would enjoy it just as much as we did.

We swore that if Eddie (who is British) ever came to North America, we would do whatever it took to see him live. And in 2008, he did come to North America! But "whatever it took" would have involved getting a passport and a babysitter for our two-month-old daughter, as well as paying over $250 PER TICKET, and driving all the way down to Seattle (in itself an expensive trip, what with ferry and gas and hotel). And we were sleeping like three hours a night and we were totally broke and half-delirious with exhaustion all the time and it just didn't seem like we had the ability to make it happen. So it didn't.

BUT! Eddie is coming back! And this time he is being kind enough NOT ONLY to visit the wonderful country of Canada, but even to come all the way across the Georgia Strait to the lovely city of Victoria. And THIS TIME he only wanted $75 each for tickets. The minute I found out about this show, I bought tickets. Which is good, because it sold out in a matter of days.

So finally, after four years of adoration and rampant quoting, Chris and I are going to be in the same room with Eddie Izzard. Really, it's no wonder I'm in a fine mood.

Yes, life is good. Thursday after work Chris and I will drive down to Victoria, laugh until our faces hurt, and then drive back home and collapse into bed. Friday I will work, then pick up Gwen, load the car and whisk her away for ten days of adventures. And when we get back? It will be June. And we will be building a deck!*

*Note: my job in building the deck is to write Chris a cheque for half the cost of the deck. And then possibly take Gwen to a series of playgrounds until the deck is built. Oh, and nag to make sure that actually happens.

Then for real it will be summer. Yay!

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

The Curious Incident of the Spider in the Night-Time

On the weekend of Gwen’s actual birthday, Chris was out of town for a martial arts seminar. I actually didn’t mind at all, having my girl all to myself and enjoying a low-key weekend before the madness of the birthday party planning truly kicked into high gear. However, there was a moment on Saturday night when I minded very, very much that my husband was 450 kilometres away.

I walked into the downstairs half-bath to put something away, only to be stopped dead in my tracks by a medium-sized spider, staring at me from the opposite wall.

You might not know this, but spiders live for one purpose and one purpose only. The web-spinning and fly-catching business is merely a distraction from their true mission, which is: to jump on my face. Their every skitter move, their every spidery thought, their every single molecule is focused, at all times, on achieving this goal. Sure, a moment ago that spider was just hanging out on the bathroom wall. But now it has seen my face and so the primal imperative has kicked into action: it wants to jump on my face. RIGHT NOW.

(I don’t know how I know this. But I do. I also recognize in the spider’s single-mindedness an aspect of myself. No matter what I am doing, who I am with, or what is going on around me, at my core, there is one thought that never really leaves my mind: Why aren’t I eating chocolate right now?)

Well, I am not okay with a spider jumping on my face, so I quickly backed out of the room. I stood far enough away to be out of jumping distance, but close enough that I could keep a sideways eye on the ugly thing. And I pondered my options.

My first instinct was to close the door, walk away, and pretend I hadn’t seen it. I could go about my evening’s plans, which included a movie and some bonding with my new lappy, submerged in happy denial. Naturally, I would stay out of that room the entire next day as well, until Chris arrived home to resolve the issue. The flaw in this plan, of course, was that the spider was unlikely to stay in one place, especially now that it knew my face was nearby. It could easily crawl out from under the closed door, searching the house until it found me, planning its attack. Expert arachnophobes know that letting the spider out of your sight, even for a second, is a critical mistake. Those who, for some bizarre reason, are NOT terrified of spiders, would look back at the spot where the spider no longer resided and say, “Oh. Problem solved. Spider’s gone!” But in fact, that spider is not GONE. It is now EVERYWHERE, because it could be ANYWHERE. So no, I could not walk away.

Option two was to pack up Gwen and a few essentials, pile into the car, and go find a cheap hotel for the night, returning only once Chris had arrived home, performed a complete and thorough extermination, and ascertained that our home was once again safe. This was an appealing option, but it would be pricey. And furthermore, Gwen had just gone to sleep. I was loathe to wake her. No, I could not leave for a hotel.

There was only one option left. Kill the spider. This is, incidentally, the only course of action that ensures the spider will not jump on my face. However – how to perform the killing of the spider, without it jumping on my face during the procedure? This is why I usually leave the spider-killing up to other people. The spider doesn’t want to jump on Chris’s face, I am absolutely sure of it.

“I can’t do it!” my emotional mind shrieked, and my rational mind insisted, “Look, we’ve gone through all the options. This is the only one left. You HAVE to do it!” “NOOOOOOOOOooooooooo!” my emotional mind howled, and my rational mind said, “Look. You are a strong, amazing woman. You have done a lot of things that you thought you couldn’t do. And you’re getting stronger and more amazing all the time! YOU CAN TOTALLY DO THIS.” And my emotional mind went into the corner to pout and my rational mind, aided by adrenaline and anger, grabbed my husband’s shoe and slammed it against the wall, killing the spider. Then I flung the shoe on the floor, slammed the bathroom door, and ran away flapping my arms and making extremely girly noises.

Oh, but first I took a picture of it for Facebook.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Gwendolyn Jessie Buechler

Heather from The Spohrs Are Multiplying asked, "What was some of your [baby] naming criteria, and do you regret the name you chose?" This is a pretty good excuse for a post, because it's a subject on which I have much to say.

Let me start by answering the second half of the question - no, we do not regret the name we chose. That's because we worked really hard to make sure we came up with the perfect name. We actually congratulate each other and ourselves fairly often for having succeeded in that task.

It's no secret that I grew up with a name I hated. Like the title character in Johnny Cash's song "A Boy Named Sue," that hated name definitely had an impact on my childhood and on how people treated me. Also like that title character, I swore that I would not let my own child grow up with a strange name. So that was my first criteria: the name had to be something that everyone knew how to spell and pronounce.

Related to this was that I am not a big fan of taking a classic name and then spelling it creatively in order to be different. Krysstle, Gennffyr, DeNeicce, I'm looking at you. (Well, your parents, really.) (And don't even get me STARTED on apostrophes.)

On the other hand, I didn't want my kid to grow up with the problem my sister had, which was that she was one of three of four girls in her class with the same name. In my class, there were always a lot of Jen/Jenny/Jennifers, and I didn't want to go that route either. So that was the second criteria: the name could not be hugely popular.

(The very first name Chris and I agreed on, way back before we were even married, was Emma. We both just loved it. But by the time we did get pregnant, Emma had been on the top 5 list of girls' names for the past three years. So based on criteria #2, Emma was out.)

After marrying a guy with a strange Germanic last name, criteria #1 became even more important. No one knows how to spell or pronounce "Buechler", so we definitely didn't want to saddle her with an unusual first name as well. In addition, we needed something that went well with that last name. Buechler (pronounced Byoo-kler, fyi) is a strong and consonant-heavy word, so I wanted something kind of soft and gentle to go with it. It also needed to be somewhat ethnically matched: Jasmine Buechler, Evangeline Buechler, or Isabella Buechler were all unsuitable, for example. So, criteria #3 was that the name had to fit well with Buechler.

(I also refused to consider names that started with B: Barbara Buechler, Benjamin Buechler, and Bartholemew Buechler all sound like Dr. Seuss characters.)

My final criteria was that I wanted a name that suited its owner in babyhood, childhood, and adulthood. Tiny children shouldn't have grown-up names, and vice versa. So I wanted the name to be versatile. I think that's what led me to my preference of classic names: for example, Margaret could be called Maggie as a baby, Margie or Marg as a teen and adult, and Margaret as an older woman.

So those were my four criteria. Chris never actually stated his criteria, but based on many many discussions of names, I think his criteria was to turn down any name I suggested.

In addition to a lifetime of thinking about names, at the time I got pregnant I was working as a data entry clerk, which meant that I saw hundreds of names on a daily basis. Just about every day I would come home with an idea or eight. Every single one of them was shot down. One memorable day, he told me that Jill was a stupid name because everyone would ask her where her pail of water was. The very next day, he suggested Jack. Beams of hate shot out of my eyes.

It was a huge relief when we got the ultrasound determining that we were going to have a daughter, because it meant that we had just cut in half the number of names to fight about.

One day, out of the blue, Chris said, "What about Gwen?" I opened my mouth to tell him what a stupid idea that was, because I was used to shouting down suggestions like Edward and Charles and Nancy, and then I just stopped - mouth agape - and realized that I did not hate this name. In fact, I really liked it. It was simple and classic - everyone would know how to spell it and say it - and yet, when was the last time you actually met a Gwen? It would go well with Buechler, and I just liked the sound of it. It was a really good, solid name. I loved it.

(Naturally, we then had to fight about whether Gwen was short for Guinevere, Gwenyth, or Gwendolyn. I won that fight, and I think Gwen will thank me for that someday.)

We've been asked if we named her after Gwen Stefani. We didn't, but we don't mind the association - I feel better about it than if we'd unwittingly named her Hannah, Dora, or Britney.

The somewhat surprising truth is that while we didn't name her after a Gwen, nonetheless the reason she has that name is because Chris was reading a book with a character named Gwen. The character was a strong female role model, he told me, who didn't let men tell her what to do, or sit around waiting for them to save her life. Not only were these qualities worth honouring, but let me reiterate - we had not agreed on a single name in over a year of discussing names. We both loved the name Gwen. Clearly, the search was over.

Her middle name, Jessie, was much less of a battle. That name honours my maternal grandmother, "Gran", who died when I was 11 years old. She was a warm and special woman whom I wish I'd gotten to know better. I know she would have adored Gwen.

Since choosing that name approximately 2.5 years ago, we have never looked back. It is definitely the right name for our feisty, energetic daughter. A few days after Gwen's birth, our friend and doula Sally - who happens to be a professor - shared her perspective on names, adding a criteria we hadn't even considered: how professional and/or academic a name looks on a resume or publication submission. It turns out "Sally" is not the ideal name for being taken seriously in the academic world, and the 'y' at the end makes it look diminutive even though there is no non-diminutive form. Gwendolyn, on the other hand, is a strong and solid name - and it offers a few variations she can choose to use throughout her life: Gwen, Dolly (? who knows, it could happen), Lyn, and Wendy. Yes, that's right, Peter Pan fans: J.M. Barrie did NOT in fact invent that name. (Take heed, uppity British lady at my church who argued with me about it.)

I could go on for a few more paragraphs at least about how perfectly the name Gwen suits our daughter. I look back on some of the other names I cherished - Lily Grace was one of my favourites, through Chris couldn't stand it - and it's completely wrong. She's too bursting with personality for such an ultra-feminine name. I think I've given the name the ultimate field test in that I have had to say it hundreds of times a day for over two years, and it has passed with flying colours. We couldn't be happier to have a Gwen.

PS 500th post! Please let me know when the ticker tape parade is scheduled.


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