Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Dear Gwen: Month Twenty-Eight

Dear Gwen, Today you are twenty-eight months old. Which is RIDICULOUS. Next you'll be telling me you want to turn three in the spring. Bah! How can you turn three when you're SO DARN GOOD at telling people that you're two? It shouldn't be allowed.

Your imagination is taking off these days, and you love to give me or Dada some imaginary food to eat. When we thank you, your head just about pops right off, you're so proud. Also, a few weeks ago you told us a story, which was a real first. You were asking me to tell you stories, and I did tell a few - no longer than a few sentences each. I thought they were getting a little repetitive, so I started one with, "Once upon a time, there was a little girl named Christine," but you quickly corrected me, "No, a little girl named Gwen." Anyway, after that I asked you to tell a story, and you did! Here it is: "Once upon a time there was a little girl named Gwen. She went down the slide. The end!" (What more could you ask in a narrative, really!?)

Everyone who meets you is amazed by your vocabulary and your sentence structure. You do have some pretty amusing verbal habits as well. For example, instead of "mine" you say "mise" (rhymes with lies). It sort of makes sense, if you think about it: Mama's, Dada's, Gwen's, yours, mise. For some reason this word is far less annoying than "mine", and given how many times parents of toddlers must hear that word, I don't actually mind this, its gentler cousin. I guess someday I'll have to teach you the correct word, but not yet.

Also, remember how I wrote about your tendency to say to me what you expect me to say to you? This actually goes way back to when you were only a year old and said "nuh" instead of "no": whenever you were doing something you shouldn't, you'd look at me and say "nuh". Then cheerfully go back to doing it. Anyway, this habit continues to be in full effect: you associate the words you hear me saying with the action you are taking, and start saying the words yourself, even though you don't fully understand their meaning. The latest example is you merrily shouting, "Wait for me!" as you run away from me at full-speed.

Another word we've heard a lot of this past month is "sorry". This is always said in an upbeat, "whoopsie!" way. The thing is, you don't quite understand the context for saying it. So your dad tells you, "Here's your dinner, Gwen. It's still hot, so you need to blow on it." And you respond, "Sorry! Sorry, Dada! Sorry!" We tell you several times a day that there's nothing to be sorry for, but you carry on cheerfully apologizing for random things. If you weren't so chipper about it, I might worry you were getting a complex.
I have my own verbal quirks, too, though. I didn't think I'd be one of those people who constantly uses the royal we when referring to (or talking to) my child, but it turns out I am. I actually didn't even realize I was doing it until a few months ago, when I commented aloud that I planned to change you into your jammies before leaving our friend's house, "just in case we fall asleep on the way home." My friend replied, "Hopefully only GWEN falls asleep, not you - you need to drive!" I was totally taken aback that I'd used the word "we", and now that I know I'm doing it, you might think I'd be able to stop, but I can't. Now I notice it, though, and feel ridiculous.

Your language skills aren't the only things that are growing. You are now tall enough to be able to reach up and turn off the light switch in your bedroom - though not quite tall enough to turn it back on. You also have started calling me "Mom" instead of "Mama" as a sign of your growing maturity. It could be worse - Dad tells me you sometimes call him "Chris"!

You've had some big adventures this past month. We spent nearly a week up the lake at the end of July/beginning of August, and you had the time of your life. We were really pleased with how well-behaved you can be when you put your mind to it: we only had to tell you once that the rule was, "If you're outside you need a lifejacket," and every time you went to the door after that you said, "Need me lifejacket!" You only fell in the lake once, and it was under very controlled conditions and everything was fine (though it took quite a while for my heart rate to return to normal). You also did well with napping and sleeping in a strange environment, which was very encouraging to see. And of course, you were thrilled beyond belief to be surrounded by your grandparents, your auntie, and your cousins.

Another adventure was our trip to the Vancouver Island Exhibition, which happened just this past weekend. You loved seeing all the show animals and excitedly telling us what noises they would make. It was really fun to see it all through your eyes - everything is an adventure for you. At the fair, you met Dora, rode some fun midway rides, and met a clown. But I think your favourite part was the yellow balloon you were given. At this age, it's so simple to give you so much joy.
Gwen, you are growing up into an amazing little girl who brings a smile to everyone she meets. I'm so glad you're my daughter and I can't wait to see what the next month brings.


Thursday, August 12, 2010

"I'll Never..."

One of my favourite blogs, Rants from Mommyland, recently had a three-part feature on the things people swore they'd NEVER do once they became parents. We've all got a few of these, I'm sure. And yup, a few of those contributions were from yours truly:

"I'll never let my kid get hooked on TV." Not having cable was no help in this situation. She is hooked on Blue's Clues DVDs. It's the first thing she asks for nearly every day. Oh well, could be worse ... We have NO Dora or Elmo DVDs!

"I'll never be one of those moms who arrives late to everything. How hard IS it to arrive somewhere on time?" Turns out it's not as easy as just adding another 30 minutes to your prep time, because even when you've planned everything perfectly and you're heading out the door right on time, the baby throws up and then she needs to be changed and fed and burped and whoops, YOU need to change too, and now she's falling asleep and should we wake her or just cancel the whole outing? Sigh. Maybe tomorrow ...

There were some really interesting and thought-provoking contributions to these posts, and it got me thinking of the great divide between the pre-parent expectation versus the reality of parenthood. For the most part, I think I knew enough not to make grand sweeping declarations about what kind of parent I would (or wouldn't) be, because the minute the sperm meets the egg All Bets Are Off. You've got to walk a thin line between being the parent your kid needs and being the parent you yourself can live with, and sometimes the result ends up being quite a far cry from the parent you swore you'd be.

The biggest gap between my expectations and reality, which makes itself clear to me on almost a daily basis, is that I know all the things I should be doing, all the rules I should follow, and yet I don't. Check out any article on parenting, and chances are I am continually breaking about half the rules. And not because I think the rules are dumb; quite the contrary, I know they are solid, common-sense ways to teach a child cause-and-effect and I have every intention of putting them into practice. But I am surprised to find that I am a ridiculous softie when it comes to my kid. When I'm not in the same room with Gwen, it's all so clear; I know she's smart, I know she's manipulative, I know she's playing me. But when I'm with her, I'm a total pushover.

Don't give in to whining. Ever watched a parent state a rule and then give into their begging, pleading kids? I have, with great scorn, thinking to myself, "Congratulations! You just taught them that whining works, good luck with the next 15 years." But damned if I don't do it myself. Whining is Gwen's version of passionate, articulate arguing, and often I don't know pre-whinefest how important the issue is to her. Once I know how strongly she feels about it, I might change my mind. I do, however, have an out: if I decide I'm going to give in to her, I make her state her request in a big-girl voice with manners and no whining. That way, I can lie to myself that she believes politeness, not wheedling, is the way to get what she wants. Nice rationalizing, huh?

Don't ask - tell. If you are trying to prompt a child to do something non-negotiable - for example, brushing her teeth or putting her shoes on - then it's not supposed to be phrased like a question. Instead of saying, "Shall we brush your teeth?" or "Ready to put your shoes on?" or even "Can you please get your shoes?" we are meant to say, "Let's go brush your teeth!" or "Time to get your shoes on!" It makes perfect sense. Still, I catch myself breaking this rule all the time, which is made even worse by the fact that Gwen will respond to "Shall we put your shoes on?" with a cheerful "NOPE!" and then what am I supposed to do? (OH YEAH: follow the stupid rule and then this won't happen!)

Don't reward misbehaviour with attention. I can resolve over and over again to keep this rule, but you know what? When she hits me on the head with her sippy cup, darn tootin' I'm going to respond.

Don't repeat instructions. I've blogged about this one before. Gwen is a very active child, extremely distractible (by her own whim, not anyone else's direction), and talks NONSTOP. So when it's time for me to direct her to do something, there's a lot of inner and outer chatter I have to cut through in order to get her to notice that I am speaking to her. I can't tell you how many times I've read that the solution to this is to pledge to yourself that you will only give a direction ONCE: then you will automatically do everything in your power to make that one time count. Makes perfect sense, right up until the time that I kneel down, touch Gwen's shoulder and direct her eyes to mine so I *know* she's paying attention, give a clear and simple direction, and get totally ignored. Then what?

Be consistent. This is the 'mother' of all parenting tips. And I'm willing to bet that no one follows this one flawlessly. Sometimes you're willing to get down on the floor and play, sometimes you're too tired. Sometimes you're willing to let the kid watch a movie, sometimes you're bound and determined they go play outside. Sometimes you're ready for a battle of wills, sometimes you're ready to bend the rules if it means some peace and quiet. Sometimes it's Wednesday and you need to hustle everyone out the door, sometimes it's Saturday and you can start the morning with a snuggle and a lengthy Youtube-viewing session in "the big bed". I can't be alone in this, right?

Sure, I skipped the loud fist-thumping generalizations pre-Gwen me may have made, but not a day goes by that I don't think to myself, "Hmm, never thought I'd be that parent." Still. As long as I get to be that parent to this kid, I think it'll all work out. As far as I know, there haven't been any studies done to show that giving a kid an ice cream cone before dinner once in a while means he or she will turn out to be an axe-murderer.

And if there are, please don't tell me.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Technology on Family Vacations

As we were packing for our vacation at the lake - a float cabin where the only electricity comes from solar panels and there is no flush toilet - Chris asked me if I wanted to bring along the portable DVD player for Gwen.

I'm far from the first parent (or blogger) to ponder the issue of how much technology is appropriate for kids on a family vacation. What's interesting to me is that I can see with perfect clarity the value of the arguments on both sides: they both make sense to me.

See, on the one hand I can get all curmudgeonly and say, When I was a kid on vacation with my family, we damn well didn't have DVD players in our mini-van. I remember driving down the stunningly beautiful California coastline when I was about fifteen years old. It was a long drive, and there was a lot of time to kill - time without GameBoys or DVDs or iPods. What did we do? We talked. There were lots of conversations, and lots of old-school car games like "I Spy" and the alphabet game. One special thing I remember is that all of us brought along a few of our own cassette tapes (yep, cassette tapes - look them up, young'uns) and my dad let us take turns playing them in the main tape player. So we each listened to music that we enjoyed, but in a communal way, which is (I think) the way music is meant to be experienced anyway. It made a big impression on me, because I'm sure my parents would have never chosen to listen to Weird Al or The Red Hot Chili Peppers of their own volition; but we all listened to it together, and then talked a bit about what we liked or didn't like, and then it was someone else's turn to choose a tape. These are memories that never would have happened if we were all plugged into our own iPods or laptops or video games.

See, I can paint quite an idyllic picture of those pre-technology days, can't I? I can stamp my foot and say, "It was good enough for me, it's good enough for my kid."

On the other hand, what a stupid argument that is, because hey - hundreds of years ago, people crossed the plains in covered wagons. Should we carry on that tradition, too? We have all kinds of technology at our disposal, and hell, if it benefits us and we can afford it, we should absolutely make use of it.

And I think that is the key to figuring out the DVD-or-not-to-DVD dilemma. In the case of the cabin, a large part of the attraction is that you really do get away from it all. Cell phones get no signal up there, ergo you are truly off the grid in a way that is becoming increasingly rare. There's no TV, VCR, DVD - no, instead, you have all the beauty of nature to entertain you. The cabin was practically my second home as a kid - it seems we were there nearly every weekend, during the summer, though that memory can't really be accurate - and I don't remember ever being bored. You could swim, fish, dive, suntan, waterski, read, relax, eat, play card or board games, and of course just hang out with the other people there and enjoy their company. That's what the cabin is all about, and bringing a portable DVD player there seemed really wrong.

On the other hand, I can see other family outings where I wouldn't mind bringing it along. In fact, I did bring it along on last Spring's Circle Tour, where it was well-used in any situation where I needed Gwen to sit still for more than 15 seconds. For example, one night we stayed at our friends Sally & Dean's apartment, which was empty as they were not arriving home until late that evening. I needed to unlock the main gate, bring Gwen upstairs to the apartment, unlock the apartment, then go back down to the car and get all our stuff. I couldn't manage all our stuff *and* Gwen at the same time, but leaving Gwen in an empty apartment was a bit worrisome (though slightly less dreadful than leaving her in the empty car). I made sure to bring the playpen and the DVD player along with Gwen on my first trip; set up the playpen, put on Blue's Clues, and put Gwen inside. She was content (and SAFE) for my remaining trips to the car.

Another prime opportunity for judicial technology usage is our lovely BC Ferries system. Whether waiting at the terminal or on the boat itself, getting Gwen to settle down with a movie can be a real treat for both of us (not to mention the other passengers).

In the end, I think I have to keep making these decisions on a case-by-case basis. I wouldn't ever want Gwen's family vacation to be entirely focussed on technology and 'tuning out' the rest of the world. But I do see the value of some technology when used judiciously. In a car full of people on a long road trip, plugging into your iPod for an hour or so can be the closest thing you get to "alone time", and I definitely think everyone needs that once in a while.

What rules do you and your family have around technology while on vacation?

Monday, August 9, 2010

Bittersweet Symphony

Some words make parents of toddlers very, very happy. Several of these words were included in the advertising for last weekend's "Symphony in the Harbour". Words like "great for the whole family", "childrens' activities", "free", and "rain or shine". Since Chris was away at a martial arts retreat, this seemed like an excellent activity for Gwen and I to partake in. A total bonus: "Singer Nadya Blanchette returns to Nanaimo to perform "The Diva Dance", a spine-tingling song by Donizetti, made famous by the movie Fifth Element." Dude, I was stoked.

Saturday morning dawned rainy and gray, and Gwen and I took turns driving each other absolutely crazy. The day was really not going well. I promised her that if she had a good nap, we'd go out in the afternoon and do something really special and fun. The plan was that we would arrive sometime between 3 and 4pm - we could listen to the symphony's rehearsal and do the kids' activities ("make instruments out of recycled materials and have a puff on a horn or two in the Musical Instrument Zoo"), probably leaving before the actual performance started at 6pm.

Miraculously, Gwen took a great nap. Less miraculously (as it IS August, and the forecast had predicted same), the weather cleared up and by 2pm it was no longer raining. I busily readied snacks, diapers, blankets, jackets, a towel, and everything else I thought we might need for a two-hour stay in a damp park. Oh, and the camera to capture Gwen's first exposure to live classical music. Gwen woke up, had a snack, and I hustle-bustled her into the car. We were both really excited, although I still hadn't actually told Gwen where we were going.

We arrived at the park about 4pm and I noted the large Triple T Party Rentals truck and a great deal of equipment being moved and toted around. I didn't see where the symphony might be rehearsing - I wasn't sure if they'd be in the bandshell or down on the water (I have vague memories of Victoria's Symphony Splash involving the symphony on a barge in the harbour?) and I also noted that despite the subtle urging of the advertising to come early, I had landed a sweet parking spot and couldn't really see a lot of crowds. So we'd obviously arrived early enough to spend some time on the playground before things start - we hadn't even missed anything! Hooray!

Carrying our gigantic bag, I led Gwen down to the playground and got her settled into a swing. Just then, my cell phone rang. It was Lori, a friend I'd invited to possibly meet us at the park. "I just heard on the radio that it was cancelled," she told me. "No, that doesn't make any sense," I argued. "I can see the trucks, there are people busily doing stuff, and there's definitely something going on. Besides, the ads said rain or shine." As I pushed Gwen on the swing, I looked back at the entrance to the park and the bustling activities around the party rental trucks. It was then I saw that things were being loaded onto the trucks, not off of them. My heart sank.

I repeated this revelation to Lori and we said our goodbyes. I was irked and confused. I then remembered my friend Amber, whom I had also invited to the symphony. She lives about 40 minutes out of Nanaimo and has three kids under the age of four. She was also entertaining a visiting friend, Michelle, who has two kids of her own. Two women + 5 kids + 40 minute car ride on their way to a symphony that was now cancelled for unknown reasons = ANOTHER AWESOME REASON TO LOVE NANAIMO.

I called Amber & Michelle, who were just arriving at the parking lot, and told them the news. They said they would come down to the playground for a while anyway as they kids were definitely ready to get out of the car. We did visit briefly, but Amber's younger daughter was underdressed for the weather and they soon departed. I couldn't really blame them, as Gwen and I couldn't really offer any more fascinating social opportunities for the evening.

So Gwen and I played on the playground for about an hour and a half. I struck up conversations with a few other families who'd come for the symphony, all of whom were equally confused as to why it had been cancelled. At one point, I got really tired of lugging around the gigantic bag, and I took it back to the car, hanging on only to my cell phone and car keys. On this trip back through the park, I noticed that a few dozen people were sitting on their camp chairs, facing the bandshell, perhaps in a particularly stubborn form of denial. But no, there was a large poster advertising the show with the word "CANCELLED" written on it, and a solicitous woman (no idea who she was) apologizing to everyone who wandered by the sign and grumbled. She confirmed that it was completely and utterly cancelled, not postponed for a more summer-like day. What, then, were these people on chairs doing?

I finally got up the nerve to ask one of them, and she kindly told me that there was going to be "someone coming to play violin for half an hour". So all these people who had arrived to see a symphony would at least get something for their trouble.

(I also noticed that there was a definite demographic trend at work. I didn't see anyone else Gwen's age or anyone else my age. Everyone else seemed to be 60+. I'm not sure what to conclude from this, but I noticed it, so I'm throwing it out there.)

It just so happened that Gwen and I were about to head home and call it a night when this violin-playing someone showed up, in a tuxedo and all. What the hell, I thought, let's sit and listen for a few minutes, see if Gwen gets a bit of culture out of her day at the park. The first thing this lovely gentleman did was to invite all of us - there were maybe around 75 people by that time - to move in closer, which we did. "I have no microphone, and there is only one of me, so you might as well get close!" Gwen and I were sitting on the wet grass right in the very front (the towels and blanket originally intended for sitting had, of course, been put back in the car). We were perhaps 12 feet away from the performer.

Gwen and I whispered a little bit about what the man was doing. "He's got a violin. He's getting ready to play." The instant the bow glided across the strings, I saw a change in my little girl that I've never seen before. She was completely and utterly mesmerized, and a hundred times I cursed the fact that the damn camera was also in the car. While that man played, Gwen sat still and looked at nothing else; she was silent, open-mouthed, wide-eyed. It was magic.

Of course, he didn't play nonstop. He finished the first piece and then TALKED. Gwen was far less interested in the talking. He played another piece, and then the director of the non-performing symphony got up and talked a LOT. I couldn't hear everything he said, because I was struggling to keep Gwen quiet (psst! Talking is boring! PLAY THE VIOLIN MORE PLEASE, WANT A DIFFERENT SONG!) but I did learn this from a very adamant director: it was not rain that cancelled the show, but cold. When it's cold, he told us, it is very unpleasant to put a cold metal instrument on one's mouth. Thus, they were unable to rehearse at 3pm, and so they cancelled the 6pm show.

I have several things to say about this. And because it is my blog, I shall now say them!
- 18 degrees, which is what it was at 6pm yesterday, is not cold. It may be a little on the chilly side for an August evening, but it's not cold.
- My goodness, what a travesty for musicians who are paid hundreds of dollars per hour to have to put cold instruments on their lips. Apparently, they don't get paid enough to use Google, because it took me 0.27 seconds to find this, and I'm a complete symphony n00b.
- I'm told by other sources that in genuinely cold weather, it can be hard to keep instruments (particularly reeds and strings) in tune. But 18 degrees is not genuinely cold weather.
- The director made the point that at 3pm it was still "too cold to play", and that they didn't know it was going to warm up later, so they made the decision to cancel. Again, a tiny dose of Google (or perhaps just turning on your local radio!) might have informed you of this incredible thing we have called WEATHER FORECASTING. The forecast had been telling us all day that the afternoon would be warmer and drier than the morning.
- If you advertise that you are willing to put on an event in the rain, you might want to consider the strong correlation between "rain" and "cold". Defending yourself to a ripped-off crowd by saying you don't mind playing in the rain, but cold makes your lips uncomfortable, makes you sound like a whiner.
- I don't know all the ins and outs of who paid whom to make this concert happen. I know the symphony would have been paid a lot of money (by the city?) and they were also all put up in a hotel. All that money is now completely gone, because the show was cancelled (not postponed). Edit to add: Tricia pointed out to me that in fact, the symphony pays the city for the privilege of putting on this concert - though it is free for audiences, donations are collected and it is a huge fundraiser for the symphony. I feel slightly less bitter that my city (and thus my family) were not ripped off financially, only culturally.
- The director thoughtfully invited us to come to the symphony's regularly scheduled seasonal performances. I checked the symphony's website and did not see any of my favourite words ("free" or "great for the whole family" or "outdoor"), so I conclude that the rest of the regular season is either unwelcoming or unaffordable or both for a family that includes a toddler. One symphony performance is not actually as good as another, in this case.

After all this talking - and the fact that she had already been at the park for two hours - Gwen was starting to lose patience. She made it through one more song, and then it was time for us to go. But she talked about that violin for the rest of the evening - the way he held it under his chin and played the songs and we all clapped. The fact that she enjoyed the far too little, far too late performance so much just adds insult to injury as it underlines how much it would have blown her tiny mind to see the thing we were actually promised.

And man, I am REALLY annoyed that I missed hearing that Fifth Element song.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Friday Five

1. Want to know my absolute favourite tip for a successful reintegration with real life after a wonderful holiday? It's actually a two-fold tip. First, make sure that your first day back at work is not a Monday, because then you will start that first day of reality staring down a five-day week that seems to actually stretch into eternity. Make your vacation run Tuesday to Tuesday or even Wednesday to Wednesday if you can. Coming back to a short work week will do you a world of good. The second part of the tip is that you should plan to arrive back home a full day before work starts. In this case, we arrived back home around 4pm on Monday, and I didn't go back to work until Wednesday. But on Tuesday, I took Gwen to daycare. I spent the day doing (no joke) FOUR loads of laundry. Also buying groceries as there was nothing to eat in our house. Having that day to get back on top of things was incredibly valuable. And then my three-day work week was the icing on the cake.

2. I brought my schoolwork on holiday with me and by the end of the third day I was about a week ahead of schedule for the assigned readings. Which really proves to me how invaluable a schoolwork day (ie off work, house to myself) could be. I am finished my first essay and waiting for my hired proofreader to return from holidays so I can send it to her, then on for grading. I'm already pondering the topic for my next essay, then I have four more units of reading, one more essay, and an exam to write. I might be finished this course in early October which would be PHENOMENAL and perhaps I'll start my next course the same month. I can't tell you how incredibly motivating it has been to finally set myself a finish date.

3. In addition to schoolwork, I read four books while we were away. FOUR. One, two, three, four. I actually had to ask my dad to bring another book up to the cabin when he arrived, because I had run out of stuff to read. Here's what I read:

This was loaned to me by a work colleague and though I didn't expect to like it (it's primarily a mystery, secondarily a historical novel, neither of which I usually enjoy) I ate it up. Incredibly intriguing and lusciously written, this page-turner is a perfect summer read.

I go on requesting sprees with my local library and never know which books are going to show up. Having heard good things about Sedaris, I requested a whole bunch of his books and apparently they were not in demand because three of them came in right away, prompting me to comment, "Man, I hope I like this guy, because otherwise I'm stuck at the cabin with three books I'll hate." I did not hate them. I am not really a laugh-out-loud reader, but I was chortling like mad while reading these. Humour is not the only element, though; Sedaris' essays are also quite thought-provoking and, at times, emotionally stirring.

Then my dad loaned me this one, King's newest book of short stories. I get such a kick out of the fact that my dad is now a King fan - when I was a teen and reading every dog-eared King novel the library had to offer, he used to mock me mercilessly. I guess at some point in the intervening years he actually *read* a Stephen King book - it was probably Shawshank Redemption
- and it was like a gateway drug. Now he's got these gorgeous, reissued trade paperbacks of Carrie and Cujo and Christine and all that schlock. Anyway, Just After Sunset has some great stories in it - as well as a few that I wasn't crazy about, but hey, they can't all be winners.

4. My child continues to be both completely entertaining and an utter genius. It was great to show her off to her grandparents and auntie, who kept laughing at her mannerisms and gasping in awe at her language. Then they would turn to me and I'd say, "I KNOW, this is what I try to tell you, but you just have to see it in person." For example: Gwen pulled the one lonely magnet off the cabin's fridge and said to her Grandpa, "This is a K, Grandpa. It says 'kuh'." Yup. Two years old. She is well on her way to becoming just as much of a bookworm as her Mama is, if you ask me.

5. While on vacation, we discovered that Gwen can drink from a (non-sippy) cup. What else has she been hiding from us?

Wednesday, August 4, 2010


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