Tuesday, November 30, 2010

First Public Tantrum! Hooray.

Last week I took Gwen to a kids' yoga class. Whenever she sees me heading off to my weekly yoga class, she wants to come to, so I was excited to find a teacher in our area who offers classes for kids 2-7 years old (parent participation welcome at no extra charge).

Let's just say the experience was disappointing.

Part of it was my fault: I needed to leave work 20 minutes early in order to pick up Gwen and get to the class on time, and that didn't quite happen as I ended up getting a request for some printing at the eleventh hour. Because of that, we arrived to the class late. In addition to my own hatred of arriving late, Gwen is a girl who needs transition time. Had we arrived with enough time for her to run around and explore the room and somewhat settle in, she may have been ready to actually participate in the class. As it was, she was a shrieking, running, climbing goofball, and she did not one single yoga pose. I had the choice of either participating in the class to show her via peer pressure that "Hey, THIS is what's happening," or running around after her, trying to control her behaviour via urgent whispers and physical restraint. Neither of these options were very attractive to me, and I also felt bad for the other participants in the class. So after about ten minutes, I grabbed my wayward kid and we made an exit.

It reminded me of every grocery-store-meltdown or shopping-mall-tantrum I'd ever read about, heard about, or witnessed. IN A YOGA CLASS. Good times.

We had to wait for Chris to come pick us up, as the snow has made us a one-car family. Once Gwen realized we weren't going to return to the class, she got really upset. I think she made the connection that her behaviour was the reason for her missing out, and she really grieved that. I didn't say much about her behaviour, just told her I was disappointed. When Chris arrived, he asked what had happened. And she actually told him. "I climbed on the table. I wasn't listening to Mama and the teacher. I didn't stay on the pink mat. I had a time out." I was stunned to hear her describe the events in her own words, with no prompting. What an incredible window into her comprehension.

I also recognize that I didn't go over the rules beforehand. When I take Gwen to church (1-2 times a month) we talk beforehand about sitting still, using quiet voices, listening to the stories, etc. And even then, her behaviour is far from perfect; but she's definitely starting to understand what's expected, and she complies with it for as far as her high energy level and short attention span will allow. I didn't do this prior to yoga class, and that was foolish. How can she comply with my expectations if I don't clarify them?

The teacher was kind enough to return the free pass I'd used for the class, and even extend the expiry date so we have another chance to try it out. Yes, she encouraged us to come back, whereas she may have been justified in shudderingly asking us never to return. Brave woman! Just not sure if I'm so brave.

More important than my disappointment in Gwen's behaviour, I think, is my awe at her comprehension and articulation of the situation to her dad afterwards. She is so freaking smart. There is not a direct correlation between intelligence and good behaviour - in fact, it may actually be in reverse proportion - but I can at least be proud of her for something.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Advent Conspiracy

What does Advent mean to you?

Maybe it's a church season that starts this Sunday. Maybe it's a chocolate-filled calendar that lasts from December 1st to 25th. Maybe it's candles and carols and cookies. Maybe it's family-centred activities. Maybe it's none of these things.

I hope that, whatever you believe, you will indulge me in acknowledging that the word "advent" actually means "a coming into place, view, or being; arrival" not "cheap chocolate". Can we just agree on that much? Okay, good.

Now, you all likely know I'm a Christian, but I'm not going to preach at you. What I believe first and foremost is that everyone has the right to believe what he or she wants without any interference from me (except when it comes to the correct meanings of English words). But I want to point your attention here and then remind you about a project I did last year that I really enjoyed, and intend to do again this year. The link is Christian-centred but the project is completely non-religious and inclusive, I promise!

The facts: worldwide, lack of clean water kills more people every day than anything else. In third world countries, it’s not unusual for children and infants to die from diseases caused by drinking unclean water. But here’s another fact: the estimated cost to make clean water available to everyone, forever, is $13 billion. That may seem like a lot, until you consider the most shocking fact of all: that Canadians spend over $35 billion every year on Christmas.

The idea: spend less money on Christmas presents that your first-world friends and family don't really need. Instead, give them something that really matters: your self, your time, your attention, your love. Give relationally: something that will contribute to or support your relationship with that person. Talk, eat, sled, bike, craft, cook, read, play, create, sing, dance, build, draw, laugh, hike, write, together. You might just start a whole new Christmas tradition!

The project: take that money you saved and give it to charity. I chose clean water, because of the facts above, but you've probably got a charity that's close to your heart. Give it to them.

But because just telling you to give some money to charity isn't much of a project, nor is it fun or interesting, here's the good part.

Print out the following, in whatever format works for you. (See here for what I did last year.)

Dec 1 - 10¢ for every hot water tap in your home
Dec 2 - 75¢ for every vehicle your family owns
Dec 3 - 5¢ for every pair of jeans you own
Dec 4 - 5¢ for every bed in your house
Dec 5 - 25¢ if you get a daily newspaper
Dec 6 - 3¢ for every cosmetic item you own
Dec 7 - 3¢ for every pair of footwear
Dec 8 - 5¢ for every meal with meat this week
Dec 9 - 15¢ if you have pots and pans
Dec 10 - 20¢ for every tv you own
Dec 11 - 10¢ for every flush toilet in your home
Dec 12 - 5¢ for every blanket you own
Dec 13 - 15¢ if you have dishes for food
Dec 14 - 3¢ for every light switch in your home
Dec 15 - 5¢ for every window in your home
Dec 16 - 5¢ for each magazine subscription
Dec 17 - 20¢ for every bathtub or shower
Dec 18 - 10¢ for every outside door you have
Dec 19 - 25¢ if you have more than 25 CDs/ DVDs
Dec 20 - 10¢ for every non-tap-water drink this week
Dec 21 - 25¢ if you have a snow blower or lawn mower
Dec 22 - 3¢ for every hair care product
Dec 23 - 15¢ for every bedroom in your house
Dec 24 - 2¢ for every soap bar or dispenser
Dec 25 - 15¢ for every present you received

Then collect that money every day and reflect on how blessed you are in comparison to the two-thirds of the world who dream of the luxuries we take for granted.

Whatever your beliefs, I'd be stunned if you didn't learn something interesting through this exercise. And if you do take part, I hope you'll share your experience with me. Happy Advent!

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Dear Gwen: Month Thirty-One

Dear Gwen,

Today, you are thirty-one months old. You are officially on the downhill slope towards three years old. You have recently become very interested in school, and often ask me when you are going there. I've started telling you that in the spring, when the flowers come back and you turn three, you can go to school. This seems to satisfy you.

You have little to no sense of time, as evidenced by your response to the Christmas decorations at the grocery store during the first week of November. "Mama! We have to get a tree, a Santa tree! Santa is coming!" I assured you that we would, in fact, get a tree long before Santa's arrival a full SIX WEEKS later, but these words mean nothing to you. Every once in a while, especially when you notice other people's (or store's) decorations, you mention it again. In fact, last week when I asked you what you wanted for Christmas, you had only two requests: 1) a tree, and 2) a present. I am entirely sure that we can fulfil both of these requests, which makes this probably the only Christmas you'll ever have where you get every single thing that you want. Enjoy it while it lasts!

The night that I wrote of my cautious optimism that we had seen and survived the worst of your sleep problem was, of course, the very same night you decided to turn into a non-sleeping, bedtime-stalling, crazy-making monkey all over again. Your latest tactic is shrieking "WAIT! I have a question for you," just as I am about to leave your room at night. In typical Gwen fashion, this of course means that you want me to ask you a question. And I usually do. Through this I have learned that your favourite colour (this week) is green, that your favourite animal is Lamby, and that I am your best friend. Of course, I immediately asked, "If I'm your best friend, why won't you listen to me and go to sleep?!"

Despite the stall tactics, I am really pleased and proud (and I tell you so, often) that you are once again able to sleep all night in your own bed with the light off. We have replaced the normal-wattage bulbs in your room which means that I can actually see two inches in front of my face again, which is a pleasant change.

Winter has definitely hit Nanaimo in the past week, with lots of snow and very cold windy weather. This is your first real experience with snow and you are loving it. You are fascinated with the fact that you can leave tracks with your feet and imprints with your hands - I'll have to teach you how to make snow angels, if I can bear to lie down in the stuff myself (we're not all as lucky as you with full-body snowsuits!). Your dad made you a snowman at the park last weekend - you adored it and were quite upset when you learned we were not going to pick it up and carry it home with us. Aside from the snow, you're not too happy with the cold weather and the end of Daylight Savings Time. When we pick you up from Denise's house, you are very annoyed that it is already dark outside, and so cold and windy too. "It's supposed to be sunny!" you insist, and as you have no sense of time, I can't seem to get the message across to you that it won't be sunny again for quite a while.
One thing I have learned in the past week is that I should plan to take two or three times as long to leave the house at this time of year. The length of time it takes for all of us to get into warm jackets and/or snowsuits, mittens, hats, scarves, and boots seems to take an eternity, and we are not very good at arriving anywhere on time.

You have undergone another growth spurt recently and are now just over three feet tall. This, combined with your thin frame, means that none of your clothes fit you properly. Most of your shirts and jackets end above the wrist; if we put you in shirts that are the proper arm length, they're way too big in the neck and chest. Same with pants: either they hit you mid-calf, or they are falling down off your tiny waist. Your dad has assured me that no one notices the ill-fitting clothes, or if they do, they don't proclaim me a negligent or cheap parent. There just isn't anything that fits you properly, dammit. (Although these Dapper Snappers are a big help in the pants department.)

On the most part, Gwen, it's been a really hard month. You have not been easy to get along with: your whining, fake-crying, tantruming and other manipulative behaviours have been at an all-time high. Even Gramma Karen had her fill of you last week, and I think that's the first time that's ever happened in the history of Gwen. As all the parenting resources tell us, you have discovered that you are a person who is separate from Mama and Dada, and you are asserting your own personhood by denying our will at every opportunity. Your stubbornness and willfulness have overcome your desire to please and often, every little part of our day contains a battle. I've done some reading and a lot of thinking and have not come to any great conclusion about how to handle these moments. While I agree that rewarding negative behaviour with attention reinforces that behaviour, I also feel very uncomfortable telling you that I am just not interested in hearing what you have to say until you finish being upset. I want you to know that I am always here for you, Gwen, that I love you unconditionally and will always hold you and comfort you and support you even in those moments when you are so upset you can't even tell me what's wrong. The advice to ignore a tantrum or breakdown makes rational sense, but then I think about how I would feel if I were in tears and your dad told me he didn't want to hear my whiny voice, only my big voice, and that when I could use my words he would be happy to listen to me. And that is why I keep rewarding your negative behaviour with attention.

It's been a month of adventures, too. Tumble Bumble class has started, which is a wonderful opportunity for you to tear around a full-size gymnasium, wreaking havoc and burning energy, instead of doing so in the much smaller arena of our living room. I have no idea what we're going to do when that class finishes up! At this week's class the facilitators gathered all the students together for a very loosely-structured game of tag, wherein one adult stood in the middle of the gym, and all the students all stood at one end and said a little rhyme (with accompanying actions) and then raced to the other end of the gym while the adult tried to tag you. If anyone had asked me, I wouldn't have thought you capable of the necessary attention span to learn this game, let alone actually participate. Well, I was proved very very wrong because by the third round you were right out in front of the crowd, doing the rhyme and actions with no prompting and then gleefully racing across to the other side of the gym. You weren't even waiting for the facilitator and the other students to catch up. While your dad calls this evidence of your impatience and bossiness, I prefer to think of it as your obvious leadership qualities. I've also had great opportunity to be very proud of you at this class, when another parent handed you a ball and you said "Thank you" without prompting, or when you shared equipment with another child. It's nice to see that some of our parenting is sinking in!

I guess that's all for now, Gwen. As always, I love you (a million billion trillion fajillion) and think you are absolutely perfect just the way you are. I hope you are as glad to be my daughter as I am to be your Mama, and I hope you'll bear with me as we continue to ride the roller coaster of toddlerhood and parenthood together. Thank you for all the love and laughter and pointed reminders not to take things too seriously.


Monday, November 22, 2010

You Can Take the Geeks Out of the SCA, But You Can't Make Them Dress Normal ... or Something

Chris and I (and Gwen, by default) used to be in the SCA. For those who don't know, SCA stands for "Society for Creative Anachronism" and involves getting dressed up in medieval clothing and going to events where we take part in various activities that took place during the middle ages - everything from armoured combat to weaving and spinning, medieval dancing, rapier fighting, embroidery and blackwork, archery, performing music appropriate to the period, calligraphy and illumination, and about a billion other things. See, here's a picture:

We quit the SCA in 2009, but we have had a very hard time quitting our habit of getting dressed up in bizarre costumes. In the past six months we have attended a pirate party, a 1940s-themed party, and a live performance of the Rocky Horror Picture Show, all in costume. In addition, I went to a Lady Gaga concert and Thrilled the World, both of which also required certain levels of costuming. In a few weeks, we're going to a Murder Mystery party, so it's off to Value Village we go again.

We just can't stop ourselves. I think next year we'll probably take up competitive ballroom dancing, just for the excuse to dress up in those incredible clothes. It's the next logical step, right?

Friday, November 19, 2010

The Bean

He would have been three years old today. Or last week, or next week. I'm pretty sure he was a he, based solely on how different the pregnancies were. For example, in the first pregnancy I had no interest whatsoever in chocolate, which is drastically different from my usual life and definitely different from my pregnancy with Gwen, wherein eating Kit-Kat bars every morning was the only thing that prevented me from violently vomiting at precisely 9:30am every damn day.

Anyway. I have my amazing daughter, and to wish that I'd never miscarried would mean to wish that I didn't have Gwen. I can't possibly wish that. I wouldn't change any of what I've been through, with the exception of wishing to be more informed, before the fact, about what miscarriage could entail. And that's why I post this story; not out of a desire to be maudlin or overdramatic, but because miscarriage is far more common than we think, and we're subtly pressured not to talk about it for fear of scaring other would-be mothers. To me, what is more terrifying than the possibility of miscarriage is facing the reality of it and feeling alone, not knowing that what you're experiencing is normal, and that millions of women before you have gone through it too. I post this so that anyone out there who's going through the same thing, at any time, will know that she is not alone. (Warning: post linked is very graphic.)

I am at peace. I wish the same for all of you.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Is it Monday?

I had a bunch of holiday time to use up by the end of the year so I took four days around Remembrance Day, amounting to a week off with the stat holiday. I have two more days before I go back to work. The truly brilliant part of this scheme is that I have still been sending Gwen to daycare, so I have been putting in 6-8 hour days on schoolwork. It is pure bliss. I just finished Popular Culture and the Media (final grade A-) and have now started Psychology and the Mass Media. If anyone wants to read a research paper analysing the lyrics of Beyonce's "Single Ladies" or discuss cognitive dissonance, I'm your gal.

As if that weren't awesome enough, this past weekend we left Gwen with her grandparents all weekend as their anniversary present to us. Normally I would have insisted we go to a bed and breakfast (as we did last year and loved it) but this year Chris made a good case for staying home, puttering around in our jammies, and watching movies. After all, we have done a LOT of travelling this year, so a mellow weekend sounded just right. And it was. We slept in, we turned the TV as loud as we wanted, we swore out loud, we ate junk food at random times of day. We didn't change any dirty diapers or refill any sippy cups or listen to a single bit of whining. It. Was. Awesome.

On Friday night we went out the theatre to see RED, which I highly recommend as hilarious. Then over the weekend we watched Wanted, Nine, and The Good Shepherd. They were all .... okay. Nine (not to be confused with 9) was probably the best: I loved the music and really enjoyed the various performances. Wanted was the weakest, and when I say weak I mean REALLY FREAKING WEAK.

We went to pick up Gwen last night and she fell asleep on our long drive home from the grandparents' house. Then, of course, woke up as I tucked her into bed. She wanted a story and prayers and sleepy songs and the whole routine. I didn't want to turn on the light, so I made up a story instead. "Once upon a time there was a little girl named Gwen. She was very beautiful, and very smart, and very kind..." and Gwen piped up, "and very tired." I have never, ever known this child to admit that she was tired! I gave the story a quick ending ("So she said goodnight to her mama and dada and grandma and grandpa and went to sleep and had wonderful dreams of lions and monkeys, the end.") and kissed her goodnight, but no, she still wanted prayers. And sleepy songs. So I complied. And then she really did go to sleep, for a good 12 hours.

I am cautiously optimistic that whatever that horrible sleep problem was, we're through the worst of it (until next time). Every morning I tell her how proud I am of her for sleeping all night in her bed. Man ... that was really not a fun couple of months. But knock on wood, we're onto a new phase now.

Speaking of phases and changes and growing and awkward segues, guess who has grown an entire 10 cm in the past 10 months? Getting clothes to fit this child is a bit of a challenge. Most of her pants hit her mid-calf, but if you get a pair that actually goes to her ankles, it falls right off her non-existent butt. Shirts, the same. If you see a good two inches of arm sticking out of Gwen's sleeve, it's not because I'm too cheap or too negligent to buy her a new shirt. It's because SHE IS REALLY LONG AND SKINNY and manufacturers of toddler clothing do not know how to deal with it.

This post was meant to be a random "Hello, here are two paragraphs to prove I'm still alive," and now it's a rambling testament to my wandering attention span. Time to hit the Post Button! Whee!

Friday, November 12, 2010


I have hired a cleaning lady. This has been on my unwritten life-list for maybe three or four years but definitely became a much higher priority since Gwen. It also seems so much more reasonable to insist that it is worth the cost to hire someone to clean so that our weekends can be spent on "family time". Never mind that yesterday's statutory-holiday-enforced "family time" involved no nap, defiant rule-breaking, and repeated ponderings on just how early we could put the kid to bed. I DIGRESS.

Chris has always been less enthusiastic about the cleaning person. It seems to be a mix between "we could spend the money on better things," "it's weird to have someone in our house when we're not here," and "I'm so not ready to admit that we are never going to magically turn into the kind of people who clean our house every week." All valid. But in the meantime, the house got very very dirty, a phenomenon that only seems to bother me, and finally I put my foot down and said: "My car is paid off. My trip to Vegas is paid off. I am hiring a cleaning lady with my own money. The end."

I posted on Facebook that I was looking for someone, and a vague acquaintance I've met only a couple of times piped up that actually, she cleans houses, and is looking for clients. I was happy to hire someone I sort of know as it easily skirted many of the problems stemming from the "it's weird to have someone in our house when we're not here" thing. Further, she's a mom, and I like that for two reasons. First, she gets that our priority is parenthood, not housework. Further, I'm happy to be financially contributing to her household in a time when options may be limited with young kids at home. We moms have to look out for each other, y'know?

But it got even better when she came to clean. Oh, you guys. I swear, our house breathed a giant sigh of relief, as if a nagging itch had finally been scratched. We weren't living in filth or anything, but ... well. It really, really needed to be cleaned. And our wonderful cleaning lady did an incredible job, not only with the cleaning but with the ... I don't even know what to call it. She just has this touch. She turned down the beds, she arranged the towels in the bathrooms as if we were in a hotel, she arranged Gwen's books by size on her shelf. Chris's review? "I think we could get used to this!" Hallelujah, the boy done been converted.

Walking into a magically cleaned house is pretty awesome. Hearing Chris say that he appreciates my wisdom in the matter was very gratifying. But the best moment, the absolute best part of all of this, was two days after The Big Clean, a Saturday morning after a completely ridiculous work week involving hundreds of kilometers of travel and one night in a hotel. It was the moment when Chris got off the couch, put his hands on his hips, and announced, "Well, I guess I'll do the laundry. It's only fair, since you are paying for the cleaning lady." There are no sweeter words, and he held true to them, doing three loads of laundry from start to finish. I didn't do one single chore all blessed weekend. CAN I GET AN AMEN.

It only occurred to me a few days later that I have successfully outsourced two of my Wifely Duties. I have someone looking after Gwen during the day while I work. Now I have someone else cleaning the house. I figure if I can just manage to hire a chef and a concubine, I will be living the dream.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Post-Meal Ponderings

A Certain Day

Gwen has just finished her dinner. "Come to the sink and let's wash your hands," I say. "Please bring your plate." She picks up her plate and carries it towards the kitchen. A piece of food falls off and she starts to bend over to pick it up, threatening to tip the remainder of the food off her plate. I intervene and show her how to hold her plate flat while she retrieves the fallen food. She carries her plate through the kitchen to the laundry room and helps me scrape the food off the plate into the compost bin. Then we open the dishwasher and place her plate and fork inside. Then we wash her hands and face, and she takes off her bib and puts it away.

A Certain Other Day

Gwen has just finished her breakfast. I'm busy making my lunch, so Chris prompts her to come to the kitchen and wash her hands. Soon, they leave for daycare/work. A few minutes later, I find her plate - with food still on it - sitting in the sink, along with her cup and spoon.

The Moral

I have achieved a good measure of success at teaching Gwen how to tidy up after meals. Perhaps someday she can teach her dad.


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