Sunday, July 24, 2011

Dear Gwen: Month Thirty-Nine

Dear Gwen,

You are now thirty-nine months old. Wow!

Three continues to be an awesome age and after seeing other families at the many public events we’ve been to this month, I have to say you are pretty well-behaved. You are not a public fit-thrower (knock on wood) and for the most part you are happy and easy-going. You look at everything as an adventure, which is such a great perspective. You love to be outside and you love to learn, and we have been doing lots of each.

Your language is taking another big step forward, as you start to form sentences that are more abstract and can communicate more complex things. When we urge “use your words” we can see you working hard to express what you need or how you feel, which you are able to do very well, even when you don’t know the exact words to describe these ideas. A few days ago, you were showing some temporary tattoos on your arm to your Grandpa Keith, who in return showed you his real tattoo. Then you said, “My Uncle Dave has lots of tattoos on his arms.” Your dad and I were really impressed with this sentence: the fact that no one had mentioned Uncle Dave, and that you brought him up as being relevant to the topic at hand, was really cool. The fact that you don’t see Uncle Dave often, but were still able to remember this fact and access it when appropriate, was even more impressive.

With your expanding language skills, you and I are finding some new ways to communicate. You’ve made it clear that you don’t like it when I speak loudly to you. “I’m sad because you said something mean to me.” This exchange usually follows when I have been trying unsuccessfully to get your attention for 30-60 seconds and finally say sharply, “GWEN.” Last time this happened, I asked you what I should do instead to get your attention, and you suggested singing “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star”. I’ll let you know next month how that goes.

One phrase I’ve heard a lot from you lately is, “Do you like it?” You show me a toy or a dance move or a piece of clothing and then ask if I like it. I usually say, “Of course I like it, do YOU like it?” or sometimes I will say, “It doesn’t matter what I think, if you like it then you should wear it/play with it/do it.” I’m not sure what the sudden need for affirmation and approval is all about. You are also obsessed with my arms – that has been going on for a while now – and more recently, with my cheeks. If I am in your presence, you are very likely to be putting serious effort into touching one or both of these areas on me. You pet my arms constantly, and when I get home from work and you run towards me with your arms open, it’s not necessarily to give me a hug – it’s to pet my arms. WEIRD. A couple of weeks ago, as you held one of my arms against your body in a big hug, you said, “Mama, I love your arm.” “Thanks, Gwen,” I said. “Is there any other part of me that you love?” “Yes, Mama. I love your other arm.”

You have brought home a ritual from daycare that I think is kind of sweet. From what I can gather, it seems to be something your caregiver does for a child who is feeling tired, sick, or upset. It’s called a “baba” and while at first glance this would appear to be a simple word for a “bottle [of milk],” in this case there is much more to the ritual. When you ask for a baba, it means you want to lie on the couch with two stuffed animals, tucked under a blanket, drinking a sippy cup of milk and watching a show. The first time you asked for one at home, I had to get you to explain all that to me, but now I’ve got it figured out. I wish I had your instinct for self-care, it sounds lovely.

You still love to help and insist on doing it constantly. The problem is, of course, that some things are one-person jobs and other things are just not safe for you to help with. When these things happen, you will scold me by saying, “That’s not helping, Mama. That’s just doing it all by yourself. That’s not sharing.” You are clearly quite put out by my selfishness.

You are pretty excited about starting preschool in the fall. I have told you that you get to start school when the leaves change colour and the apples grow on our tree. You can’t wait! I have not yet broken it to you that you won’t, in fact, get to ride on a schoolbus, but will be getting a ride from lame old Mom and Dad. I’m pretty sure you’re going to love school anyways. I hope that by the time you go to school you grow out of the “what did you do today/oh just nothing” phase, because I really want to hear about all your adventures.

Recently you have started using the big kid swing when we go to the playground, and I even give you underduck pushes. Both Dada and I are trying to teach you how to pump your legs but you haven’t quite gotten the hang of it yet. I bet you will catch on if you see some other kids doing it.

This month, we have been going to yoga together, which makes me really happy. I've been going to the same studio since I was pregnant with you, and I have fond memories of prenatal yoga. My first time there, I had to rush to the adjoining bathroom and throw up. At a much later session, I felt you move for the first time - I've always credited yoga practice for making me so tuned in and aware of my body to discern your movements. Now we are taking Kids Yoga together with the same teacher. I feel like we've come full circle. You are starting to listen to Teacher a little better than you did last time we tried yoga, and that makes me happy too.

You continue to be quite fixated on ballet and ballerina dancers. I am thinking that once Dad finds a new job and we can afford a class, I’d like to put you in gymnastics before ballet. I don’t exactly want to call you ‘clumsy’, but let’s just say you don’t pay a lot of attention to where every single one of your limbs might be at any given moment. Which leads to plenty of injuries and mishaps, to you and to other people (yesterday, for example, you punched me in the throat – completely by accident, but it still hurt like crazy). I’m hoping that something like gymnastics will get you to pay a bit more attention to your body and the way it moves, so you can get yourself a little more under control. You have already figured out how to do a somersault just by watching some other kids, so I’m pretty sure you would love it.

One more anecdote for the month. A few days ago as I was getting ready for work, the following conversation took place:
Gwen: Why do you have to go to work, Mama?
Me: I go to work so I can make money, so we can buy food and other nice things.
Gwen: I want to go to work with you, so I can make money too. I like money!
Me: Well ... um ... they don't just pay anyone who shows up. It's a little more complicated than that.
Gwen: Oh. Well, maybe when I’m bigger.

I love you so much, Gwen, and you make me laugh and make me proud every single day.


Tuesday, July 19, 2011

The First Annual AdequateFamily Stay-Cation Extravaganza, July 2011

Did you like how I gave the event a huge ornate title to make it sound way more important and high-profile than it really was? I am an English Major, which means I am good at stuff like that. Wordiology, man. I ROCK IT.

So, our original vacation plan – formed back in September of 2010, which is when I have to submit my vacation requests for the following year – was to book off the same week Gwen’s caregiver takes off every year, and travel to Powell River to make use of our family cabin on Powell Lake. As the dates grew closer it became clear that this was not going to work for a couple of reasons. First, a trip to Powell River is expensive; even though the use of the cabin is free, taking our car on the ferry is pricey, as is purchasing a week’s worth of camp food. Second, Chris is working a part-time retail job that meant we could only realistically get out of town for two to three nights. Third, I still don’t know how to drive a boat. And fourth, it just seemed like way too much work.

So the Stay-Cation Extravaganza 2011 was born. We decided to stay on the Island and sleep in our own beds (almost) every night, with several local and semi-local outings to keep us busy during the week. We wrote a big list of everything we thought might be worth doing and fit in as many events as we could. Here’s what we did.

Staycation Day 1: Friday July 1
Chris had to work, because it is a stat holiday and retail jobs SUCK. Gwen and I went to the Canada Day festivities at the local park. We dressed in red and white and arrived just in time for the singing of O Canada. As far as Gwen is concerned, any day where we eat outside is a success, and those measures were soon met, as well as the bonus of obtaining a free balloon. I think the highlight of the event was when Gwen (who constantly proclaims herself “shy”) started dancing to the live rock band who was playing in the bandshell. She started dancing closer and closer to the front until really, she was just at the foot of the stage – anyone who would have preferred to watch a cute wiggly toddler instead of a group of rock musicians would have had no trouble seeing her. To prove this point, a friend of ours came up out of the audience to say hello to us. Oh yeah, she’s real shy.
Time killed: approximately three hours
Total cost: $3 for parking

Staycation Day 2: Saturday July 2
Our close friend Janice came to visit. We spent lots of time together on Saturday, just hanging out and enjoying each other’s company. She is a very gifted and educated caregiver, so we chatted about children’s development and particular issues I have with Gwen. Her perspective is always incredibly valuable and I love watching the way she interacts with Gwen. We spent time outside and I got some gardening done; Gwen tried out her swimming pool. A very mellow day.
Time killed: all day
Total cost: nil

Staycation Day 3: Sunday July 3
Chris worked on this day. Janice had to get back to Victoria, so I packed up Gwen and myself and the three of us hit the road. We stopped at a farmer’s market for a snack of popcorn and a peach, as well as pleasant conversation about birds and butterflies. Once we arrived at Janice’s home, we had a lovely lunch and then headed out to do The Most Exciting Thing Ever (if you’re three): take the city bus down to Beacon Hill Park. Gwen had been talking about the bus trip ALL DAY and in truth – she hasn’t actually stopped talking about it yet. Every day when we see a bus go by (which is often, we are on a major route) she says, “I KNOW! I have an idea – can we take the BUS today?!” Anyway, we took the bus on that day, and met up with Uncle Mikey at Beacon Hill, and enjoyed very delicious ice cream from the Beacon Hill Drive-In. Then it was time for us to walk back to Janice’s house and pick up our car so we could head back to Nanaimo and pick up Chris from work.
Time killed: all day
Total cost: ½ tank of gas + $9 for ice cream

Staycation Day 4: Monday July 4
This is when our staycation really swung into action. We met Amber and her tribe of kids at a local beach for a playdate and a picnic. Callum, Claire, and Gwen played so well together while the three adults took turns chatting, watching over the big kids, and hanging out with the little one (Anna, who is just over a year). The beach was absolutely gorgeous with plenty of opportunity for sandcastle-building, sand dollar-collecting, crab-examining, starfish-spotting, and wave-jumping. It was quite intriguing to note the difference between Amber’s parenting style and my own, which at first I thought was due to her having to deal with multiple kids (and not being able to be in two places at once) but later learned is due to her kids being naturally cautious. She can say things like, “Don’t go too far,” and her kids – get this! – they listen and don’t go too far. In contrast, when Gwen waded into the water I caught her attention and said, “That’s far enough, Gwen – don’t go any farther, please,” and she said, “Okay, Mama!” then turned around and continued walking away from me. Naturally cautious? No. She did have a great day, though.
Time killed: three hours
Cost: nil

Staycation Day 5: Tuesday July 5
This was a jam-packed day. We started by cashing in some gift certificates we had to play mini-golf at Cyber City. Though apparently other people’s three-year-olds can play mini-golf, ours is a little less interested in taking direction and a little more interested in driving us crazy. Watching Gwen wield her club really reminded me of this cartoon and after she deliberately disobeyed us twice by throwing her ball into the water trap, we were ready to be done with mini-golf. That part of the day was frustrating (especially because I was TOTALLY winning the game), but it got better from there. Inside Cyber City was this giant “tunnel and tube” thingy, very similar to what they have at Jumpin’ Jiminy’s – think a Habitrail for Humans, with slides and a ball pit and stuff. And it was a Tuesday morning, so Gwen had it all to herself. We paid $3.99 for her to have access, and Chris was allowed to accompany her so she had someone to play with. I SAT ON THE PROVIDED LEATHER COUCH AND READ MY BOOK. Dudes! This was a good idea.

After about an hour, we drove to Coombs to check out the market. Gwen fell asleep in the car but soon perked up when we bought her a hot dog for lunch. We bought a couple of things at the market, watched the famous goats on the roof, and ate ice cream. We had intended to go to Butterfly World next (where Chris and I were married in 2006), but it was almost 4pm and we had plans to go to Chris’s parents for dinner, so we decided to visit the butterflies another day. After a full day in the hot sun, we were ready for my in-laws air-conditioned house.

Dinner was lovely as always, and after a nice visit we got back in the car and drove back to Parksville to take in a free outdoor movie. We weren’t sure what to expect as we had never been to one of these events before. The lowlight was that although the website promised an “approximate” start time of 8:30pm, the movie did not in fact begin until nearly 10pm. That said, the 90 minutes hanging out in a community park with a bunch of other families was pretty fun. There was a really friendly atmosphere, with face painting and socializing and music blaring from the speakers. Gwen saw some other little kids dancing and wanted to join them, but of course requested my assistance. I walked her over to them and prompted her to ask if she could play too. They were thrilled to have her company and I slowly eased back to my seat. I guess it’s because I remember my childhood as very lonely and insecure, but I LOVE seeing my daughter play with other kids. Especially because I see that she is shy and hesitant to make that first move – it’s incredible when her overtures are accepted and she becomes part of the group. The look of joy shining from her face is so beautiful.

So, at 10pm the movie – “Rio” – began and we snuggled into our chairs to watch. It was pretty funny and we all enjoyed it. This was Gwen’s first time seeing a movie on the big screen, and I think she liked the experience. There was one character who scared her a little, but being able to snuggle with Mom was helpful. Naturally, she passed out in the car on the way home and I wished we’d changed her into jammies beforehand (full disclosure: Chris suggested this and I turned it down, but that was when I thought the movie would be over at 10pm, NOT MIDNIGHT).
Time killed: all day and a large portion of the night
Total cost: $75 on lunch and goodies at Coombs Market

Staycation Day 6: Wednesday July 6
Chris worked again on this day, and by this point we had learned that our caregiver had not actually booked the week off, so I elected to take Gwen to daycare since we had to pay for the day anyway. I got a whole day to myself, which I spent indulging my newest passion, cardmaking. I have started selling cards wherever I can, hoping to supplement our income, and people have been appreciative. I’m really enjoying being creative and I loved having a card day in the midst of all our family time.
Time killed: all day
Total cost: $35 for daycare

Staycation Day 7-8: Thursday July 7 – Friday July 8
Now it got serious. Chris had reserved a campsite for us at Rathtrevor Beach, our first family camping trip. I could write volumes on my opinion of camping, but it boils down to this: I don’t get it. I don’t get what you can do while you’re camping that you can’t do otherwise, and I don’t understand why you would want to go through all the effort and cost of camping if you could just do those things in other ways. After many, many discussions with many, many people I have decided that I am never going to get it, and that’s okay. The important points are this: my husband loves camping (and he doesn’t love very much) and he is willing to do all the work. So who am I to argue? A-camping we shall go.

We were a little worried about the weather, which was about to change from the gorgeous sunny skies we’d had all week to cloud, rain, and possibly thunder showers. Yay! Let’s go sleep in a tent! We decided to go ahead anyway, not having any other ideas, so Chris loaded the car and off we went. We arrived and started unloading the car, by which I mean that I took one bag and Gwen and Chris hauled everything else while I tried to keep Gwen entertained. We discovered the nearest bathroom (not a flush toilet … we didn’t find those until way after dark) and also a playground, where Gwen made some friends. By this time the weather had cleared up and we were feeling optimistic. After Chris finished unloading and setting up, we tried to fly a kite, but it wasn’t windy enough. We discovered the Nature House, an interactive kid-oriented museum that was pretty darn cool. We also found out there was a show at the amphitheatre later in the evening. After dinner (which Chris cooked, and cleaned up after) we went to the show, which turned out to be a kid-participation educational presentation about the environment at Rathtrevor. Interesting for us, but a bit long for the kids. Back to our site where we stepped out of our shells and made friends with the neighbours, all the better to share the fire pit so we could roast marshmallows. After about 45 minutes of chat, it turned out the patriarch of the family was a Corrections Officer, and had lots of tips for Chris on his quest to work as a Sheriff. I soon grew tired of regulating Gwen in an environment of fire and sharp sticks, and was happy to take the opportunity to look after another couple’s little boy while they set up camp. I found it just as easy to take care of two, while they kept each other entertained. Finally it was full dark and bedtime. Gwen fell asleep in the tent by herself quiet easily; I joined her soon afterwards, and Chris came to bed quite late after a lot of good conversation at the campfire. Soon after that, the rain started and he climbed back out of the tent to try and rescue our stuff.

In the morning, neither of us wanted to go survey the damage. It had really poured down during the night and we had not been prepared for that. Since we had only reserved the campsite for one night, we had to leave by 11am, so we decided to skip breakfast and just get up and go. It was still a big job to get everything taken down and packed up. Gwen and I sat in the car and waited while Chris took care of it all. (It sounds like I am a lazy so-and-so, and while this is somewhat true, Chris is also very particular about how he wants things done, and generally prefers to take care of it all himself. I am not complaining.)

We will definitely camp again, though will do a few things differently. Chris thinks we need a bigger tent; I agree that sharing an air mattress among three people wasn’t terribly comfortable. We both think we need to go for 2-3 nights next time: we didn’t even have time to check out the beach. We both found that hanging out with other families was a plus, but we’re undecided whether we should bring people with us or just make friends when we get there.
Time killed: 22 hrs
Total cost: $25 for reservation + $50 for camp food, of which we brought way too much

Staycation Day 9: Saturday July 9
Gwen and I attended Kids Yoga in the morning. I have been looking forward to taking Gwen to this class since she was a fetus, and I finally got my chance! Megan held the yoga class in her garden, and we all practiced being trees, alligators, cats, cows, and various letters of the alphabet. We are even learning a “yoga song”, the Anusara Invocation, one line each week. Gwen really enjoyed the class and I did too. Immediately after yoga, Chris picked us up and we drove to Victoria. We met Janice at her place for a quick lunch and then got ready for an exciting (and somewhat terrifying) surprise – Janice and I were participating in a flash mob at the Bay Centre in honour of Pride Week.

When I first heard about the flash mob, I was immediately pulled in two directions – I really wanted to do it, but I was also terrified. Me? Dancing in front of people? I have always loved to dance, but I’ve also spent most of my life talking myself out of it – I don’t have the right body, I don’t have the right skills, I might look like an idiot, etc. In this case I decided not to let fear cheat me out of this experience, and I spent a couple of evenings driving to Victoria for rehearsals as well as practicing the choreography in my own living room at home (I practiced so often that Gwen now knows most of the moves herself). I am so glad I was a part of the mob, because it turned out to be a total blast! It was all videotaped by a professional, so I will be sure to share footage here when it is available.

After the mob, we ate ice cream at Marble Slab and then said goodbye to Janice. Chris, Gwen, and I went on to the Bug Zoo, one of my favourite Victoria attractions. At this zoo, you are allowed to hold many of the bugs – adults are allowed to hold many more than the kids, because kids could drop them and injure them, but Gwen did hold some of them. I have held every bug in there that I am allowed to hold, with the exception of the tarantula – someday I’ll do it, I swear, but I figured one bucket-list item a day was enough. I was pretty impressed with Chris holding the tarantula with Gwen on his lap. I try hard not to instill my arachnophobia in her and I guess so far it is going well.
Time killed: all day
Total cost: ½ tank of gas + $50 for food and Bug Zoo admission

Staycation Day 10: Sunday July 10
Chris worked and Gwen and I stayed home. My in-laws came over to help us with some yard work (a Father’s Day present for Chris) so we visited with them and helped out a bit. I also took Gwen to the nearby waterpark where she frolicked in the sprinklers and, of course, made some friends.
Time killed: 6 hours
Total cost: nil

Bonus: My mother-in-law, who usually looks after Gwen on Tuesdays, offered to take Gwen overnight on Monday so Chris and I could have a Gwen-free night to follow up our family staycation. We used gift certificates for a dinner out and more gift certificates for a couple hours’ climbing at the Romper Room. I remember what I love about climbing, but I am now suffering as I tweaked something in my old injured knee that has not entirely recovered. Apparently I am old.

Anyway we are all vacationed up for the time being, and feeling quite grateful that we took our holiday during the one week of sunny weather (one night’s rain notwithstanding). Another source of joy and relaxation is the fact that Chris’s Sheriff application is now entirely out of our hands – there is nothing more we can do to prep or to influence the outcome. Whatever will be will be, and God willing we will know within a couple of weeks.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Friday Five

1. Chris had his interview with Sheriff Services yesterday. He feels it went really well and that he has passed that stage and is on to the next. Not sure when (if?) we will get official word on this or whether they will just dive in to checking his references. If all his references are good, and his lifestyle questionnaire is to their liking, we should hear within a couple of weeks that he needs to go get a medical check - the final stage in the selection process before officially becoming a recruit.

2. Gwen is developing some incredible new cognitive skills. At bedtime, I ask her, "What was the best part of your day?" and she has started asking me and Chris about the best parts of our day. I don't know if this is true empathy yet, but even if not, it's cool that she's picking up on conversational give-and-take.

3. We had an amazing stay-cation last week (July 1-10). I'm going to blog all about it next week. In the meantime, please be aware that we did do things on stay-cation OTHER than eating. But not much. There is nothing that child likes more than eating outdoors, and who am I to deny that dream? It's summer!

4. I've just started my second-to-last university course. It's called "Psychology of Women" and it is FASCINATING. I plan to graduate by next summer.

5. In Gwen's continuing quest to orient herself in the world, we've been having quite a few conversations about genitalia lately. So don't be surprised when she comes up to you and tells you that because you are a girl/boy, you have a vulva/penis. Hopefully she won't go so far as to ask to see it. No guarantees.

Have a great weekend!


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