Friday, September 28, 2012

More Signs of How Fast She's Growing Up

Gwen is starting to have an interest in money and the value of money. I have always been pretty upfront with her when she asks for things – whether it’s at the grocery store or in reference to a new toy – saying, “we don’t have money for that right now.” Recently she has started to catch on that certain outings cost money – Jumpin’ Jiminy’s, the pool – while others don’t – the playground, the waterpark. And certainly she has noticed my preference for the ones that are free. Earlier this week, after hearing about her two friends’ recent trip to Disneyland, she put all of her thoughts together and, as usual, came up with a “great idea” – “Mom, you don’t have to worry about enough money for Disneyland, because I have money IN MY PIGGYBANK!”

She found her piggybank and took out all the money. We sorted the different coins into piles (do all four-year-olds love sorting as much as Gwen does?), and then I talked a little about the value of the different coins. After counting them all up, we had a grand total of fifteen dollars. I then dropped the bomb that a family trip to Disneyland would probably cost about five thousand dollars. I thought briefly of trying to visually show her the amount of five thousand as compared to fifteen, but decided we’d had enough didactic learning for one day, and besides, no need to depress the poor child. Anyway, lest you think that money anxieties plague her mind, I did tell her that when the time was right we would DEFINITELY go to Disneyland, and she happily went back to sorting and counting and general merriment.

The coda to the story is that a few days later, she asked how much it would cost to go to Jumpin’ Jiminy’s. “I think it’s about … seven dollars?” I guessed. “SEVEN! I have more than seven dollars … so WE CAN GO TO JUMPIN’ JIMINY’S! HOORAY!” So now I’ll have to find some other excuse not to go there …

A related ‘real-world’ conversation we’ve been having recently is about playdates and Gwen’s constant need for stimulation. Just about every day as we are on our way home from school, she asks for one friend or another to come over and visit. I have recently begun explaining that it’s a whole lot easier for Moms and Dads and even kids, if we organize playdates for a day that isn’t a school day or work day. We went back to her trusty weekly calendar (which has largely fallen out of use now that her weekday activities are more consistent) and I showed her how two of the days begin with an S. “Those are good days for playdates,” I told her. “Those are days that Mom doesn’t go to work, and you don’t go to school, and your friends don’t go to school, so there’s lots of time for playing. On a school and work day, we only have time for a little bit of playing; mostly we do our put-away chores, we get dinner ready, we play music, and have just a bit of time for playing before dinner and getting ready for bed. It’s too rushed to have friends over. But on the days that begins with S, we have ALL DAY to do fun things! Those are good days for playdates.” She seemed to understand and take this in. Naturally, the next day when she woke up she asked me if it was an S day. This whole concept is really a lot to take in!

The put-away chores are another example of Gwen’s growing maturity. When we get home from school, she knows that it is her job to take off and put away her shoes, hat, and jacket, then take out the Tupperware from her lunch kit and put it in the dishwasher and put her lunch kit away in the pantry. I’m generally doing much the same thing with my own lunch kit and work stuff. She has taken this on very smoothly and without any fuss – in fact, she seems very happy and proud to do it. One day when I happened to put her things away because she’d gotten swept up in something else, she became very upset when she realized a few minutes later that she had been cheated out of the chance to do her chores. I think pretty soon I am going to add a couple more things to this list; for example, I’d like her to clear her own dishes after a meal, and wipe the table (and floor if needed). This might also have the bonus of encouraging her to be a less messy eater, since she will be the one dealing with the consequences! Eventually I’d also like her to start making her bed in the mornings, but mornings are already so challenging that I’m not going to add anything else to the mix just yet.

Her willingness to do chores and her interest in money have me thinking about some kind of allowance. I think five is a reasonable age to start receiving some kind of stipend. I haven’t done any formal research into this recently, but surveying my own thoughts/beliefs on the subject has led me to a few conclusions:
- I think kids need to be given money in order to learn how to handle money
- I think kids need both guidance and autonomy in how they spend their money
- I think that at least some portion of the allowance should have no connection to chores
- I think most of the chores should have no connection to money

My sister, whose kids are older than Gwen, has already tried a method or two. One idea she used made a lot of sense to me: that her older son Andrew could earn 25 cents a night setting the table for dinner, but only if he did it without being asked. Similarly, if the kids are ready for school on time without being nagged, they get some kind of reward that can then be cashed in for monetary or other rewards at the end of the week. Either way, they still have to get ready for school. But if they do it without giving their mom a lot of grief, they’re rewarded for it.

This method neatly avoids one of the pitfalls that has me a little concerned. I don’t want Gwen’s natural agreeableness and willingness to help stifled by the expectation of receiving money for the usual jobs and assistance that she needs to do in order to keep our house and family running smoothly. There is a certain level of helpfulness I expect from her just because she is a member of our family - our team - and we all work together. There are extra things that I may ask of her in the future, which may be worthy of pay. For example, when I was a teenager my father paid me $5.00 a week to wash the car or mow the lawn – larger chores that he would have had to do himself if he hadn’t had me to help. To me, that’s in a different category from tidying up after oneself, contributing to family meals, and so on.

The flip side is, whether or not she helps with her put-away chores and other jobs, I think she needs to receive a regular sum of money on a regular basis so that she can learn how to handle money. I know there are special piggy banks available that encourage kids to start the fundamentals of budgeting – allocate some money to savings, some to share (charity donations), and some for spending. I’m pretty sure Gwen is going to find one of those under the Christmas tree this year, with a note that she will be receiving a weekly allowance from then on.

What are your experiences with chores/allowance – as a child, and if applicable, a parent? What has worked or not worked in your family? What ideas have I not thought of?

Monday, September 24, 2012

Dear Gwen: Month 53

Dear Gwen,

Today you are fifty-three months old.

Your personality is becoming more and more evident and in general, that personality is fascinating.  You are energetic, happy, creative, funny, exuberant, loving, curious, and brave.  Just about every day, I get to hear you say some variation of "Mom, I have a GREAT idea."  Life with you is many things ... but it is not dull.

A few days ago we were snuggling in the big bed before starting our day, and I warned that, "At the end of this song, we will have to get up and do our morning jobs."
You asked, "How many people will have to get up and do morning jobs?"
I responded, "Three people will have to get up and do morning jobs!"
So you asked, "Will it be Mom, and Dad, and Mooey (stuffed animal)?"

Ha!  What a great example of both your sense of humour and your distaste for mornings.  I know plenty of parents whose kids get up way too early in the morning, and I have nothing but sympathy for them.  On the other hand, it's not easy at the other end of the spectrum, either: dragging an unwilling child through the routine tasks of the morning - go potty, get dressed, have breakfast, wash hands, brush hair, get shoes - when every single component of that routine is an ENORMOUS battle.  Still, if I had to choose between a child who starts her day at 5:30am and one that would, if I let her, probably sleep till 9, I think I'm going to stick with the morning dawdler.  At least I get to have the battles after getting a full night of sleep.

We have made some changes to our routines now that (pre) school has started again.  For one thing, we recently implemented the rule that you don't get to watch any TV in the mornings.  You were really getting into the habit of watching an episode of Dora or Diego or whatever else we had on DVD every morning, which caused your breakfast-ingestion process to lengthen out to about 25 minutes.  Which would be fine, if all the other steps in the morning routine were completed quickly.  But as mentioned above, THEY ARE NOT.  We don't have 25 minutes to spend on breakfast.  And then immediately when the show was finished, you would want another one, and then we would be fighting about that instead of washing-hands-brushing-hair-getting-shoes-on-getting-out-the-door.  Solution?  No TV in the mornings.  You can thank your Auntie Sara for suggesting that rule, and I have to say you have not had a lot of difficulty accepting it.

On the flip side, you are now watching TV more often after school (again, just a 30-minute episode).  You seem to come home from school pretty worn out and need that downtime to process your day and then be ready to interact with others again.  This works out pretty well as it gives me time to put away our work/school things, get dinner going, and so on.

In general, I think you are really enjoying being at school 4 days a week (as opposed to last year which was only 2 days a week).  Last year's routine was preschool on Monday, Gramma on Tuesdays, daycare on Wednesdays, preschool on Thursdays, daycare on Fridays.  A lot of shifting around from one place to another, and you did well with it, but I can absolutely feel the relief you are experiencing as a result of not having to deal with that this year.  Now you are four days at preschool and one day at Gramma's.  In addition to having more consistency, I think you are happy to build stronger friendships with your teachers and friends at school.  I know last year the teachers would mention some event that was coming up tomorrow or later in the week, and you wouldn't always be there for that event, so that led to a lot of disappointment and frustration.  Now that has almost completely been eliminated, and you are definitely more comfortable with the more consistent routine.  And just think, in less than a year you will be in kindergarten, FIVE days a week.
You've attended two piano lessons so far, and you are really enjoying them.  Your class is part of the Music for Young Children program, an internationally-acclaimed program that is taught in a group setting.  I'm a little disappointed that the classes were scheduled during my work day so I can't attend with you, but at least they happen to fall on Dad's day off so he can take you.  And after all, it's probably really good that the two of you have something special that you do together, even if I am a little jealous.  The classes at this stage are focussing on tempo (not too fast, not too slow), loud vs soft, and dinosaur dens - these are the two black keys on either side of the D key.  When Dinosaur wants to play, I'm told, he comes out of his den and plays on his patio.  In addition to actually playing the keyboard, there is lots of colouring, paper-cutting, puppet-making, and other very interactive activities to support your lessons.  I must confess that I am just starting to get into the habit of making time in our day to complete your MYC homework, but that's a typical symptom of a busy September transition, I think!

You are growing increasingly affectionate and want to be physically touching me all the time.  You often ask me, "Can I hug you forever?" to which, obviously, the answer is YES.  I can't believe how lucky I am to get so many hugs from you!

At the same time, however, you are getting very big and very strong and very, well, boney, and having you clamber all over my body is not always very pleasant.  You love to be in physical contact, but this is not a "sit still and snuggle up to Mom" type event.  It's more of a "I have a hard time telling the difference between Mom and a jungle gym" sort of thing.  I've been trying to persuade you lately that actually, all the parts of my body have feelings, and those feelings include pain when they are being stepped on, elbowed, kicked, head-butted, etc.  You are not quite buying it.

It seems that your favourite word these days is "actually".  You use this word mainly to correct the other people in your world about how they are not meeting your stringent requirements.  For example:

Gramma: Let's tidy up your toys and then have some dinner.
Gwen: Actually, I have a better idea.  Why don't I keep playing, and you go make dinner.

Mom: I made spaghetti for dinner.
Gwen: Actually, I wanted hot dogs for dinner.

Dad: It's time for your bath!
Gwen: Actually, I don't want to have a bath.

You say "actually" so often that it's kind of become a running joke between your parents and grandparents.  You say it with such authority and intention that it's hard to argue with you.  It's also hard not to find it hilarious.

Well, that's it for this month's newsletter, Gwen.  As always, I love you a million, billion, kajillion and four ... and yes, you can hug me forever.



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