Sunday, February 24, 2013

Dear Gwen: Month Fifty-Eight

Dear Gwen,

Today you are fifty-eight months old, also known as TWO MONTHS AWAY FROM FIVE.  Wow!

 This past month has not been an easy one.  With your preschool teacher constantly reminding us, and you, that kindergarten is just around the corner, she is really working hard with you and the other older kids to try and get you ready for "the big school".  More self-sufficiency, more emotional regulation, more social skills.  This hasn't been easy for you, and it's been hard for your teacher and your parents to help you understand that although it seems like we're mad at you, we're actually just trying to give you the tools you need to make your kindergarten life easier.  Life is going to be pretty different when you are one of a group of 22 students with only one teacher.  And while it may seem to those reading this post that kindergarten is waaaayyyyy off in the future?  There are four more months of preschool to help you get the preparation that you need.

Your dad and I went to a workshop last week about encouraging you to manage your feelings.  About 90% of the things we learned there, we are already doing - and have been doing since you were a wee baby.  One could view this as encouraging ("We're already doing all the right stuff, yay!") or the opposite ("We're doing everything right and IT'S NOT WORKING!").  We did learn a few more strategies that we can put into practice, though.  One thing I have been doing in the past few days is giving you the message that any kind of feeling is okay to have, but certain expressions of your feelings (hitting, shouting, hurting words) are not okay - and that if your feelings are making you want to do those things, you have to remove yourself, have some alone time, and come back when you feel ready to use kind words.  I have to be disciplined as well, giving you the consequence of being sent to your room immediately and every time when you do any of the above things or, a perennial favourite in our house, you shout "NO!" at me when I am trying to get you to do something.  This might mean that we get out of the house a little later, or have to cancel plans with friends at the last minute, or otherwise disrupt our day - but the hope is that short-term pain will mean long-term gain if you are able to improve your emotional outbursts.

Your teacher said something the other day that really struck my heart.  She told me about an incident where you had wanted a turn at the art table, but the table was full and you needed to wait.  Although you should know by now that you will eventually get a turn, and that there are lots of other things to keep you happy while you waited, you had a very emotional (and loud) outburst.  "When you go to the big school, you're going to meet lots of new kids and even new teachers.  If you yell and cry and get upset all the time, they are not going to know what a lovely person you are."  I guess that comment really resonated with me about my own past, where I went to school for 13 years with the same group of children, all of whom decided within the first week of knowing me that I was not worth knowing, and none of whom ever changed their minds - despite the fact that I was clearly not the same person in Grade Ten as I was in kindergarten.  I don't know if your school career will echo mine - we do still plan to move in the next few years, though the theme of our last several years has been HA HA GOD LAUGHS AT YOUR PLANS - but nevertheless, I do know it's true that kids make their first impressions very quickly and don't often change them.  So it made me really sad to think of you not being able to make good friends because of your difficult behaviour and your big personality.

But enough with the doom and gloom!  Lots of other stuff is happening. We discovered that a local gymnastics facility has a Saturday afternoon drop-in for $5, and we have attended this a few times - you love it, as it is totally unstructured play time where you get to do whatever you want for however long you want to (at least until the hour is up).  You have almost finished ballet class and will soon be moving on to swimming lessons.  You are doing really really well at your piano lessons: you have learned to play C scale and are getting quite adept at reading and playing the songs from your book.  Practices for the upcoming Sunday School Talent Show have begun, and you are participating in a "tableau" and a group song - your Sunday School teacher was thrilled to point out to me a few nights ago that you know all the words to the song already!  Pretty impressive for a girl who can't read yet!

Our trip to California is coming up pretty quickly - only three weeks away.  And then right after that it will be full-swing into birthday party planning time!  I feel like March and April are going to go by really fast.

You continue to really impress me with your crafting abilities.  This year for the first time you designed your Valentine's cards for friends and family all by yourself.  I gave you one suggestion - to use a punch to make hearts - and you ran with it.  You did often ask for help with certain aspects of construction, such as rounding the corners of the cards, but the majority of design and assembly was all you.  You even wrote your name in all the cards.  And you enjoyed the whole process, which is just as important!

You have also continued to enjoy Perler beads and have made a lot of creations with them.  You got a neat craft at Christmas where you have to push small squares of fabric into a foam shape to make a wall hanging - it took me only a moment to explain how to do it, and you were off and running and worked on it for a good 20 minutes.  You are also really into drawing and colouring recently, which is somewhat new - it took you a long while to get interested in those activities.  One thing I find funny is that if you are not given other prompts, you will draw the same picture with the same colours over and over: blue sky, yellow sun, green grass, and 4 red flowers.

 One of the best things about your creative streak is that when you show off your work, chances are that you will say one of my favourite Gwenisms: "Lookat!"  It's all one word, and it is always said in the same jubilant tone.  You have outgrown some of your learning-to-talk habits - for example, crayons are no longer "cunnins," - but "Lookat" and "breffikt" are still in the lexicon, as is "restaronnit."  And I have no plans to teach you otherwise.

Sometimes your empathy and love astound me.  On Valentine's Day, you opened a package from your Grannie and Grandpa, and a card from your Gramma and Grandpa, and a box of treats from us, and then suddenly realized that we were not opening similar piles of stuff.  "Where are your presents?" you asked us, and when we replied that we didn't have any, you immediately handed us some chocolates from your own package.  

Well, I guess that's it for this month, my girl.  As always, I love you a million, billion, kajillion, and very-close-to-five, and I always will.


Wednesday, February 13, 2013

The Brave New World of Parent-Free Activities

Last year around this time, we were invited to a birthday party for a boy who was turning 5 (while Gwen had not quite turned 4).  We were the first to arrive at the house, and when the next child arrived, her mom gave her a hug at the door, instructed her to be good, and left.  Same with the next kid.  As I watched all this from the easy chair where I’d plunked myself, I suddenly realized I was in a brand new world.  I also felt super awkward.  Was I supposed to just drop Gwen off and leave?  I wasn't sure Gwen was ready for that. Heck, I wasn't sure I was ready for that.  And she’d never been to this kid’s house before, and the parents probably wouldn't know what they were getting into with her particular brand of exuberance, and … Just as I was pondering all this, another kid showed up, and his mom stayed.  And this happened again with the next kid.  Whew, okay, parents are welcome to stay or go.  Okay!  I can handle this.

But the dilemma soon flipped itself around in my head.  Gwen’s birthday party was coming up.  How could I indicate to parents that no, I am not ready to handle 12 4-year-olds on my own, please to be staying and looking after your kid for the duration of the party?  I don’t remember how much I actually stressed out about this, but knowing me I am betting: Lots.  And in the end, every parent stayed, and I don’t think I put anything specific on the invitation.  They all just knew.

I continue to be the odd one out, the person who can’t quite read between the lines to determine whether or not I’m meant to remain by Gwen’s side at these events.  In the fall, we invited a friend over for a playdate and I kind of did a double-take when her mom kissed her goodbye, told her to be good, and then asked me what time she should come back to pick her up.  Up until then, “playdate” meant that the kids played together while the moms hung out on the couch and visited.  Ever slow on the uptake, I hadn't clued in that kids in the 4.5 – 6 year range don’t really need their moms hanging around cramping their playdate style.  Since breaking the seal on this exciting new way to socialize, we have had plenty of parent-free playdates at our house, and Gwen has enjoyed some solo playdates at her friends’ homes too.  And it’s all fine, always.  In fact, it’s great: being able to “swap” kids in this way has allowed my friends and I to have some kid-free time and accomplish lots of things that just wouldn't happen otherwise.

In general, I just assume that if Gwen is invited somewhere, I’m meant to be there too.  But more and more, this isn't the case.  I brought her to a drama practice at our church last weekend, where the kids were practicing for the upcoming talent show.  Right away, the Sunday School teacher told me I was free to leave, or free to stay, if I chose.  It makes sense, doesn't it – Gwen will be in kindergarten soon, and experiencing a vastly different adult:child ratio from what she is used to in preschool – 1:20 instead of 1:4.  She is old enough not to need me mediating every experience for her.  She is old enough for me to kiss her at the door, tell her to be good, and promise to be back in an hour.  It’s just so STRANGE for me to adjust to!

A few days ago, Gwen and I decided to open all of her craft storage drawers to see what is in each one, and then write labels for the outsides of the drawers.  “That way,” I told her, “if you say, ‘I want to use my stickers,’ I can read the labels on the drawers and tell you which drawer has the stickers in it, instead of opening each one to find them.” 

“What a GREAT idea, Mom!” she enthused.  “And maybe someday, if I get big and learn to read, then I won’t need you at all!”

True enough, my girl.  And that day is coming closer all the time.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Dr. Dave and my Drunken Daughter

Longtime readers and friends of Gwen may remember that when she was an infant, we took her to a chiropractor for a series of treatments.  This was recommended by our lactation consultant, who noted that Gwen’s tension did not go away when she was being held, and that her constant screaming may be due to musculo-skeletal issues, rather than gastrointestinal ones.  At five months of age, Gwen finally stopped screaming and our lives changed drastically.  In many ways, I consider that time to be when our lives as a family really began – when Gwen was freed from constant pain and was able to begin developing her personality and her interactions with the world.

I’ve taken her back on a very loose schedule since then for check-ups, probably once a year or so.  I decided the time had come again this past week.  I also wanted Dr. Dave to look into what I see as a lack of physical co-ordination.  I have seen Gwen go from standing still on a flat surface to falling down, with no provocation whatsoever.  I have also seen her bump into our walls and furniture on a weekly basis for years – walls and furniture that have been in the same place in our house for her entire life.  I have been wondering about this for a while, and even Googled “five year old daughter acts drunk and falls down a lot” – which led me to the Wikipedia page for dyspraxia, where I found out that…

Issues with gross motor coordination can include the following:
·  Poor balance (sometimes even falling over in mid-step). Tripping over one's own feet is also common.
·  Difficulty combining movements into a controlled sequence.
·  Difficulty remembering the next movement in a sequence.
·  Problems with spatial awareness, or proprioception.
·  This disorder can cause an individual to be clumsy to the point of knocking things over and bumping into people accidentally.  People with dyspraxia may also have trouble determining the distance between them and other objects
In addition to the physical impairments, dyspraxia is associated with problems with memory, especially short-term memory. This typically results in difficulty remembering instructions, difficulty organizing one's time and remembering deadlines, increased propensity to lose things or problems carrying out tasks which require remembering several steps in sequence (such as cooking). However, many dyspraxics have excellent long-term memories, despite poor short-term memory.

This may manifest itself as an inability to tolerate certain textures ... including oral toleration of excessively textured food (commonly known as picky eating).

All of these things are things we have noticed with Gwen.  We often laugh about the fact that Gwen has been toilet-trained for over two years, but needs to be reminded EVERY TIME that flushing and washing hands are part of the sequence of that job.  (This despite the fact that there are pictures on the bathroom wall showing her each step.)  We are also gobsmacked by Gwen’s inability to remember what Mom or Dad just said, in contrast to her propensity to out-of-nowhere recount a conversation we had several months ago, and what she said and what we said and where we were and what we were wearing and what show we watched later that day.  And don't get me started on her eating habits.

Anyway, whether there is something a little different about Gwen or whether this is just a bad case of Google paranoia is yet to be seen.  But her visit to Dr. Dave was quite enlightening.  He has a little boy about the same age, so he was able to put her at ease with his questions about Dora the Explorer and other relevant topics.  After she was comfortable, he began his examination, and soon discovered a few issues.  As he moved her head and arms around, he used a silly voice to point out to me the things he was seeing – “Oh look Mom, I can turn my head waaaayyyy over here on this side, but then on the other side it only goes to here!  Isn’t that funny?”  Of course Gwen found this hilarious and was giggling the whole time.  He then asked her to stand up and walk across the room towards him while he looked at her gait.  She did this three times: once in a ‘normal’ gait, once pretending to be a tightrope-walker and walking with front heel touching back toes, and once with eyes closed.  Well, more accurately, he asked and pleaded and begged her to do it with eyes closed, but she probably only took a step or two, with her arms pinwheeling madly.  She just couldn’t do it.

Next, he read a few sequences of numbers to her and asked her to echo them back, which she did without difficulty.  Then he sat down to tell us about what he’d found.  Looking directly at me, he said, “I see what you mean, mate,” (yes, he’s Australian, that’s how he talks and it’s totally charming).  “There are definitely some things going on that are not age-appropriate.”  I can’t tell you how validated I felt in that moment!  I am quite used to being “blown off” by any number of people when I bring up Gwen’s various quirks and foibles – “she’ll grow out of it,” “it’s just her age,” “she’s just like that,” and so on.  And maybe all those commenters are right, and I am sure the comments come from a place of love and compassion, but … I don’t like being blown off.  I want someone to see what I see, and to wonder about it, and to investigate whether it could be better.  And that’s what Dr. Dave did.

(As a side note, mothers with screaming miserable babies get blown off a lot too.  “Babies cry!” and “She’ll grow out of it,” were certainly things I heard a lot as a new mom – and as a new mom, I didn’t know any better.  Now I do.)

Dr. Dave continued: “Sometimes co-ordination issues like this are associated with auditory processing issues, which is why I did that test with the numbers.  When this problem is present, kids can hear fine, but they can’t process and use what they hear.  I don’t see that problem here, she seems fine on that.  But there is definitely some chiropractic work to be done, and we should be able to see some improvements.”

He did a couple of adjustments on her, one of which improved her ability to turn her head from side to side (which he demonstrated afterwards).  He indicated that there was more to be done, but that he didn’t want to push too hard with her in the first session, and we should come back in about a week to continue the treatments.  I am happy to do this: my benefits pay for a good portion of the fees, and he did the work to make Gwen comfortable with his treatments, so there is very little “cost” to this and potentially a significant benefit.

When I told all this to Chris later, I got validated all over again, as he asked whether we should be seeking help from other professionals about a confirmed “age-inappropriate level of physical co-ordination”.  I feel at this point that we should continue with Dr. Dave and see how far chiropractic treatments can take us.  If at the end of that we feel there is still a significant problem, then we can look into other solutions – Dr. Dave may even be able to make suggestions about where else to go.  But for now, we will stick with this treatment and see what happens.



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