Thursday, December 25, 2014

Dear Gwen: Month Eighty

Dear Gwen, 
Today you are eighty months old.

What is life with you like? Well ...

"Mrs. Claus doesn’t like Christmas. Know why? Because her husband doesn’t come home for dinner. She works hard making dinner and Santa doesn’t come home to eat it because he is out delivering the presents. So she doesn’t like it at all. She waits all day and night for him to come home. It’s not fair! And you know what else? He eats all the Christmas cookies that the kids leave for him, and he never brings any home to her! You know what we should do? We should make some special cookies and put them in a paper bag for Mrs. Claus."

The above is the sort of random-yet-logical story that bursts out of you on nearly a daily basis. You think A LOT. Now that I'm coming to better understand your ADHD, I think this is because you can think at four or five times the speed of 'ordinary' people, because you are always thinking about four or five things at a time. It makes for an interesting life.

You got your first term report card this month, and for the most part it confirms what we already knew - you are a very smart, very capable girl with some specific areas of difficulty. You are reading above your grade level, and are "meeting expectations" for writing, speaking, math, PE, social studies, and music. Most of the notes for "approaching expectations" (what used to be called "needs improvement") are under Personal and Social Development:
Is considerate and respectful of others; accepts learning challenges; cares for personal and school property; works and plays cooperatively with others; follows class and school rules and routines; works independently when necessary. Your biggest struggles are in "Uses appropriate strategies to resolve conflicts" and "maintains focus". We will be meeting with your teacher and your principal early in the new year to figure out how best to help you with these things.

You had your piano recital recently at your piano teacher's house. Unfortunately, it was a students-only recital so I (and all the parents) have to just imagine how it went (though your teacher said you did great). You played "Jolly Old Saint Nicholas", with bridges on your left hand. You are really enjoying piano still, and I'm really happy and proud of you for continuing with it.

Dad and I didn't have to miss out on your school Christmas concert. Your class and another class were dressed up in charming aprons and chefs' hats to sing "Christmas Goodies" and "Yummy Yummy Christmas". It was a blast! Having learned our lesson last year, we were able to strategize more effectively and actually get seats that allowed us a view of the stage. We still could barely see you - being somewhat taller than other kids, you're always in the back row, but the chefs' hats blocked the back rows completely. Even more than watching your performance, I loved watching the cliche moments when you first came on the stage, looking around the audience with a big frown on your face until you spotted us, and then waving enthusiastically. You crack me up, kid.

Speaking of your Christmas concert, I should tell you that earlier this month, you told me that you would have preferred to sing a solo at the concert instead of singing with all those other kids. I told you that if every kid got a solo, the concert would be five hours long, but I encouraged you to ask your music teacher as well, just so you could hear the same answer from someone else. I was proud that you did ask her, and that you didn't lose your mind when she told you no. Better luck next year.

We also had our annual English Family Christmas this month held at my cousin Mike's house. I was pretty sick that weekend and so didn't take any pictures, but I can tell you that you had a terrific time playing with your cousins and opening presents. I was really glad we made the trip even though I had the plague (and lost my voice halfway through the weekend). I do have to mention, though, that when we got back to our hotel room to go to sleep, you had an enormous meltdown/crying fit for about thirty minutes. Hi, overstimulated child! Welcome to the Christmas season!

We took the opportunity to go to the Rogers Santa Claus Parade the next day; it was really neat that you got to go with your cousins. I expected the parade to be SUPER UH-MAZING but really, it wasn't all that much better than most of the parades we see here on the Island. Which gives me a weird sense of pride that actually, we Islanders have got some pretty great parades!

This past weekend we went to the annual Christmas panto at NTG, "Pirates of the Panto". This is the fourth year you have attended the panto, and you enjoy it every year. On the other hand, about halfway through the first act, you were losing your mind and begging to leave. I think this is a combination of factors: first, you had been looking forward to the panto for weeks, and had worked yourself up into a frenzy; second, the villain was menacing and grouchy; and the combination of these made you into crazy overstimulated child again. You were bouncing in your seat and begging to go home. "We can't leave until the intermission," I said, "So just deal with it until then." By the time the intermission came around, and with some helpful pep talks from your dad, you were engaged in the story and curious about what would happen next, so you no longer wanted to leave. Thank goodness, because neither your dad or I wanted to leave either! You then spent the next several days singing all the music from the show. So you did enjoy it after all, you just needed a bit of encouragement.

You got to do the Advent Reading for the fourth Sunday of Advent this year, and you were able to do the reading all by yourself, which was pretty cool. Your reading is quite amazing, and you seem to enjoy it more and more, which is wonderful. You allowed me to come up to the front with you and light the candle for you, but I bet next year you won't even let me do that for you.

Right before Christmas, we invited three of your friends over - Delaney, Rhyan, and Izzy - for a playdate. You had a big plan to watch a movie, but the four of you were way too wound up to do anything so sedentary. You did manage to sit on the couch, snuggled up in cozy blankets, just long enough to eat all the popcorn, but then it was time for something different. The four of you played Just Dance, made Christmas crafts, and had lots of fun being goofy together. A good way to blow off some steam.

As always, it's been a fun and sometimes frustrating month, and we continue to do our best at being your parents. We love you to the moon and back. Merry Christmas, my Gwen!


Monday, November 24, 2014

Dear Gwen: Month Seventy-Nine

Dear Gwen,
Today you are seventy-nine months old.

I feel like the main change this month has been within me. I feel much more free to strategize and discipline in out-of-the-box ways instead of expecting the things that work for other kids to work for you (and just ignoring the problem when they don’t). It’s also very liberating to understand that so many of your “problem behaviours” are not really behaviours; you are not acting out because you want to get attention or manipulate people; you are, in certain situations, simply not able to act any differently.

It’s also been a busy month. For Halloween, you dressed up as Wonder Woman. You had a great time trick-or-treating with your Dad. I got to go to your school that afternoon and watch all the kids in the Halloween Parade. Also, a few days before that, I got to go on your class field trip: a hayride in a pumpkin patch! That was an enormous amount of fun for both of us. I’m so glad I got a chance to enjoy that with you.

You continue to enjoy gymnastics and piano lessons, and these two extra-curricular activities are all we’re going to attempt for the time being. I see a huge improvement in your ability and your willingness to play piano, now that you are in private lessons. I’m so grateful to your amazing teacher Mrs. H. for working with you to keep the lessons fun and engaging. You seem quite devoted to her and eager to please her, which works really well!

Your school days are becoming a bit of a challenge, for reasons that have nothing to do with your academic skills and abilities. You are struggling to get along with the other kids and fit in with them. Some of this is due to the fact that your ADHD brain works differently from theirs, but a large part of it is due to typical girlhood drama. You are in a girl triangle with two other girls (A and R) and just about every day it leads to tears. Either you and A are playing together and R gets rejected, or A and R are playing together and won’t let you join … etc. Naturally, because emotional regulation and impulse control are beyond the ADHD brain, your responses to these situations are WAY over the top and lead to time-outs, interventions from the teacher, notes home to us, and so on. It’s hard to figure out how to help you navigate through this, since I’m never going to be there with you when it happens and it’s hard to predict which circumstance you’ll be facing on any given day. For the most part you are still a brave, friendly, and outgoing girl, but from time to time this effort wears on you and you break down crying that “No one likes me, I don’t have any friends.”

Your school is trying to help, though. Your teacher recommended you for a “friendship group”; for 45 minutes once a week, you and two other girls meet outside the classroom with the school’s family support worker, who helps you learn and practice social skills like approaching people, making eye contact, initiating conversation, joining play, and so on. None of these are things that come naturally to you, and I confess I don’t have a clue how to teach them to you, so I’m absolutely thrilled that someone else is helping on that score! You enjoy the group, and hopefully it will help you interact more effectively with your friends and classmates.

We’ve found some strategies at home that are working well, too. For the first time ever, you have a reward chart. It’s a very simple chart, really just a grid of squares where I can write in a running tally of numbers. You can earn points for a variety of things: completing your morning routine is 75 points, trying a new food is 10 points, practicing piano is 30 points, keeping any house rule is 10 points, and so on. Once a week, on Saturdays, we examine how many points you have, and you get to pick one reward from the list. It could be a trip to Dairy Queen (500 points), a playdate with a friend (1500 points), a family game night (800 points) … your choice. This system seems to be working for you, and I enjoy it too. It gives me many opportunities throughout the day to point out your good behavior, and reinforce it.

My favourite part of the new system is the ‘lists’ I made for each of your daily routines: morning (getting ready for school), afternoon (getting home from school), and evening (getting ready for bed). I found clipart online to represent each little piece of the routine that you needed to follow, for example:
-        Putting hat, coat, and shoes away
-        Emptying lunchbox
-        Putting leftover food in garbage or in fridge
-        Rinsing containers and putting in the recycling or the dishwasher
-        Filling water bottle and putting in fridge
-        Putting lunchbox away
-        Getting out school planner for Mom and Dad to check
-        Removing any other extra items from backpack
This looks like a huge list, but that’s just because it’s broken down into the smallest possible steps. It actually takes about three minutes to complete, if you stay on task. I printed these pictures, cut them out, and hole-punched them so they fit on a binder ring. That way, you can take the list with you from room to room as you complete the tasks (as opposed to a checklist on the wall, which you can only see when you are right in front of it). As an added bonus, the fact that you have something in your hands already tends to remind you that you are in the middle of a job, and discourages you from picking up something else and getting involved with that. Since implementing this system, the number of reminders and nagging I have to do for these routines has decreased by 60-70%. I can only imagine how that feels for YOU – for ME, it is WONDERFUL!!

We’re gearing up for Christmas now, and you wrote your letter to Santa Claus just a couple of days ago. It’s pretty cute.

Here’s the translation:

Dear Santa I hope you can bring me one of these presents.
Ipad #1
Fluttershy train #2
Spirit #3
Barbie mermaid #4 (purple)
Nutcracker #5
Monster High toque kit #6
From: Gwen
To: Santa
Thank you very much
Have a great day

Your writing has come a long way in the last couple of months, and more importantly, your willingness to write has improved a great deal. It’s pretty fun to watch you express yourself in this way. Last week we were talking about palindromes … you know, just like any other six-year-old and her mom … and I suggested that you make a list of palindromes for your Show and Tell. You were thrilled with this idea. Last year this would have made you miserable, to do so much writing. But you happily tackled the task, first making the list and then writing the list of “cloos” to help your class guess what your Show and Tell item was (no one guessed, which you tell me is the mark of a really good Show and Tell item). Your awesome teacher then launched into a lesson about palindromes. How cool is that? I bet your Uncle Mikey would be super proud!

Mom 1
Mmm 2
Dad 3
Racecar 5
Bob 6
Otto 7
Wow 8
Aha 9
It is a kind of word 1
It has mom and dad 2
I made it 3

(Yeah … you have a thing about writing her numbered lists with the numbers after the item? I don’t know.)
Well, that's it for this month, Gwen. You are an awesome kid - bright, caring, funny, creative, interesting, and fun - and we are so glad to be your parents.


Friday, October 24, 2014

Dear Gwen: Month Seventy-Eight

Dear Gwen,
Today you are seventy-eight months old - six and a half years.

It’s been an astounding month, and I can’t find any way to write this letter without talking about the truly game-changing news we received this month, which is that you have ADHD. It’s not exactly a surprise, but it has shed a lot of light on who you are and how your brain works. The past few weeks I have been doing a lot of reading about ADHD and your behaviour and abilities are certainly well-reflected in the literature. Sometimes my reading leads me to major revelations, as seen in the following email I sent to your Dad a couple of weeks ago:

Just read online that “ADHD kids have trouble learning from past experiences.” OMG THIS EXPLAINS EVERYTHING.

And now, a short play that has been witnessed in our household approximately seven million times:

Gwen: *exhibits undesirable behaviour*
Me: Man, this behaviour is undesirable! How can we teach her not to do that?
Internet/Parenting Book/Knowledgeable Friend/Family Member/Magazine Article: Just introduce the following consequence whenever she exhibits that behaviour. Believe me, you won’t have to do it more than a couple of times before she gets the message!
Gwen: *exhibits undesirable behaviour*
Me: *introduces consequence*
Gwen: *is terribly upset but refuses to change behaviour*

So, a lot of the frustrations and confusion we have had about your behaviour has been explained. We still don’t know what to do about it, but hopefully all these books and websites I am reading will help.

In the meantime, really, you haven’t changed at all, though our perception and understanding of you has grown a lot and will continue to do so.

Your Grade One year is well underway, and Dad and I were thrilled to learn that a good friend of ours, Kim, is your teacher for the year. She is a great teacher and a lovely person and I know that she will be great at creating accommodations for you. So far your year is going well, although there have been some bumps. We are starting to see some social problems which are upsetting for all of us. Your intensity and need for control, your hair-trigger temper, and your obliviousness to social cues – all of which are part of the ADHD package – are far less tolerated by your peers than they were last year, and you are experiencing frequent rejection. It’s heartbreaking to see or hear about. In some cases, your obliviousness prevents you from seeing that you’ve been rejected – for example, we saw you at your after-school club being instructed by some other kids that your “job” in the game was to run away from them to the farthest tree and then wait there for more instructions. Their game had nothing to do with running or trees – they just wanted to get rid of you. And you complied, enthusiastically, because you are so eager to be accepted. Clearly, we have a lot of work ahead of us.

Your academics, on the other hand, continue to be strong. In fact, your doctor feels that you may well be gifted. I confess that I didn’t understand until recently that “gifted” is a real concept that can be tested and valuated. Unfortunately, we don’t know yet how to go about having this giftedness tested, as the schools do not provide that testing. I am determined that we need to do everything in our power to make sure you are able to reach your potential, which I am convinced is great.   

In your last newsletter I mentioned that you are really enjoying gymnastics, and this continues to be true. I hope these classes are giving you some positive strategies about being in your body and controlling your movements. Your piano lessons have started again, and this year you are in private one-on-one classes with your first MYC teacher, Mrs. H. She is absolutely amazing and you are blooming in this environment. After watching you struggle so hard last year to stay on task and hear the teacher while five other kids (and their parents) provided a constant level of noise and distraction, it is a joy to see you and Mrs. H. work together. The fact that your lesson time is all yours means that Mrs. H. can meet you where you are at and tailor things to suit your needs, without having to “keep up” with anyone else. I’m so very, very glad we took this step. Here are some of the moments from your first month of piano class.

At your second lesson, while sitting at the adult-size piano, you dropped your pencil on the floor and immediately crawled under the bench to get it. Once on the floor, you became interested in the pedals and began to press them. Mrs. H. quickly adapted. While the pedals are not part of the curriculum until you are a few years older, she saw that you were interested and went with it. “Listen to this note. Now hold the pedal down while I play it again. How did the note change?” The two of you spent a minute or so on this and then she re-directed you back up to the piano to continue the lesson. I was in awe! She could have spent two minutes arguing with you, or one minute meeting you where you were and following your interest, then going back to what she intended to teach that day. I was so impressed!

Another tale of success at piano was actually my contribution. Again while sitting at the adult-size piano, I could see your feet swinging around, reaching down towards the floor, which then pulled your torso out of balance and made it hard to play the keys. Having shared a bazillion mealtimes with you, I knew what the problem was: it was bugging you not to have a place to rest your feet (as they don’t reach the floor while sitting up properly). I looked around and saw a small stool by the door, and suggested to you that we put it under the piano as a footrest. This had the extra benefit of preventing you from fidgeting with those fascinating foot pedals. These are the types of accommodations you need in all of your daily activities, and it’s just a matter of us figuring out what they are and convincing the people around you to help us implement them.

Well, I guess that’s it for this month, Gwen. I am fiercely proud of you, entirely in love with you, and so grateful to be your mom.


Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Dear Gwen: Month Seventy-Seven

Dear Gwen,

Today you are seventy-seven months old.

September has seen a return to routine and the creation of new routines. Here is a list of all the logistical changes that have happened in our lives in the past few weeks:

-        You started gymnastics classes
-        You spent three weeks at strike camp after summer camp ended, then at last …
-        … You started Grade One (just yesterday!)
-        You start piano lessons (today!)
-        Your dad got a job at VIU

That’s a lot of new stuff going on! You like to be busy, though, and you like routine, so I think that once we get all the kinks worked out of this new normal, you will be pretty happy and hopefully your behaviour will reflect that too.

You are loving your gymnastics classes. I wasn’t sure how you were going to do in a 90-minute class but you are having a great time and I haven’t heard any complaints about your distractibility, so I’m guessing that the class keeps you active enough to not get bored and antsy. Hooray! Karate has basically imploded for you over the past couple of months, so I’m glad we have found a physical activity that is filling that need a little better. Enormous thanks go to Grannie who bought your gymnastics classes for you as a gift.

A couple of weeks ago, you were supposed to test for your red stripe at karate. They gave you the notice the week before so you had been looking forward to it for seven days (let alone the last two grading cycles that you didn't qualify for, where you had watched all your classmates progress and leave you behind). In the car on the way to class you confidently told me about the things you would have to do to at the testing today. About 2/3 of the way through class, the teacher came out and asked Dad to step into the office for a minute. When Dad came back, he told me that because your focus was completely absent that day, you would not receive your stripe. Your listening was terrible and we had overheard the teachers trying to redirect you SEVERAL times. The teacher also mentioned to Dad that she has had to do the same thing (not give a stripe, at the last minute) for a few other students and that it has always been a “gamechanger” with the student showing great improvement after that point. Dad and I agreed with the decision that you would not get your stripe, but were under the impression that you would still have to do the grading/performance portion, just for good practice. When parents were invited into the dojo we saw all the kids lined up in order in the middle of the dojo, except for you – you were seated on the floor in the corner, facing the wall. The kids were put through their paces as a group. You started to sob about halfway through. Then the kids were called up one by one to receive their certificates and their stripes. You were the only kid left out. No one spoke to you or acknowledged your crying through the testing. When they were done, one of the teachers invited you to join the line of kids so they could bow out and say "goodbye" which is the usual ending ritual. Then all the kids rushed to their parents to show off their goodies, and you sobbed your way over to us, inconsolable. Conversation on the car ride home revealed that although the teacher had come out and spoken to us about your not testing, no one had spoken to you about it, so you'd had no idea you were being left out until the testing began.

We decided to give karate a few more weeks to see if, indeed, this disciplinary action had been a “gamechanger”. It has not. Your karate “game” has not improved at all. It is my view that you are either not capable of doing any better at karate right now, or you are not sufficiently motivated to do so (and let’s leave aside my feelings on whether ‘public humiliation and disrespect’ is an appropriate way to motivate any child; it didn’t work for YOU, so that’s enough of that). This week will be your last karate class for a while. You may want to revisit it in the future, and that’s fine, but Dad and I agree it’s time for a break.

For the most part, you continue to be a very joyful and exuberant child, and you make us laugh all the time. Here is the latest joke you made up:

What is a muscle man’s favourite donut?
A strong john!

A few days ago, you told me you wanted to have a private conversation with me. You said, “I’ve noticed that you are giving Dad way more kisses than you give me. And I thought, ‘Does Mom love Dad more than she loves me?! I thought she loved us both the same!’” It was very very hard not to laugh at this charming display of rivalry (I guess sibling rivalry comes out this way in only-child families!). I assured you that I do love you and Dad very very much, but in different ways, and that you could ALWAYS come ask for a hug or a kiss or a cuddle anytime you needed one, in addition to the dozens I give you without your requesting them. I hope you are feeling equally loved, now!

It’s been a very long and strange summer with the teachers’ strike, and I wasn’t sure you’d get to start Grade One this fall at all. You got a nice grounding in political activism when we went to a few different rallies and posted enormous banners at your school to support your teachers. We also bought you a Grade One curriculum book and started working through it a few pages at a time. This extended break allowed me to see how very, very smart you are – academics are not going to be a problem for you at all. Your reading is stellar, your writing – though messy – is appropriate, and your math is incredible. A day of baking helped you learn fractions, and you grasped the concepts of ‘greater than’ and ‘less than’ immediately.

We were all really excited on your first day of school, though you were a little nervous as well. You wanted me to stay with you until you were ready, and I was happy to do so. Once we got to the school – all the kids and parents assembled in the gymnasium – you felt a little better as you started to spot some familiar faces, especially the beloved teachers you’d missed saying goodbye to at the end of last year. We gave them lots of hugs and appreciation and some Dollarama gift cards to help them supply their classrooms. We’re not sure yet who your teacher will be or which classroom you’ll be in, but by the time I said goodbye you were excitedly hugging all your old friends from kindergarten and looking very happy about the day ahead.

Last weekend, you woke up one morning calling me piteously from your bed. “Mama! Mama! My mouth is so dry I think I’m turning into a cactus!” Your appetite and energy were low, which is always a sure sign of sickness, and a low fever followed in the early afternoon, so Dad took you to a walk-in clinic where you were diagnosed with strep throat. That was the easy part. The hard part is getting the medicine into you. You are supposed to take 5 mls of medicine three times a day, and each dose can require up to an hour of full-on bodily fighting with a very limited success (e.g., only 70-90% of the dosage goes into your body). At one point I was trying very hard to pin your arms and force your mouth open, which didn’t work AND felt absolutely awful. It doesn’t matter how much cajoling we do beforehand or how much ice cream, peanut butter, or other rewards we promise afterwards – you get yourself wound up about how awful it’s going to taste, and you just can’t make yourself co-operate. Though I’ve explained it to you several times, if you would just open your mouth and let me get the medicine in, it would all be over in ten seconds, but you just can’t do it. As I was trying to explain to your Dad (who has even less patience about this than I do), you are young enough that you lack the understanding we, as adults, have that sometimes you have to do something shitty for a moment or two (or, sometimes, longer) in order to have a long-term positive effect. After a day and a half of this battle, Dad went back to the pharmacy to see if we could get the same medicine in pill form, as you can actually swallow pills pretty successfully (thanks to melatonin, which you take occasionally to reset your sleep schedule). He couldn’t get a swallow capsule – they were too big – but he got a chewable, which you choked down at your next dosage time and insisted it was almost as bad as the medicine. We’ve now just accepted that grinding the pill up and mixing it in ice cream – even at breakfast time – is the only successful way to get the medicine into you. The take-away here, kid, is HOLY SHIT DON’T GET SICK because dosing you is a NIGHTMARE!!

Your third day of taking the medicine was also your first day back at school. In theory, you are supposed to take a pill at lunchtime, so I sent one in your lunchbox. I didn’t really expect you to take it, without the forty-five minutes of nagging and bullying beforehand, but you proudly told me that afternoon that you had. I heaped you with positive reinforcement and immediately invited you to do something you’d been wanting to do for weeks: painting each other’s nails. We enjoyed a lovely time together and I told you often how proud I was of you for taking your medicine.

That night, of course, we found out you’d been lying.

That was (as far as we know?!) your first big lie to us. We were both furious and devastated that our trust had been betrayed. I honestly thought you would do the same thing with your medicine that you do with a good half of the lunch Dad packs you every day: leave it untouched in your lunchbox. The idea that you had the forethought to go put the pill in the garbage – for this, you confessed that evening, is what had happened – upset me so much. Now we had TWO problems to solve: disciplining you for lying, and STILL struggling to get you to take the damn medicine! 

Well, that's enough ranting for one letter ... we love you very, very much and are so glad you are our daughter. (We are also glad, these days, that there is only one of you.) Here's hoping the next month will see a settling into routine and an evening-out of behaviour.


PS Tooth#3 fell out on the first day of school!


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