Thursday, December 24, 2015

Dear Gwen: Month Ninety-Two

Dear Gwen,

Today, you are ninety-two months old.

It’s been a great month. I’ve had occasion, this month, to reflect back on the past two seasons – the enormous transition of selling our house, packing, and moving to a new house – all against the backdrop of your volatile behaviour. Looking back on that time has reminded me of how much better things are now – of how much work you have done to improve your behaviour and your emotional self-regulation. You have really come a long way in the past three months, especially since school started and you began to find your new normal in amidst a new classroom, a new teacher, and a new social hierarchy. I am so immensely proud of you, my girl.

Your report card also shows how hard you’ve been working. It’s no surprise that you are “Exceeding Expectations” in both Reading and Science. The whole report card is great, full of positive marks, but what impressed me the most was the section at the bottom about work habits: Maintains focus, Works independently, Completes assignments, Follows directions. You earned a 3 (Meeting Expectations) on ALL of these! That’s pretty impressive and shows a lot of effort and attention on your part. Way to go!

Fortunately, this is an easy time of year to fling rewards your way. We’ve been attending and participating in all kinds of fun seasonal events, and some of them we’ve specifically told you are because we are so proud of you and want to celebrate with you. We started off the season with a Christmas craft – I bought several boxes of clear glass ornaments, and we set about filling them with either shredded paper or melted crayon bits. I think this was our most successful Christmas craft effort ever, as we made twenty-four ornaments in total and you stayed engaged and on task for just about the entire time. We also made gift tags for them so we could give them to all the friends and family you’d chosen – including your teacher, piano teacher, principal, and many others.

We also put up our Christmas tree earlier than usual this year, so that we’d have somewhere to put all the gifts when we returned with them from English Family Christmas. Of course, as you have every year since 2008, you were hoisted on your Dad’s shoulders to place the star on the tree. It was so special to decorate our tree in our new home!

English Family Christmas was super fun as usual. This year it was held in Gibsons, hosted by your Auntie Sara. You got lots of time to play with your cousins, which is your favourite thing to do ever. After a delicious meal and lots of presents for the kids, we all sang Christmas songs and carols together. I really enjoyed watching you and your cousins Kiera, Hannah, Haylee, and Sara all sing “Let it Go” from “Frozen”.

Just a week later, it was time for your Christmas piano recital. You were originally planning to play a song from “The Nightmare Before Christmas”, but just a few weeks before the recital you decided it was the wrong time of year for that song, and chose to play two Christmas songs instead: “Jolly Old St. Nicholas” and “Angels We Have Heard on High”. As parents don’t attend the Christmas recital (it’s just an informal gathering in the teacher’s home, with pizza dinner afterward) I don’t know how it went, but your teacher assures me you did great!

There was a sad moment at the recital too, though. When I picked you up, you told me that “the pizza party was a ‘serve-yourself’ dinner, and I am TERRIBLE at ‘serve-yourself’ dinners!” I asked you why, and you told me that “I drop things all the time, and it’s hard to find things, and I always start at the wrong end of the lineup.” It broke my heart that part of your self-concept includes “terrible at serve-yourself dinners”. You told me that instead of getting pizza for yourself, you had found a quiet corner to hide in, avoiding the dinner hubbub altogether. Fortunately, your teacher came to find you, and helped you get some food.

After your recital, we headed straight to the Port Theatre to watch the local dance academy’s production of “Frozen”. I had no idea what to expect but I was thoroughly impressed with the way the production was put together and the way the whole school was included. You, who have been no stranger to live music and theatre events in your seven years of life, have never been so engaged and enthralled as you were that night. You laughed with absolute giddy delight when a squad of tap-dancing reindeer performed “Let It Snow”, which just happens to be your favourite Christmas song currently (and you have ALWAYS adored tap-dancing). You wept at the climax of the show when Olaf is melting for Anna, and Anna protects her sister. You have seen me cry at puh-lenty of shows, so you know it’s okay to have that emotional response; it wasn’t the same kind of crying that means “I can’t watch this, I’m afraid, make it stop”, it was the crying that means the art has moved you. We talked later about how this is exactly what art is supposed to do, and how wonderful it is that you have a big open heart that is ready to experience all kinds of emotion!

The next day brought us to the Santa Breakfast at your school. You enjoyed the pancakes and decorating a sugar cookie, but had no interest in actually visiting Santa as he received children at the front of the room. You were content to watch, and told me that “He is a stranger and I don’t feel like having a conversation with a stranger or answering questions from a stranger.” How could I argue with that? We watched for a while and then went on home, where we spent some time preparing for a fun event we had planned for the afternoon: a spa party for you and three of your friends from your new school. I thought this would be a good idea to help you cement some of those growing friendships – it was also really fun for me to meet these lovely girls and get to know them a bit! We had a delightful time applying glitter tattoos, hair chalk, and nail polish. I was really glad to see the four of you getting along so well, and hope that there will be more get-togethers in the future.
Our next outing was to see the Headliners School of Performing Arts’ production of “Into the Woods”. I admit I had an ulterior motive here – not only to enjoy yet another artistic outing with my girl, but also for you to see a musical theatre production starring kids, and see if that was something you’d be interested in doing yourself! No surprise, you are very interested. I think musical theatre would be such a cool outlet for you! We do need to finish out the year at gymnastics first, though – there just aren’t enough days in the week for more than two extra-curricular activities.
This past weekend, with the beginning of Christmas break, we had a full day of Christmas adventure. First we went to see the annual panto at the Bailey Studio – this year, it’s The Emperor’s New Clothes, and it was thoroughly hilarious. You were somewhat unamused when you met the characters after the show – as they all seemed to know your name, and you thought that was pretty weird! Well, your dad and I are pretty much fixtures at the Bailey, and we talk about you (and post about you on Facebook) and you’re pretty damn memorable. I hope you weren’t too creeped out by it! After the panto, you got to watch me and the rest of the group practice for a piece we are performing on New Year’s Eve – you have seen and heard me practice at home, and wanted to see the whole thing.
Next, we went out to Boston Pizza for dinner and finished up the evening at Milner Gardens’ Winter Wonderland. There are always way more Christmas-related events and activities than we can possibly cram in, but you specifically asked for us to attend this one. As we walked through the forest (in the cold, rainy night) we saw a lighted sign pointing the way to Santa – and you surprised us by saying you wanted to go see Santa, and were even willing to wait in a fifteen-minute lineup to do so. You wouldn’t sit on Santa’s lap, but you sat with Mrs. Claus, and the three of you talked for a few minutes while we snapped some pictures. Afterwards, you told me that you didn’t really enjoy it, because Santa asked too many questions – “He should already know all the answers, Mom, if he’s watching me all the time.” I didn’t quite know what to say to that.

Gwen, I am so glad that we are once again getting reacquainted with the awesome kid that you are. As this amazing, wonderful, and yes, turbulent year comes to a close, I am ever grateful that you are my daughter.


Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Dear Gwen: Month Ninety-One

Dear Gwen,

Today, you are ninety-one months old. 

This past month has been full of adventure, starting with Halloween and all the associated shenanigans. For the third year in a row, we went to the NS3 Science Spooktacular Challenge, and you wore your astronaut costume – not because that’s what you were planning to wear for Halloween, but because you thought you should wear “something sciencey” to a science-themed race. You were very disappointed that none of the other kids had that same thought pattern. You did spot one other kid in an astronaut costume, and tried to befriend her, but she didn’t quite know what to make of you, my charming and quirky girl. In any case, the race was fun as always and we enjoyed the uncharacteristically bright sunny day.

The next big event was a classmate’s birthday party – the first one since you started your new school. While waiting outside the school that evening to be let into the gym for the party, the kids – including you – were running around like as only wound-up children can do. As you and your friend Brenna cruised by me, I told you to stop and to stand with me until the door was open. Fourteen seconds later, and entirely predictably, you took off running again and then – also entirely predictably – the sound of anguished wailing came thundering forth from where you laid crumpled on the ground, having fallen and hurt yourself. It was very, VERY hard to be sympathetic for you. Fortunately, the birthday boy’s grandmother was on hand and had a first aid kit in her car, so she bandaged you up and off you went to the party.

Halloween, of course, was a big event. The night before Halloween, we went to the Forest Discovery Centre in Duncan and rode the Halloween Train. What a hoot that was! You loved seeing all the spooky-scary stuff, and had a great time discovering all the displays. On Halloween, you and your dad carved pumpkins, then met Brenna and her dad and the four of you went trick or treating together. You dressed up as a ninja puppy. Trick or treating lasted for over two hours! You had a lot of fun exploring our new neighbourhood, and very proudly went to “the haunted house” (actually just a very well-decorated residence) to get your trick-or-treating dues.

 Another fun adventure we had recently was going geocaching, for the first time in quite a long time and the first time in our new neighbourhood. It was fun to explore with you! You’re not usually interested in going for a walk, but if there is a promise of treasure-hunting – even without an actual treasure – you’re usually game. I’m happy to re-start this activity with you.

You’ve continued in gymnastics this year, and you seem to be a little bit more dedicated and conscientious about your time there than you have been in the past, which is nice to see. You are also pretty good with your piano practice. This is the first year that you are able to understand, the skills and techniques you are learning in your lessons can be applied to music that you actually want to play and are excited about playing. You are currently practicing “Jack’s Lament” from The Nightmare Before Christmas for your Christmas recital piece. You figured this out (with a little help from me) by ear, and can now play it well enough that you can do it with your eyes closed! I could not be prouder! It’s really cool to see the realization dawn that THIS is why we learn music!

Your teacher had us download a cool new app called “Class Dojo” where she checks in throughout the day and awards points (or removes them) for certain behaviours. I can look at your avatar on my phone or iPad and know what you’ve gotten points for that day. It’s pretty neat! I can get an idea of how your day is going before I even get to see you. My favourite part is that I can use these points to start a conversation in the evening – since, like most kids, it’s hard to get you to talk about your day with an open-ended question. If I instead say, “I see you showed someone respect today! How did that feel?”, I might actually get an answer.

You’ve also been matched with a Big Sister at school (through Big Brothers and Big Sisters of Canada). Her name is Christina and you ADORE her. You get to spend one-on-one time with her every week at school, doing art or playing games or just reading together. You were not happy about this idea when your teacher suggested it, but now you are enthralled with the lovely and friendly Christina and can’t wait to see her each week.

On the whole, you are definitely doing better. You are still struggling socially and have a hard time making friends, but I feel optimistic that this will continue to improve as you adjust to the new social culture at your school. The skills you learned last year in Friendship Group are still with you, and you are a friendly and outgoing child. You just haven’t quite learned where you fit within the new structure. However, you are doing so much better at self-regulating and keeping your temper in check. You seem so much less angry and miserable than you did a few months ago. At the end of the summer, you were having multiple outbursts every day. Now, you have one every couple of weeks or so. That’s an enormous shift, and we are so glad to be living in a calmer house!

It’s harder to pinpoint exactly what has helped you make that shift, though. Is it the time you’ve spent with your counsellor, role-playing and discussing your emotions? Is it the dietary changes I’ve implemented, drastically reducing your wheat intake? Or is it just that you’ve started to feel safe and happy in our new home and are calmer as a result? Who knows! Parenting is crazy!

 Well, that's it for this month, Gwen. As always, I am super-duper proud of you and love you a million, billion, kajillion, and seven.


Saturday, October 24, 2015

Dear Gwen: Month Ninety

Dear Gwen,

Today, you are ninety months old. Also known as SEVEN AND A HALF.

You are craving more independence and autonomy lately, and for the most part I am happy to support that. For example, you walked home from school one day a few weeks ago (when I had the day off work and was able to greet you at home). The route between school and home doesn’t involve crossing any streets, so I’m open to finding ways for this to happen more often. Unfortunately, you don’t seem to understand that there is a link between showing us how responsible you are (by listening to our instructions and following them without drama) and being given more independence. 

 Another example of your new interest in independence is your willingness to play (and read … more on that in a minute) independently. I say independently instead of alone because, for the most part, you still want to be physically near us – but your need for us to be directly interacting with you or participating in the same activities is lessening. For example, a few days ago I had work to do in my craft room, and you wanted to play with your Lego. We decided that you would bring your Lego bin to the craft room, and we could work together on our separate projects. It was enjoyable for both of us. You do play on your own in your room sometimes, but for the most part you still enjoy being near at least one of us.

The reading, of course, is constant. Upstairs, downstairs, even in the bathroom …. The books are omnipresent, and who could complain about that? (Well, your teachers do from time to time, when you’re too engrossed in a book to notice that your attention is needed on the day’s lesson…) Your fascination with chapter books is growing, and I’m grateful that so many publishers and authors obviously understand that kids at your stage of literacy really want to grip on tightly to the familiar stories, characters, and structure that book series – as opposed to standalone books – offer. Your current favourites are Geronimo Stilton, Thea Stilton, Judy Moody, and the Jewel Fairies. You are still interested in story books too, and it’s anybody’s guess which variety of book you will bring home from the school library (where you are allowed to borrow TWO books at a time!). A challenge for Dad and I is to try and remember, at the end of the week, everything you’ve been reading, so we can write it on your “Home Reading Book” and return it to your teacher. Pretty sure this particular tool of encouragement isn’t needed, but we carry on with it anyway.

One of the things that constantly puzzles me about you is your inability or unwillingness to accept repetitive patterns. For example, you hate (HAAAAAAATE) getting up in the morning. So every morning, you whine and argue and fuss and generally ensure that everyone around you is just as miserable as you are. Let’s be clear, no one in our house likes mornings – but your dad and I have managed, in our decades on earth, that whining and arguing and fussing and making other people miserable DOES NOT CHANGE the need for us to get up in the morning. So we just don’t do it – it’s not worth the energy. You, on the other hand, awake every morning with the renewed hope that THIS TIME, whining and arguing and fussing and making us miserable will SOMEHOW ALTER YOUR FATE. The fact that in your over 2700 days on this planet, your whining and arguing and fussing has NEVER ONCE resulted in us thoughtfully tilting our heads, furrowing our brows, and saying, “You know what? You’re right. Mornings ARE awful. Let’s all go back to bed, and forget this ever happened,” doesn’t seem to alter your outlook in the slightest. The message never seems to sink in that mornings – as with so many other parts of life – are just something to be endured, preferably with as little drama as possible, so we can get on to the more enjoyable aspects of existence. This is also the case for pretty much anything you dislike doing, for example playing your piano scales; eating a less-than-favourite food; putting away your backpack at the end of your school day; or tidying your room. With the level of angst and drama inspired by these normal, consistent, regularly occurring tasks, I can’t imagine how parents manage to get their kids to take on chores that are actually valuable to the family at large, such as setting or clearing the table, feeding a family pet, or taking the recycling out. 

We continue to experiment with ways to motivate and reward you. ADHD resources tell us that any given reward system will lose its novelty and thus its effectiveness in a short time frame, and this does seem to be true for you. So, we are far from consistent with our systems. The one we are using right now is a very short-term, specific-reward-based star chart. You and I spent an afternoon in my craft room making gorgeous gold sparkly stars out of genuine, high-end glitter paper – just six stars in total, which you designed and created all by yourself while I created the simple six-square grid on a black background (black is still your favourite colour, and makes a great background for sparkly stars). You are rewarded one of these stars every time we see you handle a frustrating situation in a way that DOESN’T involve losing your temper. When the chart is full, we will go see Hotel Transylvania 2 in the movie theatre. You’re halfway there already, and – dare I say it? – the past weeks have seen a real downturn in your awful outbursts. Where you were once blowing up every day (sometimes even multiple times a day), you are probably only having one a week now. Of course, now that I’ve written that, you’ll probably have three on the way home from school today.

Another thing that is so great I almost don’t want to talk about it … you have stopped wearing Pull-ups to bed. Yes, you wore Pull-ups to sleep well past your seventh birthday, and while they were usually dry in the morning, from time to time they were wet, so we just carried on and waited for you to tell us when you were done with them. And you did, some months ago – just before we moved to our new house, I believe. “Pull-ups are for little kids, and I am not a little kid,” you told me, and climbed into bed with underwear on instead. I told you I was proud of you, and chose not to make a bigger deal out of it than that, which was a good thing, because a few days later you decided you wanted to wear one again. It went on like that for about a month – some nights you’d wear one, some nights you wouldn’t, and there didn’t seem to be any rhyme or reason to it. Then one day as we were all driving to the grocery store, your dad asked me to add Pull-ups to the shopping list. “Hey Gwen,” I said, “We’re all out of Pull-ups. Do you think we need to buy more?” “Nope!” you told me, and that was the end of that. No more Pull-ups at our house! Way to go, Gwen!

 (I have mixed feelings about the fact that I’m pretty sure your interest in giving them up was prompted by your playmates visiting, seeing the package, and asking you about it. On the one hand, hey, kids, shut up, you’re not perfect either. On the other hand, yay, kids, you made my kid stop using a Pull-up and now I don’t have to buy them anymore.)

You’ve been in Grade Two at your new school for about six weeks now – halfway through the first term – and you are starting to settle in a little more. You have one VERY close friend, and are trying (somewhat) to make more. Your teacher reports you are happy, entertaining, and enthusiastic in class. She even noted that you don’t seem to need fidgets or other accommodations at this point. Can we dare to hope that your temperament is evening out after our move? Time will tell. To date we have consulted a pediatrician, a counsellor, a nutritionist, your school support worker, and your teacher, and we have done (and will continue to do) everything possible to follow their various pieces of advice. Your pediatrician, in particular, was quite certain that your outbursts were not particularly related to generalized anxiety or ADHD, but were perfectly normal responses to the enormous upheaval you experienced over the spring and summer, and would eventually pass. I think we are starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel.

This is a comic strip you drew starring Jack and Sally from The Nightmare Before Christmas.
 (Whenever I write something like that, I feel like I’m setting myself up to come back next month and go “NOPE, life is still awful”. It’s really hard to try and draw a conclusion based on incomplete data, but that’s exactly what this newsletter is. And still, I write it, because inaccurate conclusions are better than no conclusions at all.)

Well, that’s about it for this month, Gwen. As always, I think you are the awesomest kid around and I am super glad I get to be your mom. Keep on rockin', crazy kid!

You chose to wear a kimono to Thanksgiving Dinner. Obviously.



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