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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