Monday, December 26, 2016

Dear Gwen: It's Christmas

Dear Gwen,
Merry Christmas!

I haven't written here in a while. On November 24th your Dad and I were in Mexico for a much-deserved holiday, and December 24th is always a challenging time to sit down and write. So today I'm throwing out my usual 24th-of-the-month schedule and writing to you on Boxing Day. In no particular order, here are several stories and memories of the last two months.

Christmas has been amazing. More than once, you've told us that this has been "the best Christmas ever" and I think this is not only because of the enormous quantity and quality of gifts you've received, but because you are at such a wonderful stage right now: old enough to appreciate all you've been given, and young enough to revel in the pure joy without inhibition. On Christmas Eve morning, Gramma and Grandpa joined us for brunch and we exchanged gifts with them. You received a gigantic (1400-piece) Lego Friends amusement park set. Not only did you display the requisite excitement and gratitude when you received it, but to everyone's amusement (and amazement), you spent the next five or six hours single-mindedly assembling it. No assistance. No lunch break. No meltdowns. I couldn't help thinking this was a great way to make Christmas Eve day fly by!

Your pronouncements about the best Christmas ever are not very surprising. Hardly a day goes by when we are not snuggled lovingly and told that we are awesome parents. It's wonderfully nice to hear! Of course, there are still in between times when you're furious at us and tell us we are terrible parents (although you did tell me recently that even when you're mad at us, you still love us).

Leaving you for six nights in November was really hard. Your dad and I really wanted to spend some time together to celebrate our ten-year wedding anniversary, so we planned a trip to an all-inclusive resort in Mexico. We'd never been on that type of trip before, so we were nervous, and we were also unsure how you would do for such a long stretch without us. We arranged for your Auntie Sara to come for a few days, and then your Gramma Karen for a few days, and we hoped that breaking the time up into chunks like this would help the days pass quickly. Also, we reminded them both not to mention us at all; not to even say encouraging things like "Mom and Dad will be home in three days," because any reminders of our existence could set off a powerful vibe of missing us that was impossible to overcome. Pretending we never existed seems to work the best, and other than one night when you felt a little sad (but then got over it), everything seems to have gone well. I'm really grateful to Sara and Karen for taking such good care of you while we were away!

As usual, you had lots of fun on Halloween. You wore a zombie bride costume to the school Halloween dance, and then dressed as Captain Phasma from Star Wars for trick or treating. This year, you were still in the middle of dinner when the first trick-or-treater knocked on our door, and you rushed to answer it and give them candy. You enjoyed this experience so much, gushing over their costumes and wishing them a Happy Halloween, that I thought you might actually opt to skip trick or treating yourself and stay home to hand out candy with me! You did eventually decide to head out with Dad, but you weren't gone very long - you'd been so excited about Halloween that you'd woken up way too early that morning, and were very tired. You were gone long enough to collect two gigantic bags of candy, though, so it was a successful evening.

There has been a lot of snowfall in Nanaimo recently. I have to smile as I reflect that last year, you complained bitterly about the lack of snow, prompting me to plan a daytrip to go snowshoeing on Mount Washington so you could have the snow experience you craved. This year, there's more snow than there's ever been here in your lifetime - and you couldn't care less. You are over it! Lots of other parents are posting pictures of their kids sledding, building snowpeople, etcetera - you are content to hang out inside and watch movies. Which works FINE for me, because it means I don't have to go out in the snow either! Pass the popcorn!

One awesome thing we got to do in the snow, though, is have our pictures taken. Our amazing photographer-friend, Brooke, did a mini-session one day in a snowy playground, purely to give families the opportunity to have something we never get here: awesome family photos in the snow! I am so pleased with the shots we got, in only a few minutes (that was all anyone could stand, in the bitter cold!). 

For the past few months, you've been rehearsing twice a week with Headliners Performing Arts in their production of "Elf: The Musical". Those rehearsals finally came to fruition and the show opened on December 9th with a daytime performance for several local school classes. Even this day was not without its glitches, though; we had bought tickets for the evening performance, but it was cancelled due to snow and the closure of the VIU Nanaimo campus. I was glad you got to have your school show, since I think all the kids would have been terribly let down if all that build-up had come to nothing on that particular day. And I was secretly kind of glad that you got to have some rest, since you'd spent the previous two days with a full day of school and then a four-hour tech rehearsal. The next day's matinee show went off fine, and then the Friday night show was rescheduled for the following week, so we all came to see you on what should have been opening night but turned out to be closing night. Because of the rescheduling, you ended up doing a double-header performance: your piano recital at 4pm, then rushing to the VIU theatre for a 5pm call for that night's Elf performance (again, after a full school day). This photo tells the whole story of how you were feeling at that point:

Nevertheless, you didn't complain. You got your job done and the show(s) went on! Gramma, Grandpa, Dad and I, and our friends Shannon, Graham, and Dave B all came to see the play, and we enjoyed it thoroughly. You said your line clearly and enthusiastically, and I loved seeing how you sang and danced through all the big group numbers. You worked hard and you knew your part well - we were really proud of you. Still, we're glad to have this behind us so you can have a break from that demanding rehearsal schedule!

Just a few days after we returned from Mexico, it was time to head to Vancouver for the annual family get-together, English Family Christmas. You were so excited to see your cousins! This past year on Spring Break you and your Grannie joined your "girl cousins" for their annual trip to Chuck E. Cheese, and this excursion has strengthened your bond with them considerably, which is wonderful. You are always excited to see Andrew and Scotty, but it's wonderful to see you connecting with your second cousins as well. We all had a wonderful time celebrating and spending time together, and loved seeing all the kids playing together with the various toys and games they received.

One more week of school before Christmas break arrived. The last week of school featured your class's performance at the winter concert: Queen's "We Will Rock You". You auditioned to play the drums and were SO excited to find out you got the part! We were thrilled with your performance: you were so confident and steady, and kept the beat flawlessly. What a champion! We filmed the whole thing, but unfortunately the lighting in the gym was so bad that you're not really visible. We can hear your awesome drumming though! You ROCKED it!

You also shared with us two stories about your school life that made us feel good about how you are interacting with your schoolmates. The first story was that you and a friend were singing a Christmas song at recess, and another kid told you to stop because "it's not Christmas yet." You firmly told him that "I can sing Christmas carols at Halloween if I want to," and carried on. The second story was that you were on the swings, and another girl was saving a swing for a friend. "That's against the rules - there's no saving swings," you told her (which is true, a rule that has bitten you more than once). The other girl got mad and said, "You're going to get coal in your stocking because you're so naughty!" You didn't say anything to her, but said to yourself, "We'll just see about that!" and carried on with your swinging. To me these stories show your confidence and self-possession: not needing anyone's approval or validation, just doing your thing and not letting other people get to you. Not all your stories are like this, so these ones make me very happy and proud.

After all your performances were over, we got to go be audience members at Nanaimo Theatre Group's annual Christmas pantomime. This year, they produced "Aladdin and the Pirates". It was a very funny and enjoyable show, and you even got your photos taken with some of your favourite characters (which you don't usually consent to do) because you loved the show so much.

Well my girl, that's it for this month! I love you a million, billion, kajillion, and eight-and-three-quarters. Looking forward to what 2017 has in store for us!


Monday, October 24, 2016

Dear Gwen: Month 102

Dear Gwen,

Today you are a hundred-and-two months old.

It’s been a great month, with you settling in well to your various routines and activities. It’s taken you a while to feel “at home” with your Elf rehearsals, as the director, kids, space, and structure are all new to you. In fact, a couple of times we even considered cancelling the whole shebang. All due, as usual, to your emotionally reactive nature. On the day the roles were assigned, you were assigned to be a random (meaning, nameless and with no speaking parts) elf. You were devastated and cried all the way home. I tried – several times, over the next few days – to help you understand two important things: First, that not all the roles and lines had been assigned yet, and that you were likely to be given more to do as the rehearsal process continued; and second, that chorus parts are actually THE BIGGEST ROLE in theatre. “You’ll be an elf in this song, and then change into other clothes, and be a New Yorker for this scene, and then change again, and be a store employee in this song, and then change again, and be an office worker in this scene …” at least, that’s what I would have said if you would have let me speak. You preferred instead to shout at me about how miserable you were, and I couldn’t even finish one phrase. (I should note that this was three days later, not on that awful drive home. I know better than that!) Sure enough, at the next rehearsal your director gave you a line: “You bring us down a whole octave!” I’m still not sure that you understand the entire nature of a chorus role and the fact that you will be onstage for probably three-quarters of the entire show, but at least you are happy to go to rehearsals now, and are busily learning your songs and dances (you’ve already memorized your line).

School is going well, and you have made some new friends this year. We’re really happy to see you branching out and connecting with a variety of peers. We’ve given you and your after-school caregiver the freedom and responsibility to arrange your own playdates this year, so one day a week you invite a friend to come home with you after school. We’ve met a few of your friends and there are more to come; and you’re being invited to their houses, as well. It’s wonderful to know that you are building reciprocal friendships.

You seem quite engaged in school this year, and we often hear about the various activities of your day. No surprise, your favourite parts of the week are library time, music class, and science. Last week your class went on a field trip to a nearby beach to learn about animal habitats (on one of the most stormy and blustery days of the year, I might add). You were excited to tell us about meeting a marine biologist, experiencing extreme weather, and learning about how animals adapt to their environment. 

Last week, I got to go to the best parent-teacher interview ever, where I was able to confirm that your Grade Three teacher REALLY GETS YOU. The two of us spent over thirty minutes chatting easily and enthusiastically about how wonderful you are and how much we each enjoy you. Mrs. S. really appreciates your “divergent and creative thinking”, your willingness to contribute, your humour, and your powerful vocabulary. She has no current concerns about your ability to succeed this year – you are right on target!

Through no fault of your own, your school photos this year were pretty disappointing. For context, let me remind you (and our fabulous blog audience) that last year on photo day, you coloured on your forehead with pencil. You THEN remembered it was photo day, and ‘solved’ the problem by pulling the hair out of your meticulous ponytails to cover up your pencilly forehead. And you know what? I paid good money for those photos, because they showed EXACTLY who you are. This year, in contrast, the proofs contained two poses that just made me shake my head. The close-up shot is, inarguably, lovely – but it shows no spark, no glint of Gwen-ness. I can’t find my daughter anywhere in that photo. The wide shot, with your hand awkwardly placed on your hip, makes me wonder if the photographer prompted you by saying, “imagine you’re an alien who doesn’t understand the concept of smiling”. If that’s what happened – you nailed it. Still not paying for these photos! Retake Day is scheduled for the day after Halloween, so that’s bound to be successful.

Right after I wrote your last newsletter, your dad accompanied you to the dentist, where you had three teeth extracted. This was a tearful and screamy experience as you were very afraid of the needles. At one point, after you were already frozen, the dentist needed to apply another needle, and you were terrified, crying and begging him not to. Then he said, “Gwen, it’s already done. You’re frozen, you didn’t even feel it.” Ha! I keep hoping you will re-frame the memories of this experience to identify yourself as a badass who can have teeth pulled and it ain’t no thing. (Because I know there is more of this in your future.) So far, though, you are still sticking to “that REALLY sucked and I never want to do it again”. In any case, your adult teeth are now ready to grow in to the spaces left behind.

At home, you have become quite adept at finishing your weekly chores, and have had a few daily chores added as well. I imagine this will only increase once we add a dog to our household in the near-ish future. I’m really happy that I can count on you to help out. On Saturdays, during family chore time, you are expected to tidy your room; remove your personal items from common areas; tidy your bathroom so I can clean it; and do some dusting. When we first started this a few months ago, it would take over two hours to drag you (practically kicking and screaming) through the process, and you would need one of us to sit with you, painstakingly instructing you to pick up an item, identify it, and put it in its tidy spot … okay, now pick up the next item … it was painful for all of us. Now, you can pretty much do all of it on your own, and you barely even need to see the list. On a school day, you have started to do some of the breakfast jobs yourself: you will get your backpack ready (with the lunch I pack for you, water bottle, and school planner); set the table for yourself, including getting out your morning pill; and pop your waffles into the toaster, all while I am upstairs getting myself ready. Then I come downstairs in time to butter and cut up your waffles, which you are still hesitant to do yourself. We talked recently about you taking on another chore over the next six months, and I laid out some options: doing your own laundry, making your own school lunch, setting/clearing the table at dinner, cooking one dinner a week … you latched on right away to that one, insisting that you could make salads and desserts. (“Salads aren’t dinner,” your dad grumbled, because he would rather serve/eat straight-up carbs and fat and skip the veggies altogether. I don’t think one main-dish salad a week would be a problem for any of us, frankly!) Anyway, I’m glad that our longstanding baking activities have made you feel comfortable in the kitchen, and I’m interested to see how we can branch out into meals. Time to dig out those “cook with kids” cookbooks I bought when you were three, I think!

Last week, we got to enjoy a rare treat: you had a Pro-D day (day off school) that happened to fall on the same day as my biweekly day off work, so we got to spend the whole day together. It was so super fun! We worked on a Halloween craft for your class, wherein you impressed me with your ability to follow multi-step instructions in order to score paper correctly for the project. We also went out to Smitty’s for lunch, and played multiple games of Ticket to Ride (currently your favourite board game, on loan from some friends; we might just have to buy our own copy). You have taken quite easily to this game, probably because you’ve played it on the iPad several times and are familiar with the rules. It’s a pretty easy adjustment to play it “for real”, after that. It sure is fun to play games with you at this level – you hold your own pretty well! Ticket to Ride in particular is a great one, because turns go fast and there is always something to watch and notice, even when your opponents are taking their turns, so there isn’t a lot of time to get distracted or bored. 

Speaking of games, you have had your first brief forays into role-playing games recently. You and your dad have created a Dungeons and Dragons character, and there is a plan in the works for your dad to run a game with you and our wonderful neighbourhood friends, the Logan family. Isley, the oldest daughter, babysits you sometimes; Fiona, the youngest daughter, has had playdates with you and you just went to her birthday party on the weekend. You haven’t spent much time yet with Lynnea, the ‘middlest’ daughter, but I’m certain the two of you will click as well, and I’m so excited for the five of you to play this game together. Coincidentally, one rainy recess break last week, you wandered into the portable classroom where your music classes are held, only to discover it was “Games Day”, a club for students from older grades to gather and play various games over the break, supervised by the music teacher (of whom we are already extremely fond). He welcomed you and invited you to join a game, so you got to try D&D for the first time! You were SO excited to tell Dad and me all about it when you got home. With a bit of questioning, it turned out that the other students were in Grade Six and Seven. “And how did the Grade Six and Seven kids feel about a Grade Three’er joining their game?” I asked. “Well, Mr. Derksen is in charge, and HE said I could join, so they just had to deal with it.” Ha! Rock on, kid!

One more adventure we had on our day off came about completely by coincidence. You’ve been really curious lately about trains, and specifically about how the railroad crossing gates work and how the trains, gates, and vehicle traffic interact. Nanaimo’s roads are frequently criss-crossed by railroad tracks, but the passenger trains haven’t run for years, and I wasn’t even sure whether there were any freight or cargo trains running; I haven’t seen an active train in town any time in recent memory. I reached out to an acquaintance of mine, thinking he might have some information on the subject (he works at VIU as a Computer Technician, and also holds a seat on the Port Alberni City Council – neither of which have anything to do with trains. Nevertheless, he just seemed like a Guy Who Would Know, and my instincts proved correct!). In turn, he spoke to his contacts at Island Rail, who were able to give us the schedule of when a train would be travelling right through a busy intersection. And wouldn’t you know it? One of the days the train would be passing through happened to be on our day off!

We set out on Friday afternoon in the rain and wind to hang out near the Northfield/old highway intersection to wait for the train. We examined the train tracks and the crossing gate so that we could figure out the best place to stand and how it would all work - then, before long, we heard the train whistle! We were both really excited and watched eagerly for it to come round the bend. We saw the light from the engine reflecting off the trees near the tracks before we could see the train itself. Then the train appeared, and the crossing gate lowered, and all the traffic stopped. It was quite surreal – the intersection had been constantly busy since our arrival, which was somewhat surprising in itself, since it was a weekday afternoon. But almost before I could notice it, all traffic had stopped in place, waiting for the train to pass.

As the train approached, it grew so loud, and we could feel the vibrations shaking the pavement under our feet as it passed us! The engineer happily waved at us, blowing the whistle all the time as the train went by. We counted the cars and watched them pass, then the gate raised up again, the train went on out of sight, traffic resumed, and everything was back to normal. It was an exciting interlude, well worth getting rained on!

Well, that’s it for this month, Gwen. Happy Half-Birthday to you, my amazing girl. I’m so glad I get to be your mom and share these adventures with you!


Saturday, September 24, 2016

Dear Gwen: Month 101

Dear Gwen,
Today you are a hundred and one months old.

This has been such an awesome month! When last I wrote, we were just finishing up our various summer adventures. This month has seen the return of many routines, which can be anxiety-inducing for both of us, but things have gone really smoothly. Additionally, you seem to have leveled up in your independence, which is really cool!

The end of the summer saw the end of the summer camp you'd been at all season, "Girls Get Active". In fact, this camp ended one week before your vacation did - when I realized this, earlier in the summer, I had to scramble to figure out what you would do for that last week. I ended up putting you on the waitlist for three different camps, but it was obvious to me which one was the top choice: "Bowen Explorers", a camp all about science! "Even figure-skating involves science," the description noted, and I was sure this camp would be a hit. As the end of GGA grew nearer, I broke the news that you'd be going to a different camp for the last week. I hoped this news would go over well, because (a) it's not like all the other girls were still going to GGA, and I was cruelly depriving you of that experience; the camp was over, finito, dunzo. And (b) SCIENCE. However, no, the news did not go well. You were grumpy and cranky and stubborn and anxious and worried and mad. Mostly, you were SURE you would have a terrible time. I spent lots of time and energy trying to convince you that it really would all be fine, to no avail. Fast-forward to the afternoon I picked you up from your first day at Explorers camp, when you were bursting to tell me about the chemistry experiment you'd done, the activities you'd enjoyed, and the fact that your favourite GGA leader was working at Explorers camp this week too. Lesson learned (by me): Don't engage when Gwen is having stubborn fits of resistance-to-change. Just wait till she TRIES the new thing, and then - if she actually hates it as much as she predicts - solve it then. (But she probably won't.) Anyway, you had a great week at Explorers camp, with lots of science and lots of fun. And a bee sting, on the second to last day, so now we know you're not allergic. (Good to know!)

Because last year's back-to-(new)-school was so challenging for you, we did a few extra things this year to help you feel confident and happy. This was the first year that you had a specific idea about what you wanted to wear for the first day(s) of school; both the one-hour assembly on the first day, and the first full day of school, the following day. Your dad took you out shopping to try and find the items you requested, and you guys came home with a pretty cool denim-based outfit. In addition, I took you to get a fancy-pants hairdo at a grown-up hair salon. You got a snazzy star shaved into the side of your head that is short, and some beautiful coloured extensions added to the side of your hair that is long. I was especially happy that the salon suggested extensions, which I would never have thought of, but were a much more agreeable (and affordable) solution than bleaching your hair and then colouring it.

Your first day of school was a night-and-day difference from last year. Like last year, your Gramma Karen took you to the hour-long assembly in the school gym; unlike last year, you were confident, knowledgeable, comfortable, and calm. You happily greeted kids and teachers you remembered from last year. We all had a huge sigh of relief to see that you were so much happier this year. You and Gramma met me at Smitty's after the assembly for lunch so you could tell me all about it, and there were only positive things to say, from both of you. Yay!

Things only got better from there. At every school, in every district, those first few days are always a chaotic gong show, while the staff and administration work to assess every kid and assign them into their classrooms for the year. Sometimes, the students go to last year's classroom (with last year's classmates) and spend three days there, before being reassembled into different rooms and different combinations. This inevitably leads to upset feelings when everyone needs to transition AGAIN. So this year, your school decided to try something new. For those three days, the student body from Grade 1 through 7 was divided into fourteen cross-grade groups. Each group stayed together and moved throughout the school; so, in those three days, you met every teacher, and spent time in every classroom, all the while forming relationships with students from a variety of grades. I see so many benefits to this method, the foremost one being that it was clear to every student that these three days existed entirely out of the normal school year, and that there was no way the group of students you were spending your days with would be "your class". We spent those three days hoping and praying that you'd be assigned the Grade Three teacher we'd heard described as young, dynamic, adaptable, and energetic, rather than the one we'd heard described as close to retirement, stuck in her ways, resistant to new methods and technologies. I was also really hoping you'd get into a straight Grade Three class rather than a Two/Three split. Last year, as a Grade Two student, you were in a One/Two split, and I don't think that did you much good. The Grade Ones are not readers, and most of the Grade Twos weren't either, and even those who were did not read for pleasure - they read only because it was something they had to do. By the end of the year, you were starting to form an idea of yourself as "weird" because you loved to read, and were the only one in your class who did. Well, good news - by the end of the week, we found out you were indeed in the young dynamic teacher's class, and that it was a straight Grade Three class. Hip hip hooray!!

Last week, we got to come to the school with you for "Meet the Teacher" night, an open-house style gathering wherein we got to tour your classroom and have a very brief chat with your teacher, Mrs. Saffin. (The more in-depth parent-teacher interviews will happen next month.) It was a treat to see your desk, your cubby, and the other important places and things in your classroom, and it was wonderful to meet your teacher and put a face to the name. More importantly, though, it brought me so much joy to see you so engaged, excited, and proud to show us around. You really are happy to be there! You had a couple of questions for your teacher at the event, and I was so impressed to see how respectfully she responded to you. If that is her default dynamic with her students, you are going to have an AMAZING year.

Piano lessons have started up, and you've fallen easily back into the habit of practicing daily. Your rehearsals for Elf: The Musical have also started, though this hasn't gone quite as easily. Your first rehearsal day was very stressful, as once again you were in an enormous room full of strangers, many of whom knew each other from previous productions, and all of whom were very loud and overstimulating. Your director assures me that she makes sure all the kids bond together and that no one is excluded, so we'll hang in there and hope that the next few rehearsals start to get better. Dropping you off there on that first day was hard: your shyness and fear were so intense that they were wearing me out to witness. Beginnings are so hard, but I feel confident that this experience will be a positive one for you.

We hit a big milestone last weekend when you were invited to your first sleepover party. A new friend of yours was having a birthday party that started with "starlight skating" at the rec centre and then a sleepover at her house. You told me you were ready for it, and I made sure her mom had my cell phone number just in case. I didn't sleep well that night, as part of me expected to hear from you in the wee hours with a request to come pick you up ... but no. You didn't give us a thought! The friend's mom, who knew it was your first sleepover, made sure to speak with you before bed to encourage you to come find her, no matter what time it was, if you needed to. Nope. You stayed up and partied with your friends (stayed up till midnight, then 'went to bed' and proceeded to giggle and chat until 1:00am), slept hard for six hours, then got up and played with your friends some more and enjoyed a hearty breakfast of bacon. We came to pick you up mid-morning and you didn't even want to leave. We're mean, though, and we made you come home with us.

This time of year means many changes to our routines; not just the start of school, but the change in work hours for me, meaning I have to be at work earlier than I do over the summer. We are still working the kinks out of our morning routine. One day, I wasn't quite finished brushing my teeth when you were ready for your breakfast, so I told you to go ahead downstairs and put your waffles into the toaster, and that I would be down in time to butter them for you. By the time I got downstairs, you had toasted your waffles, packed your lunch and water bottle into your backpack, and got out your plate and cutlery for your waffle. Wow!! I'm so happy to see you starting to help out in this way - it really beats watching you lie on the couch and listening to you moan about how awful mornings are while I pack all the lunches and make all the breakfasts. Yay independence! I praised you like crazy, and have started to make "get out waffles and set my place" part of your morning jobs.

Well, I think that's it for this month, Gwen. As always, you are the coolest kid ever, and we are so glad to be your parents.


Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Dear Gwen: Month 100

Dear Gwen,

Today, you are one hundred months old.

We have had a really excellent summer together. I tell you, there is nothing to make one appreciate summer like spending one entire summer moving house, like we did last year. By comparison, this summer seems absolutely heavenly!

 Due to the vagaries of office scheduling, Dad and I ended up taking two chunks of time off work this summer, instead of one larger chunk. Then, as our summer plans came together, this turned into three separate holiday-adventures. This worked out really well and allowed us to do lots of different things together (none of which involved moving, so they were all wonderful!).

 First, we traveled to Powell River for your grandparents' second annual barbecue gathering. This is a party they've started hosting since moving to their new house about 18 months ago, and they sure enjoy doing it. This year, we were able to get to PR two days before the party, so we could help get ready for it, and also spend time visiting and hanging out. Notably, my cousin Lee and her two girls, as well as my uncle and aunt, arrived the day before the party; your cousins Andrew and Scotty, and Auntie Sara, arrived that day as well. We all went to the beach at Mowat Bay for some relaxing/swimming/exploring/visiting time; later, we all went out to dinner and then for ice cream at the mini-golf course, which is widely believed to have the best ice cream in town.

The barbecue itself was hectic and fun. You played with your cousins throughout - I barely saw you. It's pretty great that you kids are all of an age to just play together without drama and without adult intervention. Grandpa and some of his musician friends played some music, which I enjoyed listening to, and I visited with many people both familiar and new. Your grandparents Keith and Karen even made the trip over on the ferry to enjoy the barbecue party!

The next day, we got up very early in an attempt to, if not "beat" the holiday rush, at least stay competitive with it as we battled for position in the ferry lineups on the next leg of our journey, to the Lower Mainland. We were all prepared for a long day, but it didn't end up to be as awful as we'd feared; yes, there was a one-sailing wait at Langdale, but the next sailing was only an hour later. Hooray to BC Ferries for effective planning! We made our way from Horseshoe Bay to Burnaby, where we stopped at Lougheed Mall for a quick play on their excellent indoor playground and Dad did some shopping. Then it was on to our friends Shawn and Nicole's home, where we visited with them and enjoyed a delicious dinner. You also enjoyed a swim in their complex's outdoor pool, and spent a lot of time colouring in a borrowed colouring book. At last, we drove to Coquitlam where my cousin Mike, wife Robyn, and daughters Kiera and Hannah welcomed us and put us up in their spare room for two days. If you're keeping track, you'll notice that by this point in our holiday, we've now visited with all your BC extended family members, which is pretty cool!!

Our next adventure was Flying over Canada, which we all really enjoyed. I wasn't totally sure how you would fare with the immersive movie experience, but it went really well and I saw no sign that you felt unsafe or anxious about it. Yay! Next, we met our friends Sally and Rachel at Science World for a few hours. You and Rachel always get along quite well, which is amazing given the difference in your ages. I appreciated that the two of you had totally different ways of "taking in" the exhibits, and this sometimes led to frustration, but overall it went well and the adults got a chance to visit as we followed you around.

The next day, we went to Playland. Unlike our trip there last year, in 30-degree heat, this was perfect Playland weather: overcast, gray, almost hinting at rain (but never actually raining). I was grateful to not have to worry about sunscreen, sunstroke, hydration, and so on. Furthermore, the lineups were minimal! At most, we waited one ride cycle before getting on any ride. When we arrived at the park, we discovered that you have grown out of the "junior" playpass and are now 52" tall - tall enough for pretty much any ride. We encouraged you to try some of the "grownup" rides with us, like the Music Express, the Scrambler, and Breakdance. You enjoyed some of these (not the Scrambler). Moreover, for those rides you didn't want to try, we were able to trust you to sit on a nearby bench with your book for a few minutes while Dad and I rode. This was wonderful, as it meant Dad and I got to have a fun day and get our money's worth too. I don't know if we would have felt as safe doing this if the park were more crowded and the lineups longer (meaning we were away from you for a longer period), so I feel lucky that it worked out this way.

That was the end of Vacation Adventure #1! We caught the ferry home that night, and actually went to work the next day (you spent the day with a friend). That night, and the next day, was our very short window to prep for the next round of Vacation Adventure - camping! You've been requesting for some time that we add camping to our summer fun repertoire, but I had one condition: I did not want to sleep on the ground. I explored a few options before finding a campsite in Qualicum Beach that would rent us a "wooden tent": a small cabin with a double-size bunk bed. The price was only slightly more than it would cost for us to rent a campsite and pitch a tent, so it was easy to say yes. The cabin also came with a mini-fridge, a microwave, a table, and some shelves for food - highly civilized, and perhaps somewhat out of the realm of what could reasonably be called "camping". However, we still had to leave our cabin to go use the bathroom or brush our teeth, so that's camping to me! After loading up the car to the absolute limit, the three of us piled in and drove to Qualicum Beach, which turned out to be a longer drive than I thought. We quickly settled into the cabin and set out to explore the site. There is a large, man-made lake for swimming; a playground; a games room; a TV room where movies are shown every second night; a waterslide; a horse corral, whose occupants give rides for a fee on the weekends; a laundry room; and a dishwashing station with running water (no need to haul and heat your own water!!). Across the street, if one cares to venture, is the beach - nearby is a grocery store, ice cream shop, and restaurant for when camp food becomes boring. All in all, we thought, a pretty great setup! We'd only booked for two nights this time, thinking we would test it all out and perhaps book for a longer stay in the future; given the nearby amenities and conveniences, I think we could easily camp there for five nights.

We enjoyed our weekend there, with lots of sitting, relaxing, and reading. The weather was still quite overcast, so swimming was not high on the list, but you did go in for a brief swim the afternoon before we left the site. You also got to enjoy the typical camp kid experience of meeting a friend and running free with her for most of the day, checking in with us every once in a while so that we knew when you changed locations (games room, playground, her campsite, etc.). This kind of freedom is new for all of us, but for myself I found it less nerve-wracking than I thought. It's exciting to think of the way you are growing in responsibility and trustworthiness.

One hilarious dialogue took place in the evening when I informed you that you were to accompany me to the dishwashing station to wash up our dishes from the day. We gathered the dishes, the soap, the cloths and towels, and set out for the clubhouse. "So," you said, "Where are the dishwashers?" Oh, sweet child of convenient living! I smiled and told you, "We ARE the dishwashers!" I told you about how the last time we went camping (when you were three), we had to heat the water in our tiny pot on our tiny stove, over and over and over again until our tiny sink was full, and then wash the dishes with crappy soap that never actually sudsed up or cleaned anything, and it took hours. "At this campsite, they have a SINK! With running water! So we're getting off pretty easy!" It didn't take long for us to get the dishes done, and you were good-natured and helpful, so even that was fun.

We had a week of work for us and summer camp for you before our final Vacation Adventure, the stay-cation. Although I loved our mainland visits and fun, and our camping trip, this might be my favourite of the three adventures. We started with a list of the various summer things we hadn't yet gotten to do - such as viewing the Parksville sandsculpting competition, setting up a lemonade stand, and having a friend over for a sleepover - as well as some of the house projects I'd been wanting to get done, that never seem to happen in our regular busy routine of life - such as cleaning out the garage and weeding the yard. With five days off work, we divided the various items into groups that made sense, with each day containing a bit of fun and a bit of work. There were very few scheduled commitments on those days, which made it even more wonderfully relaxed. We did a lot of different things, including celebrating Dad's 41st birthday.

There was also the obligatory trip to the library, wherein you got a medal for completing your book log. We didn't tell them that in fact, you'd completed your whole book log in less than a month. The librarian tried to give you another log "so that you keep reading", but in fact I'm well aware that you will keep reading without any need for a log. I'm really happy with the fact that the log kept you WRITING throughout the summer, though. And to that end, we happened to see a really cool item in the grocery store recently that you insisted on buying, and which I hope you actually end up using: a book journal. Each page has a detachable bookmark - which is a HUGE benefit because you NEVER seem to have a bookmark on hand - and a list of prompts to fill in information about the book you're reading: date started, date finished, title, author, plot, favourite character, etc. What a great way to get kids (especially kids like you who are already reading voraciously) to give a little bit more thought and reflection to what they are reading!

AND, we went to the orthodontist. Somehow, you have grown up without any fear of the dentist, and when on your last visit Dr. Sandy recommended you see an orthodontist for your crowded teeth, you simply decided not to be afraid of that, either. As a grownup, I know that orthodontists mean tooth-pulling, braces, pain, blood, and social ostracism, but as far as you are concerned, orthodontists are just like dentists, only with super-powers. And apparently, braces and retainers are COOL and socially desirable among kids and teens these days. If you'd told me that twenty-five years ago when I had them, I would probably laugh at you. And then cry, because laughing makes your teeth hurt when you have braces. (I am hopeful that orthodontistry has improved in the last twenty-five years.) Anyway, we went to the orthodontist and we were both suitably impressed, for different reasons. I liked how the office was set up to be very kid- and teen-friendly, and that the staff were enormously respectful of you and spoke to your level (not dumbing things down, but in a way that was engaging for you). You liked that it was fun and there were video games in the waiting room. As I expected, he recommended some extractions to take place in the short term, and confirmed that you will absolutely need braces by age 12. We will be scheduling the extractions at your regular dentist office soon (which may be the end of your positive attitude towards dentistry), and checking back in with the ortho in a year.

The next few weeks will see a few more outings as we try to squeeze every last bit of fun out of the summer, and then the start of Grade Three, as well as the startup of your fall extracurricular activities - piano and musical theatre. I am feeling confident that this September will be smoother and easier than last year, and that life is going to keep getting better as the months go by. I love you, my Gwen!



Related Posts with Thumbnails