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!



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