Wednesday, December 2, 2015

It takes a village...

As my five year old engages in various activities, his network of contacts, and our community circle, expands. In this brave new world, he becomes known to family and friends through his parents' social media activity, so I'm conscious of reflecting him at this best: cheerful, compassionate, and clever. We let other adults guide him, through learning, sports, and activities, but provide oversight. 

In his beaver scouts colony meeting, he works on decorating his gingerbread cookie, attaching his mini chocolate chips and Smarties with icing sugar. When his drops to the floor in the kids' rush to leave, he cries, but the attentive leader supplies him with two fresh cookies and supplies to start over. He's one of the two youngest kids in a group of 12, but usually holds his own. He's consoled, and has a cookie for his younger sister to have as well. He is doubly compensated for the loss. I hear about this all in retrospect, and am grateful for the leader's foresight, and compassion, to have extras. 

At home he decorates them again. I tell him at bath-time how lucky he is to be the only one to receive two cookies. He sleeps at the usual time, having navigated successfully through another day.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Never say never...

But I would (probably) never homeschool. And yet, I am taking on the responsibility, more so this year than last, to oversee his 'homework' and to be an active collaborator in what he brings home. I intuit what he is reluctant to do, what he professes not to be good at, and seek strategies to show him that he CAN learn, to celebrate successes, and to mark progress.

Most of all, I seek to pass responsibility to him, so he becomes more and more a self-starter, a problem-solver, an independent thinker, and someone who knows how he is best able to learn.

At home we have the luxury of time: to try different approaches towards a topic or text, to supplement learning, and to branch off into a different area. I am continually impressed that his teachers are able to impart knowledge and skills, but it also falls short - there is more that can be done at home/outside of school, and should be.

From what I've seen so far, school will provide the basics, but education, the kind that matters, truly is a self-directed lifelong pursuit.


Tyler has always tread lightly, seeking to walk in others' shoes. At 5 years old, he says to me in frustration, "How do you think I feel? How do you think that makes me feel?" This is pretty sophisticated for a senior kindergarten child. Then again, he has counseled his 3 year old sister on why it isn't fair to SHOW you have a favourite, and why you can't just show love to one person, or to one person more than other. He tells her, "you need to love other people too, or they feel left out." He has a child's sense of fairness - when given a gift at school, he will save some to bring back to his sister.

He is cheerful at school pick-up, but sometimes hours later will reveal some interpersonal conflict that troubled him. I know I am privileged to be taken into confidence, so I try to listen first of all, take his lead, and help him work out how he feels and might do. And, unfailingly, take his side. The classroom and playground can be rough and loose, and some days, I need to let him transition back to home life, and even to build him back to the child I see, the one who is loving and loveable.

He is more observant, socially savvy, and has more experience with his peers this year. It also means he might be more vulnerable to having his feelings hurt, whereas last year he may not have noticed slights or how kids close ranks and can be fickle. I see the ebb and flow of his own attachments - they reveal themselves in a daily-changing birthday invite list.

He recognizes when being sick gives him a reprieve. He takes a day off school and it stands in also as a mental health break. I will give him these through his school career. If adults can have autonomy at work, and can plan vacation, so too kids should be able to escape sometimes from routine.

He is sensitive, and if nurtured, makes up his nature, and what makes him whole. I will help him protect this, the thing that will keep him open to the world, and to others. If he can be sensitive and remain optimistic, it will turn into a gift he can give: to reflect others back to themselves, to be a negotiator, an encourager, a peacemaker, a teacher/coach/mentor. If he can remain self-aware and confident, he can pursue happiness and purpose/meaning in life.

The older he gets, the better I learn what prayers to pray over him.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

First day of school!

We walk him to school, for his first day of Senior Kindergarten (SK)! My brother joins us, as he did last year, and I think it will be a tradition, since he lives and works close by. It is, after all, a day of significance. Kids remember the small things, and Tyler remembered last year, when his uncle accompanied him on the walk to school.

There is a buzz of activity in the school yard. We gravitated towards his teacher from last year, but she redirected us. Tyler's SK teacher has been teaching at the school for several years, and returned from maternity leave in March. She called him by name to join her line. He has the same ECE as last year, a gentle educator who has the respect of the kids. 

I note who else is in his line, including one of his best friends from last year, and a well-behaved boy whose mom I know from volunteering for class trips and events. When it starts to rain, his line, in good order, goes in first. 

He's a little quiet and nervous, but he's ready. I've told him to expect to see his friends again, and to make new friends. I've told him to reach out to little ones in his class who look lonely, or like they need help. He has indoor shoes, lunch & snacks, his favourite shirt, a long raincoat & boots.

A couple more pictures and the bell rings. We look ahead to pick-up, when he will tell us about his day! We've both taken the week off work, so we can drop-off and pick-up together for the rest of the week. 

An hour later, his little sister wakes up - she will adjust also, to playing on her own again these mornings. 

Friday, August 28, 2015

The best bedtime stories

For my kids, the best bedtime stories consist of retelling their day to them, selecting the best parts of what they did and experienced. In the telling of it, I affirm their choices, give them assurance that what they do had been observed, and help them settle and set aside the events of the day.

Tonight as I was getting my 3 year old daughter to sleep, I said "today, you took good care of your animals and dolls. You gave each of them at least one toy to play with. The bunny had a teddy, the teddy had some cars, the cat had some trains, and the dog had some trains, too." She perked up and said, "yes, I love them all and take care of them!" 

I tell her how thoughtful she is to think of everyone, and she wriggles with happiness, and then drifts off to sleep. 

For my 5 year old son, it is the same strategy, but I also think through his day about assertions he had made, and things he has said that I can agree with, and I repeat them to him. It's a longer process, but he, being older, has more to work out before he can settle to sleep. I will tell him that when he was playing outside he did do some amazing circus-type tricks as "Tyler the Magnificent," and I recount what they were (swinging on the 'trapeeze,' running up the slide, etc). For him it also helps to say a prayer and incorporate whatever may be troubling him. We give his worries away. 

For both kids, it used to be enough to just repeat "I love you," but this is a new way, a way that says, "I see who you are and what you do, and I love you." 

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Lazy days of summer

In fact, we are making hay while the sun shines. I'm investing six weeks of summer in my kids, and building them up as much as I can before we get carried off into the school year, and all it entails. I'm plying them with books and reading time, having conversations with them, initiating activities, taking them places, and arranging play dates and family time. In other words, I'm aiming to be more interesting than the iPads they tend to turn to when there is seemingly a free moment.

We are slowing down a little this week, because we are all a little under the weather. There is something so dear about a little sister falling fast asleep in her older brother's too small for him, too big for her hoodie, the first thing I grabbed for warmth as they were heading to the basement to watch Master Chef with my mom and play with Lego.

We are:

-Enjoying the waning days of summer, as the nights are already cooling quickly.

-Warding off the occasional nightmare, which I wonder whether reflects the anticipation of an upcoming school year, in which the five-year old is again thrust into the stimulating but sometimes disorienting / unexpected happenings of kindergarten.

-Hugging tightly, snuggling up in the morning while half-asleep, joking about "good-night forever, I mean, good-night until tomorrow!"

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Church community

Of all the communities we are involved in, the one that has nurtured and sustained us the most has been the church family. We encountered parents of older children, who offered advice and encouragement in those heady newborn days. We were given clothes and toys, new and previously loved. We strengthened ties with those who had kids of the same age. We learned what play dates were - an opportunity to realize that we were not alone in this new role - we had swimming partners to help keep our heads above water.

It's been over five years, and it is as it should be - our kids are growing up together with their peers, looking up to older kids, and patting smaller kids (those babies!) on the head.

My kids are known by others, particularly by the high school and university students who have answered the call to serve in their classes and in the summer camps. The kids are known for their actions, for their preferences, for their personalities, for their voices and the sound of their laughter. What can't be seen is how quickly they are growing: physically, emotionally, and spiritually. These are the things that the parents mark, and hold in their hearts.

This past week Tyler was in Vacation Bible School (VBS). It was his second year, and much has changed since last year. In 2014, his first year, he hadn't yet started school, and was nervous at drop-off. The feedback was that he was quiet, and talked about missing me. They did draw him out, and he was willing to be engaged in the activities. The music was of biggest impact to him - he sang and danced enthusiastically.

This year, six staff members individually sought me out to tell me how smart he was, and how impressed they were with him. He raised his hand to answer questions, and remembered what he was taught. Each day he went he looked forward to going, and he brought home stories and crafts.

Each day he is becoming more his own person. He is of his family but independent of us as well. He carries his given name as well as the family name.

There were a few times this week when he interacted with the church pastor. I took note that the pastor, as the other staff, treated him like an independent thinker. At some point, as parents, we stop speaking on behalf of our children, and let them speak for themselves. They also asked him to own up to his actions, and be accountable for them.

He still accepts what he is told, for the most part, accepting answers given to questions asked in curiosity and in idleness, but there will be a time when he will question what he is given, and more actively seek out answers for himself.

We are blessed in being part of a community that is helping us raise the kids, has invested in their spiritual well-being, and seeks to know their hearts. If you have kids, I'd encourage you to seek this out for yourself, for theirs and your sake!

From April 25, 2015

Saturday afternoon

Thankful for the time to spend with Tyler (4 years old), & Ashley (3 years old). We spend over 3 hours outdoors, first with a snack, then playing with bubbles, then in the front yard letting the herbivorous dinosaurs munch on the perennials and roam the desert (dried mounds of soil).

We sit and collect hundreds of pine cones in a bucket, then I do some yard work as they sit companionably on the front lawn, sip from thermoses, and chat with one other.

These are the fleeting moments and days that make up a life, simply enjoying nature and one another. I've thought it before but realize anew how generous God is, as expressed in creation. We are awash in pine cones, the kid-scaled dinosaurs have an abundance to eat with just a small patch of lawn, the breeze cools us as we work, and we take in the sun that seems never to stop shining.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

The days are just packed...

It's nearing the end of the school year, but the teachers seem to still be going full-tilt. There is a fun fair tomorrow night, various school trips planned, a second Scientists in the School session, hot dog and pizza lunches, Father's Day craft event, report cards...

It happened that Tyler turned 5 years old! We went with a small contingent to Chuck-E-Cheese! We put all the tickets towards a toy hammer, and have a stash of tokens left for another time.

We keep a running calendar and the summer weekends in particular are filling up. I'm doing something new this summer, taking five weeks off without pay so I can spend more time with the kids on educational activities, give my mother in law a break, host my own mom for a few days, and be able to do some daytime sight-seeing in our own city. The kids are a tad young for long days at camp, and I'd rather invest in them on my own rather than outsource it, at least for half the summer. It did somewhat give me pause to recognize exactly how much it costs to have 'free time' rather than paid time for part of the summer, but we've always said that time is worth more than money. It applies for more costly house/shorter commute, vacations, occasional convenience purchases, and time spent with family.

I'm thinking about a three-family vacation, perhaps some standing weekly play dates, water and sand play in the backyard, science activities, outdoor art activities, reading and writing activities, dress-up activities, Lego, fort-building, and some purging and cleaning up of the house!

The trick in some cases will be devising activities that interest both of them, or can be adapted up or down. I feel like I'm experimenting with home-schooling in that I would like to have a schedule and some curriculum/subjects that can be covered, even some larger multi-day projects. More to come!

Saturday, April 11, 2015

A room of her own

What does it mean to be three years old? It means you finally get a room of your own! Since Ashley rarely sleeps on her own, we hadn't converted the fourth bedroom from the home office into her room. However, it's really time, as Tyler is starting to become more territorial - he makes imaginary boundaries in the living room, and has started to order her out of his room. I set aside several hours on Easter Monday to clear out part of the room, and carve out space for her. It's a work in progress, but now she knows that here is a space that is wholly her own, where she can put her own treasures. The kids are still fluid in where they play, but eventually I imagine we might start to reclaim more and more of the first floor, and their rooms will become their domains, their hideouts, their places to make their own, their areas of responsibility. Slowly in these small increments, the baby clothes and toys are packed up, the wall decorations change, the books level up, the shoes get bigger.

Ashley is more aware now of the significance of cards, and of printed words on paper. She receives birthday cards and Valentines. In cleaning up, I've come across birthday cards from past years, addressed to her long before she was able to read them (1st birthday, etc.). I'm going to pass a few of these on to her. She likes looking at the few cards she has: taking them up and putting them back in their envelopes, delivering them to herself through a complicated mail delivery system involving a mail truck, and pretending to read them. I think she will be able to pick up the letters before she starts JK next September. She seems to have an interest - she already knows some of them.

She will start with a Lego theme in her room. I received a large promotional cutout of the Lego Movie, and had ordered some Lego wall decals. I also gave her 1600 basic blocks for her birthday. She likes the Lego Friends mini-set I gave her, which is making me relent somewhat on Lego Friends as a "girl-friendly" version of the mainstream. The not-used-as-such train table may end up as the Lego table.

Even though it took so long, I'm enjoying the prospect of setting up her room, not as a baby room or nursery, but as a preschool girl's haven, not so girly, but full of playful elements.

Saturday in Spring

The kids are 'big kids' now, being 4 and 3 years old. They are each others' best friends, and companions in play. They are improv partners: playing make-believe, building on each others' fluid imaginary worlds, and jumping on the bandwagon when something gets a rise out of the adults in the home.

Playing outdoors is a much easier proposition, as the older one can get himself ready, and the younger one can at least gather the necessary pieces, and put on, if not zip up, her jacket. They are purposeful, knowing what they wish to do outdoors, and are happy initially to run around and orient themselves to the mushiness or solidity of the ground, breathe in the fresh air, feel the warmth of the sun. It's also finally getting to be the time when moving the kids outdoors for a change of scenery is possible. The cloud of indoor irritability disperses when they cross the threshold to go outdoors. Those legs that kick out at a sibling indoors get busy climbing a slide, or jumping on sticks.

When we go out, they are able to wait for a table, seat themselves in chairs, and use cutlery. They can play with a few small toys before the food arrives, and when they are inevitably done first, go back to the toys for a while before getting restless.

The junior kindergartener continues to be happy at school, and to be picking up things from his peers as everyone becomes a little more verbal and a little more social. There is some playground rudeness that filters back, and we put him back in line. What can be negotiated on the playscape with rough words among the 4-6 year olds doesn't work at the dinner table (civilized company). This is the separation of the kids' world from the adult world. I already sense the divide - he complains "Adults are always telling the kids what to do," but also the aspirations: "Am I going to be an adult soon?"

Meanwhile, the newly 3-year is an accomplished mimic of her brother, and also of us. You can actually experience her learning new words and concepts as they happen.

Three and four are nice ages, when the best treat ever is still a Kinder Surprise Egg.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Ashley is 3

Three years old and still I would slay all your dragons and grant all your wishes.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Happy Family Day!

In one week, it's Valentine's Day, Family Day, Chinese New Year, and daddy's birthday! That can only mean one thing: lots of food, with family! 

Tyler made his first Valentine's Day mailbox, out of a (kids') size 6 shoebox, and gave and received class Valentine's cards. He received his very first report card, and we had a parent-teacher interview three days later. We are fortunate to enjoy a good rapport with his teachers, with mutual trust and open communications. We respond to the forms and requests from school, and they keep us in the loop. 

We visited my maternal grandmother on Valentine's Day, and it must be that not many small children visit, as ours were rare specimens, butterflies flitting among the wheelchairs. We had a snack and some photos in the family room, where a light blue budgie sidestepped nervously on a stick in a small cage. 

We are looking ahead to spring by going to the fishing and boating show, and you can almost feel the winter thaw approaching. We are still waiting for that perfect, powdery weekend for toboggans and making snow friends. 

Meanwhile, Tyler, at 4, is having some physical growth spurts. There are times when we can't feed him enough. Ashley, at 2, is becoming more and more sophisticated in language - she already has pre-reading skills. 

These two kids make a surprising amount of noise, but they anchor this bustling home, this family of 5. Happy Family Day to you and yours!  

Sunday, January 18, 2015

The shiniest car

Tyler returns home, and his sister and I hug him. He has a nice homecoming, reacquainting himself with his toys, and his environment. He has gained a couple of Monster Truck Hot Wheels vehicles, and a truck he put together at the car show. He's a big presence in the house, and I can feel my mother-in-law fade to the background as she interacts with him and attends to him.

The kids are each other's best playmates, with the most experience negotiating, sharing, and imagining through the same scenarios. They improvise with each other and feed off each other.

He's very chatty, having spent the weekend with two five-year olds, and asserting himself in a crowd. He's had a fun weekend and been on long journeys.

By all accounts, it seems like the best kind of daddy/son weekend, spent doing stuff together.

Quietly he tells me he was thinking about me. He says he chose the shiniest car for me at the car show.

His lunch is made, his backpack is ready to go, and he's gone to bed. I'm happy to have him back, and his dad too!

Divide & conquer

My spouse took Tyler for a three night road trip with his car club buddies. Tyler had a couple of older boys to play with, and devoted daddy time. From the pictures, it looks like he had a great time. It's Sunday night, and I'm waiting for his return, on a school night.

Meanwhile, Ashley has had the attention of my mother-in-law and I all weekend. We splurged by going out to a local restaurant on Friday, and on Saturday headed down to do an errand and stop by the Royal Ontario Museum, where we have a family membership (the named adults are my mother-in-law and I, as I guessed correctly that it would us who would be going. I took her to church solo this morning and when I picked her up from her preschool class she was playing at the sand table with 5 other kids. We took her to Costco after lunch and she and I goofed around. We have a few inside jokes, her and I...

She is sophisticated. We have moved past physical humour into verbal exchanges that amuse us both. She is getting to be better and better company. It's been a calm weekend. It would have been lonely without my mother-in-law these few days, so it has worked out well, to share in the care of Ashley, and to do things for each other as well.

If the three of us were completely healthy, I would have suggested we go to Ripley's Aquarium. It's something Tyler might not like, but I'm sure my mother-in-law and Ashley would have. Another time...

Cleaning up

I took the opportunity in some free time I had to clean up...I filled four garbage bags with stuffed animals and stashed them in the space under the stairs. I went through the toys and pulled out the ones they'd both outgrown. I organized the remaining toys, and I hope it will allow them to focus their play. As I say this, however, my daughter has just scattered all the dollhouse furniture on the floor....sigh...

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Grown-up kids

The past couple of weeks I've been thinking about gift-giving. It was an "easy" Christmas in terms of shopping this year, in that I bought gifts online for the kids in August, and the three nieces prefer to receive $$$ - the wish that buys other wishes - for their own future spending. I also bought my parents' gifts online during the summer too.

I think I'm now in a mode of being on the lookout all year round, and buying when there are sales, and saving up gifts for occasions. I have gifts in reserve for kids' birthday parties we/they are invited to, baby showers, impromptu out-of-town visits from friends with children, play dates hosted by others...

As I'm looking online today, I am buying for my niece's April, but also, since it's the online Lego store, there are some free stand-alone add-ons that would be good for Valentine's Day, or Chinese New Year...

I think I will always be a kid at heart - I much prefer to have "gift with purchase" when it comes to Lego, than, say, Clinique bonus time...

I also like Kinder Surprise eggs almost as much as the kids do. I like that it's not just about eating candy, but a small toy that can be built and be a momentary diversion. For my two kids, it's a double bonus, because they are both flexible about swapping, and sharing.

I buy educational toys that I myself would have some interest in playing with, or engaging with. I am selective in the books, magazines, board games, card games, and other print-based toys they receive also. I join in playing with Play-Doh sometimes, and I like playing with new Play-Doh just as much as the kids' do, rather than fight with the muted purple, grayish, "still good" batch.

My spouse is the same way - he has "classic" toys of his childhood that he is slowly passing down to the kids, though he has robots in the original packaging that may never see the light of day. We also picked up a PS4 and WiiU, and these are for the whole family.

We will transition eventually to a time when the kids will have allowances, and full spending authority over relatives and others giving cash gifts, and they will make their own decisions, good and bad, about spending. I really think the best way to learn about money is to handle it on your own, and to experience some buyers' remorse. But for now, they are in a 'receiving' mode, and we are trying not to spoil them. It's difficult when you are spoiling yourself as well.