number five: the first week of school for elliot

Elliot’s first week of school went well. Drop-off on the first day was better than expected, and there were no tears. As mentioned in my previous post, he was quiet all morning (although I think having some play time with Amy was a good distraction), and he stuck close to us when we got to the school. Things are a bit chaotic on the first day, because none of us know what teacher our kids have or what door to go to. Last year this was a bit of a shock for me (kindergarten is more straightforward), but this year I was expecting it, so it was at least easier on me!

We figured out what door to go to, and as soon as we got there, Elliot saw some friends and he perked up a bit and starting chatting with them. We found out what teacher he had, and that two of his friends were in the same class as him. As the teacher lined the kids up, I saw that there were only about 10 kids…and realized he must be in a split class. It’s a Grade 2/3 split, which is just fine with me. As they filed into the school Elliot was engaged in conversation with a friend and barely said goodbye to Greg. I followed him in and watched as he found his cubby and sat down in the classroom to listen to his teacher. The teacher instructed the kids to say goodbye to their parents (translation for us parents: it’s time to leave now), Elliot gave me a quick hug and all was good.

The rest of the week’s drop-offs were pretty standard for us — he looks a bit sad and asks me to stay, but resigns himself to the fact that that’s not possible.

There are only four kids in his class from last year’s class, but that doesn’t seem to bug him. The teacher he has is the “tougher” of the Grade 2 teachers, so I’ve heard, but I think he’ll do okay with that, too. So all-in-all, I’d say it was a successful week. Amy, on the other hand…stay tuned for a subsequent post.

number four: highlighting the differences

Today is the first day of school. Elliot is starting grade 2, and Amy is going into kindergarten. Amy has been quite excited over the last week, asking me lots of questions about school and her schedule for the week (she doesn’t actually have a full day until Friday). Elliot hasn’t said a word about school. Yesterday Amy was so excited she couldn’t sleep. And she’d already planned what she would wear. Elliot had a stomach ache all day.

This morning I’ve been in the basement working, listening to the sounds of everyone getting ready. Amy is currently singing, and has been doing so for the last ten minutes. She is dressed and her teeth are brushed, and we aren’t leaving for another 30 minutes. I haven’t heard a word from Elliot. If I didn’t know better, I’d say he was still in bed. I suspect he is having a silent freak out.

I feel so bad for the poor boy. I know what it’s like to be scared of new stuff. I’ve been dealing with similar feelings for over 40 years, and it sucks. I admire those who embrace and get excited by change. I don’t think I’ll ever get there, and I don’t think Elliot will either. I’m hoping we can teach him some coping strategies, and I’m hoping he at least gets to the point I’m at, where I can tell myself that it DOES get better. The new stuff becomes not-so-new.

I sure am proud of them both, and I look forward to writing a post when they are both settled into school, and when their mother is feeling a bit more settled herself!

number two: peas from different pods

It struck me recently that one of the main differences between my two children is the behaviour they exhibit when they are upset about something. Amy makes is abundantly (and loudly) clear what is upsetting her. I don’t think I’ve ever had to guess. Elliot shuts off when he’s upset, and does not want to talk. And I often have no clue as to why he’s upset. I can see when he becomes upset, but not why. Saying he doesn’t want to talk isn’t exactly accurate, either. He often says something while he’s crying that is really difficult to understand and I’m fairly certain he does it on purpose. It feels very much like he’s manipulating me when he’s angry.

Tonight was a perfect example. The kids and I were at a BBQ with our neighbours, and I was offered a sparkling fruit juice. I accepted, opened it up and started drinking it. Amy asked me if she could try it and I gave her a sip. Elliot came up a couple of minutes later and asked as well. Both kids don’t tend to like fizzy drinks, so I warned both of them before they tried it. When I gave Elliot his warning he burst into tears and stalked off. When I approached him, he told me to go away (which is common when he’s angry and something I find difficult to deal with).

What followed was typical. I approached him a couple of times, asking him what was wrong, and he would either cry and say something non-intelligible or stalk away from me. Sometimes this really pisses me off, sometimes I can be patient. Tonight it pissed me off and while I managed to keep my cool, I did tell him he had two choices: he could sit and sulk or he could tell me what was wrong and we could talk about it. Then I left him. He spent about 20 minutes pouting, but he eventually came over and joined us. He didn’t join me, he joined our neighbour’s daughter. And a little while later he was fine.

When this happens I have started talking to him about it later, when tempers have cooled. I did that tonight, and when I asked him what was wrong he got a bit weird on me but he did tell me. Apparently he had asked our neighbour for one of the fizzy drinks, and was told he could have one if it was okay with me. When he came over to me when I had the drink, it was to ask if he could have one. But he didn’t ask. He instead asked me if he could try it. And when I told him it was fizzy he interpreted that as a “no” and got upset. While I don’t fully understand his logic, I’m happy he can tell me about it later, as this hasn’t always been the case. I told him that I had had no idea why he was upset, and if he had told me right at the time, my response would have been a yes, and he would have gotten his drink. He changed the subject because he gets uncomfortable talking about this stuff, but before I let him change it, I asked him if he understood. He said yes, and we moved on.

As I said above, I do feel like he tries to manipulate me when he’s angry. Another scenario is when we excuse him from the dinner table for bad behaviour (which doesn’t happen very often) and ask him to go to his room until he’s ready to join us. He then doesn’t come back down, gets very upset, and when we eventually go up to talk to him he turns our words around and says we told him he couldn’t come back down. I’m a bit at a loss as to how to deal with it, but I have started trying to turn it back to him, and telling him that he’s making the choice to hear the words differently. Needless to say, this doesn’t go well in the heat of the moment.

Elliot’s anger has always been his hardest emotion for me to know how to navigate. I want to help him, yet often my own anger gets in the way. I think we may be making progress, but I think we still have a long way to go.

we survived

Elliot turned 7 on February 27. We marked the occasion with a family dinner, as per usual, and (drum roll please) his first “peer” birthday party. This is a big deal for me. I’ve been resisting birthday parties for a number of reasons, the biggest of which is Elliot’s personality. He doesn’t do well in large groups of his peers, and he really likes his alone time. But last year he started talking about wanting a party, and he’s come a long way socially, so Greg and I decided to organize one for him this year.

It wasn’t easy for me. I’ve been to a LOT of kids’ birthday parties over the last few years, and while my kids seem to have fun at the standard rec centre party, it just didn’t sit right with me (and yes, I admit it isn’t all about me, but it is about our family and our family values, and I wanted a party that aligned with those values). The big group parties seem too impersonal, and they are all priced for a large (by my standards) number of kids. I knew I wanted to keep things small, both for Elliot’s and my sanity. I spent way too much time thinking about the options, and I eventually decided we’d just do one at home. Elliot was happy with that, and he was happy with keeping it small. I asked him who he wanted to invite (without telling him what “small” was), and he listed three kids from his class, that was it. So that part was easy. I was a bit concerned about what we would actually do at home, and then a friend suggested an alternative — skating. I thought this was a great idea, and I knew two out of the three kids skated. I talked to Elliot and he was in.

Our local rink has skating parties, but for the reasons I mentioned above, I steered clear of those and just organized a time that corresponded to a public skate. The plan was to skate for a bit, and then walk back to the house to make pizza. This solved the “what are we going to do” problem, and kept things more personal.

The party was Saturday, and I’d say it was a success. The social dynamic with the four kids was a bit stressful for me because (without going into too much detail) three of them are alike and the fourth one is so obviously different from the other three…but they all seemed to have fun, and I think the dynamic was no different from what happens in their classroom, judging by the personalities. Elliot definitely had fun, which was obviously one of my goals. But I think my favourite parts (aside from seeing Elliot enjoying himself) were somewhat unrelated to the actual party. One was when C’s mum decided to stay. I just liked the fact that she wanted to — her daughter could have cared less and would have been just as happy with out her, but she felt comfortable staying, so she did. The other was when E’s mum arrived to pick up E, who wasn’t ready yet, so she just left her two older kids with us while she did some errands. Again, I liked the fact that she was comfortable doing that, and I really like her older kids. Both things just added to the personal nature of the party, which was exactly what I was hoping for.

these are chores?

The kids have been doing a few jobs around the house for a while now, but it hasn’t been too arduous for them — clearing their dishes from the table, feeding Heart and cleaning their rooms was pretty much the extent of it. Greg and I have talked for a while about giving them more to do, and getting into more of a routine, but as with many conversations we have, we talked but there wasn’t a lot of action. We even talked about it with the kids, and they kept bringing it up with us, asking when they’d have their “chore chart”. That’s some spectacular parental laziness…when your kids are ASKING to do chores and you’re blowing them off.

So…we finally said we’d start them after Christmas, so in early January I finally sat down and put together a chore chart. It’s a thing of beauty, I must say. It has a green (Elliot’s favourite colour) and pink (depending on the day, Amy’s favourite) border, green and pink tags to identify each child, graphics to identify the job, and it lists what jobs each child has to do on each day of the week. The chart hangs on our fridge, and it’s a thing of beauty from another perspective as well. The kids (Elliot especially), actually look at the chart each day, figure out what they need to do…and do it. We’ve had a little complaining from Amy when she has to clean her room, but previously we had a LOT of complaining in this department, and from Elliot we are getting no complaining whatsoever. He really seems to enjoy checking what he needs to do and getting it done.

The amount of work they have to do hasn’t gone up all that much: they alternate days setting and clearing the table, Elliot feeds Heart, Amy feeds Aphro, and they clean their rooms/put their laundry away two days a week (or more if asked). The fact that it’s running so smoothly has surprised me, but the other thing that’s surprised me is how much it helps me. Having the table set for dinner is a really nice bonus, and not putting their laundry away is just plain awesome. Plus, because they have set days for putting laundry away, it means I’ve put myself on a regular schedule for doing laundry and I no longer feel like I’m doing it every day.

And the other pleasant surprise has been the table setting…the first night Elliot did it he put stuff in all the “wrong” places and it looked messy. I was going to teach him how to set a table properly, but I got sidetracked (and I think in the back of my mind I realized it wasn’t that important). Then at some point during that first week, both kids started to get creative with their table setting, and each night it’s been something different. And I’m loving it. Who cares if my table isn’t set “properly”? Each night is a work of art created by one of my children.

I’ll enjoy it while it lasts.

what to say?

Usually when I sit down to write a blog post I have a pretty solid idea of what I’m going to say. I’ve usually crafted parts of the post in my head (this is one of the things I do when I run, write blog posts in my head), and I sometimes have a catchy title as well. And I certainly know what I’m going to write about…

I have not done that tonight. And no, this is NOT going to be a post about how little I’ve been posting, since that would be one of my blogging pet peeves. But I am going to break my mould and write about more than one topic. Because tonight I actually have time and energy to post something, but I don’t know what exactly I want to write. So I’m just going to spew.

First, the training is going well. I ran for an hour and 45 minutes on Saturday morning (we won’t talk about how far that actually was because I am still way short of 21.1 km) and rode for just under two hours on Sunday afternoon (after much procrastination, and I *will* talk about how far the ride was because it was almost 40 km, I did some hills, and I averaged 20 km/h…not bad for riding alone late on a Sunday afternoon, tired from a busy weekend). I’m so far injury free, which isn’t all that surprising because I haven’t been injury prone, but I am a good seven years older than I was the last time I ran a half marathon, so you never know what might happen.

On the not-so-bright side, there is a good chance that I will be out of the continent for the half marathon, as my next Saudi trip is planned for May 15 – May 31st. Plans change weekly on this front, so I’m still holding out some hope, however they have started my visa application process again, and this usually means things are a bit more concrete. I’ve had a lot of time to get used to this idea so I’m not as bummed as you might think. Actually, that’s not true. I’m very bummed about missing a weekend away with my hubby, no children and six good friends. But run-wise I think I will try to find another run to do. Either that or totally bail on it. Interestingly enough, that second option is not very appealing. I am quite excited about this challenge of training for a half AND the Tour de Victoria, so I think another run is what’s in store for me.

Second up. Amy. She’s turning four in nine days. FOUR. Four was a big one for me with Elliot. It seems so much older than three. I feel the same way with Amy. She’s turned into a big girl. Yesterday she started a set of swim lessons at the rec centre. She’s done lessons recently through daycare, but it’s the first time I’ve been at her lessons when I’m not going in the pool with her. She got right into it and was glowing through the whole lesson. She looked like she was having a ball…with a teacher she’d never met and four other kids she’d never met. Whose kid is this? Has she always been so brave?

She continues to have her own sense of style and it’s one of the many things I love about her. I still remember the one day, long ago when she was two, when she had just mastered dressing herself, and I cringed at what she’d chosen to wear, but decidedly kept my mouth shut. That day, I remember making it clear to her care providers that she’d dressed herself. I remember talking to friends at work about how hard it was for me to keep my mouth shut. But I did, and I’m so happy I did, because we are constantly entertained by her choice of outfits, and now it doesn’t ever cross my mind that I should explain her outfit to anyone else. This is Amy, pure and simple. Layers, stripes-with-flowers, socks-on-the-outside-of-her-pants, skirts-with-dresses, sun-hat-with-a-winter-coat, five-outfits-a-day Amy.

Third. Elliot. I said on his birthday that I would write more about Elliot at six. Since I talked about clothing and Amy, and since clothing has been an issue with Elliot, I’ll talk about Elliot’s current relationship with clothing. In short, it’s much better than it was. He now has about five pairs of pants that he’ll happily wear, and not all of them are blue. They are all still sweatpants, but he’s broadened his horizons a little bit colour-wise. As for t-shirts, he’ll pretty much wear anything now. We had a bunch of hand-me-down t-shirts that he wouldn’t touch last year, and about four months ago both Greg and I subtly tried getting him to wear them by putting them at the top of his shirt drawer. Without a word, he started wearing them. All of them. We haven’t had a clothing battle in months and it’s awesome. That said, he’d still rather live in his pj’s, but I’ll take what I can get.

He has a great sense of humour, and he’s able to use his body and facial expressions as part of his humour. He’s reading more and more every day, and he’s loving the French. He’s also an anxious kid and he complains of stomach aches at school. That’s a whole other post that might not get written. For now we are supporting him as much as we can, and if it becomes something we can’t handle, we’ll get help. I’m not nearly as at peace with it as that statement sounds, but I’m trying not to project into the future regarding what this means for him as he navigates through life. I also need to remember that I was an anxious child, am still an anxious adult, and one of the most important things to teach Elliot is coping mechanisms.

He still rages, however not as often as he used to, and he recovers more quickly. It still worries me, especially when we’re in the middle of it. He has such a tumultuous personality and he’s not always the easiest person to live with. I’ve learned that walking away is not helpful at all, although I still do it at times if his behaviour is making me angry. Because yelling at him when he’s in the middle of it is useless. I can also talk to him more about it afterwards, and he seems to listen to what I say, and often can explain how he was feeling, once he’s calmed down.

Finally, me. I have been thinking a lot lately about parenting, more than I have since Elliot was three and on a hitting rampage. As siblings the two of them often have extremely endearing moments together (like tonight when Elliot was the mum, Amy was the baby and Elliot was reading — really reading — to her). They also often have moments where they are hitting, kicking and sitting on each other. I say Elliot has a tumultuous personality, but Amy does too, she just recovers much more quickly. So together they ride a roller coaster. I have lost my patience with them too many times to count, and every time I yell at them I feel terrible afterwards. I am trying not to yell as much. I’m trying to remember the mantra I thought up a few months ago, “parent like somebody’s watching”. But I question my methods, I question whether what I say to them is getting through to them, I question whether I’m royally screwing them up (although as my good friend Hillary pointed out to me this past weekend, what kid doesn’t get screwed up by their parents…good advice, and I should lower my expectations).

I have moments where I feel I’m the queen of all mothers, and other moments where I feel like a truly suck. It’s a bit unsettling.

But all that said, I had the best day I’ve had with them for a long time this past Wednesday, and I think it renewed my faith in myself a bit, and faith in the fact that they truly are great kids, fighting, bickering and meltdowns aside. I will endeavour to not lose sight of that.

and now we are six

Elliot turned six today. Unlike last year’s all day party, this year the party started in the afternoon after we got home from school. We had family friends over for dinner as well as his Gramma, Auntie and Uncle. His meal choice was spaghetti and meatballs and he was pretty happy about the big meatballs I made.

The cake was a rocket ship, and it turned out pretty awesome, if I do say so myself. I’ve really been enjoying making the cakes for the kids’ birthdays. Although Amy’s might be interesting…she wants a cake shaped like a cup (?!). And no, she does not mean a cake shaped like a cupcake.

For gifts Elliot got Lego, Playmobil, a couple of puzzles, some clothing and three chapter books. He spent most of the afternoon/evening building the Lego, with a couple of breaks for eating and Playmobil.

I’m planning to do another post with some thoughts about my six-year-old boy, but I’ll end this post by saying how proud I am of my daughter. She was a trooper all day, telling people it was her brother’s birthday, calling him the birthday boy, handing him presents without once asking to open one, hardly playing with any of his new toys, and generally being a sweetheart despite all the attention her brother was getting. It was lovely to see.

tidbit 2: Elliot’s reaction to kindergarten

Elliot’s first week of kindergarten was pretty low-key. He had 15 minutes in the classroom with me on Wednesday, an hour with the teacher and four other kids on Thursday, and then all day on Friday. He has been pretty stoked about starting school and the first (very gentle) week didn’t dampen that enthusiasm. Friday’s drop off was pretty chaotic (four kindergarten classes and all the hovering parents lining up outside the front door of the school), and he was a bit tentative, but he didn’t bring it up again and his day seemed fine.

Since this post is about Elliot’s reaction to kindergarten (and not his mother’s), I’d say week two was pretty successful too. Greg did most of the drop-offs and while they were a bit emotional (lots of turning around to say good bye and looking on the verge of tears), he was always fine at the end of the day, and by Friday was singing some of the French songs he’d learned. And the one drop-off I did was fine. I think a bit less emotional because we were a bit late and he basically got in the line and went in two seconds later.

He did say on Thursday morning that he missed me a lot at school. We talked about that for a bit — I said it was normal to miss your parents, and I suggested a couple of things he could do when he felt he missed me, and he really seemed to listen, which was nice.

And there’s been some definite bright spots — one of the girls he got along with quite well at daycare is going to his school (unexpectedly — she moved late in August). They are not in the same class but they’ve played together at recess.

I think each day will get easier for him, and I certainly am proud of his courage.

playmobil and puzzles

I’d say Elliot had a good day. He woke up to a pile of presents from Greg and I, Gran, my brother and my sister. You know your child is getting older when the vast majority of the gifts are things they can DO rather than WEAR. He played for a bit, we had breakfast (blueberry buttermilk pancakes) and then he played more. His Gran got him a Playmobil police car with a “wee-ooo, wee-ooo” light and that was a big hit.

For lunch we had a friend and her daughter over, and they brought more presents — a book and a set of three puzzles. The puzzles were opened right away. We had a tea party per Elliot’s request, complete with crustless sandwiches (that was my request). His Gramma and Auntie arrived during lunch bringing, guess what, more presents. Several were played with, and in the mid afternoon the last of the guests arrived, his Granddad and Dooze (my step-mother) and he made short work of opening their presents. He was one happy boy.

Amy did fairly well through the day. I had explained to her ahead of time that her time would come (thankfully soon). And I think it helped a bit that her Gran brought her a little something.

For dinner we had homemade pizza, again at the birthday boy’s request. And yesterday we made a robot cake together, and it turned out great. Both in looks and taste!

I had a really fun day. I somehow managed to get out of the cooking, both for lunch and dinner, thanks to my husband. And he makes a mean tuna sandwich and a mean pizza, so we ate well. I also managed to get out of any clean-up, due to the grandparents and again my husband. I’m not sure what I did all day!

It was lovely having all the grandparents there and one of Elliot’s aunties. It means a lot to me that they all travelled from out of town to be here on Elliot’s day.

And Elliot never left the house, which is one of his definitions of a good day. I really think he enjoyed himself.

five years in

Elliot turns five tomorrow. Tomorrow (or soon) I’ll post about the actual festivities and the very cool robot cake we made. For now, since I blog so much less about the kids these days, I want to capture a bit of what Elliot is like at four and 364 days.

He’s a different kid than he was two years ago. I used to feel like we had to walk on eggshells around him, waiting for the next bomb to go off. There are still bombs, but they are much less frequent and the aftermath isn’t nearly as traumatizing for me. I see him trying to gain control, using tools like drinking some water or holding on to his bopp. And I see myself walking towards him instead of storming away from him in anger. Often in the middle of his tears he’ll melt into my arms in a hug. And I can feel him physically calming down. And again, all this happens so much less frequently.

He’s still got his quirks. He refuses to wear anything but sweatpants or fleece pants, and shirts randomly seem be dropped and added to his small repertoire with no rhyme or reason (that I can figure out, anyway). But when there are “no pants that he likes” in his pants drawer I no longer anticipate a complete meltdown. Sometimes in these situations he’ll actually wear a pair of pants he doesn’t like, and other times we’ll grab something dirty from the laundry. I guess I’ve changed a bit, too.

A few weeks ago he started swimming lessons through daycare — the first time he’s done them on his own. A year ago I think it would have been a nightmare. Now, he’s loving them and apparently tries everything the instructor asks him to. I feel proud of him and I feel proud of Greg and I for trusting our gut and knowing when to push and when to let him be. We don’t always get it right, but I love that we pay attention to the boy that is Elliot.

He is a patient older brother, considering the physical abuse he gets from his sister. He loves teaching her things and his empathy when she’s feeling sad or has hurt herself is astounding. At the same time, he’s quick to tell her to “get out of my room, NOW”. I have witnessed a couple of moments recently where they’ve been doing something fun together that requires physical contact (like sitting in a sled together) and the look of pure joy on their faces is almost tear-enducing for me. I don’t know what their future holds in terms of their relationship, but I’m happy with the connection they have right now. Even with the abuse.

He makes us laugh almost daily. He has funny voices that he does and some of the phrases that come out of his mouth are priceless. Like this afternoon when he, Amy and Gran were playing in his room. After about 20 minutes he came downstairs by himself and announced to me “I’m done. Gran’s in charge now.”

He’s still a bear in the mornings and takes a good 20 minutes to wake up. The mornings go much better if he wakes up on his own and comes out of his room on his own time. Compare that to his sister who turns “on” in a matter of seconds. He has an amazing ability to know when he needs alone time, and will play quite happily in his room during these times.

My girlfriend’s daughter will be starting university in September of this year, the same time that Elliot is starting kindergarten. It makes me very aware of how fast the time flies, and how soon the preschool years will seem like ancient history. But that’s okay, because things just keep getting better as Elliot grows, explores and experiences the world.

I love him to bits and I hope he has a wonderful day tomorrow.