Tuesday, March 31, 2009

I love 6 year olds!!!

I refuse to question how or why but my six year old kid is amazing these days! He is independent (likes to go into the music teacher's house by himself), thoughtful (offers me the last...everything!), sweet (hugs, kisses and snuggles are still there for mom), and so helpful these days. His room is being cleaned. He offers to empty the dishwasher. He helps his sister get dressed. He willingly does the work I ask of him. This is heaven. Even the moodiness seems to be abating. He is more mature...older. He likes being responsible and likes the privileges that come with being older.

It is really nice and I am loving this relationship we have right now.

Getting ready for school?

I am in a strange place right now. All this talk about Izzy and school in September has me "testing" the children lately. I am curious about school and where my kids would fit right now. I am discovering that while Alex strikes me as very bright or gifted (will never know for sure without having him tested by psychologist), Izzy is proving she is no slouch herself.

I find my expectations are skewed by what I've seen in my own children. We also might be slightly insulated by having surrounded ourselves with many other bright children. I think back to my own Kindergarten entrance interview, which I remember with a surprising amount of clarity, and how the teacher stopped my counting well past 100. I thought reciting the alphabet was kind of juvenile. And I was 5 1/2 years old! No JK back then. With my 'late' March birthday and Izzy's 'early' November birthday, she will be nearly two years younger than I was when I started school. With 5 months to go, she can count past 30, knows the difference between a square and a rectangle, and can recite/recognize most of the alphabet. She is starting addition too. Like Alex, she loves math.

Alex thinks my new obsession with random quizzing is quite amusing. Today I learned that the boy could count by 3s and 4s. 5s and 2s have been old news for a while. He is pretty amazing with mental arithmetic, easily adding triple digit numbers together. He knows more multiplication than I originally suspected, multiplying numbers by 0, 1, 2, 5, 10, 11 easily. His spelling has improved with no thanks to me. Writing is still below par but his reading is at least 3 or 4 grades ahead of his peers. He loves grammar and actually has corrected me a few times, lol, when I spoke quickly and used the wrong tense. He loves to draw small characters and scenes, comic book style. He devours science books and biographies. His comprehension and retention are pretty astounding for his age. Little things that bugged me, like knowing about time zones, the location of the equator and stages of the moon but being unable to recite the days of the week are now a non-issue. Again, without any conscious effort on my part, he had picked that up too. He can follow complex instructions (written) and builds the most amazing things. Then he tears them apart and uses his imagination to reinvent them. All this for a boy who would be wrapping up Senior Kindergarten this Spring.

Izzy is surprising me too. She is as fond of books as her brother but put-out that she cant read yet. Pre-reading skills are emerging though. She will sound out letters in words. She writes AL when asked to write her name down. She can write the IZZ but struggles with Y. She is fascinated with numbers. And scissors. She loves to cut paper and can do so for hours. We are working on a book about farm animals but, also like Alex, she isn't keen on colouring. Painting is her favourite form of artistic expression.

So I think I am at peace with both kids. Izzy will be more than prepared for school (as long as she decides to actually finish up with the pull-ups) and Alex is thriving at home. We are in a pretty good place right now.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

End of March Already?!

Well, over the last few weeks we...

...drew giant chalk airplanes on the sidewalk.

...cut up lots of paper with scissors.

...played road hockey.

...read together.

...had friends over for a play-date.

...took a day trip to Chinatown and ate the best Lemon Chicken ever!

...did some math.

...watched some movies.

...played at a park by the lake on a chilly day.

...bought bigger ballet slippers.

...started art classes again.

...built with lots of Lego.

...baked pies, quiche and muffins.

...cleaned up the rec room and found long-lost toys.

...experimented with magnets.

...played tag outside with friends.

...snuggled and named freckles.

...had a fitting for dance recital costumes.

...had tea with friends.

...called the school down the street and registered Izzy for Junior Kindergarten. That one was kind of a bummer but we've all made peace with it. Mostly.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Maple Syrup at Purple Woods

A beautiful sunny day with a trip out to a Maple Syrup festival. Pancakes, sausages and heavenly maple syrup. A ride on a horse driven carriage. Followed by running around outside all afternoon with friends until it was time for supper.

With smiles on their faces, noses and cheeks slightly burned by the sun, and exhaustive sighs, the kidlets were passed out in their beds by 6:30pm.

What fun is a recession...

...if you aren't worried about your job too?

Very shitty news, or rather lack of news, on the job front. Rob's firm is neither confirming or denying that they will be contracting out his entire tech department to India. Fun!!! Or, rather, the complete opposite.

So this begins a week of lessons I hate to impart to the children but will probably make them stronger in the end. The education involving wants versus needs with some old fashion Boy Scout lessons on how to be prepared. We are a team, I always tell my kids. We stick together and help each other out. Sometimes we have to put each other before ourselves. Well, daddy needs us to help him. He works everyday to give us everything we need and a whole lot of what we want. Now he has the stress of losing the sole family income hanging over his head. It sucks and its not fair so we all need to be part of the solution.

So, as of this week, needs take priority and the wants fund is to be funneled into a very rainy day account. The kids have been asked to give up some activities. Only one Spring activity is allowed, and they chose art class. No more quick trips to Chapters or lunches out. We are going to all pull together so that if the worst should happen, we can weather it without too much pain.

I am impressed at how well they are handling the giving things up portion of this lesson. Alex said that it was okay if he didn't do gym class because he could always see his friends at the park or playdates, and that was free too! I am very proud of them. Best case scenario, nothing happens and we've learned that we can make do with less and save lots of money. Unfortunately, it will probably take until early 2010 before we can really feel secure again. Worst case scenario, we muddle through like everyone else.

I want the kids to be aware but not scared. Never scared. Rob is too talented and educated to ever fear too long a bout of unemployment. Still, so much uncertainty hangs in the air. The kids know that they will always have what they need and that alone makes me feel better. So many people can't even say that. Especially in this economic climate. I was told, long ago by a very smart man, that kids can't learn all the life lessons they need when their worlds are too perfect. As much as I dream about pretty bubbles to stick my children in, I know that one day they will be grown up and face some pretty difficult days themselves. Just like earlier lessons faced during times of loss and grief, they have seen that there is a beginning, a middle and an end to all these situations. We can be sad, mad and even scared but we come out the other side in tact. Always.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Out of the Main Stream Loop

Rob and I had discussed getting rid of cable for quite a long time. We were going to do it before Christmas. Then the kitchen reno came up and we decided that having tv around to entertain the children wouldn't be the worst thing. I bit the bullet and canceled it at the beginning of February, and now, after approximately six weeks of living tv-free, I have to say, why did we not do that sooner!

Alex was an infrequent watcher. His problem was that he just wanted it on while he played and half listened/watched cartoons. Rob and I used to have it on for noise. There were a few tv shows we liked to catch but we didn't watch it all that much. Izzy, however, was a true blue addict. Turned the thing on as soon as she walked in the room. Begged to have it on all the time. Worse yet, unlike Alex, who started with the occassional Tree-House show (commercial free), she came into it when Alex had discovered the Disney channel and Nick Jr. Channels so horribly laden with commercials that Izzy was exposed to all kinds of crap marketing. And she was a most willing subject. It was I want this and I want that. I have to get this or we need that. Alex didn't beg for toys or cereal like this kid did. She was turning into a junkie and we needed extreme intervention.

And off it went. The first week was torture but they finally stopped asking for something to watch and eventually started initiating more play on their own. It was a crutch we could use when we were bored or taking a break. It forced all of us to think harder about how to entertain ourselves.

Alex, who was already a pretty avid reader, is now inhaling books at a freaky speed. Izzy too. The nice thing is that books have become their entertainment. Getting rid of TV was the one of the best things we've ever done. It is amazing how much time gets wasted in front of a screen.

Happy Girl

We told Izzy she could go to school if she wants to. She's thrilled. Although I notice her being more loving and clingy with me. I mean, when she sees the kids outside or we're out and about, she is still off without a backwards glance. Its just that when we are home, she wants to snuggle a little more. I can't help but wonder if she is a little stressed inside and just needs to feel physically connected. Or she's just consoling mommy, lol. She has been much more affectionate than she has been in the past.

I vacillate between being proud & happy for her and sad & terrified. It is sinking in though but I think we'll make it work just fine.

After the March break we'll go in to meet the Principal and do the whole pre-registration thing. I have someone on the inside (with the JK/SK classes) who has been impressed with how we homeschool and she has been talking up a storm about Izzy to the teachers. They look forward to meeting us. I hope I can foster a team environment during Izzy's time at this school. I am so used to bearing to sole brunt of responsibility for Alex's education that it will be strange to give some of that power over for Izzy's. I won't get in the way. I just plan on being a very involved parent. I think she'll be a little ahead of the curve when she starts. Or so I've been told by some parents with kids in JK right now.

We're in for an exciting year. Fingers crossed that its a good one.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Sometimes being a mommy sucks :-(

This school issue just keeps picking up steam. Izzy asked when Fall comes because that is when she is going to school. Then she told me that she was going to go potty and buy brand-new school underwear with Wendy. Wendy offered up the shopping excursion as potty training incentive but Izzy added the 'for school' part.

Yesterday, to get my bearings, I started fielding some general school questions to some local friends. Two of whom actually volunteer with the jk/sk kids. I wanted to know what time school began and what they do during for those 2 hours and 45 minutes. I asked about teachers and class sizes. I think I was given some pretty reasonable answers. While I am the only homeschooler around, I've encountered nothing but respect from the fellow parents and was given what feels like a pretty balanced view of what life might be like with a kindergartener. Some things I was happy to hear about, other things I'd have to learn to live with. All in all, my impression is that Izzy would probably love it. So, for a little while I was happy and excited for her.

Which leads us to the decision to let her have a go at it. Rob and I have always done things according to our collective gut. Always thoroughly researched and debated to death, but in the end we go with what feels most right. It has yet to steer us wrong. We are both of the mutual sentiment is that this will be good for her and we will support it as long as it works.

Still, later last night it hit me hard. The thought that I have just 6 months left where she is mine and mine alone breaks my heart. More than a few tears were shed. I don't want her to go. I feel bad for hoping that it won't work out and she'll want to homeschool again someday. I will support her. I will pretend I am excited for her. We'll do the kindy prep stuff and hope for the best. Alex and I aren't going anywhere so she will always have options.

It is just so sad to see her so grown up. I blinked and she went from a kid who spoke without using the s sound at the beginning of words to articulating her needs to me. Yesterday I overheard her telling Alex that she wasn't going to do ballet next year. I asked why and she said that she liked ballet but gymnastics was better. She would choose gymnastics instead of ballet if she couldn't do both. I nearly fell out of my seat. She had taken our talk the previous day to heart. The one where Rob and I explained that she'd have to give up some homeschool activities if she was at school. I should have told her that she still would be doing some activities, like music, swimming, dance or gymnastics.

Even though I've seen first-hand how uneven and abrupt new skills and maturation spurts happen with children, I still am surprised by the changes. Recently Alex has been taking more steps towards independence and responsibilities and I've been a mixture of proud and sad. Now Izzy is taking giant leaps forward and I feel unprepared. She is so much like me, independent and strong willed. I am a big believer in not forcing children into situations before they are ready. Not that long ago she was so clingy and shy that she rarely left my arms and refused to look at other people. I never pushed. I waited and told everyone that I had faith in her ability to come out of that shell when she was good and ready. Well, out she came and now she has the audacity to want to forge her own way out in the world without me.

I am so proud, really. Now if I could only stop crying.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

I miss the good old days...

...when my toughest parenting decision was Pampers or Huggies.

I am very proud of the fact we homeschool Alex. I am proud because it works for us. I am proud that we took that leap even though it was not the typical thing to do and kind of scary going out on our own. He is happy, healthy and growing beautifully in body and mind. Well throw a little wrench into my well laid plans. Izzy wants to go to school. The worst part is, I think I want to let her. Only, not really. Confused? Me too.

It started a little while back. Months ago, probably. Izzy has always assumed she would go to school. Even though Alex doesn't. Even though most of her friends are homeschooled. Even though we never really presented it as an option. She insists that this is what she wants to do and has pretty good answers for a three year old when we question why. It came to a head this week because now she is talking about preparing for school.

Last night I had the most the most bizarre episode of deja vu. It was about three years ago that I remember standing in the kitchen, telling Rob everything I had found out about homeschooling with a strange blend of sadness, excitement and fear. I knew it was the right thing for Alex but I still needed to talk my way through it to help my brain iron out the kinks.

Well, now it is Izzy's turn and boy are we headed in a different direction. She wants to go to school. And the same scenario played out last night, standing in the kitchen, working it out with Rob. Only this time I was (grudgingly) arguing from the other side.

I love homeschooling. It works for us. Rather, it works exceptionally well for Alex. He learns at his own speed. So, despite being in the SK age group, he can read at a grade 4/5 level. He can do 2nd grade math. He can be further behind his peers in writing but light years ahead in comprehension. He has lots of friends and experiences classes that are fitted to his skill set and personality. He is very happy and has no interest in school at all.

And then there is Isabelle. That girl has changed a lot over the past few months. She is still a trying three year old but it is getting better. I give her more focus during the day but it doesn't always seem like enough. In a family of three mostly introverted souls, our fourth seems to be very extroverted. Where as Rob, Alex and I are in desperate need of recovery time after being overly stimulated, Izzy seems to recharge her batteries in the midst of all that energy.

Alex went through a very brief phase where he wanted to go to school. Found out he really just wanted to be a part of that back to school excitement that happens late summer. And he was fond of some cartoons that featured animal characters in kindergarten so he had a skewed Disney version. We got him a new backpack, some gym shoes and signed him up for more structured activities, like art class and Beavers. Problem solved. Izzy's request feels different. It is different because her needs are not what her brother's are.

My mental list of pros and cons favours the pros of sending her to school. Here are some of the pros I came up with:

(1) She would like it. (2) She does better with more constancy. (3) She would enjoy more friends, girl friends specifically. (4) She likes all those schoolish activities. (4) She doesn't learn as independently as her brother has and prefers a jazzy presentation with charts, songs and all that other stuff they do in kindergarten. (5) No matter how much attention we bestow on her she is still very interruptive when I try to do more advanced things with Alex. (6) She is more strong willed and we worry less about peer influence than we do with Alex. Actually, we worry more for the other kids that will follow her. (7) She seems to have a realistic grasp of what JK would be, not the Disney'fied version her brother conjured up a few years back. (8) It is something she can do on her own, by herself. Which is what she tells us is something she craves frequently. (9) I would feel bad not letting her try because homeschooling was something we did firstly for Alex's benefit and secondly because it gelled with our philosophy on education. (10) It isn't all or nothing. She may want to come home later on. (11) The first few years are only 15 hours a week. (12) Rob didn't feel opposed to it because he gets why I am thinking school might be the right fit for Izzy. He opposed me during a temporary lapse in judgment during a tough period where I suggest we send Alex to school for a year. (13) I want to approach both kids' educations as a custom program. Yes, I think homeschooling is better in theory but it doesn't mean school is bad. Because it is a bad fit for Alex doesn't mean I have to automatically rule our school for Izzy. (14) I feel like it would be a good experience for her not to be the centre of attention all the time. (15) There are many other reasons I am forgetting from last night or not articulating properly today but the biggest reason is my gut feeling. I can't explain it but my gut is saying school would be great for Izzy like it said homeschooling was perfect for Alex.

Rob says I have already made up my mind. Probably. Izzy is a little mini me and I loved school. She wants this. Or thinks she does. I cater a lot to Alex's needs and don't ever want her to think that she was an afterthought in these big decisions. I suppose it is only fair I fret over what to do with her like I did when we were preparing to send Alex off.

My only wish is to be able to take the emotions down a notch. I get teary eyed at the drop of a hat lately. I'd miss her so much. Plus, like Alex said when Izzy told him her plans of going to school, "...but Mommy, she's so small." Yes, but she grew a whole lot when we weren't looking.

Alex's Birthday, the Final Chapter!

We had some family over to celebrate Alex's birthday on Sunday. He had more cake and more presents. Thankfully, we are now done. We have been joking that he must be 8 years old now after having three celebrations.

Spoiled, these kids. Spoiled rotten. Good thing I like them so much.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

I love raising readers!

I am so happy the kidlets are as obsessed with books as we are. Izzy is forever hounding me with her board books and early readers. And Alex? That kid has one insatiable appetite. In the last few days he has reread one of his Calvin and Hobbes anthologies and devoured the following: Questions & Answers about Inventors; Knights & Castles; Knight's handbook; Wonders of Weather; Smart-Opedia; Why?; DK Dinosaurs; The World Almanac for Kids; and Mega Book of Ships. That doesn't even include the ones he reads to me (lately of The Magic Treehouse variety) or I read to him. We're still trying to knock off The Phantom Tollbooth but got distracted by LEGO, on the Wii and in its pure form.

Incidentally, I was reading somewhere that the Tollbooth book is for ages 8-12 and the earliest grade it is introduced to children in school is about grade 4/5. Alex is getting on very nicely for a munchkin who'd only be SK right now. I'd say I only help him with 2/3 words every few pages and there are some big words in that book. Even then, he rarely makes the same mistake twice. Go Alex!

Friday, March 6, 2009

Something is very wrong...

...with home schooling. It is going too well. I know it can't last. Soon, I'll be worrying about not doing enough. Socializing too much. Preparing too little.

Just this week alone we have accomplished:

Piano practice every day.

Two math lessons, with corresponding work sheets four out of the last five days.

Read all of the library books over a week before they are all due back.

Had a discussion and read books about Black History month. We only missed February by a few days.

Had lessons on grammar and etymology.

Learned about weather and did corresponding art projects.

Did experiment and written work discussing porous and non-porous materials.

Played with hours of Lego, following construction plans.

Did some spelling work and tests with the Dolch sight words.

Worked with the kids on writing, Alex working on lowercase and Izzy, her name.

Coloured and painted.

Worked on a comic book.

Played with Architectural stamps.

Throw is some preplanned group activities and a birthday party and wow, we did a lot. It was a great week. I think I can contribute this to four things. We are all healthy now (knock on wood), the kitchen reno is no longer occupying all our time and attention, we canceled the cable and the sun has been kinder to us lately. Our proverbial stars are all aligned just right. It is very nice.

Scowel Girl and Captain Oblivious

If my children were super heroes, that is what they would be called. Sure, I'll add the disclaimer that I adore my kids. Love them to death. Wouldn't, couldn't, (shouldn't?) imagine my life without them. Still, they have their moments.

Like whenver Izzy wakes up from a nap or doesn't get a nap...which is generally every day around mid-afternoon...she looks a little like this:

Add throwing dollies with screaming and/or whining for food and you get a more complete picture.

And then there is the boy. He is sweet, kind and never throws things at me after he naps. Not that he naps anymore but in the past he was most polite after a rest. No, his power is the ability to forget anything I say to him within mere seconds. He says I repeat myself a lot these days. "I know, I know!", he declares, but I know that though he is frustrated with my third bark of orders that it was actually my tenth and he conveniently missed the other seven.

I don't know why I felt compelled to write this. Maybe because Izzy is yelling at me from the top of the stairs about us being out of cupcakes (from the party on Monday) and Alex was sent upstairs to fetch me something but can be heard goofing off in the living room. Huh.

Alex's Birthday, Part 2

Much less fanfare on the actual birthday. The day went a little like this:

Woke up and had Alex open his big present before daddy left for work. We all crowded on my bed while he opened his Batman Batcave LEGO set. Over 1000 pieces.

Said our good-byes to Rob and then went to make Alex his breakfast request. Chocolate chip and banana pancakes (minus the banana as Izzy ate the last one before we made it to the kitchen) in animal shapes. Mommy is so talented, lol.

Then we took turns reading, a few chapters each, of our new favourite book, the Phantom Tollbooth. How have I never read this one? It was a birthday gift from his best friend L and her little brother.

We spent a few hours playing with our latest addiction, er, addition to the Wii. I won't say how many hours have been logged on with this game. Let's just say that I've never played with the Wii this much and Alex has racked up more game time than he has in the last six months. To be fair, we actually don't play video games that often and for my own peace of mind the kids have spent as much or more time doing school work. We just haven't socialized a lot these last two days. As Rob would say, Meh.

Later in the afternoon we broke out the new LEGO. For a hard-core junkie like Alex, is was total bliss. I think his largest kit to date only had a few hundred pieces, so this is a big deal. I let him have at it on his own for the first little while. When he needed a break (read: mommy was concerned about his level of fixation), I sent him down to the computer and I sorted the pieces out for him by colour and size. We built a few of the vehicles and left the cave for another day.

I finally peeled him away to go to the grocery store. We came home, ate one of his favourite dishes (beef strauganoff) and then some brownies for dessert.

He crashed pretty quickly last night but when I went to the washroom around 5:30am I saw a light in his room and heard the sounds of hands rummaging through LEGO bits. Poor little obsessed kidlet. Apparently, he just hadn't had his fill.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Alex's Birthday, Part 1

I tell ya, these kids are spoiled rotten. It seems their birthdays always happen is parts. They seem to have several events each year.

Yesterday (aka, the first birthday party) was the LEGO Fiesta party with the home school crowd. Nine kids, tacos, lots of LEGO and a trip to Chuck E Cheese. A fun time was had by all. I got lazy with the cake. With the kitchen reno and your typical February from hell (sick family, moody mom and crappy weather), I was not inspired to spend 6+ hours on a cake. So we made cupcakes and I found those nifty candies shaped like LEGO bricks. Alex loved it and it took all of 10 minutes to decorate. Win-win. I might be inspired to do something with a little more finesse this weekend. We'll see. A good life lesson, I suppose. Sometimes you get pirate ships. Sometimes you get box mix cupcakes with bulk barn candies thrown on top.

The only down side to birthday parties is parting Alex from his gifts. He has been holed up in his room since we got back from gym class playing with this new Bionicle. Several hours of hard core playing going on up there. LEGO is very serious business in this house. Nice to see friends help feed the addiction.

Credit where credit is due!

It was my birthday on Sunday. Rob and the kids baked a cake. This is huge. Rob has never baked a cake before. I think, once, before we got married he made a cherry cheese cake for my birthday. Huh, that would have been exactly ten years ago. Back then one of his roommates promised to help him. Truthfully, I don't remember the cheesecake, or if it was even ever made, but I do remember the secret meeting and giggles with C over not leaving Rob alone in the kitchen with the cream cheese and a can of cherries.

So here is my cake and I loved it. I was especially fond of the upside down sugar roses, thanks to Iz. I guess the days of buying my cakes (or better yet, having me bake them the day before) are finally behind me. Thanks to my kidlets and their enthusiasm for baking. I'm sure Rob looks forward to baking with them again, lol.