It was a Vaughan Thanksgiving this year, and everyone came to Denver! My parents were (still!) here, having spent their time since Halloween either vising with us, watching my older sister’s children, or traveling around Colorado, Utah, and Arizona. My younger sister and her family flew to Colorado and stayed with us for about 4 days…which meant that for four days, we had 12 people sleeping in this house!
We had a lot of fun with my sister and her family — I’ll make separate posts about one of our hikes, and a trip to the new local park — but mostly I wanted to write about the Thanksgiving holiday itself.
My older sister hosted the actual meal, and this year we decided to have a lunchtime (noonish) Thanksgiving in an attempt to accommodate the two littlest kids. We drove down to Denver at around 10:30am…Austin immediately found the shrimp and cheese trays and made himself comfortable. wink
Addison discovered a tray of vegetables and a bowl of french onion dip, and immediately realized that carrots make excellent spoons for delivering sour cream to her mouth. I got her a plate to mitigate the double-dipping.
Addy was actually tired before lunch, but there was a lot of action, so she kept it together for the most part.
Since we had all 8 grandbabies in one place, and more-or-less dressed in their finest, we tried to take a photo. It didn’t work out quite as well this year as it did for Christmas of 2015…I think our hearts weren’t really in it (there were no adults doing the monkey dance behind me, which is usually what it takes…).
We had lunch, which was amazing (thanks, Ali!). We had the little kids at the adult table, literally belted in to some tall chairs with my belt and my brother-in-law’s belt. The other 6 kids were at the kids’ table, which was totally out of sight from the adults…and they did great.
After lunch, we put the two toddlers down for naps (which actually when shockingly well), and then things were a little more relaxed for a few hours. I never tire of watching Austin play with my little sister’s daughter…my middle child and her middle child are like peas in a pod (more on that, later).
Addison woke up in a good mood. These next two photos have very little to do with Thanksgiving, and everything to do with Addison being adorable while we were still visiting:
The two big girls spend most of their post-lunch time putting together a “show,” which is pretty typical when they get together and will have an audience. So we gathered upstairs and watched the show, which was short and to the point. Here’s the crowd:
Not too long after that, we headed home. It was a great Thanksgiving afternoon, and my sister was a gracious host as always. No one was violently ill on Thanksgiving day, and no one was violently ill afterwards either. One of my older sister’s kids was fighting a bad stomach bug for a few days leading up to Thanksgiving, and her other child seemed to be fighting something mild afterwards. But, given our history, any gathering that doesn’t incapacitate more than about a quarter of us is usually called a victory. mrgreen
So that was Thanksgiving…and now we’re exactly 3 weeks away from Christmas. Yikes!
Our adorable, charismatic baby girl turned 2 years old on November 16th, over two weeks ago. It only took us a day to convince that she had, in fact, completed another trip around the sun:
We held her party on November 12th, the Saturday before her birthday, here at the house. By virtue of almost year-long planning, my parents were actually in town and got to be here for the celebration!
Miraculously, the weather on November 12th at 10am was phenomenal, and the party spilled outside. This was extremely lucky, for we had almost 60 people at Addison’s party, all told…between invited kids, siblings, parents, and my mom and dad. Many of the kids and parents (especially the older kids, Adria and Austin’s age) spent much of the party outside, which probably saved us a great deal of cleanup…
Amanda (with some “help” from the littles) spent a significant amount of time on Friday the 11th making cupcakes for the party. Amanda never goes halfway on the cupcakes, and this party was no exception:
Addison had a blast being the center of attention for the happy birthday song. Apparently, one of her little friends spent the entire next week singing “Happy Birthday to Addison…” after this party. smile
Per tradition, we also did a piñata as part of the party. This was a pull-string piñata , and we went ahead and did it inside because that’s where everyone happened to be at the time. The little kids took a bit of encouragement, and a pile of piñata goodies remained on the floor for several minutes after the thing finally came apart. I guess 2-year-olds don’t really get it yet. cool
We ended up with a gigantic pile of presents from this party. We spent the next 4 days (up to her actual birthday) letting Addison open one here and there, when things got slow. This actually worked out really nicely. We’d have a lull, so she’d open a gift and find a bunch of Play Doh or something, and all three kids would go play with that for an hour. It was a nonstop source of novelty for the better part of a week. smile
I can hardly believe that my youngest child is already two years old…how time flies. I am working on getting snuggles from her now, before my last baby out-grows my lap. bigsmile
Austin has never been hostile to Addison, but they didn’t have a lot in common for the first 18 months of Addy’s life. Addison adored her brother, and Austin dutifully tolerated his little sister…but it seems like maybe that is starting to change:
Austin and Addy are really, truly starting to play together. Austin will ask Addison a question as part of a game, and accept her answer as an actual preference. The age gap is not trivial…almost 3.5 years is a big deal at these guys’ ages. But day by day, Addy is become more fun, more interactive, more opinionated…she is becoming a playmate, not just a hanger-on.
Adria has always loved her little sister, right from day one. With almost 6 years between them, they don’t have much in common…except for being sisters, and that seems to be enough for Adria. She does more than just tolerate Addy…she goes out of her way to help her little sister, even giving away things that she’s very attached to, like her prized stuffed animals (Ava, in particular). Adria shows remarkable maturity…she knows that she’s not really competing with Addison for anything, and she works with us to teach Addison and keep her happy.
Finally, there are plenty of instances now where all three kids are playing together. It happens frequently, and lasts longer and longer as Addy’s attention span grows…
Not many posts in November 2016, but that’s because we were too busy making memories! My parents have been visiting with us — off and on — since mid-October. We hosted my little sister and her family for Thanksgiving, had Addison’s 2nd birthday and Amanda’s…uh…29th birthday, and did all of our usual school and weekend things too. Here is the highlight album on the main website.
December has always been a big catch-up month. I’ll be working hard over the next 4 weeks or so to get fully caught up, so that all 2016 posts can be dated in this year for purposes of the blog book. Well…unless something goes horribly wrong when I rebuild this PC over the weekend. But that’s a story for another post. wink
Amanda and I have been married 10 years now, as of July 2016! That’s pretty wild. We met in August of 2002, so we’ve actually known each other for 14 years now. bigsmile
It is still somehow surprising to me that Adria is almost 8 years old…we were only married 2.5 years before she was born. Back then, it felt like we waited a long time before having kids, but now I’m realizing how little child-free time we have had, as a fraction of our marriage.
Well, in honor of 10 wonderful years together, we planned — almost a year in advance! — to take a trip out of the country, just the two of us. My parents graciously offered to watch all three kids for us. We agreed that it made the most sense to push the trip back a few months, into the school year…so our “anniversary” vacation happened in late October of this year, instead of July.
We picked the Azores as our destination, but honestly…this wasn’t all that important. We chose this flight/hotel package off of Travelzoo because it looked interesting, it was a good deal, and it was a suitable distance from home (far enough to satisfy the wanderlust, but not halfway-around-the-world distant). We wanted to go somewhere and have an adventure, just the two of us…taking us back to a time when we were only accountable to ourselves.
Since getting home from our trip, Amanda and I have fondly remembered a particular example of spontaneity. We pulled over on a hairpin turn on a twisty Sao Miguel road to check out some hot springs that we spotted on the way down the hill. It got to be 2pm before we realized that we hadn’t eaten lunch, so we grabbed pork and potato straw sandwiches from a roadside cart before heading to the next adventure. All without losing our cool. smile
We love our kids dearly, and wouldn’t change a thing…but boy was it liberating to have a week on our own, beholden to no one. We are also extremely grateful to have such supportive family, so that we could even have this opportunity. I mean…who is able to leave 3 kids, aged 1.9, 5, and 7, for 10 whole days to go exploring islands in the Atlantic Ocean? So thanks, Gamma and GranD, for giving us the opportunity to spend this much time together…we really appreciate it! smile
I have decided that a day-by-day playback of our vacation isn’t really topical for this blog. I have already said what I wanted to say: we wanted some time to ourselves, and were lucky enough to get it. But out of the 600 photos that I took on the trip, I picked 7 (in addition to the ones above) that contained at least one of us and were representative of the trip. So here’s the executive summary:
I’m a couple of days late on this one, but it has been a busy past few weeks! The October highlight album is here!
Amanda and I just got back from our 10-year anniversary trip. We were gone for 10 whole days, from October 21 to October 31, while my parents stayed in the house and took care of the kids. cool
I will make a post on the anniversary trip a little later, once we dig out a bit. When I should have been working on end-of-month stuff like usual, I spent the time generating 600 new pictures of our vacation instead. Not only that, but Gamma took 300 more photos of the kids while we were gone. We have Addison’s birthday coming up in a week, and then I’ll be visiting family the following weekend, and then it’s Thanksgiving. Hot on the heels of Thanksgiving follows Amanda’s birthday, and then it will be Christmas and New Year’s Eve Adria’s birthday. The rest of this year is going to fly…I’ll do my best to keep up. bigsmile
And now, as a tease…a few candids of all three kids together, all taken in the first half of October (which, clearly, has been unseasonably warm).
We went to Chuck E Cheese a few weeks ago, as a reward for schoolwork well done. Our Chuck E Cheese location has recently converted from using regular tokens to using RFID cards. They have retrofitted all of the machines with card-readers that only require you to tap the card against the target, and a credit is deducted from your card. There are machines in the lobby where you can recharge the card from cash, credit, or tokens (or transfer credit from one card to another, etc).
There are plenty of machines in the game room, however, that actually require tokens. The physical token is part of the game…you are supposed to roll it down a ramp or bounce it down some pegs, or whatever. So these machines are equipped with token dispensers. Tap your card, get a token, and play the game. I’m not sure how Addison figured this out, but she did…and obviously it became the Best Game Ever.
I took about 10 minutes of video of Addison extracting tokens from this machine (I had to stop several times to add those tokens back to the card), it never got old. The video above is the best clip. smile
Incidentally, we have really soured on Chuck E Cheese since they switched to the cards. It used to have a lot going for it. The food is good, they have an indoor playground that the kids liked, the kids can’t leave without an adult, they can be entertained for hours for like $5 in tokens, and they were often getting a valuable lesson in currency and scarcity to boot.
Unfortunately, almost all of that has changed now. The food is still good, but the bigs are no longer entertained by the play structure. With the transition to the card, the kids have no idea how much ‘money’ they have, or what it means to use it on a game that costs a credit (or two!). They don’t get that sense of having a fist-full of coins that means something, and that can run out and be gone. And, importantly (especially for Austin), they can lose a great (but unknown) deal of money all at once by leaving the anonymous card sitting on the last game they played. In addition, our location has been very crowded, the last couple of times we went. That may just be our timing, but still…it hasn’t been a particularly pleasant experience. And since the economics lesson is gone, we now tend to stay away. uneasy
I wrote a long post about how Austin is coping with kindergarten. Obviously, he’s not our only elementary schooler, but he is the squeaky wheel and definitely getting the most grease. Adria has always been adept at school…she is smart, responsible, and a people-pleaser. We simply don’t have to worry about her performance at school (Adria, if you are reading this someday: thank you).
On the other hand, Adria’s education is still work, both for her and us. She brings home weekly homework assignments, which typically consist of:
1 fill-in-the-blank worksheet with her spelling words
Approximately 4 pages of math worksheets
100 minutes per week of reading required (with a log)
Spelling quiz on Friday (with, frankly, some rather tricky words)
A couple of weeks ago, we got an e-mail from Adria’s teacher. Like all of the teachers we have dealt with at the elementary school so far, she was very polite and approachable. “Adria is a wonderful student, so cheerful and creative, but…” mindblown-alt
That was a bit of an “oh – – – -” moment for us. We had our heads down with Austin’s needs, and were a bit taken aback to learn that Adria needed some extra attention as well. The actual issue, however, was not a surprise: focus. Adria is easily distracted, and was having a hard time buckling down and finishing her in-class work in the allotted time. Her teacher asked us what we would like to do about this, and we asked her to send that unfinished work home. So, at least for a couple of weeks, Adria had significantly more ‘homework’ than what was listed above.
I am happy to report that now, just a couple of weeks later, Adria is totally crushing second grade. cool
The approach of sending the unfinished work home seemed to work. The number of assignments that she had to finish over the weekend diminished quite rapidly. These days, she brings nothing extra home, or maybe a blank or two here or there that is mostly an “FYI” from her teacher (when it’s just a fraction of a sheet, there’s no requirement to finish it…but we have her do it anyhow).
The real stunner, though, was Adria’s iReady score. We had Adria’s parent-teacher conference on the same day as Austin’s. Our expectation was that she would be doing…fine. We knew that she would be able to keep up without much encouragement, but since we are essentially unable to track her closely or give her significant amounts of personal attention with respect to school, we didn’t expect much more than average. Well…Adria was apparently showing off a bit on the iReady test. wink
Adria’s overall score was 554 with an error of +/- 11, and the ‘on level’ zone for second grade is 490-560. They labeled her as “Late 2” on 8/31/2016…less than 2 weeks into the school year. The breakdown was impressive:
Phonological Awareness: “Tested Out”
Phonics: “Level 3”
High Frequency Words: “Max Score”
Vocabulary: “Early 2”
Comprehension, literature: “Level 3”
Comprehension, informational text: “Level 3”
They also tested her on math. She aced the entire 2nd grade assessment, and then for giggles they gave her the 3rd grade test and she got the max score on 3 of the 6 questions on that assessment. Can you tell that I’m a proud daddy? smile
So, we will continue to support Adria as best we can. It would not surprise me if we start having discussions shortly about advanced math sessions and other special programs of that ilk…it sounds like she could benefit from a little extra push.
I leave you with this, the Preamble to the US Constitution:
I can’t really report on parent/teacher conferences for Addison, but I’ll post a video of her left-handedness in its stead. She is actually quite ambidextrous, but there is no doubt that she prefers her left hand for drawing. I ask her to switch, and she does…but as soon as she stops thinking about it, she unconsciously switches back. cool
Austin has been in kindergarten for seven weeks now, and I think it’s about time I write about how he’s doing. I’ve been saving this post. There has been a lot to say on this topic, but I was waiting for…steady state, I think. I didn’t want to make a big report and then have something change dramatically immediately afterwards.
On Tuesday of this past week we had our first parent-teacher conferences (for both big kids actually, I’ll report on Adria next), and I finally think that we’ve got a handle on things…it’s time to report! cool
Long story short, kindergarten has been a struggle for Austin. I can’t say that we’re terribly surprised. We worried and worried that he was too young, or too immature, or too active…we thought long and hard about holding him back a year. In the end, his preschool said that he was kindergarten-ready, and our district likes to keep kids in their grade when at all possible, so we put him in.
Austin has 3 ‘classes.’ There is “kinder enrichment” in the morning through lunchtime, then his actual kindergarten class (which is only a little over 2 hours), and then he goes to after-school care in the cafeteria (provided by the YMCA) with Adria from 2:30 until I pick them up. His ability to adjust to these classes has been directly proportional to the amount of structure and rigor that they entail. Both the YMCA and kinder enrichment (KE) are very relaxed, fun, hands-on, craft-filled experiences. They aren’t total free-for-alls, though: he’s expected to sit and listen to story time or instructions for a game or craft; he’s expected to clean up after himself; and he’s expected to engage in group activities. But there is also a lot of leeway here — if he’d rather go sit in a corner and read (or sulk) than do a craft, they are often able to let him…it doesn’t bother anyone.
Kindergarten is different. These days, kindergarten in the new first grade. He is expected to sit and listen to lessons, to practice reading and writing, to work in groups, to manage his own time in ‘centers,’ and more. There is a lot of structure. There is one teacher, sometimes with an aide or assistant, and sometimes with parent volunteers. There are approximately 20 students, and not nearly as many places to go escape.
Early on, we had all three teachers contact us about Austin’s negative behaviors (obviously, he’s not a problem all of the time — in fact, not even most of the time — but enough of the time that we were consulted). These behaviors ranged from being inattentive to being downright disruptive. All of his teachers were wonderful. We got comments like: “We had a few speed bumps today, and we’re wondering if you might have some strategies or suggestions for things that work at home.” tongue
And we did work with Austin, and his teachers, and things have improved greatly. Austin was mildly sick for about the first 3 weeks of school, which I maintain got him off on the wrong foot. That’s better now. He has come to terms with his teachers, made friends and become comfortable with his fellow students, and started to fall into the various routines. We came down hard on a few behaviors. For example, in the first couple of days, he was literally sprinting around the classroom (we heard this from kindergarten and YMCA) as a way of dealing with his frustration and coping with overwhelming emotions. This was marginally tolerable at the YMCA which is in the giant cafeteria, but dangerous and disruptive in kindergarten with desks and chairs…and 19 other kids trying to sit in a circle and learn. Clearly this was not ok, and after just a day or two we were able to impress that upon him, between us and the teachers.
Before too long, Austin’s kindergarten teacher offered a ‘star chart’ feedback system. We had been asking for a way that we could support her at home…we wanted to know when to reward a particularly great day or week, and when we could take corrective measures on some of these deal-breaker behaviors. Here are a handful of his early reports:
Austin has a lot of challenges. Taken alone, I think that none of these are particularly troublesome. But in kindergarten, these things are stacking up and making it difficult to learn. Let me see if I can describe some of them:
Hyper-focus: Austin has a hard time transitioning from one thing to another. Sometimes this is just because he’s interested or having fun, but sometimes it is because he is so focused on the current task that he has tuned the whole rest of the world out. This can be something he loves, like Minecraft, Legos, or drawing…but it turns out that at school he can become this focused on almost anything, including ‘reading’ and ‘writing.’
Introversion: Being in large groups pretty clearly exhausts Austin. Even though he knows some of the kids in his class, and they are peers, he struggles with the group activities. He often tries to escape, finding a place to sit alone. We’re told that he is starting to pair off with some of his friends more and more, but early in the year he even wanted to be alone at recess and lunch.
Sleep: Austin was still napping in pre-K, and when we have him lay down on the weekends he sleeps hard. As in, on Sundays he’d sleep for 4 hours or more if we let him, without moving, often in a giant pool of sweat. His ideal nap would be for maybe 60-90 minutes, right after lunch. You know…right when he goes to kindergarten. mindblown-alt
Perfectionism: The word perfectionism is a bit loaded, and I don’t think that Austin is a clinical perfectionist. Everything doesn’t have to be perfect, but when something happens that violates his idea of how something is supposed to go, he loses it. He could be working quietly on a craft for 20 minutes, when suddenly a marker goes outside the line and then he’s crying, maybe walking away from the project, maybe tearing it up, balling it up, or throwing it away. To an outside observer, that ‘mistake’ is probably indistinguishable from a dozen others like it, but it was the one that didn’t fit Austin’s vision.
Age/Immaturity: Austin can be a sore loser. This is definitely related to the ‘perfectionism’ above…getting scored on in soccer is not part of Austin’s plan for the day, and it can cause him to go off the rails. This is particularly frustrating to me; I cannot stand sore losers, and perseverance is one of the qualities I most admire in people. It is very hard for me to not go nuclear when Austin throws up his hands over the littlest setback…but that doesn’t seem to help. I’m working on him and me both with this one. I think that, to some extent, he just needs to grow up.
I should take a step back and remind everyone — including myself — that Austin is a wonderful kid. He is gentle, loving, creative, intelligent, curious…even attentive, in his own way. I’m not trying to rant here, just capture some of the things that we’re working on at this stage of his development, and what kind of things we have tried. Most of the time, really, Austin is a wonderful — albeit young — kindergartner who is working hard to adapt to the system.
As I mentioned, we had our parent-teacher conference this past week. Amanda and I both steeled ourselves for this for days…I was expecting it to be very unpleasant. Turns out, he’s really doing pretty ok. The school gives a test called “iReady” to try and assess the kids. They expect kindergartners to score between 360 and 480 to be ‘on level’ (this is for the entire year…it would be ‘normal’ to be, for example, 370 at the beginning of the year and 470 at the very end). Austin scored a 340, on a computerized test that requires the use of a mouse and where listening to instructions is half the battle. They tested him again a month later to see how he was progressing, and he got a 364. So…low end, for sure, but he’s also one of the youngest kids in the class, and I was half expecting him to get a 0 because he refused to participate. So I was pleasantly surprised. wink
And he is learning at school. By the teacher’s assessment, on 8/19/2016 he could properly do “letter and sound identification” on exactly one letter. On 9/30/2016, he got 16. Now, I know for a fact that he’s better at his alphabet than this (although the standard might be different), so I’m guessing that this had as much to do with his willingness to interact as his actual knowledge.
We hear Austin singing songs he learned at school, he talks about his “Letterlanders” and the sounds that they make, and he is actually very willing to work on reading and writing at home, when in the proper mood. I took a video while he was working on his most recent assignment. Note that he’s holding his pencil properly…something that daycare was never able to teach him.
It seemed to me that his kindergarten teacher’s biggest frustration is simply when Austin won’t listen. She has created a new score chart recently, and now she puts down tally marks each time she has to nag him to do something. His most common act of civil disobedience these days is to lay on the floor and provide no interaction…he ignores everyone and everything, and does nothing but hum and play with his shoes. His teacher described this carefully, in a manner that made me think she was suggesting that it was some kind of mental issue — she even showed us a video. Meanwhile, I was having a hard time not grinning at this. Basically, the boy found a way to be supremely annoying, but in a manner that is not actively disruptive and has no material consequences. She’s not allowed to even pick him up and move him, much less swat his bottom (which is probably what I would do, honestly). He has figured out that his teacher has no leverage whatsoever. Oops. rolleyes
The obvious question is: if his kindergarten teacher can’t spank him, should I? I don’t know the answer to that. However, I will say that I haven’t so far, so you know my general sentiment. There are two main problems. The first is that I have no idea if he’s capable of correlating extreme consequences at home with his behavior at school.
I can see it going like this: I get a negative report and punish him at home, being very clear about why. The next day, he does the exact same thing, because the punishment was a full day ago, which is like forever. Then his teacher says something like, “I’m going to mark down on your chart that you weren’t listening again today, so your Dad can see it.” At which point, the realization dawns on him, and he loses his little mind and starts crying on the spot. At some point, maybe after doing this a few times, he’ll start grudgingly sitting up at circle time, glaring bitterly at his teacher. Which brings me to the second objection: none of us want Austin to learn to hate school, or to resent his teachers (or us) for making him conform.
So, we’re working the carrot a lot harder than we’re working the stick. Here is an example of the new-and-improved star chart:
When Austin has an unmitigated 6-star day like he did in the top chart here, we shower him with praises and riches. The main carrot, interestingly, is Minecraft. A 6-star day gets him 20 minutes of Minecraft on the tablet, which for Austin (and how we manage screen time in this house) is a big reward. We also have a ‘prize box’ at home where we let him choose from treats that he has already expressed interest in. This happens at our discretion…the original rule was that he would earn a prize for a 5-star week, but we have also given treats for perseverance in soccer and other strong behaviors.
I’m nearly done. I have mostly talked about Austin’s kindergarten class. We also had a conference with his ‘enrichment’ teacher, and her opinion was, “He’s doing just fine.” They love Austin to death in KE, just like we do, for the adorable, dynamic, sensitive little puzzle that he is. The education/testing/rigor standard is much lower in KE, and Austin and his teacher have reached…an understanding. And he learns a lot in KE. This is what kindergarten used to be. They make rubbings of leaves, look at the clouds and talk about condensation, grow a real garden, make geometric patterns with blocks, sing songs…and yes, along the way they accidentally practice letters and math and the rest of that education stuff. He’s getting along just fine, there. smile
So stay tuned…this is a ‘battle’ that we will be working on for a decade or two, I’m sure. Austin is a good kid, and he’s smart, and independent, and creative, and loving. He’s also immature and fickle and stubborn. We’ll keep working with him, giving him tools to deal with his feelings, and hopefully along the way we can convince him to love learning, like Amanda and I do. We’re his parents…this is our job.