Monthly Archives: November 2011

In Sparky News

The blog’s been pretty Owlet-centric lately, so the boy should get a post of his own.

The most important news first: a newly lost tooth, as of this morning!

There was much angst about wanting it out properly but being afraid of pulling the last thread by which it hung yesterday. I was hoping it would fall out by itself overnight, as the last one did, but it was still gamely hanging on this morning. The boy twisted and pulled, and HRH finally gave it the last gentle tug required to free it from its shackles. Tonight, the tooth fairy visits!

We got his first report card mid-November. He’s brilliant in English language arts (I don’t think even I got a 98 this early on), excellent at art and music, quite competent in math, and at the class average for French. Problem is, the class average for French isn’t great, and that’s not surprising when you think that they only get an hour a day, or 20% of their class time.

We made a mistake back when we registered him for kindergarten, and erred on the side of caution: I wanted to make sure he had secure foundation in English and math concepts before turning to French immersion. I had no idea his capabilities would explode so completely forward in both areas during kindergarten. In hindsight, if I’d known then what I know now, I’d have put him in French kindergarten and carried on our regular reading and counting in English at home, because it wasn’t going to be an issue.

My problem with all of this is that he’s not being challenged. He’s conscientious about his work, his teacher tells me, which is great, but it’s still too easy for him. He’s not learning coping strategies; he’s not learning how to break problems down and conquer them step by step. And that’s going to come back to bite him badly at some point, like it did me and lots of other people I know, be it in high school CEGEP, or university. So… HRH and I went to the open house information night for the local International School, into which we are seriously considering transferring the boy. The International Baccalaureate programme is a certified standard that focuses on lots of good stuff, and we discovered, to our delight, that there’s lots of arts in this school, as well as sports. The only drawback is that it’s total French immersion, literally the opposite of what he’s doing now: everything is in French except English class. (Interestingly enough, in grade 3 the programme switches to 50/50 French and English… except they do it all French for half a year and all English for the next half.)

The current principal of the International School was transferred there a month ago from the school Sparky is currently at, so she recognized us at the info night (HRH was on the governing board with her). She did the initial presentation to a gym full of parents hoping to test their kids into grade one (the school doesn’t offer a kindergarten programme) and was accordingly mobbed by people afterwards, so we went off to fill in a form with our contact information and leave it with the secretary. Well, two days later the phone rang and it was the principal, apologizing for not being able to spend more time with us, and suggesting a private meeting so we could discuss the curriculum and the potential transfer, since it wasn’t a regular testing into grade one procedure. It’s nice to know people. The meeting went really well, and we got a tour of the school in which we passed not one but three music classes in progress.

So working on the French at home is important for us. At our parent-teacher interview I put in a request for material to work on his French at home, since he doesn’t get French homework and he zips through his reading and math homework in less than fifteen minutes. I downloaded a couple of free French apps for my iPhone, which he began playing with of his own accord this weekend, and already his accent is improving as he works on reading and spelling numbers, and identifying animals (not even I knew what a pieuvre was!). I’m going to get him a Tintin book from the library next time I’m there, and we’ll read that together before we see the film this Christmas holiday.

Cello is going pretty much as expected. It’s symptomatic of the easy ride he’s having at school that he gets frustrated and upset when practicing because it doesn’t come easily to him. It’s a bit overwhelming for him, and so we have to work on breaking a larger task down into smaller elements. Essentially, a lot of homework and learning comes down to self-discipline, which is one of the reasons I initiated music lessons. Working on good practice habits and attention in lessons will, I hope, carry forward and inform other areas in his life.

Owlet: Fifteen and a Half Weeks

There haven’t been any huge leaps lately, just refining the recent developmental achievements like chatting and grabbing for things. Owlet is officially in size 3-6 month clothes now; she’s a very long baby. She makes a lot more noise all of a sudden. We have reached the squeaky, shrieky stage of vocal exploration, which is a lot sooner than I expected.

One of the significant acquisitions this month has been a Wubbanub. What is a Wubbanub, you ask? It’s an Avent Soothie pacifier with a small plush animal sewn to it. Soothies are terrific pacifiers, used by hospitals all over, but they fall out of the baby’s mouth when they stop actively sucking on them. That may be a deliberate design thing to avoid dependence, I don’t know… but it’s problematic when you have a child who has a strong sucking need. The addition of the small stuffed animal means it’s less likely to fall and bounce away, and it more or less stays put. Chantale told me about these (her daughter got one in the hospital) and I tracked one down at my local high-end mama-baby supply shop. They had only one left, and it was a giraffe, which was the one I wanted out of the half dozen or so available. Owlet loves it: she can cross her arm over her chest and hold the animal in place, and the soother doesn’t fall out of her mouth any more. She can also pick the giraffe up and drag the soother part to the vicinity of her mouth, or just turn it over and over in her hands, exploring all the legs and ears and horns and tail. We call it Gracie.

We have graduated to a legs-out carry in the mei tai, as she had been resisting being tucked in with her legs froggied inside. Because she’s so small, I had to cinch in the middle where she sits with a ribbon. It’s getting chilly, though, so we’ve been opting for a stroller to go to the boy’s bus stop since we don’t yet have a winter outfit for her and all her pant as are too short to keep her warm. She began to complain about lying flat in the landau, so we’ve switched to the seat unit instead with a big thick snuggly cover, and she likes to look around.

The biggest thing to report from the past two weeks is that we gave her a taste of formula. With HRH’s mom retiring and looking forward to grandma days, and Owlet not giving me time to pump to build up a stash, she’s going to need to be fed somehow. And with her digestive system nicely settled down, her feeding issues mostly resolved, and my supply firmly established, I felt a lot more comfortable introducing it to her. I wanted to be sure we had a tested and approved alternate way of feeding her in case I couldn’t for any reason. We tried Sparky on formula as a back-up around three and a half months, too, so the timing seemed good. I had a sample of Nestlé’s Good Start, so I mixed up two ounces of that one evening, and before I gave it to HRH to feed to her, I tasted it myself. It was atrocious, so much so that I told HRH I didn’t want her to have it, but he said we might as well try anyway because it was there. Well, she took one gulp and spat it back out, and I cannot blame her. HRH described the taste as something like rotting fish, and I added tarnished pennies to that description. (I later did some reading on Nestlé’s unethical practices and conscious, ongoing violations of WHO’s rules concerning marketing formula and if she’d taken it, I still would have switched brands.) A couple of days later I picked up some liquid Enfamil, which was the brand we’d fed to Sparky, and I tasted that before giving it to her as well. It tasted a heck of a lot more like my own milk, which was reassuring, and she drank it without batting an eyelash. Her digestive system handled it just fine, too, so it’s good to know we have a backup. She takes about three ounces of milk or formula at a time from a bottle.

Feeding is still happening every hour and a half to two hours. She’s a slow eater and a snacker; she doesn’t ever fill up, she just takes the edge off and then leisurely enjoys the experience, dozes a bit, then does it all over again. I try to stretch the time between feedings by occupying her attention in other ways; the bounce chair, cooking shows while she’s in the high chair, the play mat (now not total anathema, but still not good for very long). I managed to have her for about twenty minutes in the bounce chair while I sat at the spinning wheel last week, where she alternated between whacking at the dangly toys and watching what I was doing while I narrated my long draw technique to her. She’s been resisting the car, which is irritating, because she used to love it; she’ll shriek when put in her car seat, and then she’ll shriek in the car, and that makes going out stressful for us both. The boy was home on a ped day last week so all three of us went out together in the car, and she was like a completely different child: she watched Sparky in fascination, cooing at him now and then. She adores him. We had the first shared sibling bath last week, which was fun, and made bath time a lot more palatable to her, because she was distracted by watching Sparky play while we washed her up.

She is what books call a high-needs child. She craves lots of physical contact, and doesn’t do well on her own. This means she’s been sleeping on or right next to us nine out of ten times. Sometimes we can succeed in slipping her into a cot for about half an hour, but only sometimes, whereas she’ll sleep for an hour or more in a lap. She often falls asleep in the mei tai on the way back from the boy’s bus stop, and sleeps there for an hourish while I answer e-mail or clean or bake. We finally packed away the Amby Bed that was standing unused next to our bed, because she hated being in it. She slept in bed with us until a couple of weeks ago when I started to transition her to a co-sleeper that goes in the parental bed. She hated this thing as a newborn because she was still too far away from us, but she tolerates it most of the time now, because I can snuggle right up to it and she can feel my breath and reach out to touch me. It’s a step towards transitioning her into a sidecar cot, a kind of three-sided mini crib that attaches to my side of the bed that will be her own space, but she’ll still be within reach of me. She’s still eating every couple of hours all night long with each feeding taking about an hour, so getting up to feed her is just out of the question; I’d never sleep. With her in bed with me or right next to me, it’s much easier. I’m looking forward to the sidecar cot. HRH is building it, and so it will be gorgeous and exactly what we want instead of something expensive that isn’t quite right.

I am so looking forward to Owlet growing out of the glomming stage. I’d like to have my evenings back instead of going to bed at eight with her and being stuck there till the next morning. I’d love to have more than an hour of sleep at any given time. I’d really, really like her to eat efficiently, but I don’t think that’s ever going to happen; the way she breastfeeds is just really slow and not very focused, unlike how she’ll take a bottle. That has probably a lot to do with the five weeks of tongue-tie back at the beginning. Granted, she’s a lot better than she was initially, and we’ve done very good work on retraining her, but I suspect it will never entirely click into place. Not an enormous obstacle, because she’s on the cusp of four months, and in a month or so we can think about offering her solids.

I know all babies are different, but I am continually amazed at how she is really so very different from the baby Sparky was.

Fall Concert Announcement

It’s November, which means that yes, the Lakeshore Chamber Orchestra’s fall concert is nigh!

Circle Saturday the 26th of November on your calendars. At 19h30 in the Valois United Church in Pointe-Claire (70 Belmont Ave., between King and Queen), the Lakeshore Chamber Orchestra will present the following works:

Beethoven: The Creatures of Prometheus overture
Sibelius: Valse Triste
Holst: St Paul’s Suite
Brahms: Serenade no. 1

Admission is $10 per person; admission is free for those under 18 years of age. The concerts usually last approximately an hour and a half to two hours, including the refreshment break. There are driving directions and public transport info on the church website. I usually encourage people who are vehicle-less to find someone who has a car and share the cost of the driver’s admission to the concert among them. It’s more fun to enjoy the evening in the company of others, after all. And it bears repeating that children of all ages are very welcome indeed.

Owlet: Three Months Old!

In the past two weeks there has been an explosion of interaction with her environment. She has increased her dialogue with people and at toys, making adorable sounds, and smiling has gone off the charts. And the past couple of weeks have seen a major increase in the production of drool, so much so that some days I put a bib on her so that she doesn’t soak through her shirt.

Socially, things proceed apace. Two weeks ago she had her first full day out at an event, and she did beautifully. She ate well, napped well in my arms, and was cheerful and smiley when meeting new people. The crying at the tail end of the event in late afternoon was definitely exhaustion and having had quite enough of the foreign environment. Then the last weekend of October we hosted a mums and daughters tea party that confirmed our suspicion that she’s incredibly social. She was enthralled with all the children, staring at them and breaking into huge smiles when they looked at her. I wish we’d taken photos, because she wore a darling antique red printed dress from April Cornell that had circulated through five other girls in our circle of friends. We had tiny tea sandwiches, tiny sweet scones with preserves and cream, tiny lavender-lemon shortbread cookies, and tiny cupcakes (tiny was a theme, as you may have figured out), and enjoyed using our vintage real china tea set. It was lovely, and it’s definitely something we’ll do again, often.

Physically, she’s a little powerhouse. She’s not very interested in sitting; she wants to stand on our laps all the time. She has terrific head control and leg strength. She’s much less shrieky about being on her back now, like on her playmat, for example, but she shows zero interest in rolling over. A couple of weeks ago she started making vague, broad movements with her arms while looking at things, which rapidly focused into more deliberate batting at objects with her fists. Then earlier this week things focused even more, and suddenly she’s reaching for specific things and catching them. Last Wednesday, after a week of batting, she deliberately grabbed for two danglies on the arch of her bounce chair, and caught them both, one in each hand, one after the other. When I put her in yesterday, she grabbed for the left one right away and looked really pleased that she’d remembered how to do it.

She’s grasping things like blankets and shirts and bringing them to her mouth to chew on them as well. Thursday’s milestone was grabbing a rattle and shaking it for the first time, followed by grabbing my glasses and pulling them right off with a cheeky grin. And so it begins…

Another first is using her high chair. We used to pull her swing over during supper, but she’d complain to sit on someone’s lap by halfway through the meal. We brought the high chair in, reasoning that she’d feel more included if she were on the same level as everyone else, and it’s a big hit. The high chair has also proved useful when I need to do kitchen stuff during the day like cooking and baking: I put her in it and narrate everything I’m doing. I did a whole cooking show for her this week, and taught her how to make oatmeal. It’s a bit exhausting, being that animated while doing something so mundane, but it worked.

She was a terribly adorable Dark Knight for Halloween, as seen in this blog post.

We use the mei tei mostly when going to the boy’s bus stop in the mornings and afternoons; she either falls asleep with her head against my chest or is perky and awake, and when she’s awake she loves watching the cars that go by. I finally took a photo of the mei tei in action, so here you go:

The cloth diapering is going well. We don’t have big all-in-one diapers that absorb a lot; we have light cotton flannel ones, and she soaks through them very quickly, so the washing of them is something that’s on my mind a lot. Something that’s mildly frustrating is figuring out what detergent to use. You can’t use just any detergent; most leave a deposit that can irritate the baby’s skin or reduce the diapers’ absorbency. Depending on your machine and your water, some detergents that are safe for cleaning them work really well and others don’t. I started off with Seventh Generation, which is a safe detergent for cloth diapers, but when the diapers got wet they had a very faint ammonia smell that I didn’t like, even when I used the trick of adding a bit of vinegar to the first rinse. So I stopped using it and tried Bio-Vert, which so far has left the diapers super-soft and very clean, with no odour sneaking in once they’re wet. You use only a tiny spoonful of detergent to wash cloth diapers (so it lasts for ages), which means I’ve got a jug of Seventh Generation that is now lined up to wash our regular clothes.

Sleeping is just about the same. Sometimes we can put her down in her basket to nap, but it’s tricky; we have to hit just the right moment where she’s not too asleep but not too awake, or she’ll be crying within ten minutes. Generally she’s still sleeping on or next to someone, but the naps are longer and more like real naps instead of dozing.

Feeding is going well, too. She’s still eating every hour and a half to two hours both day and night, which is tiring for me, but she’s more focused about it. In fact, it’s going so well now that we stopped giving her the two-ounce supplement of expressed milk two or three times a day because she was full from nursing. And evidently it’s all going even better than I expected, because at three months old, Miss Owlet weighs ten pounds and thirteen ounces. That’s a gain of just over a pound and a half in four weeks, oh yes indeed. The doctor is thrilled, and we are officially off the watch list.

Goodbye, Second Chair — For Now

Last night at orchestra I sat in the back of the cello section instead of as second chair.

I’ve been second chair since, oh, about four years ago, I think? Possibly more. It’s a somewhat terrifying position, because I’m right in front of the conductor, but it’s also a very educational position, because I’m next to our principal (who also happens to be my teacher) and I learn so much from absorbing her technique that way.

But it’s been increasingly less beneficial and more self-detrimental. Like last time I had a baby, I had no intention of dropping orchestra: cello is my one activity that gets me out of the house, my one thing that’s just for me. But unlike last time, this baby doesn’t nap placidly in a basket the way Sparky did in his first few months; she will not sleep unless she’s curled up on or with someone. If Owlet doesn’t sleep, then (a) I can’t work and make money, like I’d planned to be doing by now, and (b) I don’t get practice time. As a result, I’ve been showing up unprepared, and sitting where the conductor can clearly hear your unpreparedness is not relaxing, or even challenging; it’s just awful. Add to that the fact that I’m expected to lead the section if the principal cannot be there, which has happened once or twice so far this season, and it’s a recipe for disaster. I’m not doing the amount of work that’s required for this commitment, and that’s been increasingly stressing me out over the past couple of months. And while I can’t afford the time to prep for orchestra, I also can’t practice for my cello lesson. Heck, I haven’t been practicing at all. Which kind of makes a weekly cello lesson pointless, and made me feel like I was wasting my teacher’s time.

Then I took into account our general financial position at the moment, as I’m not working because Owlet doesn’t nap on her own, and the fact that it’s a forty-five minute drive both ways and a quarter tank of gas for the round trip… and all that added to the lack of practice meant that it was time to be Responsible. I am fully aware that playing the cello is a luxury. It is not a necessity, like food and mortgage and utilities are. Not working, and not qualifying for maternity benefits because I missed the minimum income required last year (never mind that I made more than enough the four years before that, grr), has really put a strain on our finances. Paying for the boy’s weekly lessons is one thing. Paying for my own on top of them makes for a monthly bill I can no longer cover. And finally, while our yearly orchestra dues aren’t high, it’s still a chunk of money I don’t have at the moment, and I’ve been feeling guilty about not having paid them yet.

So last week at my cello lesson, I told my teacher reluctantly that I had to drop to doing a lesson every two weeks instead of weekly, and that I might have to drop orchestra altogether, and explained why. I said I knew this probably meant I wouldn’t get to perform my solo for the Christmas recital, since we’d only have a couple of lessons before the dress rehearsal. I didn’t suggest dropping out entirely, because I’m in a lot of group pieces and my line would need to be covered somehow, and we only have a couple of group rehearsals left. Dropping out entirely and forcing everyone to rebalance would have been the less responsible thing to do.

My teacher, star that she is, proceeded to work out alternate arrangements for everything. My solo, she said, was in excellent shape already, and she felt it would be fine, although we could re-evaluate a week or two before the recital. As I’d still be bringing Sparky to his cello lessons weekly (he is much too young to drop to a regular biweekly schedule), she said I could play through my solo piece for ten minutes after his lesson on the days that I didn’t have lesson, just to keep an eye on how things were evolving to catch problems before they became bigger. She even considered letting me play her own cello on those days, so I wouldn’t need to bring my instrument for ten minutes of play, but they’re different sizes and the shift distances would be different. And then she suggested doing something similar for orchestra: since I had the music for the current concert and we’d done the work already, why not drop to every two weeks for that as well, and switch places with another player in the section until I was back on my feet and could return full-time.

I was so grateful. I’m very lucky to have a teacher and section leader who understands, and who is willing to work with me to allow me to still engage in an activity that I enjoy. And last night I discussed my fee payment with the person in charge of collecting our dues (who also happens to be the person with whom I switched places in the section, and a fellow student of my teacher’s with whom I’ve played duets and who has come up to sit with me when our principal has been absent) and we agreed that I’d just bring in ten or twenty dollars every rehearsal until my fee had been paid in full.

Sitting in the back of the section removed so much of my physical, mental, and emotional stress. I no longer felt like the conductor was hovering over me with a ruler, ready to smack my wrists if I made a mistake (which he wasn’t at all; that’s completely and totally my guilty conscience projecting my sense of failure onto the situation). I probably played better last night than I had for the last six weeks.

This was a tough decision, don’t get me wrong. I don’t like admitting that I can’t handle what’s asked of me. And I hate feeling like I’m letting people down. I’m so relieved that a solution has been found, one that’s even better than the only solution I could see.

And then today, Miss Owlet came upstairs with me and sat quite happily playing with dangly things in a bouncy chair while I practiced for twenty minutes. So there is hope for fitting semi-regular practice into my day again. I’m hoping we’ll be in a better financial position in the new year, and that I’ll be able to work for a couple of hours every day by then, and have enough money to cover weekly lessons and gas to them and orchestra.

More Halloween!

A very enjoyable evening, indeed.

Presenting Baby Batman!

I love working with felt; there’s no hemming. That’s a onesie Ceri and Scott bought for her, a pair of black tights, a strip of yellow bias tape, a felt cowl, and a felt Batcape held on by arm straps. Easy-peasy and adorable!

We do Halloween over at HRH’s parents’ house, so the boy trick-or-treats through his dad’s old neighbourhood. The house is always wonderfully decorated with strings of orange LEDs, pumpkin lights, various scarecrows and skeletons, and jack o’lanterns. There are huge bowls of candy to hand out (lots of which mysteriously ends up in the boy’s bag), loot bags for all of us, and Grandma makes hot finger food for everyone both before and after the outing. I am also usually handed a glass of wine, which makes things very special! We look forward to it a lot.

I don’t know what the boy enjoys more, going out door to door, or staying home with his grandfather and giving out candy. He does a bit of each, and is very enthusiastic about both. We weren’t sure if all four of us would do the walkabout or not, as I enjoy going out with the boys, but Owlet was hungry after being stuck in traffic for over half an hour (who shuts one side of a major highway down for paving during rush hour on a weekday? and then reopens it two hours later, at night, when there is less volume?), and besides, if we took her out her costume would have to be covered by blankets. So she and I stayed behind, showing off her outfit to the trick or treaters; it was very well received, with kids cooing over her and calling their parents to see.

Last night when he got back from his round, he poured out his candy onto the couch next to me and declared, “I am going to share this with all of you!” And he picked out a treat to bring in for his teacher this morning, too. I think we’re doing an okay job at this parenting thing.