Profile

tla: (Default)
tla

May 2017

S M T W T F S
 123456
78910111213
14151617181920
212223 24252627
28293031   

Custom Text

Before the LJ migration, I used this journal mostly as a diary of life-with-Sophie. No reason not to continue I suppose...

Since last I wrote, we have all moved to Vienna, settled into a new neighborhood and new routines, and Sophie has got most of the way through her final year of kindergarten / preschool / Vorschule. Yesterday afternoon we had the semiannual parent-teacher meeting with her teachers there.

Well. As [personal profile] mpk  said elsewhere, one almost wishes they'd said "she's doing great, a bit above average" and left it at that.

None of it was bad news - we do, after all, know what our kid is like. They led off with definite good news, which is that she has made good progress this year in learning to tolerate group activities. They also pointed out how musical she is - not only that she is singing to herself constantly, but that she's got some serious natural vocal talent that should be allowed to flourish. She is also crazy about what we call "making" but what in the US would be called arts & crafts. Every week we take about an Ikea bag's worth of paper creations home from school, and the house is just as full with things she draws and colors and constructs here. The teachers say that they've never seen a kid make the sorts of things she comes up with, both in terms of intended creation and in terms of construction techniques. She's still pretty convinced that, given enough sticky tape, paper, and cardboard, she can eventually get to the moon.

The basic gist, though, was that she is "extremely individualistic" and "has a completely different internal structure from the other children." Even in Montessori-land, which is so much about learning by doing (and boy does she like to actively do things, rather than watching or listening), the activities that engross the others simply don't capture her attention. I've observed this too - she picks up new ideas or skills or knowledge very quickly, but at some point short of "sustained mastery" she will just lose interest. When we put her in piano lessons last year her teacher wanted to tear his hair out for the way she would grasp in a few minutes what took other kids a few weeks, but then be right back at square one the next week because she didn't care to retain it. Even now, when she counts up past 12 the sequence tends to go 11, 12, 15, 14, 17... and when I stop her and say "what comes after 12?" she'll roll her eyes and say "13" but she just doesn't think it's important. This also means that she has done very little of anything this year that even by Montessori standards would count as structured learning - she recognizes the materials from her old classroom, and doesn't seem to think that they hold anything new for her, and her teachers haven't been able to disabuse her of this.

The teachers didn't entirely explain what they meant by a "completely different internal structure", and it's hard for me to articulate what I understood of it. It is to do with all of the above, and with the vocabulary she uses, and with the things that interest her, and with the questions she asks, and with her drive to create. Another example they gave is the way that, when the class goes out to see a show at the theater, the other kids are engrossed in the story but Sophie is engrossed in the production, and will march up to the actors after the show and grill them about how and why they were doing whatever they were doing on stage. It's clear to me that she is absorbing ideas for how she can make similar productions of her own.

And so, even though she's mostly made her peace with occasionally being asked to participate in what the other kids are doing, her teachers were clearly worried about her prospects for primary school. They told us of their concern that she was not ready to cope with a classroom where the kids are sitting at desks and doing what the teacher asks them to all day long. Happily for everyone, the nightmare scenario of being constantly summoned to school about our uncontrollable problem child, in those circumstances, had already occurred to us, and we were able to get her into the one mixed-age (grades 1-4) Montessori-style classroom at the local public school. We've only met the teachers in passing on the open days, but the visiting day for new kids to the class is on 19 June and we will have some more idea then what the next year(s) will be like. Still, I know that there is simply no predicting how any teacher will cope with Sophie until they actually find themselves having to do so. Watch this space...

Tags:

In memoriam

Mar. 1st, 2016 03:35 pm
tla: (cartoon)
Phaeton
1999–2016

Phaeton retrospective

He had a good run.
Dear Sophie,

I would ask "how on earth did you get to be five?!" only you've been anticipating it ever since you turned four, so I guess I can't pretend too much surprise. And you did make sure that everyone you encountered knew you were having a birthday that week.

December is always a crazy month, doubly so with your birthday tied up into it, and by now I think you have just about forgotten what it is like to *not* be getting new presents all the time. January may be a bit of a let-down that way I'm afraid. But on the bright side, we're now in the year in which you will turn six, and you're already very busy anticipating that.

We went to see my side of the family for Christmas this year, and you charmed the stuffing out of pretty much everyone you met. You also got to go to your first church service - heathens that your parents are - and you got pretty bored, but still managed to suck up to Grammy big-time by saying how excited you were to go to church for the first time. Little creep. ;) That said, much as everyone appreciated you on your own terms there was a lot of comparison with me at your age, and in particular a lot of people asking if you are reading already like your freakishly precocious mummy was. With the result that you are pretty sick of being harassed about this whole reading thing and have declared that you never want to learn. Sigh.

So no, you're not a baby academic the way I was, but you are certainly busy.  At the moment your main learning concerns seem to be:
  • How to make things, usually out of paper and sticky tape
  • Stories and how they work and what belongs to them vs. real life
  • How to consolidate your already firm grasp on the attention of those around you
which doesn't leave you any time for all this troublesome reading, writing, arithmetic, etc. (That said, you can write your own name with a little help, now, as you demonstrated to me for the first time in church.) Your time in drama class has also shown us all that you can memorize stories and lines with the best of them. The last class before Christmas ended with a small show for the parents, and while on the one hand I wasn't impressed that I had to say a few sharp words to you in front of everyone else in order to get you to behave, on the other hand I was super proud that you wanted to be the first kid to recite the poem you had been learning. Some of the lines were out of order but you did it all by yourself, without prompting, and more importantly you were brave enough to go first. That was pretty cool.

As for the arithmetic, well, we are hoping that starting you on an allowance will help. Eventually. You do have quite a lot of fun spending the money, though you aren't really concerned with the change. It will be a nice surprise for you to have all this savings of money you've disregarded once you've bought something, and it will be sort of fun when you catch on. A few days ago we took you to Cracker Barrel and gave you your allowance in dollars, and let you pick out any toy you could afford; after a bit of decision paralysis you picked a toy that is your new best friend, and you didn't even really notice the whole spending-money part. We'll get there soon enough.

School remains a combination of something you enjoy and something you get fed up with. Although you aren't particularly interested in doing anything if you know it counts as learning, there is still plenty for you to do there. We were asked to put you in German tutoring lessons at the beginning of the year, which you proceeded to be so (albeit cheerfully) uncooperative in that we had to stop them, but in the meantime it did get you speaking German enough that your normal classroom teachers can take it from here. Mostly this has given you another excuse to speak to perfect strangers when we are out and about. And sometimes you even feel like practicing with us - during that same trip to Cracker Barrel you decided to converse with me in German in the bathroom, enough that bystanders almost certainly thought that we were exotic foreigners. That was sort of fun.

All in all you are certainly growing, and doing your best to grow up even though it's sometimes pretty hard for you to remember that when you are five, there are behaviors that you can't get away with anymore like you did when you are three. Some days are wonderful and other days are horrid, but not a day goes by that you are not your full-on 110% self, and pretty much everyone you know adores you for it.

Love,
Mummy

We have decided that what Sophie really needs in her life right now is drama lessons. (I hope that terrified at least one or two readers of this blog!)
 
Re-entry into the school routine has been rocky to say the least; Sophie has been bull-headedly insisting on doing her own thing, refusing to cooperate with anything she's asked to do, and lashing out at teachers rather alarmingly. It is a bit shocking especially since the environment isn't new for her and the expectations by and large haven't changed (apart from the expectation that "you aren't three anymore, you can't get away with ignoring our rules so flagrantly".) Given how much awful behavior we have been getting from her at home since the springtime, I suppose this shouldn't have come as too much of a surprise, but attacking teachers was new for us and is pretty worrying. On the bright side, Sophie's behavior at home has dramatically improved over the last couple of weeks, so that I actually have trouble remembering the last time she had a tantrum. We're going to meet her teachers on Friday to talk about her behavior, but there are signs that she is beginning to calm down there too. 
 
The piano lessons have been going rather better - after the first rather hilariously disastrous one (from the point of view of Sophie's willingness to do what someone else wants her to), the piano teacher evidently was the first to get past her stubbornness and through to her, and he reports that the subsequent lessons have gone very well. She isn't practicing at home yet, but I am not sure she yet needs to be at this very early stage. But she reports that she likes it, and I am getting good reports from the teacher, so I'm looking forward to seeing what develops there.
 
So in the middle of all of this behavioural drama I saw an advertisement for an English-speaking theatre academy and I got to thinking, you know, we've joked about how the last thing she needs is drama lessons, but actually Sophie is *made* for performance. Why not channel some of that natural talent? I didn't enroll her immediately because it was clear she was still having big problems at school and I didn't think another extra-curricular (viz. another change in routine for a transition-phobic kid) was necessarily the best idea. But as she started settling down at home, I thought maybe it wouldn't be such a bad idea to give it a go - and for that matter, best to get the routine a little bit established before the two-week school holiday in October. It also gave me time to shift around my own work schedule enough to make it possible to get her there during the workday.
 
Yesterday was our first go at it. Sophie was very pleased to be picked up early from school, and extra pleased that there was time to get a snack at Starbucks along the way, and once we arrived I was pleased to see that a brother-sister pair from her school are in the same theatre class! The kids were all delighted to see each other too, and dived right into playing with each other. So after a bit of initial chaos got sorted out, the kids went to do their thing and this other school mother (let's call her M) and I went for a chat over coffee. (I'd been planning to sit with a coffee and my laptop anyway.)
 
Before we went I'd tried to explain to her what the theatre class was all about, but it is difficult to do that without giving rise to immediate expectations of PERFORMING on a STAGE with COSTUMES and MUSIC and all that fun stuff. So I came back to discover poor Sophie who, while having had a great deal of fun pretending to be explorers and hunting a rhinoceros and all that, was wondering when the whole performing-on-a-stage thing was going to happen! She was really quite indignant to learn that it wasn't going to be today, or next time, or in fact for weeks yet, and she petulantly came away with me saying that she had expected to have a STAGE with a LION COSTUME and MICROPHONES and GUITARS and VIOLINS and she didn't like this class at all. But funnily enough, when given the choice of coming to the class next week or staying in school all afternoon, she chose to come to the class. ;)
 
So we'll see how it goes; I hope she'll settle into it as well as she settles into the piano playing, and she certainly likes the part where Mummy comes early to pick her up from school. M has already offered to collect Sophie along with her own kids in two weeks when I'm going to be out of town, which will be a great help to Mike. It may be that we take turns delivering all three kids to the studio this year, which would be a great convenience. And I really do think that, if she can be persuaded to buy into it, Sophie will be a really great performer one day.
 
I suppose the odd irony is that Sophie's being at school full-time means that we can add these extracurriculars to her schedule for the first time in a fairly painless way (since we couldn't really ask C to cart her around town as necessary), but many other parents in her class are struggling with having to reduce the extracurriculars their kids take part in, as those kids shift to full-time schooling! It's just another sign of how different I am by working full-time with a kid under the age of 6 in this country.
Tags:
This week has been a sort of milestone-but-not in the life of Sophie: kindergarten!

In the canton of Zürich there are two compulsory years of kindergarten, beginning the August after the kid turns 4 (more or less). We have had her in the Montessori school since right around the time she turned 3. Montessori kindergarten has 3-6 year olds in the same class, so she's got the same routine and same teachers as before. The only difference is that now it's compulsory, at least until lunchtime.

The real change for her is that she's staying for the full day. Until now she's been picked up most days after lunch by the childminder, as until now she's been considered too little to be able to handle school in the afternoons. So it's the end of the C era, more or less, although I expect C will still get her chances to look after Sophie during the school holidays. They have had a great relationship all this time, but full days at school simplifies life logistically and gives Sophie one fewer transition to have to cope with each day.

If there's anything I've come to learn over the last few months, it is that Sophie really hates transitions. It has started to get in the way of her desire to do new and interesting things, in some respects - she still calls weekends "stay-at-home days" and she really means it about staying at home! The weekly grocery shopping trip is okay, since that has a known and approved and familiar play area, and she can usually wheedle us into a cookie or a lollipop or something. But Sundays don't have any consistent outing, and so she usually tries to make sure that there is no outing at all. This was particularly bad while we were traveling, when even trying to get out the door of the hotel room would trigger tantrums sometimes.

Which brings me to the part where I finally discovered where Sophie fits in the kid classifications of the Internet. A long time ago cfox pointed me toward the book The Explosive Child, which I duly read. At the time I thought there was quite a bit that was vaguely relevant there, but Sophie wasn't such a pathological case as that book seemed to be targeted toward. Quite by coincidence, a few days after coming back from the Australia/HK trip last month I ran across a reference to another book, called Raising Your Spirited Child. I haven't read it yet - it's due out in a new edition next month, which I have ordered - but from sticking that particular phrase into a search engine...my word. It's her.
"Does your child have convictions stronger than most star Olympians? Have they ever been voted ‘Most Likely to Star in a Broadway Production’ by their preschool peers? Do your neighbors often wonder whether your kid has amputated a finger because their tantrums can be heard clearly from the next street over? If you answered “yes” to any of the above, you may be blessed with a spirited child." -  https://www.scarymommy.com/8-signs-spirited-child/"
   
...ANY of the above?? Ha. So I look forward to the arrival of this book.

Meanwhile, I finally decided in June to bite the bullet and arrange piano lessons for Sophie. I've never been quite sure when a good moment would be to start music lessons of any form; on the one hand it's clear she's got singing talent, but on the other hand it's a bit difficult to imagine her taking instruction. But the music teacher at the school is apparently a real sweetheart, and he's well-disposed toward Sophie because she sings and dances so enthusiastically when he plays piano, and already a year ago he had bent C's ear about how musical she is. So I thought maybe if anyone can get her actually wanting to learn, he can.

So today was the first lesson. This morning she insisted that she didn't need the lessons because she already knew how to play piano! I suggested in that case she should show the teacher how well she can play. Heh.

I picked Sophie up after school, and of course I asked how it went. It's pretty difficult in general to get her to tell us anything about what she does at school, but she seemed at least a little willing to talk about playing the piano. Yes, she had gone to play, and she'd shown the teacher how she can play and he said it was ugly, and he wanted her to play with just one finger at a time and she didn't want to because she thought his song was ugly! And anyway Mummy she had to go back out and play on these STILTS that were FUNNY stilts because they had a flat top and round bottom!

Ahahaha. That's my kid, always knows best. (I am assuming the teacher had a reasonable sense of humor about the whole thing; I imagine the word 'ugly' was indeed used, but well random and enthusiastic bashing on the piano ain't pretty.) When we got home I got her to show me how she wanted to play and how the teacher wanted her to play, and she showed me both. And then she did a bit of experimental single-fingering up the scale. Since it wasn't an outright refusal to even talk about the lesson, and moreover she was even willing to demonstrate, I'm calling it a provisional victory.
Tags:
In most of Switzerland kids are generally encouraged to learn how to get themselves to school starting in kindergarten. (I think in the city of Zurich they are not necessarily expected to do this alone - some sort of group walk or buddy system is often implemented - but parents are expected to lay off.)

If we weren't sending Sophie to the Montessori school where she's been for a year and a half, then she would be starting kindergarten here in three weeks. So when she announced this morning that she wanted to walk herself to  the childminder (who lives 1/4 mile away, and the route to which involves one fairly busy street with crosswalk stripes) we didn't dismiss the idea as completely absurd. She's known the way ever since she was three.

(On the one hand, I still don't have full confidence in her traffic sense; on the other hand, I suspected that if I weren't right there checking with her then she would probably be a lot more ostentatiously careful about looking carefully before she crossed. Also, since small people walking alone is not so unusual here, there is a slightly lessened - but still present! - sense of danger from cars.)

So we agreed that she could go by herself, and I would take my own walk to the childminder's a couple of minutes later, so that if she ran into trouble she needn't wait long. I made her wear her bright orange hoodie and tailed her out of the house, but kept basically out of sight.

What I had forgotten was the 100% likelihood that she would stop every passer-by to announce to them that she was walking all by herself!! and so I saw her make some new friends on the route. Including a lady out walking her dog, whose path evidently took her right past the childminder's, and who essentially became an escort. I wasn't close enough to hear the conversation but I really wish I had been.

At any rate, she did it! Walked the whole way, stopped as ostentatiously as I had expected at the major crossing, looked theatrically both ways, zoomed across and then sort of danced a bit, accosted lady-with-dog, waved bye to her at the gate of the childminder's building, reached waaaayyyyy above her head to buzz the correct doorbell, and disappeared inside.

Next up: stranger safety. That will be an adventure.
Tags:
A little behind in my run reporting here...but it's Christmas and I am on HOLIDAY (as in I even disabled my work email account on my mobile devices and closed the client on my laptop) so here is a giant catch-up.

end of term, running in Venice )

On Monday, proper marathon training kicked off. Weird but true: it's kind of a relief to start. I have put myself firmly back into the hands of the U&R coach, Julia, and she tells me when to run and how fast to run and I just go do it (okay, sometimes I go *gulp* first) and I know that I'll give it my best shot and it will all be fine. I know there are some pretty mind-bendingly hard runs ahead of me, but all I can do is try, right?

As it happens I'm starting marathon training on roads that are pretty unfamiliar to me, in the city of Leamington Spa where Mike grew up. It isn't exactly flat here in the Midlands, although there aren't mountains or anything. Last time I ran around here, two Christmases ago, 3K was a really long way. Funny how things change.

I was super tired when I woke up on Monday, but I was also on a fairly tight schedule to get to Oxford in time to have lunch with a Byzantinist colleague I was introduced to over email, so I had to drag myself out the door first thing. Mercifully, it wasn't quite first thing - the sun doesn't rise until after 8am so that gave me a good 30-45 minutes of having a great excuse to just sit there for a few minutes longer. But I went, and managed not to get lost, and found the hill that Mike had suggested for strides. I mis-programmed my Garmin so that it thought I was doing 2 reps instead of 10, so I had to do my own accounting for the following 8. It's just as well I'm so good with numbers, because the method of going down the alphabet totally doesn't work for me - I tried, but would only hold onto (e.g.) thinking about the 'E' animal for about 1/3 of the hill before my mind wandered, and if I remembered it all the way to the top then it was guaranteed to be gone by the bottom. Also not helped by my simultaneously trying to keep count and plan out what the next few animals in the alphabetic sequence should be. In the end it was far easier for me to do the math from the lap counter on the Garmin.

And then I got home, showered, rushed off to Oxford...and realized that I'd got the lunch appointment wrong - it was meant to be Tuesday, not Monday!! So I stuffed my face at Nando's (since I hadn't had time for breakfast) and spent the next few hours in the library photographing entries in a series of Armenian manuscript catalogues that I can't get my hands on elsewhere - one of my side projects for a while now has been to collect every published manuscript colophon (i.e. notes by scribes) from before 1250, so that I can translate them and collect them in a DB and use them as a nice little historical source. It was just as well that I'd screwed up the lunch appointment, since I only got through half the catalogues in the time I had available.

Which meant that Tuesday was basically a sort of Groundhog Day. Wake up, run, go to Oxford. The main feature of this run was 3x3km in progression (meaning I should be gradually increasing my speed from beginning to end) and this time I tried out the towpath of the canal that runs through Leamington. That worked pretty well, although the bridges over the towpath are low enough that I had to duck a bit. People were just short a century ago, I guess!

Then to Oxford, again. I went a little earlier this time with a hope of getting a headstart on the remaining catalogue work, and coming back earlier, but when I walked up to the library lots of people were standing outside looking cold, because yep, the fire alarm had gone off. By the time we were let back in, I had just enough time to discover that the reading room I needed had closed a day early, unexpectedly, and to find out who I needed to beg to get the remaining catalogues from the closed reading room so that I could finish my job. A damn good thing I got there early, even though I didn't get back to Leamington until about the same time as before. By the time I returned, the brothers-in-law had arrived with their families, and Sophie really wanted some attention from her ever-disappearing mummy.

Julia gave me a Christmas present of two rest days in a row (I wager that won't happen again until April) so yesterday morning I got Mike to drive me up to Coventry where there is a running shop. I love my On shoes dearly, but they are eye-wateringly expensive for a shoe that doesn't ever seem to last more than about 400-450km. At the expo for the Silvesterlauf I had spoken to the representative at their booth, who confirmed that they are much more durable for heel-strikers, but for midfoot- or forefoot-strikers they do wear out in just about exactly the sort of distance I had noticed. So I've been thinking of looking for a normal running shoe that is fairly lightweight, and see how I do in it. Which is how I came away with a pair of Saucony Fastwitch 6 shoes. I also liked the feel of the Asics Gel DS Racers that I tried, but in the first place they are EXACTLY the same model and color as Mike's racing shoes, and in the second place he told me that they are nice to run in (confirmed) but pretty bad for picking up gravel along the river trail at home. So I'll keep them in mind but will try the Sauconys meanwhile.

And then it was a full (mad)house for Christmas here ever since. I went out this morning for an easy hour - 9.75km - to run off some of the enormous feast, and to try out the new shoes. The shoes felt pretty good (though I've got some nagging ankle pain that has been with me since Wednesday) but I've pretty much eaten all of that back over the course of today, so I guess I'll have to do Parkrun tomorrow too...?
Dear Sophie,

You are four! And boy do you know it. You were waiting for this for months, and would tell anyone you met. Of course, now that the fourth birthday has come and gone you've skipped straight ahead to the anticipation of being...eight. Maybe you are destined to be a computer scientist after all.

Of course the month has its share of confusion along with the excitement - are we celebrating your birthday, or Christmas, or what? There was a strange alternation of your friend's birthday / the Christmas party at Daddy's office / a school visit from Samichlaus / your birthday party / your birthday celebration at school / the school advent concert / a long long wait to get on an AIRPLANE AEROPLANE (you do take after your daddy in vocabulary) / going to visit Grandma and Grandpa, and now tomorrow is Christmas Eve, and well, to sum up, you've been getting presents left and right. Let's just call it Sophiecember and be done with it.

So - another year on from when you turned three, and you've come such a very long way in growing into your delightful (usually) self. To be honest I've thought of you as being "basically four" ever since the tantrums stopped in August and you started your second year of school. You're doing great there, and I'm still amazed at how many kids, big as well as little, can greet you by name. At the beginning of the school year we were told that you were fairly averse to participating in any sort of group activity, that doing your own thing was basically a point of principle for you. Still, the other kids sort of like you, and lately we've been hearing about the fun you have with one or two of the other kids. You did learn an important lesson about group participation a couple of weeks ago, though. The afternoon activity was to make your own Grittibänz, but when it was the turn of your group you preferred to do your own thing, and couldn't be enticed to the kitchen with the others, no matter how much the staff tried. This wasn't really a problem until I arrived to take you home, and you realized that other kids were going home with a Grittibänz or two, and you had none! You were devastated by this really, lying on the floor sobbing. The day was saved when another girl agreed to share one of hers with you, so you got to go home with a Grittibänz after all, but I wonder if you still managed to learn the lesson because you've been a little less stubborn about staying apart, ever since.

It's a strange thing to write a letter to the four-year-old Sophie though. I know you better than anyone else on this planet (and that is pretty darn well, since you are known and loved by so many) and I hear I'm still your best friend (as reported by Grammy when you were visiting her in October), but I hardly know how to describe what you are like. Strong-willed like you've always been, getting the hang of coping when you don't get what you want, an extremely good memory (especially, but not only, for things you have been promised), very good at imitating those adult tones of encouragement, matter-of-factness, patronization, strictness, etc. that grown-ups use on you when you are talking to them, and able to absorb yourself in a game or an activity for a really long time when you feel like. Still, I have as little clue as I ever did about what sort of path your life might take - will you turn out to have the love of music that seemed such a foregone conclusion when you turned three, muted now but still sometimes evident? Will you become a devourer of books like your parents and some of your cousins? Will your love of 'Octonauts' keep you interested in sea creatures and things underwater? Will you keep having so much fun playing 'doctor' that you'll want someday to turn into one? Will your reasonably frequent insistence on dressing yourself mean that you have a sense of style before the age of 25 (unlike your mummy)? Or are all these things passing whims, and will you follow some path that we still can't see any inkling of? These sorts of questions make it hard for me to know what to say when people ask what you would like for your birthday. Or Christmas.

Then again, I can just tell them to get you more Lego, and then you can roll your eyes while your parents spend ever more of their waking hours playing with it.

Lots of love,
Mummy
We had a milestone here Friday - Baby's First Parent-Teacher Conference.

Sophie started at her (Montessori) school in December, a week shy of her third birthday, shortly after we had moved across town - the options were to find her a new nursery that she would be in for only eight months before going to this school anyway, or starting school straightaway. So she was a little bit young at the time, and it was a big adjustment for her, and I spent much of last school year secretly thinking the teachers must think we're crazy pushy parents for starting her in kindergarten so early and wondering if she was being really unusually disruptive given her young age, but we got through it.

The new school year started two weeks ago. Right now she goes for half the day plus lunch, and then gets picked up by a childminder for the rest of the afternoon. So I mentioned to one of her teachers last week that I'd like to have a chat about how it normally happens with kids switching from half days to full days; the teacher realized that we hadn't yet had any sort of progress report / meeting with them since Sophie started, so scheduled us in for one. These were the highlights:
  • She made a lot of progress last year, but gosh she's so much more well-adjusted to the classroom routine this year. (This corresponds to what we've observed - one afternoon in August, the tantrums just stopped. It's like a switch flipped in Sophie's brain and, although she can still get pretty frustrated and upset, she learned how to keep control. That was pretty magnificent in itself!) However, she is pretty wiped out by lunchtime, so there is no question of her going full-time just yet. We can re-evaluate next autumn.
  • When she came to the school she pretty much stopped speaking Swiss German entirely, mostly because she realized that (unlike at nursery) the staff understood her English. This bugged me pretty much instantly, but it didn't really bug the teachers until May or June, when they started gently suggesting that maybe putting her in the German tutoring groups this autumn would be a good idea. Now, though, she is starting to make baby steps toward making an effort to speak German, and it's clear to everyone that she understands the language perfectly well, so we get to hold off on the tutoring for now. Whew.
  • The teachers basically never have to nag her to find something to work on. (The Montessori system is, the children choose what to work on - for a pretty free-form and flexible definition of "working" - and whether they are working together or by themselves, but during classtime they are always supposed to be working on something.) She knows what she wants to do and, since the new school year started, she has laserlike powers of concentration. The flip side is, sometimes they want to show her something new, but they can't get an opportunity because she's so engaged in what she's already working on!
  • This doesn't always mean she's using the materials for their intended purpose - orthodox Montessori is pretty clear that the kids don't get to "play" with the things in the classroom, and that each material has its proper function(s) and isn't supposed to be used for anything else. Fortunately, her teachers aren't dogmatic about this, so long as she isn't risking loss or damage or disrupting others. So sometimes what she's busily engaged in is some elaborate pretend game in her mind! But as long as she's engaged, it's all good. And just like at home, anything vaguely oblong is a microphone/trumpet/guitar/saxophone/violin.
  • So yeah, she is crazy about music, as long as she gets to do it on her own terms. We were told a story about this: her classroom is on the upper floor so has a balcony that looks out over the school entrance, and one day Sophie was occupied with singing and dancing Very Loudly. So in order to preserve the working environment for the other kids, they opened the door to the balcony and said "Sophie! The stage is over there." Genius.
  • She gets along with other kids, but at this point she still mostly prefers to work alone, and she is pretty resistant to going along with group activities. Apparently the only time she reliably doesn't want to sing is, you guessed it, the group music sessions. She will happily sit with other kids at lunch, or just as happily sit by herself, and she doesn't seek out any particular friends yet. But then, she is still pretty young, and as long as she's happy that's okay.
  • There was talk of possible future music lessons, since she is so musical and the guitar teacher apparently takes kids from the age of 4. I'm still in two minds about this - on the one hand, yes, she is crazy about music! On the other hand, she has never seemed even remotely receptive to learning anything from anyone else about the music she is making, and the very last thing I want to do is trigger this resistance / rebellion and cause a backlash against her musicality itself.
Somewhere during the course of the conversation, I was reminded why this is totally the right school for her and us. When we were talking about Sophie's stubborn resistance to being pushed to do something other than what she wants to do, one of the teachers came out with "She's really a sort of non-Newtonian fluid." And took for granted that we would get it. And the more I think about it...that is totally true, especially since the End of the Tantrums. As long as you are matter-of-fact and low-pressure and positive about what you want her to do, she's cheerfully cooperative. This includes things like tidying away her toys before bedtime, or coming to have her bath after this episode of Charlie & Lola has finished. But push too hard, and she will push back even harder.

Yep, my kid is Oobleck. It all makes so much sense.
Tags:
'Tis the season of summer holidays. When I was a kid I would have been shocked and horrified at the fact that these poor European kids only get 5-8 weeks of summer holiday each year, compared to my 10-12. Now that I'm a parent, though, and working too, even the five weeks that Sophie got seemed to stretch for an eternity on the calendar. (There is the downside of having started her so promptly in Montessori kindergarten - if we'd kept her in nursery, we would have been able to continue until autumn 2015 in this blissful independence from the school calendar. Alas.)

We are past the high-water tantrum age of Three And A Half by a couple of months now, and the frequency, length, and intensity of the tantrums has been markedly diminishing. They're not totally gone yet, and I don't know how long it will be until they are, but things are not nearly so hard as they were in, say, April. Sophie is still an intense kid with intense feelings and a lot of energy, but it's clear that she is working hard on trying to get a grip on all of those feelings, even if she is still entirely in thrall to all that energy.

The summer holidays have been a little bit of a trial for us all - Mummy and Daddy because there is that much less time in the day (and that much more expense) to spend on our jobs, and Sophie because it is a major disruption to her routine and she is still plenty young enough for that to be a really big deal. It's obvious that she would be happiest if she had me to play with on demand all day every day, and it was pretty clearly confusing and annoying to her to have to go to the child minder (though she likes C very much!) when there was no school and so why should there be work?

We did take a real proper holiday during this time, to France to be with the rest of Mike's family for a week. (Maybe next year we'll extend it to two weeks, even.) Sophie got to spend all that time with her cousins, who are 12, 9, 5, and 1; the dynamics were sometimes good and sometimes bad (as one might expect) but all in all she had a good time there. The owners of the place we were renting also live on site, and have two girls ages 4 and 6, so Sophie sometimes had one or both of them as playmates as well. She is starting to really be of an age when she cares about playing with other kids, much to Mummy's relief. She also got to go bouncing on a trampoline, trying out different bicycles, "swimming" with water wings in the pool, running around inside & out, and basically having all sorts of adventures.

Still, she was fairly clingy for much of the week and has been for much of the summer, really. Her new phrase for looking for us is "I (don't|didn't) want to have to miss you!" How can a parent resist a line like that?

The trip to France also involved a seriously long car journey, which was split over two days on each of the outbound and return. I wasn't present on the outbound trip (which no doubt added to the clinginess) but I was there for the return, and Sophie coped about as well as she possibly could with the indignity of being stuffed in the car for so many hours and not getting nearly as much time as she would have liked running around at rest areas. There was a nasty moment after the first leg of the journey back when, tired and grumpy and mad at ONLY having had SIX rides on a merry-go-round in a strange new town, she decided that the thing to do was to run away...STRAIGHT INTO THE ROAD FROM BETWEEN TWO PARKED CARS. That could have *so* easily been a seriously nasty accident that it still threatens to give me nightmares to think about. At any rate Sophie learned a new pitch at which Mummy can scream.

But she held it together for the rest of the ride. There were a few minor tantrums after we got back, though we seem to be reasonably reliably able to end them after 15-20 minutes or so. At the end of this week we took another shorter overnight trip to visit some friends having their holiday on the Bodensee, with a Brand New Big-Girl car seat since she was obviously on the verge of outgrowing her old one on the trip to France. That involved another swimming adventure, another set of kids to play with, and another unfamiliar room to sleep in and strange people and circumstances, which she alternately loved and hated. There was another tantrum Friday morning, when after having had to stay in bed for nearly an hour past when she wanted to go and play (which she dealt with impatiently but gracefully enough) she was barred from rummaging through the toys kept in another bedroom full of sleeping children. The indignity. At any rate, what with the touchiness and mood fragility, we came home a few hours earlier than we had intended to on Friday, in order to give Sophie some good quality time at home for the weekend.

I have to say, I have never seen a mood improve so dramatically. We've all been home (except for a shopping trip) since midday Friday, and Sophie has been playing her heart out, sometimes intensively with me, sometimes on her own, being generally cheerful and holding her mood together even when she was desperately tired and grumpy and sick of our shit (as it were.) She's also showing alarming signs of understanding and acquiescing to rules and limits, over the last couple of days - things like telling me when a TV show is over when I said it would be the last one she could watch, or asking if quiet time was over yet and going back into her room cheerfully when I say "10 more minutes", or saying she was too tired to help tidy up before bedtime but doing it anyway! I don't know whether to rejoice and celebrate or whether to assume it's some sort of mirage or trick!

There's one more week before school starts again, and I'm actually really looking forward to seeing how the next school year goes. Under normal circumstances (i.e. without the whole "moving across town and not wanting to have a new nursery for 8 months only" thing) Sophie would have been starting Montessori kindergarten now rather than last December, but since she has been there for months, there will be kids both newer and younger than her who she can boss around show the ropes. I think this will have a huge positive effect on her actually obeying the rules herself!
Tags:
Today is the first day of the summer holidays (such as they are) for Sophie. It seems that she has caught on quickly to the idea that it is fun to not have school! I was allowed to remain in bed until 8 (also thanks to Mike running a little interference) but once I did get up it was time to PLAY.

It is quite hard to help a little girl "jump very high" (i.e. lift her up while she jumps) when I am still fighting off sleep, but of course Mummy's physical strength and stamina knows no bounds as far as the kid is concerned. Finally I protested, whereupon I had to be Queen Gloriana (c.f. the Emily Brown books) and role-play most of that book, and then we had to go onto the rocket ship and up into space to have adventures, and then (still in character) we had to go upstairs where there was a space party, and then right back downstairs to go back on the rocket ship and assorted sitting on laps. This was the first 45 minutes of my day, and may explain why I had to have a nap a little later...

She is also at the age where she has started to have opinions about what clothes she wears. There isn't a lot of fashion sense in there - today she wanted to wear a red/white/blue tank top with stars (think sort of July 4th theme for kids) and a brown/orange/salmon floral skirt - but I don't mind, especially since she nearly dressed herself this morning.

On summer weekdays she goes to the childminder for as long as C can keep her, more or less - today that meant playing at home until 11am and then, I'm told, quite literally bouncing on C's doorstep because she was so happy to go. She was still cheerful at pickup (we still get the super-excitement whenever one of us appears to collect her, as if she hasn't seen us for days).

But then there was a thunderstorm (seemingly) approaching, and Sophie has been a little fixated on fear of thunderstorms lately. (This weekend there were 2-3 per day that rolled through. It's been pretty unsettled.) She was near tears when I told her why we needed to hurry home, and it was quite something to listen to her talk some courage into herself - "But the thunderstorm won't come inside the house! And the raincoat will keep me safe. I'm trying my best to not be scared of the thunderstorm, Mummy." She got happier the closer to home we got (about a 5-minute walk), and by the time we were in the door had convinced herself that the thunderstorm was going to be happy to see its friends (who passed through yesterday). She did instruct me with serious concern to close the doors and windows in the house though, to keep the thunderstorm out.

All in all, one of the most cheerful Sophie-days we've had in quite a while. She got stroppy when it was time to take her bath, and when it was time for the bedtime story, but it was almost as if she'd realised that she needed to show at least a little petulance today or else her Threenager card might be revoked. I wonder if the whole summer will be like this.
Tags:
Friday evening and yesterday morning: Sophie's very first school play!

It was a pretty impressive production, all in all, with special lighting effects and smoke machines and serious costuming; the script was written by the school's music teacher, who evidently has a huge talent for good scripts that encompass all ages from 3-12. Also, being a Montessori school (I guess), the kids who were playing Roman soldiers formed up in a proper tortoise formation (more or less)! The historian in me was delighted.

Sophie's kindergarten class (ages 3-6) played a village of Smurfs, and sang the Smurf part of the Father Abraham Smurf song, which I'd never heard before but was apparently a huge hit all over Europe when it came out.

Sophie has been cheerfully singing the refrain of this song for weeks, and I'm told that in the rehearsals she danced her little heart out. Once there was a proper audience, she was evidently fascinated / overawed enough to forget to sing or dance for the most part, but she went straight to center stage in order to have a good look at everything. Since she was also the tiniest Smurf (she is the youngest in the class, plus just about all the other younger kids declined to participate in the end) she got a very big 'awwww!' from the audience.

Here she is, ecstatic over her costume; and with another girl from her class. (If you follow me on Facebook, I'm still on my FB sabbatical but I know Mike tagged me in his photo of Sophie center stage during the performance, so you can see it there.)

I've now had two of her three teachers bend my ear a little about how musical Sophie is - she loves to dance, she finds the beat, she sings in tune pretty darn well for a 3-year-old, and she picks up new songs shockingly quickly. Also, I'm told that most objects in the classroom are either trumpets, guitars, saxophones, violins, flutes, or microphones, just as they are at home. I've also had a report from the child minder that the music teacher bent *her* ear about how musical Sophie is, so I suspect it's just a matter of time (and maybe a shorter time than we think) until she's in some sort of formal lesson. I just want to be very sure not to push her, as I have the feeling that her interest could disengage pretty quickly at this age if she senses pressure...
Tags:
Sophie is being three as hard as she can. This evening was somehow archetypical of the way she lives life, so I thought I'd give a little snapshot of our commute home.

Hello astronaut!!

Sophie and the astronauts of Zürich

On Wednesdays, Sophie goes to a different childminder (who is good friends with the normal one - I gather that they share jobs reasonably often) who is babysitting / nannying a pair of boys around the corner from her school. So the childcare happens there and Sophie gets the boys as playmates for an afternoon per week. They usually go out to the playground or the park or some such, and half the time I pick her up I find them all in the garage playing with skateboards or what have you.

But when I arrived to pick her up today no one was answering the doorbell. I was just wondering what was going on when I saw her walking up to the house with the childminder and the younger boy, from the playground where I guess they'd been having great fun playing. Actually this was quite convenient for me since it can be hard to extract her from the house, and especially hard to extract her from the garage.

And then we started our journey home. This involved a great many stages.

1) Stop and say hello to an astronaut. (The fire hydrants are astronauts, and in the mornings they work on their laptops, and they are all great friends with Sophie and get regular hugs and kisses from her.) Explain to Mummy that we have to stay with the astronaut. Only move on after a little wanting-chocolate-induced duress.

2) Give the astronaut a big kiss goodbye. Meet another astronaut further up the road and have an extended conversation with it.

3) Run into someone she knows from school and a woman who I suppose is his mother at the tram stop. The woman knows Sophie by name, though I can't remember having seen her before; the boy is either in the last year of kindergarten or the first year of elementary judging by his size. (N.b. seems that bloody everyone at that school knows Sophie by name by now. I gather she's popular.)

4) Get on the tram, where she sits down right next to a lady and her little boy who is sitting in her lap.

5) Decides she needs a copy of 'Blick' (a local free commuter tabloid) and walks in the moving tram to go get it. Sits back down to leaf through it like a proper commuter.

6) Points out to me that "look! That boy is all black!" and that so is his mother.

7) Continues reading; looks up and tells the boy sternly that he can't have her newspaper.

8) Accepts my suggestion that he only wants to see what she's doing (he's been looking curiously for some time but not tried to grab it or anything), and says that yes, of course he can look. Starts showing him the pictures in the paper.

9) Gets into a discussion with him over a picture of Lego men that for some reason is in the newspaper centrefold.

10) Gets off the tram, waves bye-bye to the boy and his mother, insists that we take the newspaper with her. (Yes, the house fills up with newspaper eventually.)

11) Insists that we run a race back toward home, and get sore legs. Just like Daddy in his marathon a few days ago.

12) Stops running because we have to stop and stretch. Orders Mummy to join in - I have to put down all the things of hers that I am carrying in the middle of the sidewalk and squat and grab my toes just as she is doing.

13) Repeat 11 and 12 a few times.
40 months

Sophie vs. horse, 40 months


14) Run up abreast of a woman walking in front of us, and excitedly point out to her that we are running. This particular woman doesn't respond or notice, but fairly often she gets into conversation with strangers this way.

15) Spot a runner going the other way and shout that we are running together! Elicit a laugh from him.

16) Hear voices of a couple of boys up in a tree. Stop running in order to talk to them and ask them what they're doing and who they are. They confer with each other about how to say what they're doing in English, and manage. (She is strongly favouring English these days.)

17) Run the rest of the way home, so that she can start *really* playing.

This is more or less what life with Sophie is like all the time. It's certainly obvious that she didn't inherit her parents' fear of talking to strangers. I'm wondering how long it will be before everyone in the neighbourhood knows exactly who she is.
Tags:
Well so much for the daily posting - life got rather in the way. Still it would be a pity to stop entirely. There was some excitement last week when I was a little too cavalier in slicing off the end of a dry sausage, and ended up with a cut in my thumb that sent me to the hospital for stitches. Sophie was oblivious to the accident itself, but Mike filled her in when he dispatched me to the hospital in a taxi. I came home a few hours later to a scene of patched-up carnage on the sofa, where about ten of her stuffed animals were recuperating from having cut themselves with a knife, going to the hospital, and getting a bandage (masking tape) affixed to their paws by Doctor Sophie along with a kiss to make it better.

Sophie's moods still need careful management, but there are a couple of things that have helped, the biggest of which is the calendar. Her reluctance to leave for school in the mornings after the Christmas break was over had been worrying me rather, so I adapted an idea from a comment here - I took a calendar we'd been given by the moving company, one of these 1980s-office affairs with a sliding plastic band and a red square to move to indicate 'today', where weekdays are marked in black and weekends in red. So now one of the first things every morning is to "do the calendar", where she moves the square and sees what colour of day it is. When it's a red-letter day (ahahaha) she is totally beside herself with excitement and happiness about getting to stay home (way to twist the knife, O child of full-time working parents) but more importantly, when it's a black day she generally accepts it now.

I still have comparatively little idea what she gets up to at school all day. Part of this is because we pick her up from the childminder, so don't do the handoff at school ourselves (though C does pass on messages intended for us) and part of it is that it just isn't the habit of the school to provide the sort of run-down of the day that we got used to from nursery. Occasionally I will ask at dropoff what she does all morning and one of the teachers is happy to tell me, but there is more of a sense than there used to be that there are these whole portions of her life that I'm pretty unfamiliar with now. I've also got very little idea how much she eats when she has lunch there, but I guess if the answer was "not enough" then we would know by now.

Meanwhile her sense of reality, and her memory, are still little mysteries in themselves. The other morning she was in the bedroom as I was trying to wrench myself into consciousness, and picked up a remote control which she declared to be Robyn's. (Robyn is a girl a week older than Sophie, whose parents were in an antenatal class together with us, and we've kept in touch.) And then she said no, it was Robyn's mummy's, but couldn't remember her name. When I reminded her, she nodded and said that Robyn's mummy was scared! But only a little scared. And a little boy was riding the tractor and Sophie had to wait. As it happens, all that last was a reference to the Pfäffikerseelauf in September, when indeed Robyn's mummy got scared (because Sophie had wandered out of the play area unobserved and so was briefly missing) and indeed there was a kid-sized tractor with pedals that Sophie really wanted to monopolise, but had to wait her turn while another boy rode it.

This in turn reminds me of our last visit to her grandma & grandpa, where about a year ago she fell all the way down the stairs during a brief accidental lapse in supervision. So on this visit (a couple of months ago) they were understandably nervous about having her around the stairs, and in asking her to be careful I said "Do you remember when you fell all the way down them and it hurt a lot and you were very sad?" and she paused and said "Yes!" in this emphatic way that made me think she really did remember.

Mostly, all this just makes me think that there's a hell of a lot we don't understand about kids' memories and ability to tell us things, probably mostly because adults tend to assume that they remember nothing until they prove to us that they do. And it's all confounded by how they express it and what they understand to be true - Sophie doesn't yet understand the distinction between past and future, between "this morning" and "yesterday" and "last week" (or at the very least, she doesn't know how to communicate the distinction. Who knows what she understands!) So she can very easily say things like "I had a fight with Daddy earlier!" that seem totally made up until you realise that by "earlier" she means "last week, which is the last time I was in this situation that you & I are in now" as opposed to "this morning, last time I saw Daddy". Still I keep being surprised by the reactions of other adults when Sophie clearly remembers something from a week or two ago - it seems normal and reasonable to me that she would, but often gets treated as some sort of astonishing miracle of super-kid intelligence.

But if you're flexible about her interpretation of time distinctions, then you know what Sophie meant when she informed me yesterday that "when I was bigger I ride that skateboard." We're all looking forward to when you were bigger, kid.
Tags:
Tantrum-free day! (Which possibly means all hell will break loose tomorrow.)

Woke up on time or maybe a little early today, not sure. We had to be vaguely presentable for an electrician turning up at 7:30. His presence more or less guaranteed that Sophie would be cheerful, since she thinks strangers are interesting and great fun. Shortly before 8 he had to kill all electricity in the house, so Mike let Sophie play with a small torch and I stuck my fingers in the beam pretending that it was the Big Bad Mouse. Much fun was had by all. I thought getting her to leave the house might be a struggle but it wasn't - Mike got her ready while I got myself together, she left the flashlight behind without comment, and then the Mouse was coming so we had to run all the way to the gruffalo cave i.e. the tram stop. Once there she began to scratch her head (like the Gruffalo at one point) and then she needed to 'be a bit less brave' like at the end of the story and lie down and pretend to sleep. Ooo-kay. This game persisted all the way to school, where she proudly told someone else's mother that she was scratching her head and that the Big Bad Mouse was after her!

Montessori school being what it is, they prefer for the parents to wait outside the cloakroom while the kids go take off coats & shoes all by themselves. Given that Sophie still can't undo her own buttons, has trouble with her shoes, and the shelf with her backpack is too high for her to reach, I just go in to help her still. Today at least she was persuaded to hang up her coat on the hook rather than just leaving it on the floor, so I guess that's progress toward independence!

Childcare cover for lunchtime needed to be provided by Daddy today, who took her to lunch at the office. I'm told she had great fun bossing him around and eating all his salmon as well as hers. The only tears I'm aware of today were when he dropped her off with C, presumably because she was tired and didn't want Daddy to have to go.

Pickup (5:30) was fine - I brought the scooter again and she was thoroughly cheerful and pleased with herself for riding it. Once home she wanted little more than to watch videos or TV, but perked up for a little while playing with a stack of CD blanks and their case. It looked like a very Montessori thing actually, dumping them out then painstakingly putting them back in, over and over.

No problems at bedtime either - she wanted to watch a new and different (and shorter) show, and neither bedtime story had Gruffalo in the title. Then again, she was out of bed three times after lights out, wanting more snuggling, which is pretty unusual. We'll see how she sleeps.
Tags:
Someone had a lie-in this morning - Mike woke me at 7:15, and Sophie was still asleep. He finally had to wake her up a few minutes later. The plan had been for me to take her in, which meant leaving by 8 rather than by 8:10, but it just wasn't possible to get Sophie ready to go that quickly so Mike took her instead. Even with the extra few minutes, she had a tantrum because she wanted to stay home instead of going to school. Unsurprising I suppose but a little frustrating, since her readiness to move on to 'getting out the door' has always been fairly unpredictable. She calmed down by 8:20 or so, and they got to school more or less on time. But my last view this morning was of a screaming Sophie being carried down the driveway.

Given previous troubles, C had arranged with me that she would meet me with Sophie on the stairwell outside her door, to minimise handover time and potential for distraction objects that lead to tantrums. This almost didn't work, because Sophie thought of something inside C's house that she wanted to play with anyway, but as backup I had brought her scooter to entice her outside and this worked a treat. She rode the scooter the whole way home, demanding to be allowed to cross one side street 'all by self' but letting me guide her across the bigger ones. I was half expecting a demand to be allowed to ride the scooter some more, and I was ready to give her a few minutes in the driveway, but she chose to come inside and put away the scooter right away. On the way home she was telling me about her day - she ate food at school, and saw a boy being Mr. Maker on the TV (not sure what that was about) and she slept, and when she woke up she played the guitar with C, but then C said they had to stop because Mummy was coming, and then Mummy came! (At which point she stepped off the scooter to give me a hug.)

Once home, she had hot juice and a banana to eat, then wanted to play with my computer, then wanted me to show her videos (meaning primarily videos of herself off of Daddy's FB account.) The videos thing is a little annoying because she has no sense of moderation, but eventually was persuaded into the bath. Actually she came into the bathroom bearing some document storage contraption of Mike's, proceeded to empty it out methodically and then told me to Wait! while she put everything back in, and then ran back to the living room and put it away, and only then was ready to get in the bath.

Gruffalo's Child for bedtime TV, Gruffalo's Child for bedtime story. And she didn't even want a second story, but she did need some persuading to stay in her bed. Overall a pleasanter evening than I'd dared to hope for.
Tags:
School started up again today. Chalk that up along with 'end of university term' for great feelings. We've been talking it up to Sophie for the last week, especially once we realised that part of her moodiness over Christmas might have been confusion over why she wasn't going to school anymore and what was going on. Initially I'd figured that she'd be too happy to be home with Mummy & Daddy to care, but that was probably wrong. So she knew that today was the Big Back to School Day.

7:20 - Wake up. These days we usually rely on Sophie to be an alarm clock and it is rare that she sleeps a minute past 7. So it was a slightly hasty morning routine but not super-rushed. (In the old nursery days, especially after the start of my current job, this would have been super-rushed.) I don't remember at all what she had for breakfast, but she didn't want to get dressed immediately. I asked her if she remembered what she'd do today, and she did. "Big girl school!!"

A few minutes later, though, she was saying she wanted to go to nursery. Of all places. I don't quite remember how I deflected that but I did. And then a little while later she was asking to stay home. I was really worried that this would trigger a tantrum, but in the end it didn't. The childminder had asked us to have a book in Sophie's backpack, so I asked her to pick one out and of course she wanted it (a non-Gruffalo book, though still Julia Donaldson) read immediately. I read about half of it and then she accepted the promise of Daddy reading the rest on the tram on the way to school.

(Old routine: something like half an hour's journey, either tram + bus or bus + bus, with a few minutes' walking on either end to get between home and nursery. Temporary post-move routine: single tram ride of 35 minutes plus somewhat longer walk at one end. New routine: 5 minutes walk to tram, 5 minutes on the tram, 3 minutes walk to school. And then in the afternoons, 6 minutes walk from childminder to home. SOOO MUCH NICER.)

8:25 or so - arrival at school. Perfectly fine according to the Daddy report.

5:30 - I pick her up from C (the childminder). The pickup is a fairly common tantrum trigger, just as pickup from nursery often was. After the second full meltdown in a row upon leaving C's last month, I had an email full of concern about the problem and C seems to want to help fix this. So today, as usual, Sophie was all dressed up in her coat when I arrived, and as soon as she started telling me about her day "I played with the guitar!" it turned into the same old routine "Sophie want take the guitar home!" Evidently C had made a deal with Sophie that she wouldn't get upset at hometime and wouldn't ask to take things, but this went out the window. The upset did go as far as half-heartedly hitting me, but I tried to get her to understand that if she took the guitar home then she wouldn't be able to play with it tomorrow (since they aren't allowed to take toys to school, and she gets to C's via school.) Sophie didn't like this but didn't collapse into tantrum. Then she wanted to take a blow-up beach-ball globe home, which was fine with me, but got upset again when I said I would blow it up at home rather than right away. Another swipe at me, more sadness, and then she agreed to be carried. C was trying to help by sort of threatening that a badly-behaved Sophie couldn't come back, which to be honest was a tactic that I object to (plus, hello backfiring!) and so I didn't play along, but I wasn't going to countermand C in front of Sophie. I did intercede enough to say "crying is OK, screaming is not" when C wanted Sophie to not cry. If this happens again I'll have to have a quiet word with C who is otherwise great.

5:45 or so - Walking home, Sophie on my shoulders having declined to walk. She's still sad but recovered enough to converse - Daddy makes tea and it's very hot so she can't drink it. Yes. I ask if she wants hot juice (normal juice with just enough water from the kettle to make it warm) when she gets home and she does.

When we get home, she wants to ride Daddy's scooter (a dicey proposition at the best of times) and I say I don't know how to unfold it (not entirely false - I'm sure I could work it out but in fact I don't know the mechanism already.) She tries to make me try anyway but it doesn't unfold, and I suggest she ride her own scooter. She starts to get upset, and I say something along the lines of "Is it that you don't like feeling tired and it makes you sad, and then you think of something to take the feeling away and I say no and it makes you sad and frustrated?" and she nods her head and the fight goes out of her.

The rest of the evening was reasonably pleasant. Playing, demanding not one but two peanut butter sandwiches, generally being charming, making me pretend to sleep in the big bed with her, and, yes, more Gruffalo's Child.

8:00 - Stories read, she demands a third story (against the rules - two has been the max for a long time) and generally is reluctant to have lights out. She doesn't want to stay in her bed and starts to attack me to get me to let her go to ours, but I just stay there snuggling and she eventually relaxes, and then lets me go.
Tags:
7:00 or so - woke up, came for a snuggle in our bed, Mummy incoherent as usual. Had some bread to eat

7:30 or so - played energetically with Daddy, refused clothes for a while. Wanted TV already, got story reading instead because damn, TV on before 8 sets entirely the wrong tone for the day. Still obsessed with Gruffalo's Child and the Big! Bad! Mouse! Raaaaawwr!

8:30 or so - I went to lie back down, found two dummies in bed, stashed them in a compartment of bedside table. Shortly thereafter Sophie came hunting me, found the dummies, MASSIVE tantrum ensued when I wouldn't let her have them.

9:15 - Tantrum finally ended only when she found a stray dummy that had been inadvertently left in her room. A right little addict she is, evidently. Mike further cements his opinion that enough is enough and we have to get rid of them entirely. While I fail to cope and remove myself from situation, he tells her about the Dummy Fairy who collects dummies from big kids and redistributes them to babies who need them in return for a present. Sophie seems amenable to making a donation to the Dummy Fairy in a couple of days.

I crashed out properly the rest of the morning (yeah, been fighting illness) and she seems to have played happily. Mostly reenactments of Mr. Tumble stories, or of being the Big Bad Mouse. TV goes on at 10:45 for Mr. Tumble as per usual. I think some yogurt was consumed somewhere in here.

12:00 - I wake up, she's eating Ebly & chicken (but not actually eating the chicken) and annoying her father with her pickiness.

12:30 - Sophie visits Mummy in the shower. (Privacy, what's that?) Uses the toilet and then wants to "wash her hands" with the bar of soap, which involves holding the soap under the water for an extended period and then, when water is shut off, playing with soap on her hands well past the point of sanity, all while I'm having to support her on my knee because she's too short even with a stool to reach the sink. I try several times to get her to lay off the soap and eventually have to call for help - I can't keep holding her, but I can't put her down and let her loose with a bar of soap, and taking it away from her triggers a meltdown. Hitting Daddy -> timeout, where she eventually calms herself enough that we can talk. She's sad and tired but it's over. We try to talk about how soap is for using, not for playing with, and we were trying to help her understand how to use it. No idea of effectiveness even though she was nodding along.

For the rest of the time before her nap she was being her engaging and charming self. Still addicted to Gruffalo's Child though - I had to read the story, let her watch the TV adaptation with the agreement that it would be nap time afterward, and then for nap time her two stories were, you guessed it, Gruffalo's Child and Gruffalo.

2:30 or so - I leave her to nap, with dummies. She tries to resist by insisting on lying in our bed, but I take her back to her bed and have to lock the door long enough for her to quit resisting and go to sleep. It works very quickly.

4:15 or so - Sophie wakes up, returns her dummies, asks for me to read Gruffalo's Child. After a couple of pages she suddenly gets down from my lap and goes off to her bedroom. I hear drinking of water but then I hear some rummaging, and then crying - she's looking for her dummies in their old location and is very sad that they are gone, and is veering into tantrum territory once she is noticed. After a failed attempt to distract her with her stuffed horse, I go to the piano and start playing and that draws her out enough to come sit in my lap and eventually allow that she'd like some more yogurt. Much perkier after.

5:00 - video chat with my dad & his wife. She tells them at length about the Big Bad Mouse, and is supremely cute in doing so.

5:40 - I start cooking dinner. All fine in Sophieville.

6:00 - video chat with my mom & her partner. I'm off in the kitchen but they are all fine.

6:20 - dinner ready but Sophie wants none. All peaceful as long as we don't try to make her eat. Eventually she goes upstairs and comes back with Daddy's wireless keyboard and trackpad, and starts playing with the "computer" at her seat while we eat.

6:40 - bathtime. Unlike the days of yore, this is hardly ever a struggle now. There's always some negotiation about how many washcloths she's allowed, and whether the bath should have bubbles, etc., but particularly ever since she got a boat for Christmas she can be counted on to want to play in the bath. I tend to get the washing over with quickly and then let her splash until she asks to come out. And so the time is spent peacefully until...

7:00 - Out of the bath. When she does get out she likes to be Baby Sophie all wrapped up in the towel and snuggling in my arms, until the lure of evening TV gets her into her PJs. Tonight's show was Mr. Tumble, with her usual bottle of milk (yes this MUST still be in a bottle. Don't ask me.) Bedtime routine goes without any problems, apart from a detour into our bed after she's tucked into her own, which is ended when I say I'll eat her nose. Cue rushing back into her own bed and settling in.

I've been reading the Explosive Child book that was recommended to me (ironically, I have had it on the shelf for many years, way before I had a kid or even knew her father, because my mother thought it would help me understand my brother better. Go figure.) I'm seeing it as more of a cautionary tale than anything, with some useful perspective, but a little difficult to figure out more than a little of the application given that our main behavioral goal is the rather meta "stop her from freaking out when she's frustrated." Much of the book is also an attempt to persuade parents to stop being so unproductively authoritarian all the time, which is already easy for me since I've only got the one kid and anyway I was already aware of the distinction between "authoritarian" and "authoritative" and strive for the latter. Still, the disciplinarian thoughts (e.g. "should we really be putting up with all this bossiness and backtalk?") do creep in from time to time given how I was raised myself, so I guess it's a useful antidote to that.
Tags:
7:00 or so - woke up. Somehow ended up with a bunch of Daddy's race medals around her neck.

8:00 or so - wanted TV, didn't get TV, got mad and went hunting for dummies

9:00 or so - we read some stories, and then got ready to go out to the play area. Her mood was a little tough but not totally unreasonable, heading out the door.

10:00 - Left for play area. She preferred to walk and seemed cheerful to get out. Insisted on bringing the race medals, which stayed on under her coat.

10:15 - Had most of a ham & cheese croissant, and multivitamin juice, at Starbucks. Reasonably cheerful the whole time.

11:00-13:00 - Spent two hours in the play area. It was fine. We hear there was dancing in the kitchen.

13:20 - Got home, fed her roast chicken from Coop.

13:50 - By now she was pretty tired so I did her naptime routine, but she didn't want to go to sleep so I called it quiet time. She refused to stay for very long in her room, constantly coming to find me, dummies in mouth, fairly clearly avoiding sleep.

14:50 or so - Start of an extended screaming match during which she threw her dummies away and then was inconsolable without them for a very long time.

15:15 - Upstairs with Daddy (still screaming), eventually calms down, downs a whole lot of juice.

15:30 - We give the dummies back and made her have a nap given her clear exhaustion and upset.

17:15 or so - Wakes up. Still a little crotchety when she woke up but gave up her dummies without difficulty.

I was already starting to prepare dinner when she woke, and continued. Upset ensued when I made her stop destroying a doorframe liner, and she didn't want to eat much of anything (peanut butter sandwich, juice, a couple of pieces of chicken, no proper dinner.) Sat in my lap as I ate and good cheer returned.

The rest of the evening was spent watching 'Gruffalo's Child', reading 'Gruffalo's Child', pretending to be the Big Bad Mouse, generally perky.

19:30 or so - Bedtime routine starts when she finds a dummy in her bed. She chooses to watch 'Gruffalo's Child' again as the evening story. Bedtime generally without resistance apart from visit to parents' bed.
Tags:
Sophie has always been a fairly intense and strong-willed child. She isn't rigid, or fearful of change, or anything of the sort. But when she gets an idea in her head about how something should or should not be, or something she thinks she should be able to do (in either sense of 'capable' or 'permitted'), she can go completely berserk if reality does not live up to her ideas.

When she was 16 months or so, I said:
At any rate, the tantrums are annoying sometimes but they don't really bother me (yet). Nevertheless it is one of those great unknowables: how soon will she adjust to not always being allowed to do what she wants? Will it become better or worse when she can use words to communicate? If this is what she's like at 16 months, will she be an unholy terror at 30 months or will she have adjusted to constraints? And will anything we do now make one whit of difference?

We're at 37 months now, and it's a bit of both. She will abide by rules if they're established and consistently enforced; for us to establish a rule requires a royal battle (sooner or later) and to enforce it requires constant vigilance against her periodic testing, and sometimes a small skirmish. This in itself is exhausting - I know that parenting advice says, foremost, "Be consistent!" but she really goes to an extreme of punishing any whiff of inconsistency or indulgence ever displayed by her human and fallible parents. Maybe it does take a robot to raise a child.

Not every conflict triggers a meltdown - if she is in a good enough mood, she will accept a 'no' with an exaggerated 'O-kaaaaayyyy' and get on with life. But when she does let loose, holy hell. The screaming goes on for anywhere from 20 minutes to an hour; she hits, kicks, scratches, bites, pulls hair, rips our glasses off our faces and hurls them to the ground, anything she can think of to try and upset us as much as she has been upset. The reactions we get from onlookers tend to confirm our impression that this isn't normal behavior, although if they try to intercede at all it is usually in sympathy rather than in condemnation. Her grandparents have worried that someone might call the police; her childminder has claimed never to have seen anything like it.

Fortunately (I guess), these tantrums are special events reserved exclusively for the presence of a parent. She'll have them in public, and she'll get upset when she's being looked-after by non-parents, but as far as I know she has never subjected a non-parent to this kind of rage fit. Unfortunately, as she gets older and bigger and stronger it gets harder to contain her and harder to calm her down, and the attempts to do so cause more of a spectacle when we're out and about. I'm going to have to take up strength training if I want to be able to keep manhandling her away from doing anything dangerous or attacking me, and the tactics that we've used in the past to distract her tantrums or control their progress worked as well as any tactic ever does with Sophie - brilliantly the first couple of times, more or less well for a few days, and then never again.

It has to be said that she's been through an awful lot of change in the last few months. She isn't really change-averse, as I said, and we've been trying to do our best to reassure her about the changes that have happened. In November we moved house; for the next month we commuted all the way across town to get her to her old nursery, but in December she started at a Montessori school nearby. She also needed some arrangement for afternoon care, and the first one fell through which left us scrambling for a backup plan. This all worked out, and the great irony is that she ended up spending rather more time with Mummy and Daddy than she normally would have, but it wasn't exactly stable. And now it's been two weeks since she was at school, thanks to Christmas, and I'm pretty sure (I think) that she misses it. If the tantrums we've seen lately hadn't already been part of a clear and established pattern, it would be easy to point the finger at all this change.

But the thing is, they are part of a clear and established pattern, and historically she has not been a rigid and change-averse child who suffers terribly from any disruption to the all-hallowed Routine. And so I can't rest comfortably on the idea that "as soon as everything settles down" she'll be a tantrum-free golden child, and I would be wasting my time if I were to go making myself obsessively crazy about providing No Further Disruptions.

A few times lately, she's shown signs of trying to learn to control her temper. A small contretemps with a younger playmate on New Year's Eve caused her to go into a forceful monologue about how "We need to sulk!" and a stream-of-consciousness concerning the "why". Once she had repeated this cycle and so captivated the room for 20 minutes or so, she was fine.

Another tantrum at home over Christmas, during which she was confined to her room until the rage subsided, ended when she worked out how to use a chair to reach the drawer where her dummies (normally only allowed at sleeping times) are stored. So the wailing ceased and, when we walked in, we found a sad/defiant/triumphant face standing with her hand in the dummy drawer and a dummy in her mouth. Given that she now had the ability to retrieve a dummy whenever she liked, I made a rule that they weren't to come out of her bedroom. For a few days this seemed to work to put a lid on the tantrums, in that when she got upset she would retrieve a couple of dummies, and calm herself or meditate, and then eventually announce "I'm finished crying!" and put them away again.

But Sophie, being Sophie and taking a mile whenever an inch is given, began to want the dummies all the time. Which meant that she wanted to have me playing with her in her room all the time, making it as companionable as the rest of the house tends to be, and she was getting increasingly irritable at not being able to do things like watch TV or go out while simultaneously being in her room with the dummies. So this possible route to self-soothing has also turned into a dead end, and we've had to move to hiding the dummies outright when she isn't sleeping. This in itself has led to dreadful tantrums for each of the past two days.

So that's where we are. I guess we will soon see where we go.
Tags: