Monday, August 25, 2014

The Super WHY ABC Letter Game

A few months before Blake's 3rd birthday I let him walk through the toys at Target and tell me things he thought he would like to have. I made sure to point out the games and puzzles to him too. One of the games he picked out was the Super WHY ABC Letter Game. (If you are unfamiliar with Super WHY it is a cartoon on PBS Kids.)

The game says Preschool, age 3+ and 2-4 players. I figured by looking at the back of the box that he wouldn't be able to understand all parts of the game but there was a lot that he could actually already do. I went ahead and put it on his birthday wish list. Obviously we got it, from someone. (Misty and Kealey to be exact!)

Front of the box.
The first time I opened it I was like "Oh no that's going to have to wait a while" I just let him play with the characters and the spinner at that point. When I had time to sit down and play it with him (not while I was cooking dinner) I quickly realized that it was a great game! I'll give you a quick break down of the game. Each character has a special skill just like in the cartoon. Alpha Pig...alphabet power, Wonder Red... word power, Princess Presto... spelling power and Super WHY... power to read.  Players take turns spinning the spinner to move around the outside of the board. Whichever character circle a player lands on they must draw a card from that pile. The first one to reach FINISH is the winner. (Those are our rules.) At first I figured Blake would only be able to do the Alpha Pig cards because it is matching the lower case letter on the card to the upper case letter in the center of the board. The more we work on reading skills the more he is able to do. So here is how we currently play the game.

Alpha Pig Cards- Blake has to identify the letter on the card as well as find its uppercase match. He also tells me the sound the letter makes. He points to the letter on the board and names the letter.
Wonder Red Cards- wonder red is all about rhyming. Rhyming is a pretty tough skill so we go over it each time we land on the space. I always ask him to tell me a word that rhymes even if he doesn't know one. I tell him a few words that rhyme with the give words. For example on the card if it says CAT and RAT I first ask him if he knows any words that rhyme with cat and rat then I tell him BAT HAT FAT all rhyme with CAT and RAT. I have him listen to me say the words and listen to how they sound the same at the end. I also have him say the words to me. I always give him another chance to think of a words that rhymes with the original words. I still praise him even if he uses a word I told him. :)
Princess Presto Cards- Most of the cards have a picture and they ask you to identify the first letter of the word. I show Blake the card and he says the name of the object such as a log. Then I ask him what letter log starts with. We also isolate the beginning sound. Then he points to the letter on the board. 
Super WHY Cards- These cards are the hardest cards so we do basically the same thing with these cards as we do with the Princess Presto cards, the only real difference is that I point to the word on the game board and spell it to him. He identifies the picture such as a DOG I ask him what letter and sound dog starts with. I then find the word on the board and spell it d-o-g. He often spells it with me a second time.

Our set up today.

Just a sample of each card.
It's just a board game so why do I love it?

I love it for a lot of reasons. The fact that Blake can even sit down and play a board game means that he has reached a milestone in his development. We change up the rules a little to match his abilities but he is engaged in this game and understands what he's doing! He is getting some math skills in when he spins the spinner and counts as he moves the appropriate number of spaces. He is also gaining an understanding of how it works to move around on a game board, which is tricky! In this game specifically he is learning lots of reading skills. He is learning to cooperate with others and take turns. He is practicing his listening skills each time as I read the cards to him. Most of all he absolutely LOVES this game. It is one of his very favorite games. I think that it challenges him enough but doesn't make him feel defeated. He's so proud of himself when he is able to do what the card asks him. Naturally I love anything that is making him feel confident. He is becoming a reader and doesn't even realize it. (At least I don't think he does!)

Do you have a favorite board game to play with your little one? I have more games that we love I'll share another time!

Friday, August 15, 2014

A Personal Story...More Personal Than Others

I'm adopted, well my brother and I are actually both adopted, by our Dad. So we have our Mom, Dad and biological father. (We don't speak to our biological father or have any involvement with him but he is how we were made.)

Anyway my point of sharing all this today is a combination of events that have occurred over the last two or so years. I'll start from the beginning. My mom and biological father were married very young. They had me very young and had my brother eleven and a half months later. They divorced when I was about 2 years old. My brother and I spent a majority of our childhood spending every other weekend with our biological father. We were in a rotation of holidays and living the life many kids with divorced parents live/lived. It was our normal, but that doesn't mean I liked it. I remember crying every time he and his wife came to get us. I hated going to their house. I'm sure there were times that I didn't fight to go but I mostly remember not wanting to go. I don't know when the every other weekend and holiday rotation started but I remember when it came to an end. 

My mom remarried in June of 1991 to our Dad, David. For sake of easier writing when I say Dad I am referring to David not our biological father. He was, is, and always will be the only Dad I think of when I think Dad. He stepped in and filled shoes that he didn't have to fill but chose to. When I say that having him in our lives made them better I'm not exaggerating. He has done so much for us and right along with mom helped shape us into the people we are today.

So back to the day the life of divorced parent living stopped for my brother and I. My mom and dad took us out to dinner at Western Sizzlin'. We were having a nice family dinner when they told us we needed to talk about something serious. This was in 1994 or so. I don't remember exactly what they said but something along the lines of Kevin (biological father) wants to give up his parental rights. I'm pretty sure I cut them off and said, "Does that mean I don't have to see him anymore? Or go to his house?" Of course the answer was yes if that's what we wanted. I said yes with no hesitation. We talked more about what this meant for our family and the process we would have to take for him to legally give up his parental rights. I feel like another question that was asked was something like "Does that mean you will be our only Dad?" Duh the answer was yes but we were young and had no idea what giving up your parental rights really meant. We also discussed that Dad would adopt us if we were okay with that. Simple answer to me since he was more of a Dad than our biological father ever was in my eyes. I don't even remember when we started calling him Dad instead of David but it was who he was to us. So with that discussion the legal work was started to remove/allow Kevin to give up, whatever, all parental rights and Dad would adopt us. Done deal easy, at least in the eyes of an 8 and 9 year old. (I think that's how old we were.)

The legal process is of course more than just signing a few papers but I honestly don't remember much of it. I remember going to court twice, once was supposed to be the final date but due to the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building happening just blocks away the court house was evacuated. Then I remember going again to actually finialize everything and being in the judges chambers. We were talking with him about our name changes and going over the adoption details. I'm pretty sure it was my brother, mom, dad and I and our attorney. I really just remember my brother asking if he could also change his middle name. Before the adoption my brother was a junior. The judge told him he could change anything about his name he wanted except for his first name.(My brother and I had our own attorney to make sure our best interests were being represented) That day in July of 1995 is when I went from being Vanessa Jo Simmons to Vanessa Jo Nicholson and my brother from Kevin Lee Simmons Jr. to Kevin Gene Nicholson. We both became Nicholson's and he changed his middle name to Gene just like Dads.

We had a party in the backyard celebrating our adoption and becoming Nicholson's. It's funny to think about it now because I never felt like I wasn't a Nicholson. Our aunts, uncles, cousins and grandparents were always our family and we were close to them. None the less it was a huge milestone in all of our lives and so we celebrated! I even had a plaque that had a cute poem and something on it but I have no idea where that is.

So why now, why has this suddenly come to surface? Its not something I'm ashamed of but its also not something I talk about all the time. I actually will sometimes say something to friends and they will say, "what your adopted? I didn't know that!" It seriously slips my mind sometimes because it was so long ago and I haven't had any interaction with my biological fathers family in 7 or so years. The last time I even saw him or any of them was at my biologial grandfathers funeral and a biological cousins funeral. Funny story from one of the funerals is our biological father introduced us to someone as "my kids and their Dad!" Haha so fitting especially since for a really long time my brother referred to him as our sperm donor. (Go ahead laugh, its funny!) 
In probably February of 2013 I received a letter in the mail from DHS. I was so confused and actually thought that somehow it related to a former student. I opened it to find that it was a family resource letter for adult children. Basically it was a questionnaire about what kind of a father Kevin Simmons (biological father) was. It included a letter and requested that I fill out a questionnaire and return it in the envelope provided. I immediately called my brother and told him to be on the lookout for one soon if he didn't already have one. I sat on it for a while. I read and reread the questions on there. I talked to my family about the questionnaire. I thought about how to answer the questions and I finally decided to respond to DHS with a letter instead. I just felt like the questions they were asking didn't pertain to the relationship I had with the man at all. I shared my response letter with my family and encouraged my brother to respond in whatever way he felt necessary. We aren't the same person so we don't have the same feelings. Initially I was going to share the letter but you should be able to get the gist of my response just from reading this.

Today I found out that my biological father and his wife have adopted two little girls. My response, oh okay good for them, I knew that he was trying to. It doesn't change anything about my life. I honestly hope that it is for the best for all of them. He did us a favor when he gave up his rights to us. He is no longer a part of our lives and we are happy. Doesn't he deserve the same, I don't see why not. 

Monday, August 11, 2014

Changes are Hard, New Phases are Too

Changes are hard no matter what the change is. Right now our change is more of a phase in Blake's development. The new phase is still a change and it can get exhausting.

Last week I thought he was just cycling into a growth spurt or getting sick. He was whining all the time and eating constantly. He also had the nasty smell of sickness on his breath for a couple of days. He never got sick so I assumed it was a growth spurt until today. Today I realized that we are actually in a new phase.

The thing about any new phase is that I hate them in the beginning. I know I shouldn't but I do. It's the change that occurs with the new phase that makes me realize that my boy is growing up. 

This time it seems different though. It's almost like he is going back to doing those babyish things that he mostly grew out of a long time ago, whining all the time, crying all the time and acting helpless. Everything is so much more difficult and its frustrating! So instead of loosing my cool and freaking out I'm trying my best to roll with it. I have also been reading this book, Wild Things the art of nurturing boys, which has helped me a ton!

To help you get an idea of how our days are going here is a run down of now vs just two long weeks ago.
Upon waking up he needs me to come get him from his room or to come play immediately. Cries every time I leave his sight. Cries for me even if I'm sitting right next to him, he wants to be held or be sitting on my lap. Doesn't want anyone except for me to do things for him. Wants to be fed instead of feeding himself, not all the time but a lot of the time. Does not play on his own for any amount of time. Fits and refusal to do things are at an all time high. Has to be touching me at all times if we are in the same room, which is always since he cries if I walk away. (I'm talking hands on my leg as we watch tv or holding my hand just to walk through the house. Don't get me wrong it's super sweet and I love it but it's exhausting!)
2 weeks ago-
Upon waking up he would come to our room or find us with a smile. He was playing on his own for up to 10-15 minutes sometimes longer. (I could actually clean one room quickly or do the dishes.) He would snuggle and give love but was happy to sit in his own space. Was resistant to do things that weren't his idea but not having a meltdown when made to do them. Didn't mind if I was in a different room as long as he knew where I was. 

My oh my, what a difference a few weeks makes. So as I feel myself wanting to freak out with him as he cries for the hundredth time in a matter of a half hour I try to remember the things I've been reading and the things I already know about child development. Sometimes when it comes to being a parent it is hard not to just react. I've had to take a step back or away to regroup and think before reacting. Just this morning after working for 20+ minutes on building a train track that would meet his standards he rammed my train off the track breaking the track and was instantly upset with me. I had to leave him to play on his own for a while. It lasted 5 minutes before he was back by my side offering to help so that he could stay in the room with me. I was beyond frustrated with his method of play and demandingness (not a word but it works). Anyway I walked away and got myself together quickly because I know that he is experimenting with methods of play and learning to play with others (including me). I also took note from the book I mentioned above and remembered the chapters about the explorer and the lover. In the book it says when boys are in the explorer stage they are active, aggressive, curious and self-determined; while in the lover stage they are tender, obedient, attached to dad and competitive. Oh boy does that sum up where our changes are coming from. We are experiencing tenderness that comes from being a lover along with every single thing that comes with being an explorer. 

How do we deal? Not by spanking immediately, yelling, or with any other drastic response. We have to be the example for him. We have to guide him. We cannot just say what we want him to do we must show him. That seems so easy until we have said the same thing a hundred times but maintaining our composure as a parent is key. It's important for us to remember that he is still learning. He needs reminders, reassurance, assistance and natural consequences when safe. We have to talk him through things and teach him how to talk through it. Even at the age of 3 Blake's vocabulary is good enough that he can talk through most every situation. 

Just last night he was crying and screaming mostly out of exhaustion but I could tell there was something else bothering him. He sat on my lap and I told him to talk to me about it. I asked why he wasn't being nice to daddy in the bath tub and why he was crying. He said, "I just want you do it all momma." I continued to explain to him that bath time is daddy time (it has been for 2 years) and that I am always just in the other room. I reassured him that I wasn't going anywhere and that I'd always be ready to come to his room after bath. We also talked about how it makes his daddy feel when he isn't nice to him during bath time. I told him that he has the best daddy he could ever ask for and that most importantly he was the only daddy he was ever going to have. (I know a little much for a 3 year old but he got it.) I told him that he has to be nice if he wants people even daddy and momma to play with him and to keep friends. Somehow out of that he got, 'daddy will play with me as much as I want as long as I'm nice'. Score because that was my goal. He told his daddy sorry and that he loved him and gave him big love before bed. The thing that was different this time is that he was actually apologetic. I felt like he meant it!

I don't hate everything about this new phase he is in. I actually think that besides the abundance of crying and whining that has been happening lately it might be my favorite age so far. I love how creative he is. I love getting to be a part of his imaginative play or just watching as his imagination runs wild. I love how he makes everything into a song. I love how much he dances and enjoys music. I love that he wants to hug me and hold my hand (after all he won't want to forever). I love his adventurousness even when it makes me nervous. I love watching as he learns new things and is successful with them. I love listening to his stories true or completely made up. I'm serious, this is both the most exciting time so far and the most challenging time too. 

When the stages and phases of our growing developing little ones gets tough its important to remember to keep our cool and understanding of the situation. If we don't understand the situation it's our job as parents to figure it out. It's not easy but having resources makes it a little easier. The resources can be anything from another person to an article on the internet. I know I personally always call on friends, especially ones that have boys, to help me understand when I don't or even to offer ideas of how to handle things. It is also so important to remember to enjoy them through it all. So the next time you want to scream or cry along with them do it or take a mom time out but don't forget to soak in the joyful moments!

How do you deal with new changes and phases? Am I the only one who wants to pull my hair out at first?