Friday, June 8, 2012

Hollywood Movie Premier Birthday Party

Most of my kids, nieces, and siblings have summer birthdays. We got pretty used to the family birthday parties since school friends rarely came to summer parties. So when my niece who is Corazon's counterpart (they are three weeks apart in age) asked if I would plan and host her birthday party a month early so she would have school friends there I eagerly accepted the task. Little did I know how tired I would be after all the recitals and out of town visitors but we rallied. We celebrated this past weekend and the party was a success. It also opened up a floodgate of feelings for Corazon which we are still processing and will write about later.

Here are the invitations we created along with movie tickets to vote for the movie they wanted to screen. Kids were asked to bring their tickets to "vote" for their "kids' choice movie winner" and that was the movie we would screen. As added incentive, they were told we would draw movie tickets and choose winners of door prizes.

As the guest arrived they were greeting by this sign...(outside)

This was the entrance... 

We played applause and cheering sound effects while parents joined the paparazzi in taking pictures of the guests as they arrived...
Since no high-profile event is complete with security personnel....

The girls were escorted inside by "security"... and given their "All-Access Passes" which included a candy pass redeemable for one box of movie candy. You can tell someone is taking her job seriously. We were constantly bombarded by "diva on the move" and "anybody have a 20 on the diva?" We aren't sure where she got the language but she was having a total blast. I can't even begin to describe what she did when kids (or adults) didn't have their access passes. Too cute and lots of fun.

They signed their "hollywood stars"...

The decorations inside...

The kids had a scavenger hunt (which had them searching for stuff and doing all kinds of activities such as getting their glamour picture taken with the birthday girl), decorated socks, decorated glamour sunglasses (found in scavenger hunt) and made duct tape crafts.

The menu was pretty basic movie fare...hotdogs, pizza, nachos, pickles, popcorn, and movie candy. This was followed by cake and "popcorn" cupcakes.

The girls had a really grand time and so did the adults and the best part was that my own kids were able to enjoy it without getting totally out of control.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

The look of progress

Lest anyone thing it's all fun and games around here, my darling daughter chose to remind me that she is healing and not yet healed yesterday. It was a nasty scene with growling, drool, spitting, biting and hitting. She hasn't done this in ages and all I can think is that she had too much of a good thing. While Corazon has made tremendous progress, her sense of self worth grows in very small increments. She is hitting puberty and is often on an emotional roller coaster. One of the side effects of this (along with healing) is that she is "feeling" more. If that makes sense. Things that used to roll off her back or by the wayside now stick. She thinks about them and tries to process them. One contributing factor was being around a bunch of NT girls in large doses these past two weekends (recitals and birthday party for my niece at our house) have given her an extra huge dose of the not-so-nice behaviors this peer group of hers often engages in. She doesn't understand the games, especially the mind games, or the cattiness but she does notice them these days. The other was that I had recently complimented her several times about her behavior (helpfulness, lack of attitude, cooperativeness and even a hint of trust). I think that was too scary and too much. Her default is still set to "bad kid" and she has to work hard to convince herself that she is a good kid. I got her a gift to thank her for her amazing help in preparing for grandparents visits, helping me manage Milagro's class during recital and then all the prep for her cousin's birthday party. That totally set her off. It was something she wanted but she acted as though it was an insult. Then she threw a tantrum and blew up about something I asked her to do. Finally she decided to do her cat chores (check food supply and change water) by spilling the water on top of the ottoman (hard to do) and hiding the food she spilled (about a cup and a half) under the ottoman. When I found it and told her to clean it up she blew up. Started screaming, grunting, growling and then groveled on the floor. When I just calmly looked at her and told her to let me know when it was over she tried to bite me (hasn't happened in who knows how long) an hit me. I held her arms and told her she needed to go to her room to calm down and she lost it even more. It took about 30 minutes to calm her and then I got her to tap and rub. Then I sent her to lie under her weighted blanket for 20 minutes. That seemed to reset her system. She apologized and did the appropriate restitution for the destruction in the living room. The rest of the day she was still a little off but last night we were able to talk about the things I thought were setting her off and she admitted she really liked the gift but didn't know why she had behaved the way she did.

I have to remember that this is huge progress. In the past it would have been days and days of cycling and tantrums without any clue about why she was set off. She would never have been able to regroup so readily and she would have denied all the reasons I suggested for her falling apart. This is what progress looks like. If I am not careful I totally miss it.  This was true for Tortuga as well. He has been so jealous about the weekend festivities for my niece and last night we unexpectedly got a chance to see my younger brother who was in town for a conference. We all went out to dinner to one of the kids favorite BBQ places. My niece, her cousin and my sister joined us and Tortuga was impossible. Usually they are pretty well behaved when we go out but he could barely hold things together. By the time we came home he was being pretty nasty and I could see his anger rising BUT he was controlling it.  By bedtime he was mad that no one had "noticed" his anger so he blew up at me. I told him I knew what and why he was doing it, would talk to him about it later but he needed to not cut into my time with C.  An hour later I noticed on his monitor he was still awake so I checked on him. He immediately apologized, asked if he could give me a hug and told me he loved me. Progress.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Dance Recitals

Pollito, Corazon and Milagro took a whole slew of dance classes this year. Milagro originally started in a Creative Dance class then added a Hip Hop because her siblings were in those and she didn't want to be left out. Pollito opted for Ballet and Hip Hop this year while Corazon, because of her dance company ended up in 6 different classes. We knew recital time would be hectic especially after we added a morning arts and dance program for Milagro. She would not be talked out of performing in any of her classes even after I balked at the thought of 5 different costumes and dances for her alone. She insisted that "the girls will miss me mom!" whenever I broached the idea of her not participating. All in all we had 3 kids in 14 dances over 4 recitals (all in one weekend!) To add to the mix their grandparents came into town so we had to subject them to all those performances. I got to play backstage mom for all of them which was ... entertaining.

As I wrote earlier, these recitals gave me a chance to see much more than their progress in music and dance. Pollito loves to dance and does it all the time at home. He opted out of his piano recital because he was "too afraid to be on stage" by himself but he seemed fine to do the dance recital again this year. In classes he is technically fine but it takes him a very long time to master a dance. His processing issues combined with his oppositional nature usually manifest in ways that don't help him learn a dance. Unless the teacher is standing right in front of him and offers many repetitions he will just "fake it." This year was his 3rd year taking dance and we still saw this pattern but as recital drew near a very interesting thing happened. He asked me to help him practice his dances. For about a week and a half prior to recital he would ask to stay up late and practice (learn) his dance. With Corazon's help we retaught him much of the ballet and he started to feel pretty confident in his abilities. The night of the dress rehearsal he was nervous about being on stage but his performance was excellent. I could tell he was genuinely proud of himself and he smiled from ear to ear. I don't see that as often as I wish from him. Even when we compliment him he doesn't "feel" like it is true. This time he took my compliments and seemed to believe them. When he went out on stage for the actual performance he ended up in the wrong position for his dance but no one could tell because he just oozed self assurance and poise. It was almost incredible and brought tears to my eyes. After his ballet performance I was backstage and noticed he looked heartbroken because he realized he'd "messed up." I assured him that his performance was wonderful and even his teacher could not convince him that he had done an excellent job. I couldn't tell if this was his lack of self confidence, lack of trust in others or just plain need to be oppositional that made this so hard for him to accept. Once he got through his hip hop he seemed to get over his bad feelings and was able to enjoy the kudos he got from many people including strangers. It is a new phenomena for him to show any sign of "caring" about how he does in anything. It is an even newer thing to see him actually recognize good and bad performances. At the end of the recitals he said to me "I don't remember my other recitals. Did I do good or bad in those?" I assured him he did well and he responded by saying "I thought I did bad." He wouldn't elaborate. He is on this very interesting cusp of self-awareness and it is rare moments like this when we get a little bit of insight into how he sees himself and what he cares about.

Milagro is becoming such a big girl. She was so excited to perform. She had no qualms about knowing her dances and she was so trusting that her teachers would be on hand to help if she "forgot." She had two recitals back to back so was tied up from about 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. and she was a total trooper. Her stamina and commitment once she makes her mind up is amazing. She had fun backstage and she had fun on stage. She even managed to ham it up a bit and wave to me and blow kisses (at almost appropriate times) during her dances! Of the three of them she has the least amount of dance "skill" but you could not have convinced her of that. Sometimes we watch her in dance class and chuckle at how inflexible her body is as they stretch or how awkward she looks as she tries to follow the teacher's directions. It is unlikely she is destined to be a dancer for long but she is having so much fun! As I watched her during her recitals I wondered how long it would be before the self confidence gets shaken. At what point will she internalize messages that will tear away at her self concept. How do I protect and prepare her for that? I was so proud of that little girl. She danced her heart out and had the time of her life.

I am also incredibly proud of Corazon who has, perhaps, shown the most growth this year. She is a strong athlete and is technically very good at dance. Her sense of rhythm and ability to "let go" need cultivating. She took a risk by choosing to do musical theater this year and I must say I was nervous. I watched her throughout the year and she seemed so out of place. Her timing and delivery were usually pretty off and her facial expressions hardly matched the scene they were setting. For someone who is an amazing drama queen, it was telling to see her be so awkward in this setting. Perhaps this was my greatest surprise. Her dancing was beautiful as usual and I was acutely aware of how much poise and confidence she has gained through dance despite her low self concept in so many other areas. She looks so much older when she dances and I find myself searching for signs of that little girl who preferred to get attention by standing out rather than doing what was expected of her. Her musical theater performance was wonderful. She looked as confident and graceful as she did in all her other performances but she messed up. She missed the mike and one of her lines wasn't delivered so others could hear and she threw things off a bit. When I saw her backstage she was crying. She was so distressed and taking full responsibility. That was a first for her. She felt the responsibility not just for herself but for the rest of the girls.

We have struggled with this all year in dance company because she struggled with taking responsibility for how her actions (not being ready, missing practice, etc) might affect the rest of the girls. In fact, we did not let her try out again for dance company because she started banking on MY sense of responsibility toward the company and counted on that to keep participating even when she was acting in ways that should have kept her out. I had made a commitment this year that I would not take dance company rehearsals away from her no matter how awful she was. That was so hard, especially on day when she was a total jerk, got nothing done and treated everyone with disdain and meanness. For the most part I kept my commitment but it was SO HARD. I found myself regretting our decision to not let her try out again but only for a moment. She is in a critical developmental place and needs to take more responsibility for the things she cares about. Our compromise is that she will take classes there again in the fall and we will also look for another option because she is starting to face some other issues particularly around race and gender.  Much of it is grounded in her poise and skill which I think throws off the other girls who are steeped in their own insecurities based on the social messages they get around here about what it means to be a girl. She doesn't usually get bothered by the things they expect her to be bothered by and their comments get more and more obnoxious. They are also making some racist comments to her and another girl of color and while she has let them slide by they are starting to bother her and confuse her. But, she is processing them which is way more that she was able to do a year ago. Now she "gets it" and wants to know why they say or do the things they do. A year ago, she could have cared less. In a strange way, her dance work this year that culminated in these recitals has opened up this level of awareness and growth and I was able to see it so vividly this past weekend. She is doing some really hard work and I forget that sometimes.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Guitar recital

We have just survived recital season around here and in all the preparations and planning it dawned on me that this wasn't just about getting a chance to see their progress in music and dance. There was a whole lot more that I was getting a chance to see. Tortuga has taken guitar for 2 1/2 years. Prior to this he had not been able to stick to any activity besides drawing. He could not consistently stay engaged with anything-not legos, not puzzles, not football, not basketball, nothing. As soon as something became a little challenging he quit (usually in a flurry of anger and frustration!) We took a different strategy with guitar.

We took lessons away just as he was enjoying it most (we had a legitimate reason since we were going to be gone for the summer) and asked him to demonstrate whether he really wanted to continue by practicing consistently on his own during one summer. At first he ignored the guitar and forgot much of what he had learned. As the time drew nearer for the Fall semester to begin he half-heartedly attempted to practice, continually asking how much practice would be enough for him to earn guitar back. Needless to say, he didn't practice enough and true to our word we did not re-enroll him. Something changed for him in that moment. He was mad. He raged. Then he took a different tactic. He asked for helped. He asked us how to convince us he really wanted to do this and get better. We reminded him we had already told him but would happily repeat ourselves. Then he asked for help putting a schedule together and "forcing" him to keep to the schedule. Over then next 4 months he consistently practiced and in January we enrolled him again. That was a year and a half ago and a few weeks ago he participated in his first recital.

He is a shy kid so we have never expected him to do the recitals but over the past year he has enjoyed playing at home for relatives and friends so when he decided he didn't want to do the December recital I agreed but insisted he do the Spring recital. He did and he was did a wonderful job. He was still shy and nervous but his performance was amazing. He had a poise and a confidence that I have NEVER seen before in him. He sounded good and his teacher introduced him by saying he was a wonderful student who always practiced and rapidly mastered anything he threw at him. No one has ever said that about Tortuga. In fact his experience is quite the opposite in pretty much everything he does. He always brags about how good he is at everything (which he isn't) and the minute he learns something new he is the best there ever was. This was different. Parents of other kids came up to him to complement him. A couple of other boys suggested they play music together and they spent their time backstage doing impromptu jam sessions.  He truly is good and he didn't have to brag about it. He gained a new confidence. We went out to lunch to celebrate his success and C. & I decided this was a good time for him to get a better guitar. We told him over lunch and C. took him to pick it out. His current one was a basic beginner's guitar that we initially rented then got a good deal on when we decided to buy it for him. We fully expected him to destroy or damage it so we had hedged our bets. The recital easily highlighted how ready he was for a better instrument. He has been so appreciative and delighted with his new guitar that we have crossed into new territory. We now have to tell him to stop practicing and he begs for extra time.

Thinking about this made me realize that sometimes we need recitals to clearly see and confirm that which we might have noticed but don't fully see with clear eyes until it is formally presented to us (and everyone else) to see, highlight and appreciate. He needed this recital but I think we needed it even more.

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