Christmas Week

So last week, I said I’d have an exciting announcement for you.  Unfortunately, this will have to be postponed until further notice.

Monday

Not much excitement on Monday.  We took the M&Ms swimming, built some Lego, and that’s about it.

Tuesday

I mentioned last week that we were “getting” Bunny’s present from Monster on Tuesday and that’s what I told Bunny as well, but it wasn’t entirely accurate.  I spoke to Monster last week while we were shopping, and suggested that him and I could clean out Bunny’s car for her as a present.   So, Tuesday morning came and I told Bunny that I was taking Monster out shopping.  For three hours we worked on the car: vacuuming, scrubbing, Windexing, and taking it to the car wash.  Monster was a trooper, he did most of the vacuuming: back seat, front seat, floors, and trunk; while I did most of the scrubbing.  He was a bit worried when he realized that we were going to be driving with Bunny later in the day, because it would spoil the surprise.  I explained that there was no helping it, but that she would be surprised today instead, and he got excited and wanted to stash a card in the car for her to find when we got in.

When we finished, and came back in, Bunny was a bit frustrated that we’d left her for so long.  But later, when she finally realized what we had been doing, she just about cried.  Her own words, posted on Facebook that evening:

Today Devin told me he was taking [Monster] “shopping” for my Christmas gift and I started to get *concerned* when they had been gone for several hours and I hadn’t heard from them. This afternoon we were all getting in the car to go swimming and [Monster] had this incredibly mischievous look on his face and I was convinced that he must have done something “bad” and was waiting for me to figure it out. It turns out that he and Devin and had actually spend the entire morning cleaning and detailing my car inside and out!!!! I almost started bawling I was so touched!!! For an 8 year old to spend half a day of his precious Christmas holidays cleaning my car?! There are no words…

Love you Bunny!

Wednesday

We had some of the M&Ms’ friends over and built gingerbread houses.  Monkey and I built one, while Monster and Bunny built the other.  
2015-12-21-Devin_Monkey

Note the Christmas Tree stuck to the roof.  Also note that for every candy that made it onto the house, at least one went into Monkey’s mouth.

2015-12-21-Bunny_Monster

Later on, we went to visit Grandma and to see Candycane Lane.  Both the M&Ms were excited to see all the different lights, and hardly complained about the cold at all.  Monkey held my hand for pretty much the whole walk (about 18 city blocks total).

Thursday through Saturday

Christmas fun was had, gifts were opened, friends and family was visited, and much joy was had by all.  I’ll post the details with pictures in a separate post soon.

Week in review

Monday

Monster came home and got started on his flash cards straight away, with hardly any prompting.  He didn’t want any M&Ms as rewards, and managed to stay focused with no reward at all.  I only gave him two reminders throughout the whole thing, I’m so proud of him, and how well he’s doing.

Story time was fun and affectionate with both of the M&Ms: Monkey was extremely cuddly on Monday evening, and ended up falling asleep cuddled up to me after story time.  Monster, on the other hand, wanted to play a game that the children call “Stinky Steamroller” (invented and named by Monkey), which involves Monster rolling over me claiming to be a “clean steamroller”, and then when he’s crushing me claiming to be a “stinky steamroller” (or other undesirable type of steamroller), and me throwing him towards the wall on his bed.  This is about as close to cuddling as Monster gets.

Tuesday

I took Monkey Christmas shopping this afternoon (he gets out of school at 11:30, while Monster isn’t out until after 3) to find presents for Monster and Bunny.  Monster was easy, we wandered around until Monkey saw something he thought would be fun for him to play with, and bought that for Monster (a marshmallow blowgun).  Bunny was a bit more difficult, as 1. she doesn’t want anything, and 2. Monkey just wants to buy kids toys for her anyways.  We ended up finding something as we were on the way out of the mall to go get lunch.

After school was Monster’s turn to go shopping.  Monkey was again easy to shop for, we just hit up the Lego section of Walmart, and picked something affordable that Monkey would like.  Took a while to decide what he wanted to get for Bunny, and we won’t be able to get it until next Tuesday.

(Note to self, next year make sure Monster isn’t reading my blog before posting Christmas gifts to the M&Ms.)

Wednesday

As I posted before, this was Monster’s school Christmas event, which we decided not to go to in order to avoid exposing the children to the conflict with my ex-wife.  After asking Monster what he’d like to do instead, we decided to have hot dogs for supper and go out for black-light mini-golfing and a mirror maze.  As a bonus, Grandma got to tag along.  Afterwards we got Booster Juice and cinnamon buns for desert, before going to bed.  (Mini-golfing was so much fun that they went again with their mother on Saturday).

Thursday

We went to the zoo after school.  Normally when we go to the zoo, we spend the whole time at one of the climbing structures there, and the M&Ms play on it for the whole time.  This time, we spent the whole time on the skating pond, throwing snowballs at each other (we were the only ones on the rink).  Monkey skated for about 10 minutes, before my arms got too tired, and then ran around in his boots, while Monster was in his boots the whole time.  Great fun was had by all (with the possible exception of Bunny, who doesn’t like getting snowballs thrown at her) until too much snow was in too many boots and it was time to get going.

Friday

Friday was the school Christmas party for both of the M&Ms, and pyjama day for both as well.  I dropped them off at school, and went on to work, while Bunny went back at noon to help out at Monster’s party.  Turns out Monster had had a rough morning, and was crying for a good portion of it.  She tried to talk to him, but couldn’t get much out of him.  There’s a “giving tree” at his school, with gifts/gift ideas for those in need.  Bunny was explaining to him that they were presents for people who didn’t get any, and he replied “Oh, like me”.

I left work early so that I could go back and talk to him when we picked up the containers from the party, but he was fine by then.  They had been working on a Christmas craft in the morning, and I think Monster is struggling a bit with the fact that my ex-wife, his mother, doesn’t celebrate Christmas (she is a somewhat-practising Jehovah’s Witness), and is a bit confused and worried that she’ll be left out of things because of it.

Next Week

Stay tuned for special Christmas posts next week, with Christmas eve and Christmas day photos, presents, and a very exciting announcement.

Edit:  The exciting announcement will be postponed until further notice.

This Week

Sorry for the late update.

Monday

We picked up a Christmas tree over the weekend, and decorated it after the M&Ms got home.  Monkey was really excited to decorate it (last year he couldn’t do much) butMonster was a bit reluctant to help at first (he wanted to play Minecraft instead).  After a bit of encouragement from me, he got really into it and had a lot of fun.  They each claimed a section of the tree and set up “exhibits”.  Monster with as many gold coloured decorations as he could find, Monkey with all the clear “diamonds”.

Christmas Tree

Here we are in front of the newly decorated tree.

For supper, we had a couple of my friends coming over who the children love playing with.  We had a Nerf gun fight, goofed off, and had a lot of fun.

Tuesday

We took the M&Ms to the zoo to see the festival of lights.  The weather was perfect, and everyone had a blast.  When it was time for bed, and I had finished reading his bedtime story, Monkey was very cuddly and Monster gave me one of the best hugs ever.

Wednesday

Not too much excitement.  It was the last night of Cub Scouts for Monster for the year, and we had a fire and cooked banana boats.  Monster wasn’t a fan of the banana boats with peanut butter in them, but said he’s willing to try them again another day without peanut butter.  That’s pretty impressive for Monster, in the past he would likely have decided that he didn’t like them, and refuse to every try them again.  We played a few games of “manhunter” (a combination of hide-and-go-seek and tag) and Monster kept trying to hide up a tree, but didn’t have time to climb high enough to be out of sight.

Thursday

Bunny and Monkey baked some cookies together today.  It was really cute to watch, with Monkey asking after each cookie was put on the cookie sheet whether he was allowed to eat it or not.  I ate way too many of the cookies, and ended up feeling sick, but they were too delicious.

 

School Christmas Events

Monster’s school has decided this year that, rather than do a Christmas concert, they will host an “evening of winter fun festivities”.  “Card making, a bake sale, drumming, cookie decorating, and photo fun.”

Sounds like it could be a good idea on the surface: make it more interactive so parents and their children can do things together.  And it will probably work well for most families out there.  However, for children with parents who are separated and don’t get along, it may not work so well.  At a Christmas concert, separated parents can sit on either end of the gym, and any animosity between the two parents doesn’t need to affect the children at all.  At an evening of activities, this is not possible.

My ex-wife and I divorced, in part, because our constant conflict was making a toxic environment for the M&Ms.  Our relationship hasn’t improved since then.  The event is next Wednesday, during my time with the M&Ms.  My ex-wife, meanwhile, has indicated that she will attend, that she’s bringing her boyfriend, and that I have no say in the matter.  Ok, so adding to the conflict between her and I, we have her boyfriend, someone whom both of the M&Ms have said they dislike and are not comfortable around (putting it mildly).

So rather than subject the M&Ms to the tense relationship between me and my ex-wife and another person they’re not comfortable with, I pitched another idea to Monster.  Why don’t we go to the movies instead?  He’s been asking for a while if we could go see Ant-Man again, so we’ll be doing that. [Edit: apparently my ex-wife went out and bought the Ant-Man DVD for the M&Ms when she found out that we were planning to see that instead, we’ll have to find something else fun for the M&Ms to do.]  I offered him the choice, and he was hesitant, but finally decided that he’d rather go to Ant-Man.  Despite all this, I can’t help but feeling that I’m somehow letting him down or missing out on “important childhood memories” that I can never get back.  Even though I know, in my head, that the M&Ms will be better off not to be subjected to our arguments, I’m sad that they will miss out on this event because of things that had nothing to do with them.

Affection

Monster and I were goofing off and roughhousing before his bedtime today, as we often do.  One thing to know about Monster is that he’s not very physically affectionate in any gentle sense.  He likes to roughhouse, and when he gives hugs they’re usually playful hugs where he’s either trying to pull someone over, lick them, or otherwise do something silly.  After we finished, and I told him it’s time to lie down and get to sleep, he got up, completely unprompted, and gave me one of the nicest hugs he’s ever given me.  I was just about in tears he was so sweet.  I told him, “You’re a sweetheart Monster, I love you.”

He responded: “Yeah”.

MonsterBeforeHug

Typical Monster before giving a hug.

Rewards and Flashcards

Just a quick update on the rewards for staying focused on his flashcards.  As I mentioned before, he gets one M&M for every 4 questions he completes without distraction.  Today, when Monster came home and we sat down to do his flashcards, he said that he didn’t want any M&Ms for doing them.  And proceeded to have one of his best days ever as far as focusing.  He got a bit distracted in between tasks, when we switched to doing writing practice, but on the whole I’m really happy with how the rewards worked out.

If he wants the reward back another day, I’ll bring it back, and keep gradually increasing the number of cards he has to stay focused for in order to get one, but if he doesn’t say anything, and keeps focusing this well, that’s pretty much mission accomplished!

Moving

Over the next day or two, I’ll be moving from Blogger to a WordPress blog, as well as moving to my own domain name, blog.50percentdad.com.  This should give me more flexibility as far as customizing the blog so I can eventually add some cool new features that I have in mind.

Unfortunately, because of the way Google+ comments work, they will likely not transfer to the new address, and will be lost.  I’ll see if there’s any way to preserve them, but I’m not sure it’s possible.  This may also mean a bit of downtime, but I’ll do my best to get the new site up and running before I take down this one.  If you’re trying to find me here, and having trouble, try the new address.  If neither is working, I sincerely apologize and ask that you try again the next day.

Wish me luck!

Week in Review

Saturday

We were lucky on Saturday to be able to take the M&Ms to a birthday party for one of Monster’s best friends.  This was my first chance to observe him in a social situation since he began taking medication, and he did really well.  He’s not normally terrible in social situations, but in the past he’s often had trouble keeping his hands to himself.  He would get an idea in his head and act on it, without pausing to consider the implications.  I could see him thinking about pushing, crashing into, or otherwise behaving “inappropriately”, then deciding not to.  This is a big change for Monster, the idea that he doesn’t need to act on every idea he gets.  Hopefully, now that the medicine has given him this ability, it takes hold and he nurtures and grows this skill.  For my part, I’ll offer encouragement whenever I see it in action (see also: Thursday).

Monday

Monday morning, I was in court so I could take the M&Ms to Florida.  I’ve already written about this here, so I won’t add anything more now.
In the evening, we took the M&Ms swimming at one of their favourite pools.  I played a bunch with both Monster and Monkey, helping Monkey get pushed around by the jets in the kids pool, and driving Monster around the deeper pool (and later getting him to help kick so we could move faster).

Tuesday

I spoke with Monster’s teacher when I picked him up from school on Tuesday, and asked how he was doing in class.  She said that he’s basically been getting steadily better since the middle of last week, and that she hadn’t had to ask him to sit down and get to work at all so far this week.  I told her that he’s on medication now (I hadn’t told her earlier so that I could get her unbiased opinion on how his behaviour changed).
After homework, I took the M&Ms to my office Christmas party, where Monkey in particular had quite a bit of fun showing off his Lego to everyone who would listen.  All four of us (me, Bunny, and the M&Ms) won a door prize, the kids each got a little stuffed animal.

Wednesday

Wednesday was an interesting day.  I was volunteering for an “in school field trip” for Monster’s class.  I had to rush first thing to drop off Monster, then rush to drop off Monkey and rush back.  When I was halfway to dropping Monster off, I realized that I hadn’t given him his medication that morning.  Ok, so now I needed to drop Monkey off, then hurry home to get it, and hurry back to Monster’s school in order to be in time for the field trip.  This meant leaving Monkey earlier than I normally do (normally when I drop him off, I hang around until he starts to get engaged in whatever they’re doing, so he doesn’t feel abandoned).  He seemed fine with it, so I guess I was worried about nothing.
Made it back to Monster’s school just in time, and gave him his medicine.  This meant that I got to watch him, in a classroom setting, as the medicine took effect.  The field trip was to make a painting, and when Monster sat down, he was squirming and fiddling with his brushes, and having difficulty focusing.  Over the next half hour he gradually calmed down and was able to focus.  Until first recess.  When his school does an in school field trip, the students don’t get to go out for recess.  Which meant that Monster didn’t get to have his morning snack.  Shortly before the recess bell rang, he said he was hungry.  About 15 minutes after the recess bell rang he started to get frustrated and cranky.  But there were no snacks nearby, and I was busy helping the class with their art projects, so there wasn’t much I could do at this point.  I will try to talk to his teacher about this, and find a way to ensure that he can have a morning snack, even on days like this.
Later in the afternoon, Monster had a math unit test.  When I picked him up, I asked how it went, and he was really excited and told me that he “beat the test” and did really well.  It turns out that he actually failed it.  Unfortunately, he misunderstood one of the sections that was worth 30% of the test.  He had written the correct answers first, then after rereading the question, erased them and wrote incorrect answers.  He got zero on that section, and was crushed when he realized what he had done wrong.  I was frustrated (and still am, to some extent) that his teacher could clearly see that he knew how to do it correctly (the erased answers were still visible), but gave him zero on the section when he’s already struggling with his confidence at school.  It was supposed to be a math test, testing his math abilities, not a reading comprehension test.  He didn’t get it wrong because he couldn’t do the math, he got it wrong because the question wasn’t clear to him.  She could have offered partial marks, or given him some way to retake that section, but instead decided to give zero.  I can understand why she did that, but it’s still frustrating to me, painful to Monster, and not helpful to anyone.  Some review material was sent home over the weekend for him to prepare for the test, I’m going to try to talk to his teacher about what exactly was sent home.  I’m not sure if the problem was a failure to learn it on his part (it might have been done before he was taking his medication, and he wasn’t able to pay attention), a lack of review over the weekend, or if the review material didn’t cover that topic in the same way.

Thursday

Thursday evening, we went out for a public Christmas tree lighting, with hot chocolate and cookies.  At one point, Monster and a younger girl were playing near each other.  The little girl was asking her parents to bring her some snowballs, and Monster decided to get in on the game by picking up the biggest snowball he could carry.  I bet you can guess where this is heading.  I was really torn at this point: On the one hand, I don’t want him to hurt this little girl, but on the other hand, I want to let him make choices on his own.  I tried to stay close enough that I’d be able to intervene if he made the wrong choice.  At first he walked around behind her and held the snowball above her head.  He was thinking about dropping it on her head, then thought better of it and placed in front of her instead. He then started bringing her all the large snowballs he could find, she was so excited it was adorable.  Another smaller child started playing nearby as well, and Monster started showing him snowballs that were small enough for him to pick up and play with.  More good choices by Monster!  After the smaller children had left, Monster got to have some rougher fun as him and I threw snowballs at each other, with Monkey handing me lots of snowballs to throw at Monster.

What to do, and how to find out?

So I’ve started to think that it might be in Monster’s (and eventually Monkey’s) best interest if I start looking for a new school for him.  I have had several complaints about the school he’s currently in, but never before this week have I felt like I was letting him down by keeping him there (details to come in this week’s weekly review, will update with a link).  At the moment, I don’t know what an “ideal” school for him even looks like, nor do I really know how to find out.  Monster has ADHD, but also potentially (probably?) a learning disability in reading and/or writing.  He can read a story at or around grade level, but has a lot of difficulty following written instructions, and a lot of difficulty writing in general.  Because he’s in French Immersion, however, they can’t/won’t diagnose him with a learning disability, or at least not at his age.
So that brings me to my big questions at the moment:

  1. How can I get a more thorough assessment of Monster’s difficulties?
  2. What would the “ideal” school for Monster and Monkey look like?
  3. Am I doing him a disservice by insisting on keeping him in French Immersion, or will this actually help him?
  4. Are there any schools in the city that would be better for him?  The province?  The country?
  5. Is it worth the legal battle that would undoubtedly ensue to move him, if there is a better opportunity for him elsewhere?
  6. Are there any support tools available that would help him out?  How can I convince my ex-wife to use them for him as well?
I’ll be doing my best to explore these questions, and blog about whatever I find over the next few weeks.

Court

I debated quite a bit about whether I should write this post or not, but finally decided to in the hopes that it will help others going through something similar.  I had very little idea what to expect going into court, and, as a result, was nervous and forgetful when speaking to the judge.

Backstory

So there’s a bit of a backstory to this post.  Bunny’s brother is getting married in Florida in April, and her parents have offered to fly us and the M&Ms out for a vacation and to attend the wedding.  For any of you who are divorced with kids, you know that this means I need a consent to travel form signed by my ex-wife or a court order allowing me to travel.  So I asked my ex whether she would sign a consent to travel form.  After some back and forth, we were unable to come to any agreement on what days she would get the kids in exchange.  I was worried if it got delayed too much further, we would have trouble getting the flights/reservations we needed, so I decided to take it to court.

Process

The process for making an application in court in Alberta is pretty straightforward, Bunny and I managed to navigate the process ourselves.
  1. The application forms for most things under family law are available from Family Justice Services, but it’s not very clear which one I needed.  Looking through the forms in the relevant section, there was only one that had an option to ask for permission to travel, so that was the one I used.
  2. The next step is, obviously, to fill the form out.  This can be quite time consuming, depending how much there is to attach.  I had to include my separation agreement, the original divorce order, as well as a thorough description of what was planned (including the addresses we intend to stay at).  At the end of the day, this whole process feels pretty useless when you realize that precisely nobody reads any of this (at least in this case, maybe there is the occasional one where they read it; I sure felt like this was a waste of time).
  3. After making sure it’s completed, I took it to the court and filed it.  It cost $50 to file, they asked me to choose a court date, then they stamped it, signed it, made me swear/affirm (you have the option of either swearing on a bible or affirming that what you file is true; both are equally legally binding) that it was true, and then gave me a copy of it.
  4. Then I made another copy, and served one on my ex-wife.  I simply showed up at her house (well after the kids were in bed, so there was little/no chance of conflict in front of them), and rang the doorbell.  When she opened the door, I said “I have a present for you” and placed the forms in her hand, and walked away.
  5. The final thing to do before court was to file an affidavit of service, in which I affirmed the date and location where I gave the papers to my ex-wife.
  6. This morning rolled around, and I showed up in court.  I showed up a bit early, and spoke with the duty counsel (that’s a lawyer that’s on duty to help individuals not represented by lawyers in order to ensure everything runs smoothly).  She was an extremely helpful person who took notes on everything about my case, and spoke briefly with my ex-wife as well, in order to help present everything to the judge.
  7. Speaking in front of the judge.  As I was the applicant, my story was the first to be told.  Duty counsel did most of the speaking, based on our earlier conversation.  Then my ex-wife’s side of the story was told.  After each of our sides was presented, the judge went back and forth asking us questions.  “What times would work for you?”, “Why doesn’t that work for you?” etc. and so on.  At one point, as I was speaking, the duty counsel reminded me of something I had mentioned to her earlier, but forgotten to say, so I was able to add it. (Like I said, very helpful person, someone should send her a gift, but that’s probably horribly inappropriate.)
  8. After what felt like only 30 seconds of back and forth (I’m sure it was probably longer, but it seemed to be over in an instant) the judge said “I’m going to make an order, it’s going to say this, this, and this.”  And I felt like saying “Wait, I didn’t get to say this, that, or that.”  But that was it, no more chance to speak.
  9. Then I sat and waited while the order was typed up, and then signed.  We were each given two copies (or at least I was given two, she was given at least one).  My ex-wife informed me that she intends to appeal it, though I’m not sure what grounds she believes she has for that.

Results

The bad

The kids will be spending their spring break with my ex-wife.  This is unfortunate, because I get very few non-school days with the M&Ms as it is.  Because I have them Monday afternoon through to Friday morning, I miss out on most of the school holidays (which are on Mondays and Fridays) as well as the weekends.  It really makes it hard sometimes to visit family and friends with them, and we had been planning to take a trip to visit two of my aunts and Bunny’s parents over spring break.

I didn’t get awarded costs.  I had asked for costs to be awarded for this application, but that got left by the wayside in the discussion about which times would work for whom.

The good

While I didn’t get awarded costs, the only cost for the application was $50.  As I had agreed to pay $42 for the signing and notarizing of the consent to travel form from the start, which I now don’t have to pay.  So I’m really only out $8 more at the end of the day.
I can take the M&Ms on the trip.  The judge granted permission to travel with the children for the dates I requested.
The judge was sympathetic to my argument that I don’t get much non-school time with the M&Ms, and has specified that for spring break, the will return to me at 5:00 pm on the Saturday, so I will at least have Sunday with them.

Final Thoughts

After talking with Bunny about this, we’ve decided that instead of being upset about not being able to take the M&Ms to visit family over spring break, we’re going to take a vacation for the two of us, since we haven’t managed to have a honeymoon yet.  We haven’t decided where to go yet, feel free to leave suggestions in the comments.