Dante Month 41, 42, 43, 44 and 45 (10/1/2006)
I suspect you are all looking at your calendars with some confusion and thinking “wouldn’t 4 months put us at the end of August, not September?” Well, the good news is, you can count! The bad news is that Mommy’s camera, after taking about 5000 pictures, started becoming temperamental and the CCDs finally gave out. As a result there are no pictures from the latter part of August or any in September. Since Mommy couldn’t take the usual family portrait in front of the fan, DanteWeb was impossible to complete. Mommy went through something resembling withdrawal symptoms and her hands literally shook every time she saw someone with a camera. Unfortunately it seems that the class of camera Mommy is rather fond of (not a point and shoot, not a DSLR, but a prosumer-type with a decent CCD size) is pretty much non-existent anymore. After a great deal of research and hours of analysis with a highly amused Daddy (who knew what Mommy would end up with the instant they started), Mommy made the decision to upgrade to DSLR rather than downgrade to lower quality pictures. So the good news is that Mommy has a new Nikon D-80. The bad news is that she is on a many month long waiting list for the lens of her dreams.

So what has been happening these last 5 months? A great deal! May and June were transition months from Spring to Summer. Various schools and classes ended and new classes began so every week was different. Mommy now understands why people have dry erase calendars on their fridges. Daddy never had any idea when anything was going on and thus especially enjoyed Dante’s recap of each day’s activities during dinner.

Dante finished his first year of pre-school at the Duvall Montessori School with a very cute end-of-the-year performance. He will miss his teachers and friends from Duvall, but is very excited to be going to what he calls “big boy school” at the Monroe Montessori School, which started at the beginning of September (more on that later). He danced in the Duvall Performing Arts end of the year recital, which Grandma and Grandpa attended, and during which Grandma could not stifle her constant giggles as she watched a multitude of 3 and 4 year olds being herded from one side of the stage to the other. After dance classes ended for the year, Dante was so miserable without Ms. Rachel that Mommy signed him up for a one week dance camp in which they studied and performed Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf. Dante was one of two wolves and he particularly enjoyed trying to catch the bird and the cat. The spring semester of Kindermusik also ended, as did the month-long Kindermusik summer camp.

With the advent of summer, Mommy introduced a few new activities. She discovered FasTracKids in Redmond, a learning enrichment program which Dante decided was much more fun than school and informed Mommy that “I want to go to FasTracKids until I am one hundred years old.” He was thrilled with the Astronomy unit and briefly considered becoming an astronaut. Not for long, however, because Mommy bought tickets to the Cirque du Soleil, at which point Dante became firmly convinced that he wanted to be an acrobat. So Mommy enrolled him in summer gymnastics classes at Northwest Aerials with Misia and Agnieszka. By the end of the summer, his teacher requested that he be moved up to the next level. Mommy, a bit dumbfounded but pleasantly surprised, agreed to give it a try, and when the fall semester began, Dante began attending the 4 and a half yr old to 6 year old class. Surrounded by more advanced, more serious little girls, Dante himself has taken a more serious attitude and seems to be enamored with all the new positions and moves he is being taught. He continued to bug Mommy about his lack of proper attire for gymnastics and dance class. “Why don’t I have a leotard?”, “Mommy, I want a tutu, too!” etc. Mommy researched many websites and finally found one that actually sells boys dance and gymnastics attire for his tender age and short stature. Now Dante sports several very slick leotards and matching shorts or stirrup pants. He adores the attention he gets when adults comment on his spiffy professional-looking outfit and refuses to take it off after class for hours, claiming to be “more comfortable” in it.

The gymnastics classes instilled a bit of bodily discipline in Dante, and he has started dance classes at Duvall Performing Arts again this fall, this time with Ms. Yana. She keeps telling Mommy how much he has matured over the summer, improved in his flexibility (he can touch his toes to the back of his head and almost do a split) and most especially developed his focus. Mommy suspects this is just a natural progression in every child’s development, but who knows. Dante comes home from dance classes and gymnastics classes eager for more stretching in the living room, and has recruited even Daddy to stretch with him after work, which causes no end of amusement to Mommy and Daddy and no end of puzzlement to Dante, who does not understand why Daddy’s body simply doesn’t GO that way. He also makes Mommy stretch with him before she goes to HER ballet class on Tuesday nights.

Mommy also decided to enroll Dante in Gymboree art classes during the summer, but Gymboree moved its music and art studio and there were so many impromptu outings that Mommy kept extending the enrollment, and Dante will continue taking the classes into November. Now, however, he is in a drop-off class, which he seems to really enjoy and Mommy has an hour to go shopping at the mall!

Summer is synonymous with swimming for many people, so Mommy also decided to explore swimming lesson options for Dante. Based on some recommendations, Mommy decided to enroll Dante for lessons with Linda Riggins first. It turned out that Northwest Aerials also has swimming lessons during the summer, and since Agnieszka and Misia and Dante were all there for gymnastics together, it made sense to enroll them in swimming class together. But Dante already adored Calvin, his teacher at Linda Riggings, so when Mommy asked him if he wanted to go swim with Misia and Agnieszka or with Calvin, he replied in his usual decisive fashion “Both”. Mommy was skeptical, but agreed to the setup for the month of August, even though it meant that Dante was swimming three times a week, two of those times on Thursday. Although it tired him out, Dante did make quick progress and was swimming reasonably horizontally with only one and a half floaties by the end of the month. Calvin, however, pushed a bit harder one time and made Dante dive into the pool headfirst from the trampoline a few times. Dante did not protest at first and seemed to be fine, but after the lesson he suddenly decided he was too scared to dive and spent the next couple weeks vehemently resisting jumping into the pool because he was afraid he would be required to do so headfirst. He did not protest when Mommy declared he was done with swimming until next summer.

So aside from FasTracKids, Dante had no academically oriented group activities. Perhaps the lack of these inspired him to search for his own avenues of intellectual enrichment. While school was still in session, he memorized Daddy’s phone number at work, complete with 1 and area code. When school let out he learned his own phone number and keeps trying to memorize all his friends’ house numbers. He began asking about the letters above the window in Mommy’s car. Pretty soon, Dante would spend entire trips shouting “East”, “Northeast”, “North”, etc every time they turned while driving as he watched the direction display

During a trip to Costco, as Mommy was driving him by a book section on the way to something else, Dante demanded to see a certain book, which turned out to be a workbook. Amused, Mommy took the 3rd grade version away from him, but agreed to let him have a Preschool one to bring home. Obsessed, Dante spent 3 hours working with Mommy and completing over 50 pages the first time while Daddy replaced rotting boards on the deck. His enthusiasm has curbed a bit and now he usually does about 5-10 pages at a sitting, depending upon his mood or how much time there is before another activity is scheduled to start. He has almost completed the 300 page book and has dabbled with a few others. Being rewarded with stars and train stickers seems to be extremely motivational for him, though he does have a true desire to simply see what the next page will bring.

In parallel, his desire to read and write also increased. Some nights he would focus and read up to 6 or 7 books to Mommy (and she would read him a hard book for each book he would read to her). He can pretty much read any “Level 1” Scholastic-type book. Mommy just kept buying them at the used book store in Duvall so that he wouldn’t be able to simply memorize them (which usually takes about 2 or 3 readings) but constantly have new material. “Th, “sh”, and ”ch” have long been mastered and he is working on “silent e”, “silent gh”, and some phonic blends like “ee”, “ea”, “oo”, as well as recognizing endings like “ing” and “er” instantly. He seems to have internalized longer more common words such as should, could, would, and through. Unfortunately, since Dante became rather proficient at the easy stuff, he stopped sounding things out and simply “sight reads”. This of course results in him guessing at words he doesn’t know, and the sight of an unfamiliar word (even if it is easily sounded out) is now causing visible frustration. He is going through yet another transitional period in which Mommy and Daddy, as well as his new preschool teachers (Mrs. Dean and Mrs. Edelbrock), are trying to make him less frustrated when going outside of his comfort zone. This seems to be a recurring theme.

Speaking of frustration, one of Dante’s favorite expressions is “I’m frustrated”, along with “I’ve made a decision”, “I figured it out”, “I’ve completed my project”, "Can this be arranged?", "...For the moment", "I have a problem", "But wait", and numerous other “older” sounding phrases that make most adults laugh. His most frequently used phrase is "I have an idea!", which frequently does signify a completely off the wall idea, or the combination of "But wait, I have an idea!", which usually forecasts the beginning of a complex negotiation.

Now when doing mazes (he still loves them) he stops at each branch point and informs Mommy that “I have to make a decision. What do you think, Mommy, which way should I go?” Of course almost always he does this while in the car and Mommy has no clue what the maze even looks like. The first time Mommy bought Dante a bunch of maze books (as opposed to Internet printouts), she gave him one in the car on the way to the Day Out With Thomas event, knowing that it would be a long ride and hoping Dante would be happily occupied by the 20 page booklet. To her great surprise Dante had completed the entire book by the time they arrived at the gas station in Duvall (about 12 minutes after leaving the house). Unfortunately, it is becoming more and more difficult to find mazes that are complex but still have large spaces between the walls. The smaller alleys make it almost impossible for Dante to keep track of his path, especially when he is attempting to solve the maze in the car. Daddy has reviewed some Internet maze generators and Mommy suspects they will be using one shortly.

Mazes and roller coasters are naturally related for Dante. The summer began with Mommy purchasing a Scholastic book about roller coasters. Drawing mazes evolved into drawing roller coasters. Dante rode on his first roller coaster alone at Redmond’s Derby Days. Then Mommy took him to Remlinger Farms for an entire day, during which he spent a full two hours riding the roller coaster. As it was a Tuesday, the place was practically empty and Jeff, the roller coaster operator that day, got bored of stopping the roller coaster every 3 loops to ask Dante if he wanted more. Jeff decided that when no one else was in line, which was most of the time, he’d just let the roller coaster run for 5 minutes at a time and then stop it to see if Dante was turning green yet. It was only Mommy who was turning green just by watching. The summer roller coaster craze culminated with the Evergreen State Fair. As Dante was now tall enough to go on a bunch of “bigger” rides accompanied by an adult, Daddy found himself wearing a hot pink ride bracelet. Not afraid of Ferris wheels or tilt-a-whirls, they tried every ride Dante was big enough to go on, but in the end, the Wacky Worm Roller Coaster won out. Mommy lost count after they went on it 20 times, and that was still in the afternoon. Dante declared it to be his “favorite favorite favorite day in the world”.

Dante helped celebrate a number of birthdays over the last 5 months, including Grandpa’s, Misia’s, Bobby’s, Connor’s, Weronika’s, and of course Mommy’s and Daddy’s. As each person celebrated a birthday, he anxiously awaited his own celebration, so knowing exactly how old he was became a priority. He progressed from telling people he was 3 and a half, to telling them he was 3 and seven twelfths, to 3 and two thirds. The specificity of his responses to the “how old are you” question frequently caused confusion among adults, especially during the 3 and seven twelfths month. Mommy encountered a few people who would repeat the words back at her exactly and then with a blank look ask “what’s that?” Apparently most people don’t do fractions beyond quarters nowadays.

Mommy and Daddy's birthday were especially special this year as Dante was determined to bake them both a cake. With Daddy's help, he made Mommy a chocolate cake and beautifully decorated it with a scattered rainbow of jelly bellies. He discovered an Elmo cake pan Mommy had acquired via Freecycle and decided it was perfect for Daddy's cinnamon-swirl cake. But instead of a red Elmo, Dante announced that this was a "Daddy Monster" cake, and that it had to be blue, with white eyes with chocolate sprinkled dots as pupils, a very large mouth made of gummy fruits, and an almost straight line of red hots along the side. Dante is also already planning his own birthday cake for when he turns 4. Since Misia had two birthday cakes at her 4th birthday party, and Mommy explained this was so the adults could have a less sweet but more complicated cake while the kids could have a more sweet but less complicated cake, Dante declared that he wanted a Blue-shaped sweet complicated cake for the kids and a Joe or Steve less sweet uncomplicated cake for the adults! Mommy thinks this is a bit excessive, but we will see what happens over the next 3 months…

So as you can infer, there has been a bit of a Blue’s Clues revival and Dante claims he wants a Blue’s Clues birthday complete with a treasure hunt. His maze/roller coaster drawings now incorporate dashed lines and have been dubbed treasure maps with an X at the end to mark “the spot”. At art class last week Dante even drew a treasure map on the t-shirt he was decorating! He especially loves computer games and television show episodes with treasure hunt themes. Television, however, has taken a back seat to everything this summer and Dante has not really added much to his viewing repertoire other than Miss Spider’s Sunny Patch Friends. His favorite show for a while was actually “So you think you can dance” and he would make Mommy fast forward through all the talking to get to the 90 second dance segments, which he would watch over and over and over and over...

This summer Dante experienced camping for the first time. For Mommy and Daddy’s 14th wedding anniversary on July 4th, they went to Orcas Island to Moran State Park where they camped right by the shore of Mountain Lake. Dante loved pitching the tent, which he did essentially by himself as Daddy had sprained his wrist in a work morale event a few days before and as Mommy was taking pictures as always. He only needed help with the topmost clips, which he simply could not reach. Mommy and Daddy had never gone "car camping" before. They were not used to having bathrooms with Purell, garbage and recycling bins, fire pits, picnic tables, and prepared tent plots all within walking distance of their car. It was a low impact experience, requiring less planning and less tetrisizing of equipment, though also less private. Mommy froze in sudden panic when exiting the tent in the dark of night, thinking at first that she was surrounded by bears, only to find after her heart resumed beating that she was actually surrounded by snores from nearby campsites.

Dante wanted to hike and hike and hike. Instead of hiking one long distance, Moran State Park was filled with numerous shorter quarter mile to one mile long hikes. Altogether it was a wonderful experience, though Daddy was frustrated by the breakdown of the ferry system, which resulted in waiting in line for the ferry from 3:30 to 8:30 on the way home.

Dante was so interested in going camping again that it was a good thing Mommy had made reservations for a 2 night stay at Lake Wenatchee for her own birthday. This time there was no ferry involved and travel to and from was considerably quicker. The campsite area was filled with children, who, while not hiking, riding their bikes, or swimming, played on the playground structure while parents grilled meals or did their own thing. Dante, of course, also had to play there and endeavored to make new friends. As the littlest “independent” one, he had a bit of trouble at first, since many people were there in large groups of several families and the kids seemed to know one another. But Dante is resourceful, and he discovered a new way to get people’s attention...

Bored with the playground structure itself, Dante picked up a rather long tree branch by one end and began dragging it around the entire play area. As he did so, he created a small trough in the ground and decided for himself that he was going on… a roller coaster! He hooped and hollered and seemed to be enjoying himself so much that he attracted the attention of the other kids, who stopped their own games to stare at him. Unperturbed, he invited “want to come ride on my roller coaster?” Shyly at first, two kids picked up the branch in the middle and at the trailing end, and Dante took them for a ride, complete with “raise your hand, this is the upside down part” when going down a dirt hill. He established a path which began and ended at a specific location and after each ride more kids wanted a turn. Soon other kids began to look for their own sticks and started their own “roller coaster businesses”. It was fascinating to watch which businesses survived and which ones failed. Innovation was crucial, as were flexible hours, ride “price”, speed, number of twists and turns, and even equipment quality (a non-scratchy easy-to-grasp stick). Mommy and Daddy watched, as well as several other parents who were summoned from the far outskirts of the camp-village, and experienced something akin to the wonder of a scientist watching his experiment unfold before his eyes. The roller coaster craze continued even the next day, as when Mommy entered the bathroom in the morning, the first thing she heard from a child brushing her teeth was “is the roller coaster kid awake yet?” But when everyone is trying to have a roller coaster business, there are fewer customers and competition becomes very fierce. After a while, Dante decided that it was time to do something else.

During their travels down to Hidden Lake and along the shore of Lake Wenatchee, Mommy and Daddy searched high and low for a good walking stick for Dante. They encountered several candidates and brought them back to the campsite so that Daddy could whittle Dante’s name on the best one. Dante began to play with the rejected sticks, tapping them on the picnic table by the playground until they broke in multiple places. The wood was reasonably thick, light and barkless and Dante suddenly found that he had several great 8 inch long sticks. He climbed on the playground and began to hit the structure everywhere with two of the sticks, discovering which pieces of the structure made an interesting sound. He found a convenient alcove with a set of metal rungs of different lengths and began to tap out interesting rhythms. Within minutes kids were hunting for “drum sticks” and everyone wanted to find a different piece of the playground to pound on. The cacophony drew quite a few parents to watch the new trend Dante had instigated in wonderment. It was clear that roller coaster rides were "so 24 hours ago".

And Dante continues to find playground structures boring when used solely as they were intended to be used. For example, he sometimes “sets up shop” and begins to sell pretend ice cream or lemonade or whatever he fancies for woodchips or invisible money. The amazing thing is that by sheer force of will he manages to get total strangers involved and he sets the rules of the game. Most recently, however, Dante graduated to his “big boy bicycle” (a two wheeler with training wheels), which he learned how to ride in the garage. Playground structures have been all but abandoned and his favorite park activity is zooming around along the various bike paths (more mazes!). Now if only he’d actually start using the brakes properly…

As Dante spends a lot of time in the car, while Mommy goes a bit stir crazy when the same CD is played for more than a week, Daddy’s car has had the same Beethoven’s Greatest Hits CD in it for some number of months. Bored with Beethoven’s 5th symphony, Dante has now determined that his favorite piece on the CD is Beethoven’s Turkish March, to which he sings with Daddy with great gusto gobbling like a Turkey (he thinks the Turkish part of the name has to do with turkeys). How the Turkish March ended up on a greatest hits CD, Mommy isn’t sure, but apparently it is a great hit when it comes to Dante.

Aside from all the happy moments, there were a few sad ones as well. In mid July, one of the family kitties, Doom, died. She was very sick and at least 15 years old and while the doctor attempted to “fix” her, she died one night on the floor by Mommy and Daddy’s bed. Dante had been prepared for this eventuality and was filled with both sadness and curiosity. He sorrowfully stated “Doom is not here, her magic is gone” as he examined her lifeless body. Daddy found a Doom-sized box and while he was at work, Dante decorated it with what he deemed to be the most important things a kitty should have on her casket: a rainbow of colors, lots of fish stickers, and handprints of his own so that “there would always be someone petting her”. He wrote “Doom we love you” and the names of all the family members (including the names of the other kitties) on the box. He picked a flower of every color from the garden and placed it in the box with her. Daddy came home and dug a 3 foot deep hole in a grove of trees across the stream from the house. The family marched to the burial site solemnly and Dante and Daddy placed Doom’s coffin in the final resting place of her body. Everyone helped shovel the dirt back into the hole and planted a fern right on top as a non-obtrusive marker. Then Mommy, Daddy and Dante went to Skippers for the wake, where they celebrated her life by eating clam chowder, salmon, shrimp, and cod, and telling stories about her life.

As it turned out, Doom’s death was very timely and a great preparation for Dante, as just a few weeks later, Grandpa informed Daddy that Great Grandma Hazel had died in Spokane. Dante understood exactly what was going on and as we drove to Spokane he was filled with questions about why and how she had died. Due to it being the last weekend before school was going to start and the fact that there was an antique car show in town, it took two hours to find a hotel room in the middle of the night. At first Dante wasn’t thrilled about the idea of not being at home, but when he saw the hotel room, he quickly changed his mind and now constantly requests that he “go sleep in a hotel someday soon”.

As the funeral was on Monday and various members of the family arrived in Spokane on Saturday night or Sunday morning, Dante spent all of Sunday playing with his second cousins, Brianna and Danielle at Great Grandma’s house. Daddy introduced them to Great Grandma’s famous smelling game in which everyone got a whiff of her many perfumes one at a time and then rolled back onto her bed yelling Wheeeee! He also taught them how to play store from inside of Great Grandma’s closet under the stairs with her ancient toy cash register. The object of the game, when Daddy used to play it with her, was to sell all of Great Grandma’s stuff back to her until the closet was empty. The kids tromped through the back pasture a bit and helped Mommy pick plums in the orchard, out of which she later made her first plum jam. In a moment of boredom, Dante of course found a stick and gave the girls roller coaster rides.

The best part of the funeral for Dante was actually waiting at the beginning, as Mommy and Dante went to explore the various headstones for about half an hour. He wanted very much to know how old each person was when they had died and he was most disturbed when the ages were young. He also enjoyed putting a bumper sticker on Great Grandma’s coffin with one of her famous sayings (almost everyone got to do that) which was akin to decorating Doom’s coffin. The rest of the day was spent in more reminiscing at Great Grandma’s house, and digging up roses from her garden to spread them out among the various grand children. Daddy couldn’t get himself to leave as he knew it would probably be the last time he would see the only place in Spokane that still meant anything to him from his childhood days.

Going to all these faraway places this summer triggered the traveling bug in Dante, which he definitely gets from Mommy, to Daddy’s great distress. He keeps talking about all the places he wants to go and how many airplanes it will take to get there. He is also enamored with hotels and tents and is constantly making plans for when and how many nights he will stay there. He loves staying over at Grandma and Grandpa’s house, and is already making plans for staying with Baba Yaga, who will hopefully be arriving at the condo within the next few months.

In the meantime, Dante has begun the fall semester at his new school. The biggest change regarding school has been for Mommy and Daddy, who now have to wake up at 7 AM to get ready. Not being morning people, this has been a difficult transition. Daddy has chosen to battle the morning and evening traffic rush hours so that he can be home for dinner and still be able to spend time with Dante before bedtime, which has been shifted dramatically. Afraid all of this change was going to be detrimental to Dante’s perception of school, Mommy is ecstatic that Dante seems to really enjoy his school and has declared that he wants “to go to [his] big boy school 7 days a week” even though he is only signed up for 4. And he is dancing, going to gymnastics, FastTracKids, Kindermusik, and Gymboree art classes. Nevertheless he has plenty of free time to go to the park, have some playdates with friends, play at home, and of course, drive Mommy crazy.

Until next time, my friends…