Dante Month 50, 51, 52, and 53 (6/9/2007)
It seems like just yesterday Dante turned 4. At a ripe old four and five twelfths, Dante’s life has both narrowed and expanded in various ways and there is much to write about.

In school, which is ending in a week, he has drifted away from enjoying standalone activities. While he always enjoyed the group curriculum part of the class (he was enthralled with the unit about the body last semester), this semester has fascinated him with the study of land and water formations, continents, and Asia. He exhibits more and more enthusiasm for general knowledge learning and has been extremely excited about “doing reports” about Asia’s animal life and biomes. He was thrilled to learn how to write the numbers from 1 to 10 in Chinese with a calligraphy pen and Daddy was even compelled to make pancakes (which he usually makes using alphanumeric characters) in Chinese!

Dante’s reading in English continues to improve and when he is not tired or fooling around, it is quite unbelievable what he can read when he wants to. Still not comfortable with vowel blends in a vacuum, which worries Mommy to no end, his cache of memorized complicated and highly non-phonetic words has increased greatly. Everyone agrees that he has inherited his handwriting skills from Dziadzi and that currently his chicken scratches are driving him towards a career as a doctor. Recently he has become intrigued by the idea of cursive writing and has started adding numerous unnecessary curly-cues to his letters, thereby causing his writing to be even less legible. On the flip side, his interest in beautifying his letters has had one benefit; he seems to have accepted that writing exists in different fonts and has much less trouble reading decorative lettering.

Much beloved Ms. Allison has been acting both as Kindermusik teacher and as the Music Enrichment Teacher at school. To Mommy and Daddy’s surprise, the school put on an impressive Spring Concert (20 minutes for each class) which showcased Dante’s class in numerous children’s songs requiring memorization of many verses and accompanying hand movements. Dante sang with all his heart (though his intonation could still use some work according to Mommy) and continues to sing these songs at home with great gusto. Since some liberties were taken with the words of these well known songs, and Daddy has also been known to take similar liberties, Dante has launched into a phase of song composition and lyric creation. He, of course, especially enjoys making silly songs with Daddy’s help. A recent creation’s lyrics:

They are working on more verses with alternate body parts.

Moving away from random composition on the piano, Dante continues to balk at the idea of piano lessons with anyone but Mommy. Mommy, not in favor of teaching Dante piano herself and far more excited about giving this job over to Baba Yaga, has nevertheless somewhat capitulated and occasionally will sit down with Dante to attempt to teach him a tune. Dante has so far mastered two-fingered Twinkle Twinkle, Chopsticks, Happy Birthday, and is almost done with Are You Sleeping. Teaching Dante to play the piano is very difficult, as he insists on perfection from himself and yet is not always capable of it. He also refuses help when he doesn’t remember a note and a piano session frequently turns into a screaming and crying tantrum (the only thing he has ever had a tantrum about!) in which Mommy basically has to threaten to leave in order to get Dante to just calm down and actually accept her assistance. After calming down and listening to Mommy, he proceeds to play faultlessly and is extremely proud of his accomplishment. Mommy is completely at a loss as to how to proceed with this part of Dante’s musical development.

Dante’s life continues to revolve primarily around dance and gymnastics. His dance class time slot was cancelled due to lack of attendance on everyone else’s part and when faced with the decision of whether to attend pre-ballet class with Ms. Rachel or Ms. Yana, in typical Dante fashion the answer was “Both!” Mommy and Ms. Rachel agreed he could go to both classes for the time being, assuming that at some point he would decide which he preferred and one class would “fall off the schedule”. Week after week went by. Dante continued attending both classes until the end of the year with just as much enthusiasm, much to the amusement of Mommy and Daddy and hopefully to the delight of his teachers.

The end of the dance year was marked with Duvall Performing Arts’ performance of The Little Mermaid at Cedarcrest High School in Duvall. Dante performed in four separate dances and actually managed to stick to the choreography reasonably well. To add to his excitement about dancing, Mommy taught several dance classes while Ms. Rachel was on vacation in Hawaii, earning her a newfound respect from her son. In addition, she was cast in the role of Ursula for the performance and Dante was one of her eels (Flotsam/Jetsam). Writhing and pirouetting across the stage, Mommy danced Ms. Yana’s choreography to the song “Poor Unfortunate Souls” and won over the hearts of all the little DPA dancers, who were thrilled with her Ursula costume and the fact that she was the only Mom on stage in the show. Dante loved the uniqueness of his Mommy’s situation and proudly introduced her to everyone as “This is My Mommy, she is Ursula the Octopus!”

Last week, Dante attended Dance Camp for two hours a day each day. Ms. Rachel put on a quickie mini-production of Grease that the kids performed in the studio during the last part of the day on Friday. Dante practiced the hand jive every day at home and loves the new music, which has replaced the Happy Feet soundtrack that Mommy has been getting rather tired of. He was a “T Bird” and almost has a clue as to some of the plot of the show, which may not necessarily be a good thing.

Dante was not inspired by “Dancing With the Stars”, though he did gain an appreciation for the quick-step and he consistently identified the professional dancers as being the best. Instead he preferred to watch Shirley Temple movies. When Wendy’s came out with its Charlotte’s Web Kid meal toys, Dante received a rat. Mommy had completely forgotten the rat’s name, but somewhere from the depths of Dante’s memory came forth “Templeton”. After looking at him for a while, Dante took the figure and began to pretend it was dancing. He declared “This rat is not Templeton. This is my rat, and her name is Shirley Templeton!”

Now that “So You Think You Can Dance” has begun, however, he is hooked and cannot get enough of watching “boys dance”. He clearly prefers solo dances and hip hop to partnered ballroom.

Gymnastics has wreaked havoc on Dante and Mommy’s schedule. A make-up class he was supposed to attend was canceled, so the teacher agreed to have him in a higher level class that day. She warned both Mommy and Dante that if he “started to act his age” she would have to ask him to leave. The class was small, but with 5-7 year old girls, and Dante could not have been more focused. Ms. Dani was impressed enough that she asked Dante to continue coming to that class. Dante flourished under her guidance. Soon he was able to do pull-overs on the bar completely without assistance, backward rolls with no hands, cartwheels, and he was absorbing new moves such as back walkovers with diligence and happiness. One day Ms. Dani informed Mommy that Dante was being promoted to a more difficult class, back with Ms. Mandi. So now Dante is in an “advanced” class in his age group. Mommy was worried when she saw the skill levels of the girls in the class, and the first few classes he was definitely struggling to learn completely new moves with which the girls were already familiar, but he is beginning to fit right in. This class pays more attention to competitive details, requires the kids to memorize routines, introduces dismounts and in general requires them to use their brains along with their bodies. It is the sole activity in which Dante nearly always abandons his silly demeanor and takes things seriously at the same time as he is enjoying himself.

Dante also continues to take mazes and treasure hunts seriously. He has begun working on mazes that require him to visit multiple nodes in the maze or avoid certain nodes. He reads all the directions by himself and works out the paths on his own, frequently before even beginning to draw.

After his birthday, Dante began the long wait for another opportunity for a treasure hunt. He declared that his favorite holiday is Easter (he prefers it over Christmas even though there are no presents involved) and when Mommy discovered that there would be an egg hunt in Monroe as well as in Duvall, she decided to spoil him rotten by attending both. Although Dante enjoyed himself, he announced that these egg hunts were too easy for him because all the eggs were just lying on the ground all over the place. He wanted a challenge and the only thing that really appealed to him was searching the woods and tall grass in Duvall after the teens had already completed their search. He was extremely pleased with himself when he managed to find a couple of eggs hiding in some pretty rough terrain. But after it was all over he requested that if the Easter Bunny was going to come visit his home, he should find harder hiding places.

Mommy and Daddy enjoy putting together games, and they hit upon the idea that this year the Easter Bunny would require Dante to follow clues to find eggs. Dante was greeted by a stuffed bunny by his door on Sunday morning holding a plastic egg. The egg contained a candy and a strip of paper on which was written “#36 Look in Daddy’s drawer”. Upon checking the drawer he found another egg: “#35 Go brush your teeth”. Each hint led him to another egg with another “treasure” and another clue. Some clues were harder than others, but Dante read them all by himself and in the end he was rewarded with a giant Easter basket containing all sorts of goodies and toys. Mommy and Daddy were greatly amused that Dante quickly sorted through the loot and was only mildly interested in the Giant Chocolate Bunny until all of a sudden he realized that on the back of the box was… a MAZE!

After Easter, Baba Yaga abandoned her apartment of 33 years in NYC, finished her worldly travels to Easter Island, Chile, Florida, and Poland and finally arrived in Seattle. She is now permanently situated in the condo in Redmond Ridge and Dante adores having her to play with him. She just recently bought a piano, and although she still doesn’t have bookshelves or a bedroom set, she can practice the piano to her heart’s content, when she isn’t at Dante’s house helping to clean and get things ready for Dante’s…. new sister!

Dante has been asking for a sister for quite some time now, as you may have divined from previous journal entries. Due to the difficulties in obtaining Dante and many other considerations, Mommy and Daddy decided Dante was their one medical miracle, but that it was time for a miracle of a different nature. They decided to begin looking to adopt a little girl from Poland.

The paperwork process had been started last year, with Dante’s full approval and participation, but it didn’t really affect his life much until recently. As part of the process, Mommy and Daddy had to go to Tukwila to the Department of Homeland Security to get fingerprinted. Dante went along for the trip. He spent most of the waiting-in-line time doing mazes, and things proceeded smoothly until the fire alarm rang and the whole building needed to be evacuated. The fire department arrived shortly, and the building was deemed safe to reenter, but before everyone could return back to their lines, at least 150 people had to go through security in order to get back into the building. That process alone took about an hour.

Based upon the statistical and anecdotal evidence available, the Hays family was prepared to wait several years before being matched with the "right" child. So it was much to everyone’s surprise when the week after Valentine’s Day, Mommy received a call with a referral for an 11 month old little girl! Apparently, it helps that Mommy is Polish.

In late April, Mommy and Daddy flew to Poland for 5 days to meet the little girl and determine if she would make a good sister for Dante. Dante stayed with Grandma and Grandpa during this time, though he will be going to Poland for the second, much longer, trip. When they returned, Mommy and Daddy showed Dante pictures of her and told him all about her. He approved the choice and while the family waits for a court date in Poland, Dante’s home life has changed dramatically.

He has spent the last month upgrading from his old room to a new room (which used to be the library), ascertaining which toys were too young for him, which books were too easy, and which artwork and stuffed animals he wanted to take with him to his new room. Mommy and Daddy were somewhat taken aback at how relatively easy this was for him (it may have been more difficult for them if they were making the decisions by themselves!), as he did a great job of making sensible choices. He even instantly decided that “A Mother for Choco” (a story about adoption) should be in his sister's library. At one point Mommy and Daddy found him rummaging through his toy kitchen, rearranging it. When asked what he was doing, he declared that he was taking all the things that would fit in between his fingers (if he closed his thumb to his forefinger) and was putting them in a safe box, so that his little sister wouldn’t choke on them but so that she could play with the kitchen together with him. When at stores, he looks for toys for his little sister, not for himself. He keeps talking about what he intends to teach her and wants to know how old she has to be before he can teach her to read and to play games with him.

All of this may change when the idea of a sister becomes a reality, and the honeymoon phase is over. Mommy and Daddy are sure they will see all the normal signs of jealousy, apprehension and insecurity that all older siblings experience when a new (even if much beloved) sibling “intrudes” upon their life. But hopefully the “long” wait, the preparations, the discussions and Dante’s own innate desire for a sister may help make the transition to a bigger family smoother.