August, September, October and November (11/30/2008)
After Poland, there was little time for life to “return to normal” before school began for Dante in September. The munchkins spent the remnants of the summer recovering from jet lag, while Mommy finished up her bout of bronchitis and then infected Daddy.

To Mommy’s great horror, most likely someone at the airport in Chicago got a hold of our credit card number and purchased over $500 worth of downloadable software over the weekend immediately following our return. While most of the money was recovered, Mommy spent an excessive amount of time restructuring the family finances as a new credit card number was issued and all the automatic billing information needed to be updated.

Before school began, Dante and Izabela went to the Evergreen State Fair and to the Puyallup Fair. They also spent many hours watching TIVOed Olympics. Although the goal was to watch gymnastics, Dante found himself fascinated by the synchronized swimming and rhythmic gymnastics events. He mourned the lack of males in these sports and began practicing holding his breath under water in the bathtub while flailing his legs around to prove that “boys could do it too”. His living room dance sessions began to incorporate hula hoops, jump ropes, and ribbons. He also found that he could begin to choreograph Izabela into his dances with the proper encouragement (usually involving bribery of some form).

After dividing up his almost 6 year old heart between Shawn Johnson and Nastia Liukin, he declared that he really wanted a play-date with them and simply could not understand why they might have things to do other than play with him. Thankfully, Mommy was able to get tickets for the 2008 Tour of Gymnastics Superstars at the Tacoma Dome on September 27th, to which he went with Mommy and Grandma and Grandpa.

As for the men’s gymnastics, at first he seemed less interested than Mommy would have expected. After Mommy dug gently into his psyche, Dante ultimately teared up and said “Mommy, I’m just NEVER going to be able to do all those things. I KNOW how hard they are and they make it all look so easy.” When Mommy carefully pointed out that the men at the Olympics were mostly in their 20s, a full 15+ years older than Dante, and that no one expected him to do all those things RIGHT NOW, he relaxed a bit and began to enjoy himself again. He seemed to put aside his fears and became a “know-it-all lay critic”, which included chastising the “boys” for their “extra hops” and cheering for all their “stuck landings”. Mommy mentioned that 24 of all of the US Olympic medals were won by Stanford graduates and thus another seed of interest was sown...

Once again at Bellevue Children’s Academy, Dante began Kindergarten this year. This time, however, he was selected for a “special” classroom in which he and 11 other children did not participate in the “team teaching” approach implemented by most of BCA. Mrs. Ebersol would be his math, science, English and social studies teacher. His non academic subjects would be with separate specialists as before. Mommy and Daddy were both somewhat anxious about this change in teaching style, wondering what would happen if Dante didn’t “click” with his new teacher. With a team approach, it was more likely that at least one of his teachers would understand him. But it seems Ms. Yuka, the owner of the school, generally has a good grasp of who Dante is and what teacher might be able to bring out the best in him. Mrs. Ebersol quickly wormed her way into Dante’s heart and between his adoration of her and the fact that there were kids completely new to BCA in his class (and Mrs. Ebersol chose to utilize Dante’s natural leadership tendencies by having him “help the new students learn about how things work at BCA”) Dante evolved into a model student and to Mommy and Daddy’s great surprise was very infrequently, if at all, “yellow”.

While Dante was busy getting accustomed to school and restarting all his activities (gymnastics at Northwest Aerials, Ballet and Hip Hop at Duvall Performing Arts and Kindermusik with Ms. Allison), Izabela was also finding herself quite busy. Mommy took her to Gymboree Play and Gymboree Art classes several times a week, to ballet and tap at Duvall Performing Arts with Ms. Rachel, to Kindermusik with Ms. Allison, and to a ballet, tap and gymnastics combination class at Northwest Aerials while Dante was also in class.

Since Izabela’s development is being closely monitored by her pediatrician, Mommy had scheduled a 2.5 year special visit to “check on her progress” in early September. While the doctor seemed confident that great progress had been made, she could tell Mommy was still somewhat disturbed by Izabela’s lack of verbal skills and continued hesitation in gross motor movements. Dr. Griffith referred Izabela to Joyce Wilson of the Monroe School District, and over the course of the next several weeks Izabela was evaluated in communication skills and gross motor skills.

When the evaluation began, Izabela tested as 30% delayed in both areas. But as she fell into the rhythm of being at home again after an educational and experience-filled vacation in Poland, everyone began to notice a rather sudden improvement in her speech and mobility. From questionnaire to questionnaire and interview to interview, Izabela seemed to be visibly less and less behind. Her gross motor skills were actually praised by the evaluator, who was impressed that Izabela could do squats with her hands above her head (while counting them out loud herself) and show off her stretches and sit ups. By the final interview on October 20th, it was clear even to Mommy that Izabela was, by at least the district’s standard of measurement, “functioning within the normal range in all areas tested”. 31 months old, she was able to pass somelanguage comprehension tests up into the 42 to 47 month range and she passed all of the tests within the 30 to 35 months range. Her language expression skills were somewhat lower, passing tests only up into the 36 to 41 month range. As Dante spoke in rather complicated syntax by this age, Mommy had no idea what was considered “normal”.

But what surprised Mommy the most was the evaluation of Izabela’s speech production and articulation skills. Apparently Izabela correctly imitated all sounds expected in words in the 2 year 6 month to 2 year 11 month age range on the Articulation Screener. And she only missed 1 sound in the next age range of 3 years to 3 years and 5 months. Her speech was “understandable at least 80% of the time by a stranger, which is what would be expected for her age”. Used to Dante’s near-perfect articulation and lack of “omission of consonants in blends”, Mommy was told to relax about typical incorrect verbalizations in which “draw” sounds like “daw” and “car” sounds like “cow”, “where” sounds like “way-yoo”, “snake” sounds like “nake”, etc. The Speech Language Pathologist noted, however, that Izabela did have “mild oral-motor delays that do not appear to be affecting her level of speech skills at this point in time”. As such, Mommy was coached in silly-face-tongue exercises and encouraged to allow Izabela to blow more bubbles and party blowers to help her improve her tongue, jaw, and lip rounding skills. And although she still could not say her name completely correctly, she had progressed from “Eeeeyabela” to Eeeesssssabela”. The “z” sound was still a few months away.

Throughout September, Dante and Izabela attended the birthdays of several of their friends, including Misia and Weronika, who both chose to celebrate at the Mountlake Terrace pool. Thankfully Misia was able to celebrate her birthday with a great deal of fun and joy, as just a few weeks later she fell off the bars at Northwest Aerials and shattered the bone in her left elbow. Dante was very concerned about his friend, and Mommy’s constant naggings about being careful and focusing on what he is doing on gymnastics equipment finally sunk home just a tad. Nevertheless, Mommy is constantly just waiting for something like this to happen to him.

Despite over 2 years of taking gymnastics at Northwest Aerials, Dante experienced his first birthday party there for Justin’s birthday. He described it as “fun, but just like a low level class”. Ronald’s birthday at Emerald City Gymnastics was interesting as the venue was new to him and he enjoyed showing off. Ayush’s birthday party at the Mercer Slough Environmental Education Center was a big hit, because even though it was raining for the hike and nature trail part of it, Dante really got a kick out of hunting for microscopic bugs in the pond scum and then seeing them displayed on a monitor. None of these birthday parties, however, inspired him to pick something for his own birthday yet.

Dante’s friend Evan left BCA and now attends Open Window, 2 minutes away from his house. But the two continue to want to see each other and so Evan’s dad, Shawn, arranged for the two of them to have a skateboarding lesson/playdate at the Bellevue Skate Park. Izabela enjoyed learning how to climb and then slide down the ramps while Mommy watched. Although the park has a roof, it is not fully enclosed, so when the temperatures began falling, skateboarding playdates were curtailed so as not to freeze Mommy, Shawn and Izabela.

You may recall that a great deal of landscaping was occurring on the Hays property earlier in the year. As soon as we returned from Poland, Mommy hired someone to fence the playground area. When the black chain link fence was up, we were ready to order a Rainbow Play System. Having spent many afternoons at the Rainbow Showroom in Kirkland, Mommy had a pretty good idea of what Dante might want in a playground. Nevertheless, Daddy and Mommy included Dante in its design. Despite the seemingly endless combinations of pre-made packages, we ended up with a customized behemoth which included a spiral tube slide, a tornado tube slide, a regular slide, a tire swing, a regular swing, a baby swing, a trapeze, a chin-up bar, a fireman’s pole, monkey bars, monkey bar rings, a rock wall, and many other accoutrements, all of which were housed under a solid wood cabin “loft”. In other words, it ended up costing about as much as a small car.

The structure was installed at the beginning of October. The kids were thrilled to have “their own park at home”. Dante especially liked to climb the outside of the tube slides, climb up onto the roof, and climb all the supporting A beams (in other words, everything that was dangerous and not intended as part of the design). Izabela was content to be pushed in her swing or to climb up to the main cabin, where Dante would help her up onto the loft area and where he would read books to her under a blanket as the fall weather kept getting colder. During the construction, there had been some difficulties with arranging the tornado slide properly and we discovered that one of the main beams of the rock wall was split and needed to be replaced. By the time the whole thing was finally completed, and officially “ready to be played with”, it was the beginning of November and the rains had begun.

Just around that time the first session at Northwest Aerials ended and Dante was promoted from Little Aerials to Advanced Aerials. He found himself amidst a bunch of second grade girls on Mondays with Dani, and moved to the Thursday Advanced Boys class with John. As the boys class was from 6 to 7:30, Izabela frequently stayed with Baba Yaga during that time, to be picked up by Daddy on his way home from work.

On her way to Mommy’s house at the beginning of October, Baba Yaga went through the drive-through at Ming’s Garden, a Chinese Restaurant on Novelty Hill. Unfortunately, Ming’s Garden does not have a drive-through. While parking her adorable Toyota Scion, Baba Yaga turned her head to look at her blind spot as her foot accidentally slid from the brake pedal onto the gas pedal and she found herself suddenly parked through Ming’s front window. Thankfully she was going slowly so she and her passenger were not hurt. And it was morning, so the restaurant was closed and empty. The poor car appeared reasonably intact except for the left mirror and some front bumper damage. But apparently the pockmarks left by the millions of shards of glass from the window meant that all the molding would have to be replaced and as a result the repair would cost nearly the value of the car. The insurance company, which had only been taking Baba Yaga’s money for a few months, elected to total the car and somehow awarded her with an amount that was about $1500 more than what she had originally paid for the car. Thankfully, the restaurant’s damage was taken care of as well. Thoroughly shaken by the incident, however, Baba decided that she and everyone around her would be safer if she became intimately familiar with the local bus system and left the driving to someone else.

On the topic of car troubles, Mommy’s Jeep hit 133,000 miles and its impeding transmission failure motivated Mommy and Daddy into finally biting the bullet and committing themselves to a new car. Excited by the addition of a new “Bali Blue” color to the MDX line in 2009, Mommy was quite disgruntled to learn that Bali Blue (which sounds like it should be the color of unpolluted ocean waves near the shores of Bali) turned out to be more like “Midnight Blue”. When remarking to the salesperson at the Bellevue Acura that the car looks BLACK, not BLUE, the salesperson shrugged and said “Well, I’m supposed to say it looks blue in the sunlight, but this is Seattle, so you clearly won’t fall for that”. Negotiations with the Portland Acura dealership at the beginning of 2008 had fallen through, so Daddy began haggling with the Seattle Acura dealership, which had what Mommy wanted in stock. On October 18th, Mommy drove home in her new Steel Blue exterior/Ebony Black interior Acura MDX 2008 with Technology and Entertainment packages. The Jeep was left attached to the trailer like an “old outside dog” while the garage was rearranged for the slightly wider “brand new puppy”.

Mommy was quite fond of her new car, except for one tiny problem: whenever she drove between 45 and 60mph, to Mommy’s musical ears the car sounded like a boiling tea kettle in an adjacent room. Very concerned that there might be something wrong with her new baby, she made an appointment for the following weekend with the Seattle Acura doctor to diagnose the problem. It took some time to convince the mechanic, who no doubt spent most of his life attached to an IPOD set to a volume level of 11, that there was indeed a rather annoying whistling coming out of the car at “cruising speeds”. When he was finally able to identify the frequency, he found it strange that Mommy found it bothersome, but agreed to look into the problem because Dante loudly described its annoying tonal qualities in front of many potential customers at the dealership. Unfortunately, the whistling appeared to be an artifact of the presence of the roof rack, which apparently was not designed properly. Mommy was not willing to have the roof rack removed and decided to see if the noise would subside over time, or if she would simply learn to filter it out.

So after not getting her car fixed, Mommy and Dante went to the Seatac Hilton to watch the Northwest DanceSport Championships. Convinced that Dante wouldn’t last more than an hour, Mommy was dumbfounded when Dante sat cross-legged on the floor right at the front of the stage for hours. He declared his favorite styles to be the Jive and the Quickstep and especially enjoyed seeing the really young dancers.

Halloween was celebrated in the usual style, with an evening to explore the corn maze and with candy-gathering at Microsoft (Mommy can’t quite get herself to call it “trick-or-treating” anymore). Dante terrified everyone with his Darth Vader breathy voice-box, and Izabela tickled everyone with her amazingly loud lion’s roar.

As you may remember, Dante received a VTech toy camera from Dziadzi on his way back from Poland. Dante began to snap pictures of, well, pretty much everything. The first batch of pictures, to Dante’s great dissatisfaction, was blurry. Mommy laughed, having forgotten to remind her very active son that in order to take a photograph one must actually hold the camera STILL. Dante practiced holding the camera (and his body) motionless while taking pictures, but unsurprisingly, it wasn’t nearly as much fun. So, instead, he decided to see what would happen if he started moving really fast. He began pirouetting on the hardwood floor of the office as the shutter was released. And thus a new photographic technique was born.

Dante’s Pirouette Technique resulted in dozens of unrepeatable streaks of color and light. As he saw the pictures transfer from the camera onto the computer screen, he cried out “Wow! That’s so cool!” Mommy also thought they would have looked right at home at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. One day, Dante came home from school with an application for the National PTA and WSPTA Reflections Program, an arts achievement program for students which encourages creative expression inspired by a yearly theme. This year’s theme was “Wow”. Remembering Dante’s excitement over his pirouetting pictures, she suggested he enter some of those. Unfortunately, upon examining the saved files more closely, Mommy discovered that the VTech camera took very low resolution pictures which were then further compressed. So the pictures Dante had taken were not of even remotely good print quality. Disappointed but unperturbed, Dante immediately asked if he could borrow Mommy’s very heavy and rather expensive camera and spin around with it. Mommy wasn’t altogether convinced that particular solution would be safe for either Dante or her camera, but she agreed to let Dante use her point-and-click Nikon P5000.

So one Wednesday after school, while waiting for Kindermusik to start, Dante brought Mommy’s camera to the playground and athletic field behind the Old Redmond Schoolhouse Community Center. He twirled around and around, trying out different movements with his arms, while taking pictures. At home, he agonized over which two pictures to pick for the competition. In the end he ended up with works which he titled “Where in the World?” (a breathtaking rendition of the Redmond skyline), and ‘Crazy Curves” (swirling playground bark).

At the end of the day that Dante brought his entries to school, he informed Mommy that his classmates “did not like them”. Mommy struggled to restrain her desire to throttle the dumb-little-whippersnappers-who-clearly-don’t-know-anything-about-art and maintain a neutral “everybody has a right to their own opinion” face. In the end, with the addition of Baba Yaga and Daddy’s astute comments, Dante understood that since his photographs were not easily identifiable as something tangible in the real world, many kids of his own age were still too young to see the beauty and uniqueness in them or to appreciate the inventiveness that went into their creation. And thankfully the kids were not the judges, for although “Crazy Curves” was not deemed to be “Wow” enough, “Where in the World?” was not only selected as one of 13 images for the BCA 2009 calendar but was also forwarded on to the entire school district to be displayed at the Crossroads Mall in January for further judging.

Finally, Thanksgiving was spent with Grandma and Grandpa also in the usual fashion: Daddy napped with Izabela, Dante played pinball and computer games with Grandpa, and Mommy and Grandma did jigsaw puzzles together. It was a peaceful end to a rather crazy and stressful fall.