September, October and November (11/30/2009)
As soon as school started, we established a new routine. Dante began first grade at Bellevue Children’s Academy, which had completed its new building construction. He found himself in even better equipped classrooms and learning from new teachers. He basically picked up where he left off academically and went full speed ahead.

Izabela began attending The Shyne School three times a week for part of the day, where her first exposure to a school environment proved to be exactly the kind she needed. Not heavily emphasizing academics and instead concentrating on developing her social abilities, The Shyne School “Stargazer” classroom emphasized independence in basic “taking care of yourself” skills, cooperation in a group setting, and a modified-Montessori-based environment. In other words, she began to learn how to be around a specific set of kids her own age for 5 hours at a time. She seemed overjoyed at the large amount of time spent drawing, coloring, painting and doing various art projects. And although there was a “letter of the week” and they studied various topics in the class under the guidance of Ms. Katie and Ms. Kristin, all Izabela would talk about after school was her drawing and painting. To my great frustration, when asked for details on other subjects, she always responded with “I don’t remember”.

After a whole summer without Kindermusik, Izabela was starved for her beloved music classes. The Shyne School curriculum provided the opportunity to add enrichment classes during the daily schedule. Not feeling the need to add Spanish or Sign Language classes to Izabela’s already challenged communication skills, I chose to “enrich” her day with Kindermusik with Ms. Anna on Mondays and an “Amazing Athletes” class on Wednesdays. The Amazing Athletes class was tough for her, as she was exposed to basic skills in various sports such as soccer, softball, basketball, yoga, and even golf. According to her coach, she began the year extremely shy and uncoordinated. She was still missing basic skills such as hopping on one foot (she could hop on the left foot but not on the right) and she still could not catch a ball. But she seemed to be enjoying herself and I was happy that she was getting some exercise in addition to the outdoor roaming through the woods behind the school. The woods were another favorite activity. Unlike Dante, who would no doubt have been running around the entire time playing tag or something equally physically draining, Izabela’s sojourns into the woods were for the sole purpose of examining every square inch of the ground for the pretty beads that Ms. Kristin and Ms. Katie scattered as treasures. Not exactly a calorie burning activity, but being outside and learning to look for “things that don’t belong” enhanced her observation skills.

Izabela brought these skills to our own garden and woods, where she spent a great deal of time with Baba Yaga and me as we prepared the garden for the winter. Izabela enjoyed carrying small twigs and branches to the wood pile, looking for snail shells, and wandering about in search of her own treasures while constantly asking questions to my great amusement and Baba Yaga’s great exasperation.

On days that she didn’t have school, Izabela finished off her remaining art classes at Gymboree, attended a regular Kindermusik class with Ms. Allison and danced at Duvall Performing Arts with Ms. Rachel. Unfortunately, Eastside Gymnastics Academy did not have any age appropriate classes for her during Dante’s training times. I did discover, however, that Northwest Aerials had a trampoline and tumbling class, followed by a regular gymnastics class that she could take. So I began the crazy “drop off at one and drive to the other” routine. This ended up working surprisingly well as soon as I discovered the shortcut across the hill, making the distance between the two gyms exactly 7 minutes.

Coordinating drop-offs and pick-ups definitely began to resemble the crazy driving patterns of other parents with older children in our area. Thankfully, Daddy was able to take Izabela and Dante to school on the mornings they both went to school, though for a while we were constantly trying to remember which day she was going and which day she was not. After school it was much crazier and although Daddy literally added kid pick-up times into his weekly work schedule to prevent meeting conflicts, it seemed like there was always something to make any given week "abnormal". We had several weeks of attending "How to Feed a Gymnast" seminars on random days. And we had to figure out which one of us would attend which child's curriculum night at school, while the other parent took one child to whatever activity was going on and left the second child with Baba Yaga for a couple of hours. I averaged 400 miles a week in the car. Daddy was perpetually confused as to where he should be on any given evening.

Aside from now integrating 6 hours of gymnastics a week into a normal school year schedule, Dante also took Ballet, Hip Hop, and Tap at Duvall Performing Arts. He especially enjoyed the tap class, which he shared with another little boy, Craig. And inspired by another dancing friend Nathan from BCA, Dante decided that he wanted to join the BCA Chess Club in order to learn how to play chess. With the help of a patient Daddy and the tutelage of Mr. Gennady, he discovered a penchant for solving chess puzzles. He did not have any extra time to play chess outside of the weekly class, so he did not win many games, but Mr. Gennady seemed pleased with his progress and indicated that he has a “very good mind”.

Somewhere in all of this, we managed to find an hour here and a half an hour there to visit Baba Yaga for piano lessons. Dante continued to be unwilling to practice at home and frankly, had no time to do so, but he complied with my wishes to at least learn how to read music properly. His undying love for Baba Yaga was the only reason he tolerated the lessons, though he frequently fought with her and she frequently tore her hair out in despair. But when he chose to, Dante made lightning fast progress. He had an uncanny ability to memorize music with very few repetitions. Reading a piece for the first time was absolute torture (for everyone within earshot). But by the 3rd or 4th playing, he was no longer reading (thus cleverly omitting the step that caused him the greatest distress). Unfortunately this did not fulfill my requirement of him being able to read music, though it did improve his actual piano playing considerably.

For Halloween, Dante reused his Peter Pan costume, but decided to be Robin Hood for school, as Peter Pan isn’t exactly a historical character. Ok, so maybe Robin Hood technically isn’t either, but he did a bit of research for his character presentation and they didn’t call me to pick him up from school for wearing an inappropriate costume. Izabela was Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz, and she was just thrilled with her sparkly red shoes. After school both kids of course had to go to Microsoft for the yearly candy disbursement activity.

This year’s Reflections contest theme was “Beauty Is…” Knowing he could do a good job choreographing a dance, Dante chose the song “You Are So Beautiful” and combined all his best dance and gymnastics moves. He practiced at home and then spent an entire day at DPA recording take after take. Without an audience, he did not seem nearly as alive as he usually is “on stage”, so I brought in Ms. Rachel for some motivation. The take we finally decided to submit wasn’t technically perfect as he was exhausted by then and his chaîné turns were quite wobbly, but it had the most emotion and the best use of music “in between moves”. Perhaps this was the wrong decision, but for a 6 year old boy, I felt it was more important to show his ability to dance with his heart and use the music than to have perfect technique. There simply wasn’t enough time to subject him to another day of recording. Especially since Dante wanted to enter the contest in yet another category…

During the summer, Dante had collected many plants from my garden and used our microwave press to dry them. For Reflections, Dante decided to use the dried leaves and flowers to create a picture. Complete with plants, grass, cloud, and sun, Dante combined the various shapes and colors to make: me! He titled the work “My Beautiful Mommy in her Beautiful Garden”. Strangely enough, though I am clearly not that svelte, the red hair really does look like me. Sort of.

Last, but not least, my "music therapy" sessions with Ciocia Marzena were beginning to bear fruit. We met once or twice a week and after a dozen or so sessions managed to put together an entire 45 minute program featuring the works of Bolling, Beethoven, Wieniawski, and Monti. Ciocia Marzena organized a Silpada party as our testing ground and we subjected some of our closest girl friends to our music. No one ran away, the dead composers did not rise to haunt us, and the mini-concert was met with pleasant surprise and a great deal of encouragement.