December 12, 2009 marked the beginning of Dante's first season of competitive gymnastics. The youngest of three boys on his Level 4 team at Eastside Gymnastics Academy, we were not expecting much. And though he appeared more precise than his teammates, the world of gymnastics is immense, so it was with astonishment that Izabela, Daddy, Grandma, Grandpa, Baba Yaga and I watched as Dante won a silver medal at his first meet, the 2009 Cold Turkey (as it annually occurs soon after Thanksgiving). Edged out by a total of one point by a boy who would become his Level 4 Nemesis, Dante met most of my expectations in the quality of his routines. And though his floor exercise was not quite as good as usual, his mushroom routine was pretty much a miracle, as he had only managed to successfully complete three and a half circles once or twice before in his life.
At the Washington Open, which included teams from WA, OR, ID, UT and AK, Dante finished 5th all around. This time he redeemed himself on floor, but fell on the mushroom. And the high bar judge found fault with the apparent lack of height of his hops, giving him what would become his lowest high bar score of the season.
Two weeks later he rebounded by winning 1st place on floor and took 2nd place all around at the Back to Back meet on Bainbridge Island. He also achieved his first score above a 15 (15.1 on high bar!) ever. In his mind, however, the highlight was that Grandma bought a raffle ticket which ended up winning, so Dante came home with a Nerf gun and an assortment of candy.
The next two meets were in Beaverton, OR. The four of us drove down immediately after school and spent the night before each meet in a hotel. The main attractions ended up being not the meets themselves, but the hotel pools.
The John Lanz Invitational began with a devastating fall off the high bar for one of Dante's teammates. It was one of those moments you see at the Olympics. Your heart jumps into your throat and you can’t breathe as you hope the athlete is uninjured, and knowing that regardless, they have just ruined their chances in the competition. Only this time it was made worse by the fact that it was just an 8 year old boy, whose mother was watching, flying through the air and landing smack on his back on a not-so-soft mat. He bravely fought back the tears and climbed back up to finish his routine. But the damage had been done, demoralizing the whole team. Dante performed somewhat shakily on the high bar and the parallel bars, and experienced his first scoring rule misunderstanding… So although he completed 5 and a half circles on the mushroom, because he fell after completing the first 3, he was actually deducted a point for every extra full circle, and should have just dismounted instead of continuing on. In spite of his backfiring overzealousness, Dante won 1st on floor, and came in 4th all around.
The Rose City Challenge was organized a bit differently, as all the level 4s aged 6 through 11 were bunched together into one category. Dante finished 8th all around in this rather large line up. He received a gold-colored medal for this, though based on what we could deduce about the various kids' ages, we think that if the category had been the normal 6-7 year spread, he would have probably finished 4th. He blew everyone out of the water with a whopping 15.3 floor score.
The season ended mid-March at the Washington State Championships. It was a bittersweet ending. On the one hand, other than the 1st place winner, Dante was the only boy to score above a 15 on 4 out of 6 events! On the other hand, he fell on the mushroom, which totally threw him out of all around medal contention. He ended up somewhat chagrined in 8th place, though he brought home 3rd place medals for high bar and parallel bars, and a 5th place on floor.
That about sums up the gymnastics for the year. But what else have we been up to during these 4 months?
Dante's submissions to Reflections ended up with surprising results. Via his countless hours of rehearsals, endless revisions of choreography, and merciless re-recording take after take, he managed to eke out an Award of Excellence in dance choreography. However, his spur-of-the-moment couple of hours blowing dried flowers around and making a total gluey mess of our dining room earned him an Award of Outstanding Interpretation and was sent on to the State Level!
Izabela continued going to the Shyne School, but enjoyed picking up her brother at BCA. She watched the end of his day through the glass and began to mope about how she wanted to go to his school when she got bigger. This was exactly the effect I was hoping for. By January, we filled out the application form for her, and partly due to her sibling status, and partly due to her “advanced” drawing ability, she was accepted into BCA for the following year. We were somewhat skeptical as to her ability to keep up with the rigorous curriculum and demanding discipline of the school. But we hoped the methodology would help her grow academically.
While waiting for Dante, I took her to see the building, showed her how the children sit in their classrooms, showed her their library, their projects on the walls, and their work. She made friends with some of the other younger BCA siblings during the wait, as well as with some of the parents. One day she saw a Dad sitting in the lobby. He was bald. This disturbed her extremely and she kept asking me “why that boy has no hair?” I launched into an elaborate semi-humorous explanation along the lines of “people come in all sorts of shapes, sizes, colors, hairstyles, etc”, hoping the Dad didn’t mind too much. He seemed oblivious to our conversation. Izabela didn’t seem to be following much of what I was saying and seemed more interested in trying to see what kind of light reflections were bouncing off the man’s head. I tried to stop her and told her that she was being rude, when she suddenly piped up and said, “I know, Mommy, it is so that he doesn’t get his pigtails in his food!!!” At which point the man looked up and smiled and said, “Exactly!” She was thrilled and felt like she had solved an amazing mystery; “Even Mommy you didn’t know that!”
During various free moments, I spent time with Izabela trying to teach her how to read. Books were not the right medium in which for her to do this kind of learning, in part because she'd simply guess words based on the pictures. But more importantly, she, like Dante when he was first beginning to read, was very confused by the font changes between books. So we used a doodle pad to write and read simple words. Sheer force of will and endless repetition resulted in slow but steady progress. No doodle pad has ever seen so much use, its surface eventually reduced to tatters.
In hindsight it should have been no surprise that this year's visit to the Ophthalmologist revealed a potential contributor to Izabela's slow improvement in reading: astigmatism. Izabela became the proud owner of two pairs of glasses (her favorite being a purple pair). As she is too young to consider them a detriment to her looks, and since many of the adult females around her wear glasses, she was actually thrilled by the whole concept.
Both children attended Ms. Rachel's Nutcracker Camp right before Christmas, and the holidays were marked by the traditional Christmas Eve Wigilia at Baba Yaga's house, Xmas morning at home, and Xmas day with Grandma and Grandpa. And as always, we had New Year's Eve fireworks at home (although breaking with tradition, there was no snow to accompany them).
Dante decided that this year he would like to postpone his birthday celebration until the weather is warmer. He has grand ideas about pirates and all sorts of activities in mind that require sunshine and lots of (non-vacationing!) kids. So we agreed to wait until June for the real festivities. He instead requested a gymnastics private on his birthday. Daddy and I couldn't quite get ourselves to not celebrate at all, so while he was at gymnastics I purchased a small Cold Stone cake which we shared after coming home.
Izabela, however, did not want her birthday moved, and we celebrated, princess style, at Jump Planet, with a huge Barbie-princess cake. Blue, of course, as Izabela continues to rebel against pink, surprisingly. Just in time for her birthday, Daddy lost a patent-related bet at work, the consequence of which required him to do something entirely un-Daddylike, namely dye (yes, with permanent dye) his hair BLUE. So both Daddy and Dante sported Mohawks for Izabela’s party, though Daddy’s was a brilliantly subtle but simultaneously outrageous shade of blue.
And on the home front…
In December, we tackled our water storage problem. Our 1.5 gpm well couldn't keep up with the demands of our lawn, hedge maze and orchard during the summer, so it was finally time for a pump house. Fraught with electrical inspection nightmares and a ton of digging through our driveway, the project was clearly cursed. The situation was made worse by the sudden and unrelated collapse of our main line from the house to the septic tank. Nevertheless, the contractor managed to keep us insulated from the bulk of the chaos, solving every problem quickly and efficiently, leaving us with such an overwhelming (and irrational?) sense of optimism that we decided it was time to finish the basement!
The most serious problems had been the plumbing, which was at eye level when we moved in (and which we had raised somewhat a couple years back), and the giant and annoying post in the middle of what was supposed to become the family room. Chris and I spent all our free time in December re-(re-)cleaning out the basement, and soon after the pump house was completed, the contractor and his crew began demolishing, re-(re-)plumbing and framing.
The true test of the feasibility of the project occurred on February 15th, when the giant 600 pound beam arrived that would hold up half of the house and allow for the pesky post to be removed. The post was located directly under our refrigerator, which in many of my visions came crashing down through the floor. But when the beam appeared to hold not only the fridge, but also our constantly "elephantizing" children, we felt reasonably certain that we could continue with our dream to turn our 1600 sq ft unfinished, mis-architected afterthought of a basement into SOMETHING useful. After the project is completed, I will post a gallery of before and after pictures to show off our achievement.