Saturday, June 13, 2009

Monterey's Tiny Tot Graduation

Monterey, my baby, my last. That means everything she finishes will be my last. The last binkie, bottle, diaper. The last in nursery, the last sunbeam. The last Pre-school Graduation. Because of this, I have become slightly more reflective as she comes of age and goes through it all.

Her first day of Pre-school, two school years ago, I was sure I was going to get the call that she was not really potty-trained, come pick her up. She had never been accident free before, and I just put her in and explained that she had better pee in the potty and not on the floor. I went to a store close by, not buying anything perishable with the cell phone in my hand, because I just knew I would get the call. This continued all week. I never got the call. She had done it.

She was always shy. She is my loudest. most talkative at home, but quiet and shy elsewhere. She is not into academics. It took her a year and a half of pre-school to write her name. She had no interest. When I asked her to do it, she would just giggle "I don't want to." I don't believe in forcing or making academics a miserable experience, so I would put it away and try again later. One day she decided she would like to write it and boom, there it was. Granted, it is a long name. But Monterey does not do anything until Monterey is ready.

At Maya's graduation last year, she came out for the junior group and as they began singing, she turned her back to the audience of parents and family and would not even face us. I was slightly scared she would pee on the floor. She does not like to perform. (SO unlike Maya.) (No accident.) If Monterey does not want to perform, you cannot force her.

So a year later and here we are. Was she going to perform? She knew the song - sang it everyday for months at home and in the car ride home from school. She knew the dance and movements - she had shown that to us as well. Her class was performing "She'll Be Comin' 'Round the Mountain."

She was pretty cute. She wore her hat. She wore her blue bandanna. She looked pretty confident as she marched in with her class. They started the music and . . . she turned her back to us. NOOOOOOO!!!!!!! Oh, she is back. We got the face WOO HOO! We have a face showing.

And that was pretty much where the good news stopped. There were a few shoulder shrugs that we were unable to interpret. There were a couple of toe taps, which were in the beat of the music so we are assuming they were intentional. No singing. No smiles. Lots of glaring. Lots of looks that I captured with the camera. Well maybe she was just thoroughly in character as a rough rider in crocs.

The graduates came back in their cap and gowns looking regal and dignified. Again, not a single smile. Again, a slight turn of the back and then she faced forward again. Still glaring. Still pouting. She made it through the ceremony without cracking a smile. They called her name, announced where she would be attending Kinder and stated what she wanted to be when she grew up: a ballerina princess.

They sang their final songs and Monterey still held her ground: no singing, no smiles, no eye contact.

The second they ended and they could join their family, Monterey was all smiles. She smiled through all the picture taking. She was happy about her lunch. When I asked her why she did not smile or sing, she replied: "I didn't want to."

There you have it.

Regardless, we are very proud of her. This was our last pre-school graduation. Never again. Sniff, sniff.

Maya's Kindergarten Graduation

Maya had her Kinder Graduation on Wednesday. Ryan had class so he could not be there, but the rest of the family rallied to cheer her on and enjoy a great program of music and dance and smiling.

Maya's teacher this year was Mrs. McIntyre. Can I just tell you how much we love her? Aside from the fact that Maya learned everything that she should - which is all that you could want, she exceeded the standards and will enter first grade reading and writing and counting, etc. ahead of the game. Not only that, but Maya loves to learn and loves school and loves to read and write and do homework. That is so important to me, that she loves it because that will determine so much of her success in life.

Mrs. McIntyre prepared a fabulous program. Half of it was based on patriotic songs that the children had been learning all school year. The first act was entitled: We Love Our Country.

They sang the following:
It's Flag Day
Yankee Doodle
This Land Is Your Land
You're a Grand Old Flag
God Bless America
My Country 'Tis of Thee
50 Stars
School Song

Then they did a Rhythm Sticks portion. They performed:
Music, Music, Music
Heigh Ho
Mickey Mouse March

That was followed by a short intermission, complete with a costume change. The patriotic clothes came off. They were wearing their bathing suits underneath. The girls got their hula grass skirts on and the boys put on their sailor hats.

The next act was entitled Aloha From Hawaii. They performed:
A special presentation of Lovely Hula Hands by Mrs. Vera Brock
Their entrance was to Naka Pueo - a traditional gourd beat
One Paddle, Two Paddle
- a sitting hula
Sailors Hawaiian Horn Dance
i - a hula
The World is a Rainbow

They then went and switched their head gear for a graduation cap. They received their diplomas and reading awards.

What a great teacher and a great program. I did not plan on crying, but I did.

We went to Red Robin afterwards to celebrate the big night. My baby is on her way to First Grade!

Madison's 5th Grade Celebration/Culmination/Graduation

Madison. My Madison. You have been looking forward to this day for years. Not that you did not savor each and every moment of elementary school, but you always knew your true calling was talking to friends in between classes. You are such a lover of all things social. You love a list and the organizational aspect of juggling a dozen things. You thrive when facing a busy day. You have been looking forward to this for years. You will do great in Middle School.

But before all that, let us back up a little and discuss the Fifth Grade Celebration. Most schools call it a Culmination. We cannot use the word Graduation because we are not FINISHING our academics, we are just moving from one school to another. There is a fear that if we use the term Graduation with fifth graders, they will drop out of high school (or middle school) because they will think that they already graduated.

Our school could not even bring itself to use the accepted term "Culmination." I guess it means that you completed something. It indicates an ending. So our school calls it a "celebration." I find it quite laughable. We can graduate a pre-school student or a Kinder student. After that, the term is saved for high school and then for colleges. I guess there is no fear that a child will say: "Hey, I graduated from Kinder, so why do I need to finish first grade?" I want my daughters to at least receive their Master's Degrees (PhD is the bonus round.) So I want the high school ceremony to be called "Transition" so they do not think they are done. In the defense of the convoluted terminology, I have seen prom dresses/tuxedos and limos at an elementary school "culmination" because that child was the first in the family to achieve that educational level. Family members thought the rest WAS optional. But I would like to point out that they treated it that way in spite of the side-stepping terminology. I really think they could call it graduation from elementary and it would have no significant impact on drop out rates. (Maybe I will study that when I get my PhD.)

Another indication of the downplaying of the event is going from free-dress to matching T-shirts. Now I admit there was always a hold-your-breath moment when the girl, who has never even worn a wedge before, walks across the stage in her first-ever pair of four-inch heels. But isn't that, in itself, a rite of passage? Yeah, the grass makes it a little scary, but haven't they ever heard of aeration? Golf courses do it all the time. Maybe not in four inch heels, but the effect on the grass is the same.

There are modesty issues with the girls. I'm not sure what the moms are thinking in the store when they buy their daughter their first spaghetti strap semi-formal dress. Maybe for the mom and daughter, it is a rite of passage. To the causal observer, it becomes a contest for Miss Junior Hooker. (That was a little harsh - but you know what I mean.) The schools try to enforce guidelines and dress codes, but it is nearly impossible. So the solution? Put every student in a matching shirt. Voila - no strap issues. Make sure everyone is in shorts/pants/ skirts - no jeans, to make sure that everyone looks essentially the same. Flats/sneakers/flip-flops: Voila - no sprained ankles or falling. How easy was that?

We did have balloons, for those of you thinking they took all the fun out of it. And a banner. And music.

They marched in to "We Are the Champions." I started crying as soon as I saw my girl. I thought I was a pro. This was our fourth graduation in a month and I was an expert by now. I have been through the elementary - just two years ago. I should be a pro. But alas, I still had a few tears to shed as the finality of it all settled in. Yes, in spite of the name, it was an ending. No more individual teacher to deal with. No more nurturing classroom. No more room number to give when picking her up for an appointment. No more birthdays celebrated in class. No more presents made for holidays. No more holidays. It is over.

They sang "Look at Me Now" and "Fifty-Nifty United States." The teachers got up and gushed and gave out awards and gushed. This was the largest group ever. Each year, their group was the largest in the school. Because of that, they did a fairly good job moving the whole thing along, knowing that if they were too wordy, we would be there forever.

The crowd cheered. The parents cried. The cameras clicked. The graduates/ culminators/ celebratorees smiled. In a few minutes it was over.

Such is life. The anticipation takes years and in one short, fleeting moment, it is but a memory. It is the anticipation that is the essence of the accomplishment. The process, the practice, the planning, the pencilling in on the calendar.

Years and years of homework and back-to-school nights and volunteering and clay pinch pots and tacky (sorry, honey) Christmas ornaments and state testing (well that still continues) and performances. No wonder I had some tears in my eyes.

So, if I might be so bold, I would like to say congratulations to my GRADUATE. I do not fear you will drop out, so I feel secure using that term. You have been a truly marvelous elementary student and I have no concerns or reservations about you progressing into middle school. I am proud of you and (sniff, sniff) love you very, very much.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Maya's 6th Birthday

This year, birthdays are about Disneyland. No parties and no gifts (other than the souvenirs at Disneyland.)

We did, however, still have the extended Caress family over for the traditional birthday dinner. Maya loves all sorts of foods. It was really difficult for her to narrow down her choices. She loves all seafood: salmon, calamari, sushi, scallops, etc. She also loves a good steak, hot dogs, and pizza. I made curry for her for the first time earlier this year and she loved that too. For the last few weeks, she has changed her mind on the menu a dozen times. Finally we agreed on a southern BBQ: BBQ ribs, fried corn, baked beans, crusty bread, salad, mangos, strawberries, blueberries, deviled eggs, and edaname. For her birthday "cake" we had her favorite desserts, since she is not a cake person. We had chocolate dipped strawberries, brownies, and lemon bars. McKayla and Madison helped dip those strawberries. Can you tell what great helpers they were?

Sterling thoroughly enjoyed the strawberries.

Here is the result of the traditional birthday questionnaire:

All About Maya

Where does Maya want to live when she grows up? Paris
Does Maya regret getting her ears pierced? NO
What is Maya's favorite ride at Disneyland? The Haunted Mansion
What did Maya like best about Kindergarten? her friends
What is Maya's favorite sport? soccer
What does Maya want to be when she grows up? a dance teacher
What is Maya's favorite primary song? If the Savior Stood Beside Me
What Marriott brand does Maya HATE to stay in? Residence Inn (sorry Brigham)
What is Maya's favorite thing to play in the pool? lap swimming
What do you like best about Maya?
her sweet spirit and her sensitivity (Dad) her passion - good or bad - she has it (Kym) She is always smiling, happy, sweet, and carries the conversation. She is a great dancer and singer and gives good hugs (Gma Diane) everything about her besides messing up my stuff (Madison) she is pretty, full of life, active, funny, and takes good care of Rey-Rey (McKayla) sweet (Gpa Tom) her bluntness(Chris) She's spunky, sings good, and she's fun to be around (Meagan) she kisses me and is a good example and I love her (Monterey) spunky, intense, charisma, leadership (Matt) everything (Maya herself) her confidence, independent spirit, smile, sense of humor and she is so smart (Lisa)

The next morning, after I had finished all the dishes, Maya and I left for our day at Disneyland. With my annual pass and Maya's birth certificate and the Disney email, we were all set to go. Maya wanted to stop at McDonald's for breakfast, and since it was her day, she was indulged. That was really the theme of the day: Maya's Day of Indulgence. It was a great day.

Maya wore her red shirt with white polka-dots so that when she met Minnie, they could be twins. We went to the admission gate where she was given her official birthday button. That way EVERYONE in the whole park could wish her happy birthday ALL day long.

Our first ride was the Disney train to New Orleans square. She wanted to get to her favorite ride: The Haunted Mansion. She wasn't scared though, that is just acting in the pictures. I think she had a different expression in every picture I took of her. And lest you think that I was forcing all these pictures on her ... trust me, she was begging all day for more.

Next we went on the Pooh Bear ride ... twice. She giggled so much the first time, I had to go again. And then she giggled her whole way through again. What a great age six is! She is old enough to understand, she is familiar with the movies, yet she still believes in fantasy. I loved seeing Disneyland through her eyes. On some rides I think I spent more time watching her expressions of joy than I did watching the entertainment.

We headed to the Pirates of the Caribbean. Maya does not like to get wet, so even though she was tall enough to go on Splash Mountain, we had to skip it. We did get pretty wet on the Pirates ride, but she was okay with it "cause it was an accident."

From there we went on the River Belle Steamboat and then went to out next area.

We waited in line for the fairies in Pixie Hollow. Which ones would we see? How long do we have to wait? It was almost our longest line the entire day. Maya was so excited to meet Rosetta. She was Rosetta for Halloween and she let Rosetta know that. Rosetta thought they looked exactly the same, except for the red hair. Rosetta speaks with a southern accent and afterwards Maya would speak with (her version of) a southern accent. Rosetta wished her a happy birthday and the two became best friends. So much so that mom had to buy a Rosetta doll at the Fairy Kiosk afterwards. Next we met Tinker Bell. She is quite a character. Again, there was quite a bit of chatting - no wonder the line took so long. They did their sassy pose - both were pros at that. Then they did their silly expressions.

We headed to Toontown for the official meeting of Minnie. We waited in line for our chance. Maya was incredibly patient in lines. She rarely complained and always found something to entertain herself. Finally we got our picture with Minnie. She was definitely impressed with the matching clothes. She was also quite excited about Maya's birthday. Afterwards, we went through Minnie's house where we had to take pictures of practically everything in the house.

On to Goofy's area, Donald's boat, a little Pluto dog and some random pictures with the various props.

We went on Small World. When I went with Madison, back in January, Small World was still being re-done, so this was my first time going on the new and improved ride. I have been going to Disneyland several times a year for my entire life. This is the most major change I have ever seen. **Spoiler Alert** Skip this paragraph, if you want to be surprised. They took out the rain forest and added an "America" room. That was a sweet little surprise. The other change was the addition of Disney characters throughout. Alice in Wonderland is now part of England, Pinocchio in Italy, Aladdin and Jasmin in Arabia, etc. It was cute. It was fun looking for them all. But I had mixed emotions. I had always loved that the ride was about love, harmony, unity, and all those goopy, gushy, emotions regarding world peace. It was it's own little under-commercialized bastion of hope in the midst of over-commercialized rides and souvenirs. Aside from a T-shirt here and a small set of dolls there, Disney has never really overexposed the ride (unless they are currently making the "Small World Movie" which come to think of it, might be really good.) Anyway, I am still deciding. I loved it and it was fun looking for each little change, but I ended up not looking at the other dolls as much. Maybe over time,when it is not so new, I will be over it.

We headed over to Fantasyland (almost entirely skipped by Madison.) We rode the Alice in Wonderland ride, the Carousel, Dumbo, Casey Jr, Tea Cups, the Storybook Boats and Peter Pan. On the rides where they open the gate and everyone makes a run for it (Carousel, Dumbo, Casey Jr, and Tea Cups) Maya always ran from the get go and snagged the pink one. I walked, not thinking it was worth injuring small children just for the "pink one." Maya would make her run, sit in the "pink one" and watch me walk over with a little smirk of accomplishment. She was quite adept at it. Maybe I should hire her out as a "runner" at Disneyland to insure that you get the seat or color that you want. She always got the color she wanted and we were in the front seat in all the boats (like Small World and Pirates.) She snagged the most beautiful horse on the Carousel. On a slow day, this is easy. On a crowded summer day, it is truly amazing.

She decided she did not want to ride the Matterhorn, because of the risk of getting wet. We made our way to Tomorrowland and got our fastpass for Buzz and stood in line for the Nemo ride. Maya, the whole time in line was not believing me that we were going on a real submarine. She was so excited when we climbed in and they closed the hatch and we started on our journey. She had never been on anything like it. She loved it.

We went on Buzz. A little side note.I think it is a great that Disney is SOOO accommodating to individuals who are in wheelchairs or motorized bikes. Having traveled with people in those situations, it is a lifesaver. But I think some families have figured out the system. In a party of ten, if we can get one in a wheel chair, then we can all skip the line and go on the ride with no waiting. What a great deal. So much better than a fastpass. Unfortunately, there are people who actually need them. I saw a couple of groups of teen who were pushing their friends way too fast from ride to ride. Interestingly enough, each time, it was a different friend riding in the wheelchair??? I think Disney needs to start requiring a doctor's note. I mean it seemed like half the park was in a chair of some sort. So anyway, back to Buzz. When ever a wheelchair patron gets on and off the ride, they stop the whole ride - this happens on several rides. On Buzz, if you get the right place when you stop, you can really get your score up. I just held my blaster in place and watch the score rack up. I reached the second level! High up in the second level! I mean I was one more person in a wheelchair away from finally reaching the elusive top level!

We went to Adventureland for our final adventure. We went to the Tikiroom and got the yummy Pineapple Whip Float to share while we waited to go in. Yum-o. It was so refreshing and hit the spot. Inside, Maya was chosen to start the show. She spoke in the microphone and with total confidence said "I'm Maya and I'm six. Today is my birthday. Wake up Jose!" The audience roared. Later when we were in line for The Jungle Cruise, several people who had seen her open the show, remarked how great she was and how confident she was and wished her a happy birthday. Each time, she just gave me a look like "Isn't that nice that they figured out how awesome I am?"

We picked up our siloutte, we bought a couple more souveniers and them went on our last ride of the day: the tram to the parking lot.

On the way home, Maya fell asleep before we got on the freeway. We pulled into the garage at about 10:30. Exhausted.

What a great day with my Maya Papaya. I loved every minute spent with just her. It was such a different day from the day I had with Madison. It is so much fun to just focus on one child and whatever they want. It is fun to see Disneyland through their eyes.

Next Disney trip: Monterey on Sept. 7th. I can't wait.