Thursday, July 24, 2014

First Trip to Legoland - Christmas 2013

The day after Christmas we take the kids to Legoland - their first real theme park. Legoland didn’t exist when I was growing up in San Diego so it’s Mark’s and my first time, too. Through Google it costs us $278, which works out to nearly $70 per ticket. It sounds high but it does includes free tickets for next year.

So we get in the door but then there’s still the pesky issue of actually convincing the kids to get on the rides. To get a feel for where we’re starting from, they never even let us put money in the quarter rides outside the supermarket (when they’re sitting on them and the rides are stationary), and freak out if we suggest it. It takes quite a bit of convincing but they finally get on the Cargo Ace airplanes with us which simply go around in a circle. They say they like them but don’t want to get on again. The first hour Mark and I wonder if this will be worth it. 

Kathy and Mark hold up James and Julia so they can check out the Lego pizza. This was pretty much the highlight of the first hour. 

The Cargo Ace airplanes
Their next ride, Dune Raiders, involves them sitting on a blanket to go down a long slide with three humps. At each hump my kids - but no adults - hit the back of their heads on the back of the slide. I sense this ride wasn’t well thought out.

Dune Raiders, a.k.a. The Head Hitter. Clearly this is a stock photo since no children are getting the back of their heads pounded.
But then the kids discover The Hideaways. It’s a 3-story play structure and Mark and I exhaust ourselves following them through it. The worst is when we pursue them through one segment that goes from the first to the third floor through a series of about eight switchbacks - sized for kids - that you have to climb up and over. In other news, Mark sees James shush kids on the slide that are having a good time.


James and Julia scramble up the nets at Hideaways, a multi-level play structure.

Daddy gets in on the fun.

After lunch we hit the boat ride, Skipper School. After almost an hour invested standing in line Julia has a tantrum right as we’re loaded into a boat. She wants to ride with Daddy and she’s stuck with me. Eventually after 2 ½ minutes she stops crying. But then we have other problems. I thought this boat was on a track and steered itself so I didn’t do too much, but then our boat keeps getting turned around. And even when I start actively commandeering the boat, things still do not go well and we continue to get turned around. Mark starts 1 boat in front of me and finishes 11 boats ahead of me. And James tells me from the shore, “I’m a good driver. Mommy, you’re a bad driver.”

Julia gets over her tantrum in 2-3 minutes because she gets distracted by Kathy's horrible boat driving.
You know you're not doing a great job driving the boat when you get passed by 11 boats and the 9-year-old in front of us here gives you instructions on how to steer.

Next, the kids have never played in the snow before so they’re pretty thrilled to visit the Snow Days section of Legoland.

Julia tries to get snow flurries out of James's hair.
They make and throw snowballs (and sometimes are helped by a Snowball Scooper - apparently a job at Legoland), sled (their favorite part), stack extra large Lego blocks (a little random to have in the snow but James goes for it), and add Lego features to the snowman. 

Julia has a snowball made by a professional.

Sledding was a big hit

James and Julia wait in line with Kathy for more sledding. Like any good mom she makes them carry their own sleds.
Giant Lego and snow: the perfect mix?

Mark gives the snowman some Lego accessories.
They do two sessions in the snow play area. We also go snow tubing next door, but that’s more of a bigger kid activity. They go tubing by themselves and it’s pretty fast. They report that their butts hurt.

Mark and Julia play Slapsies while waiting in line to get back into the snow area.
James post-snow tubing
The kids beg to return to The Hideaways and we oblige them though it means missing out entirely on the Dino World and Duplo Village lands of the park. They really love running around the walkways, nets, and slides of The Hideaways. I also briefly lose James. He scales the two stories of switchbacks mentioned earlier and I size those up and am like, “See ya kid!” I tell him I’ll meet him above but when I get to the third story there are two kid-sized tunnels separating us and he is nowhere to be found. I use my cell phone to call Mark who’s with Julia and he finds James right away. (For the record, when found, James is not upset and is having a jolly good time. Apparently I now speak like I’m in Mary Poppins.)

More fun at the Hideaways

As we go to leave the park, James suddenly decides he wants to go on the Royal Joust ride that he didn’t want to go on earlier. It’s a cute little Lego horse ride made for one child (and no parent) that goes around a track. Again, this is the same kid who won’t let me put money into the rides at the supermarket! Julia hems and haws and ultimately does not go on.

The Royal Joust ride marks the first time James has gone on a ride by himself.
Mark notes that when James is hyper he’s braver. This explains his willingness to go on the Royal Joust ride and also how he went down a long enclosed slide in the dark in the haunted house-like Adventurer’s Club walk-through attraction. (Julia went through it once and didn’t like it and didn’t do the slide. James asked to go again.)

Julia sits on Lego waterslide guy at a cafe while waiting for food.
At the end of the day the kids watch fireworks over the park while they eat pizza. Afterwards they ask us to carry them through the park to the car so they can “fall asleep in our arms.” It’s 7:30 p.m. when we leave - their bedtime - so they must be exhausted. They sleep in the car and it’s only the second time ever that they don’t melt down when we rouse them to get out of the car. All they want to do is get back to sleep.

James enjoys a churro dipped in chocolate sauce.
They talk about Legoland for months afterwards, and James while making conversation with other kids, occasionally asks, “Have you been to San Diego? Have you been to Legoland?” 

Riding Lego reindeer and riding in Lego Santa's sleigh

The whole family with Santa in front of the world's largest Lego Christmas tree

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Milestones Preschool: Younger Kids Class - March-December 2013

These are the official pictures of the kids taken on their second day of school. No offense to the person who took this but it may be the worst picture ever taken of James.

I visited a lot of preschools, and by a lot I mean A LOT (sixteen over two years), and I knew when I visited Milestones Preschool the first time that it was The School. I really wanted a play-based school that focused on social and emotional development. Milestones is an inclusive preschool, with a super caring and knowledgeable staff. (And since being there they have endlessly impressed me.) Plus, the ratio is an incredible one teacher per five students. Another plus? School meets even in the summer. Also, their “case worker,” Teacher Nita, sends out an e-Journal every two weeks chronicling their social development and what they’ve been up to.

James and Julia build paper clip chains with Teacher Nita.

Milestones was the kids’ first drop-off school experience, and when they started we were still recovering from Julia’s separation issues due to her poor experience at Bright Beginnings. The kids had a trial day in February 2013, and I expected to be in the room with them but the teachers thought it best for me to wait outside so they could get me if there was a problem. Julia cried for a few minutes when I left and was comforted by Teacher Lucy. Julia was frowny part of the day but otherwise okay. Meanwhile, when James saw me at the end of the day, he announced, “Mommy, I was happy when you were gone.” Thanks, James. 

It wasn’t all bad for Julia, however, who declared that she wanted another teacher - Teacher Allyson - to come to her house. (This is her highest form of compliment.) After class they enjoyed running around Mitchell Park next door.

Their first real day of school was a month later at the beginning of March. I had them choose their favorite shirts to wear. Before they left I drew hearts on their hands like in The Kissing Hand, and told them that during the day they could look at the hearts and know that I loved them and that Mommy always comes back. The first month they brought Bunny and Doggy inside their owl backpacks, along with their “booger cloths” to help ease the transition.

Mommy draws a heart on Julia’s hand.
James shows off the heart on his hand.
Goofing off for pictures before leaving for their first real day at Milestones
Julia and James play in the kitchen while also holding Bunny and Doggy.
Leading up to the first day of school, James wasn’t happy and kept asking why I couldn’t stay with him in school. On the way to school, Julia told me how tomorrow at school James will need Doggy but she won’t need Bunny because she’ll be “very very happy.” So going in I expected James to be the clingy one, but when we arrived Julia was the one who didn’t want to go through the door. While I showed them around the different play areas, Teacher Allyson sidled up next to me for the inevitable Julia hand-off. Julia then tensed and started screaming. Meanwhile, upon entering James was distracted as soon as he saw fake food - his favorite kind of toy - and asked me for a kiss and was fine.

Julia's not so sure about this school thing, and doesn't want to go inside.
Upon leaving the room, I was clued in to the two-way mirror in the adjoining room, and I could see that Julia was no longer crying but was being comforted.

At the end of class I peeked in the crack between the Dutch doors at the entrance to class, and could see James and Julia coming in from playing outside. James looked at the door and started crying, which was odd because I knew he couldn’t see me. Apparently he was told I was behind the door, and that prompted the crying. The rest of the day, however, I heard that they both did okay. After class they ran with classmates Caleb and Naoki around the bike racks outside. It becomes an after class ritual.

Running around outside after their second day.
Playing on the bike racks with Caleb
Before school ritual: Pushing the button to open the wheelchair accessible door.
After school ritual: climbing the fence by the parking lot to watch the kids play at the school next door.
Papa was waiting for us when we got home, having just driven up from San Diego. The kids were thrilled.

Look who just arrived - Papa!
On the second day both kids cried when I left, and watching them from the two-way mirror broke my heart. It was hard for the teachers to comfort James because he wouldn’t let them. The next day James woke from his nap crying hard and telling me: “Don’t leave me at school next time. Stand up. We need to talk about this.” (The “Stand up. We need to talk about this.” comes from him imitating me when I want to talk seriously to him about something.)

Another challenge was James’s fear of the clothes dryer, which was inside the school bathroom. It made a big unexpected booming sound at the end of the cycle, which made James afraid to wash his hands. Teacher Alicia worked with him on this by holding him up to the dryer and empowering him to turn it off himself when he needed to wash his hands.

One day James had some massive bedhead when I picked him up at school. If this happens midway through the day because taking off his sunglasses makes his sweaty hair stand up, is it bedhead or sweathead?
Julia had her own issue with the bathroom - a preference for the sink on the right side. And that preference was so strong she cried when the teachers encouraged her to use a different sink. That Julia is a stubborn one.

Julia using her beloved right side sink
Since I was usually privy to every moment of their lives, at first it was strange being away from the kids for part of the day and not knowing fully what they were doing. Since it’s a 20 minute drive home I stayed near their school in South Palo Alto, and jogged the residential streets (one time accidentally running inside Larry Page’s compound). After my run I then brought my laptop to the temporary location of Mitchell Library or to Palo Alto Cafe, and dedicated my time to working on this blog.

There were some special days at Milestones, like the time a bug specialist brought in several live specimens for the kids to see. James was not thrilled but sat on Teacher Allyson’s lap a comfortable distance away. For a special Friday splash day before Father’s Day, Mark got to watch the kids play in the sprinklers and engage in other water play. 

James sits on Teacher Allyson’s lap while the kids look at live bugs.

The kids pose with Daddy on Father’s Day Splash Day, and then Julia rides a trike around the play yard. 

There were also three field trips during the year. The first was a visit to nearby grocery store, Piazza’s, where apparently a machine to break down boxes kept kids in thrall. The Palo Alto Junior Museum and Zoo was another field trip destination as was the Webb Ranch Pumpkin Patch, which I attended as well.

At the Palo Alto Children’s Museum and Zoo. (Pictures taken by Mona.)

On the Webb Ranch Pumpkin Patch field trip 

James and Julia became fast friends with the other twins in their class, Reyn and Mabel. They often played with Lexi (for a few months before she moved up to pre-K), and James liked playing with Ted and Jake (who arrived the twins’ last month). Another classmate, Jack, apparently had a crush on Julia. Jack’s mom, Sara, reported to me that a teacher told her he often stared at Julia, smitten, during the day, and was transfixed whenever she spoke.

Reyn, Mabel, Julia, and James all hide in a box during a playdate at our house.
Reyn, James, Julia, and Mabel play with the wiffle ball hanging from our tree.
Sara reads to her boys, Tom and Jack (the boy “smitten” with Julia), and Julia and James outside after class.
Despite some of their class friendships, Mona and Jenny reported that it was difficult for my kids to socialize with others, especially by the end of the year, when some of their previous friends had moved to the older class. Part of it was due to the 2-4 age range of the class, since 2-year-olds are very different socially than 4-year-olds. Another factor was the make-up of the class. Several students had neurological disorders and/or were on the autism spectrum. Although I am fully supportive of an inclusive classroom, while the ratio of typically developing to atypically developing children was supposed to be 50/50, recent enrollment seemed to be tipping in favor of atypically developing children, so there weren’t as many typically developing peers. Also, Milestones took on a few kids with more severe needs and their presence was sometimes disruptive to the class.

(I should note that in Milestones’ pre-K class, the classroom was approximately 75% typically developing. By this age, many atypically developing kids with more needs could qualify to receive services through the school district.)

Julia shows off a flag she made in class.
James played with friends during free play and also with Julia if she asked him to play with her. However, when he started engaging in more independent play, Julia became distraught. She wanted James to play with her and when she was sad, give her hugs. She only wanted to play with James during free play and would follow James when he chose his own activity. I’m sure it would have been easy for the teachers to let Julia follow James. Instead they redirected Julia (sometimes 15 times a day) to interact with other friends when she felt her needs for attention from James were not being met.

Julia shows off the hula skirt she made. What, no coconut bikini?
To help Julia become socially and emotionally independent from James, the teachers recommended that the two attend one day together and one day apart. I moved Julia to Friday’s class (where she was one of only two girls), and her best friend there became Alain. The first day the twins spent apart, upon seeing James, Julia excitedly asked him the most important question about his day: “Did you sit on a circle spot or in a chair?”

Julia does some gardening with Teacher Tim and her friend, Alain.
It’s very important to know whether your sibling is in a chair, a cube (where both Julia and James are sitting) or a circle spot (not pictured) during circle time.
On warm Thursdays we had picnic lunches with other classmates after class in the “big backyard” - an enclosed courtyard at Abilities United. Reyn and Mabel, Caleb, Ruby, and Peyton S. and their moms often ate with us and then all the kids would play together.

Julia, James, Ruby, Mabel, and Peyton S. play together after a picnic lunch.
I noticed that James was quiet without me at school (as he is around new people) and didn’t make a lot of eye contact at first. I was surprised to learn that Julia - usually so outgoing when Mark and I are around - was quiet and without the same spark. While James began to raise his hand in class, Julia didn’t really come out of her shell until the end of the year.

James goes through the obstacle course. Different obstacle courses were often set up in the classroom.
Julia had separation issues all the way into December. It wasn’t until she got over those that she began to come out of her shell. Before December, often Julia cowered and didn’t want to walk into the classroom. To distract them and change their mental wiring I had us all walk into the classroom like an animal they suggested for that day. That helped somewhat but Julia was still upset at the goodbye. When it was time to go the kids would announce a type of affection (hug, kiss, nose kiss, butterfly kiss, cuddle, snuggle) and I would give them as many as they requested. James just did a few but Julia usually ran through the list and added a few repeats. Teacher Alicia suggested limiting it to three types of affection, and that combined with Julia’s desire to walk me to the door magically changed everything. I had been trying to make a routine out of the goodbye since they started attending, and finally we found the routine that was best for Julia.

This is either a hello or goodbye to Julia. I can’t remember which.
Just before the kids moved up to the pre-K class in January, there was a holiday party one evening at Milestones. The kids all got to talk to Santa and receive a present.

Julia hugs Teacher Tim, the Director of Children’s Services, at the holiday party.

Daddy visits for the holiday party.
James gets a gift (Sven from the movie Frozen) from Santa.
 Here’s a link to my Milestones Preschool Yelp review.