Today was Stephanie's first day of school! She went for two hours, and when I arrived to pick her up, she was so engrossed with the button frame--tongue out, brow furrowed in concentration--that she didn't even notice me. She wasn't even sitting with Ellie; she was happily working on her own. Lydia tells me that she didn't cry after I left (though she cried before I wriggled loose) but she did cling to Ellie for a long while. Ellie got her interested in a few things, helped her set out her own morning tea, and stayed close to her for most of her morning. Much to Lydia's surprise, Ellie informed her at one point that she had set up Stephanie with some drawing because, "I need to get back to my own work." Wow. They both did beautifully well! This mama, on the other hand, was teary when no kiddos were watching this morning, cried her way back to the car after prying Stephanie loose at the classroom door, and generally wore herself out in the first hour of separation. Mamas. Whatcha gonna do?
Each child in the class has a photo timeline of their lives. This is displayed on their birthdays, and it helps them tell stories about themselves to others. Parents are supposed to send the timeline to date on the first day. These are the photos I printed out and laminated to send with Stephanie tomorrow.
This is our wee girl, one picture for each birthday starting with the first one. It is such a gift, watching her grow. For the record, I was hard-pressed to find cute photos of her with clothes on around her birthday time (summer)! There aren't many!
We are a Montessori family, which means the kids start school when they turn 3. Stephanie has been three for a couple of weeks now, so we knew the day was coming. Montessori classes are mixed age. The youngest class is 3 to (almost) 6, and the school keeps siblings together at this level, which we love. Stephanie will go into Ellie's class, and Ellie cannot wait to show her the ropes. This happens just in time, because the decision has been made to move Ellie up to the next age group a bit ahead of schedule. She will transition out over the remainder of this term and will start in her new class in term 2. For now, she is ready and waiting to welcome Stephanie into her domain.
Their teacher, Lydia, came for the home visit this past Friday. We chatted about Stephanie's readiness. Markus and I had decided to start Stephanie in slowly. While the school wants kids to go every day from 8:30am to 1:30pm at age 3, we feel this is a bit much and certainly too much from the start. We've decided to start Stephanie with 8:30 to 11am on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays and build from there. Stephanie has never been to daycare. She hasn't really ever had sitters. She is always with me. This will be a huge change for us both! I have my reservations, but I'm trying to be sure they are my reservations and not Stephanie's. In many respects, I think she's ready to go. While she hates the actual moment of separation from me almost every time (even when separating to be with Markus), I know she is over it the moment I am out of sight. I am thankful that Ellie will still be in the class to help her transition. They are such good sisters and Ellie is such a loving nurturer that I'm sure Stephanie will be in good hands (of course, her teachers are great too!). My lingering concerns are about her personal learning style and ways of doing things (so out of the box and so different from Ellie, whose obsession with order made her take to Montessori like a duck to water). We'll see how she goes and take it slowly. Of course, I realize I'm going to need intervention in the carpark if/when she cries at the door. I will hold it together until then, but that's the best I'll be able to do. It's a milestone in progress, for both of us.
What I left out of the last post because I felt it deserved its own post was STEPHANIE TURNED THREE while we were down in Albany! The Birthday Girl spent almost the entire day in her Birthday Suit. The clothes came off while we were at the boatshed market early in the morning (it fronted a beach) and we were in the rest of the day, where she could be free as the little bird she loves to be!
We started the morning with our family's traditional birthday bretzel which I'd made at home and brought down with us. It was our first morning in Albany after an after-dark arrival, so Stephanie woke up on a farm on her birthday with kangaroos, cows, an emu and horses (her favorite!) in view. We couldn't have planned a better start to the day for our animal-loving girl!
In the afternoon, our friends joined us for cake and good times.
The water balloon toss was a HUGE hit with tons of giggling all around...until Will was twice over the victim of an exploding balloon. We changed up the order (I had been tossing to him, a rather unfair disadvantage for him) so the kids were mostly tossing to each other, and they had a blast. We kept it to three water balloons (Stephanie turned 3!), so it left them wanting more. I think we'll definitely keep it as a birthday tradition.
And of course, we appreciated the special guest, Enoch the Emu. This was our first day with him, and Alan showed us how Enoch would come when you whistle. He let the kids stroke him, and Stephanie was enthralled. She spent every day after chatting with him at the fence. But what third birthday in Australia would be complete without photos like these?
Last week, we disappeared down to Albany for a week. Thank goodness. It has been a record hot summer here in Perth, weeks of unrelenting heat and unforgiving Aussie sun. Albany is about a five hour drive to the south, which makes it significantly cooler. It was cool enough to cause Ellie to exclaim, "It's wintertime!" when we stepped out of the car (and by Perth standards, it nearly was). Albany experienced a bit of unseasonably strong wind and some rain, dropping the temperature from Perth by half. Good thing we packed our fleece jackets, pants and sneakers! We were actually cold sometimes. Amazing.
Our good friends and previous neighbors have been encouraging us to make a trip down to Albany for almost as long as we've known them. Alan is from there, and his family are mostly still there. His sister owns some vacation properties, and they set us up in a fantastic spot for the week. It's called Parkfarm, and it is beautiful. It's a free-standing house (four double beds in four bedrooms, two baths, big common spaces and a kitchen) with a wrap-around porch set on a big piece of property just outside of Albany.
Waking up each morning to the wind in the trees, looking out across fields and seeing no other houses (his sister's house is hidden by the trees) and instead seeing their pet emu, Enoch, some kangaroos in the distance and some cows and horses milling about...sooooo relaxing! A week down there was just what the doctor ordered. The girls couldn't have been happier. Markus and I wanted to explore the area, but they were happy just to stick around the house most of the day. There was a child's swing hanging from the porch rafters and a perfect-sized table and chairs with Play-doh toys set out and ready for us.
They also enjoyed meandering over to the family house and helping to collect eggs from the chooks.
About half of our trip down wasn't great weather, but we didn't mind too much. We simply enjoyed being away and keeping life simple for a week. Albany does have some fantastic pristine beaches that we weren't able to enjoy nearly as much as we would have liked, but the beach here at home is none too shabby. We did join Alan and the boys at Mutton Bird Beach one morning, and the kids had a blast paddling in the shallows and climbing on the rocks, despite the grey skies and cool temperatures.
Each day, we drove around the coastline to Middleton Beach and enjoyed early lunch at the Bay Merchant Cafe. Fantastic spot. I highly recommend it. They serve breakfast and lunch all day, meaning we could actually eat lunch when we like to (around 11am) and the sandwiches were inventive and excellent. We went so often that the owners introduced themselves. We're on a first name basis now. We also made a visit to Whale World, a museum about the now-defunct whaling industry and its base in Albany. The girls really liked exploring the whaling ship (especially Ellie, much to our surprise).
Along the way, we stopped to see two natural rock formations made by the sea, a natural bridge and a deep sheer drop cut into the bouldery coast over the ages.
On Sunday, we went to the Albany Boatshed food market and picked up some beautiful crabs (my first!) and some fresh produce to serve alongside it. Alan and Rosemarie and their boys joined us for dinner. They dug up some potatoes from the family garden just before coming over. That dinner was fabulous! There is nothing to compare to the taste of super-fresh food. I made three dipping choices for the crab, and we didn't use a single one. The crab was so fresh and wonderful just plain. Another night, Alan brought over some fresh marron and we had another big meal. Hooray for good food!
On our last full day, we drove 30 minutes over to Denmark to explore. Our first stop was the famous Greene's Pool swimming beach. Oh. My. Goodness. So beautiful! I had a touch of a headcold that day, but I wasn't going to pass a chance to swim there. It was crystal clear, shallow and well-protected from waves. A wonderful spot!
Then, we drove around and discovered The Lake House winery for lunch. It is very small and the lunch menu is limited to (expensive) sharing platters, but the quality was fantastic! The girls were happy too, and we were surprised to realize when we got back into the car that we spent nearly two and a half hours enjoying lunch there!
The drive back was long and not too fun, but the trip was completely worth it and very relaxing! Thanks again, Rosemarie and Alan, for enabling such a great vacation! If you would like to see more pics (just in case I didn't put nearly enough in this post), there are tons in our flickr pool if you click on the sidebar.