Monday, December 15, 2008

Flotsam and Jetsam...

Have been taking random shots here and there that don't really seem like a blog so I thought I'd just go for something... Maybe this should be 7 short blogs - not one long one???

Ch 1:Griffin and poop.

I know, you have all been just dying for an update on this topic! No he is not potty trained yet. He has his good and bad days. One of his new favorites on the 'bad' days is to place the goodies in dangerous locations (such as at the top of, or on, the stairs) for the delight of the unsuspecting walker. Here he is showing his latest accomplishment (and
holding his nose).... His teachers are pleased with his progress however, and want him to come the entire day starting after the break. I am torn about this development. On the one hand, it would be great to have him at school the whole time with his peers (and it would be great for me to have time enough to perhaps take a yoga or french class or something) On the other, we have been telling him for 6 weeks the reason he can't go all day is because he is not potty trained - how consistent will it be if I just start sending him anyhow? (Not that it was motivating him to be trained to stay home. He seems to like it - even when I don't play with him - just being around me while I fold laundry contents his little soul). I know these lessons are sinking in on some level or another though - since when we play cars the mommy and daddy cars have to take the other cars to schools - one for kids that always pee in their pants, one for kids that never do and a third for kids that sometimes do!

Ch 2: French kids are tough...

OK - you know how it is always raining here? This does not stop French kids in gym class. They run in the rain, they run in the sleet, and, as you can see here, they run in the ice and snow. I'm not sure if this is a function of Besancon (hey, if we waited for good weather, they'd never exercise) or if it is all of France - but it amazes me to see these teenagers slipping around and continuing to do their exercise. When our kids whine that they are tired or something, we will often say, remember - you need to be strong, like French kids. Callie will brag to you about how strong she is from all her exercising - as strong as a real French kid!

Ch 3: Callie Animal lover

She is loving Simone more these days- she feeds her most days and often pats her - it is very sweet and Simone actually seems to like being held this way. She (as well as Griffin) enjoys pretending she is a kitty or (more popular lately) a baby tiger. She has been playing a lot lately with her friend Lilou - her mom is from Holland (I think that makes her Danish) and speaks perfect English - Lilou speaks Dutch and French and, when Callie doesn't understand her - usually will switch to Dutch! Maybe Callie will end up tri-lingual!

Ch 4: Zander the entrepreneur

When hearing his school was selling calenders to raise money, Zander stayed up late one night organizing some of his lesser used toys into categories to sell. His plan - to sell them to his friends to help raise money for the school. So far he hasn't done it (because of all the bad weather), but the box of priced items is ready to go! He is really starting to blossom as a writer - making price tags, trying to spell words out himself, making signs to warn us of any danger - kep ut - mas (keep out mess) was a sign on his door to warn us in the morning so we wouldn't trip over all this stuff!

Ch 5: Use your hands - but gently!

Here Zander is waiting at a bus stop. Usually we walk home, since we enjoy running with our friends, but one day he got pushed in line and his knee got twisted - no big deal but he wanted the bus home. Currently, this is the biggest challenge for Mr. Z - how to play like the french kids (which includes lots of roughhousing that would be clearly off limits at home) without actually
crossing the line and hurting someone. It's hard for us to help out, since we don't like the pushing etc... at all ourselves and don't know how to teach him what the 'right' way is. The mantra in our house has always been "use your words". I have tried to keep him with his hands to himself because I don't think fighting is a good way to communicate - for kids or adults and I also think when they roughhouse, the kids end up hurt sometimes. I do realize this kind of play is fun and it is clearly part of the culture of the way kids play here - so he needs to learn! Part of the problem is that when Zander says to stop, they usually don't listen to his words and they just keep going (this is true of other kids as well, not just Zander). Then (as we have taught him) he usually tries to tell the teacher but sometimes he can't get away or he's on line so he's not allowed to leave or the teacher doesn't understand him or she ignores him since there is something else going on OR he doesn't know the name of who was bugging him and there are 100 kids on the playground so how is the teacher supposed to know who to talk to or they are probably just tired of Zander complaining over every push - when pushing is completely fine for every other kid in the playground. I know it must be hard for them to help and a difficult situation all around. The most worrisome part of this problem is, if people don't listen when he says stop, especially when it is a recurring incident, Zander can sometimes lose control. He almost really hurt one of his good buds, Anouc, the other day, she was pushing him and he choked her! He was very sad afterwards and they made up but it was scary! Afterward he said something like "I just got so, mad, I kept telling her to stop and she wouldn't. I don't know why I touched her neck. I think it was better in Philadelphia for me." Well, he's here now so hopefully we can help him navigate this social battleground!

Ch 6: French playground safety.

So, why do they always push on the playgrounds? Part of the reason, I believe, is that there is NOTHING (and I do mean nothing) else to do. Callie and Griffin have climbers and playhouses in their yard but, once they hit the big kids school (ages 6-10) they get zippo. Zander has a concrete rectangle with a few trees - that's it. Leaves them with not much to do except run around, push and scream. He really misses the amazing Jenks playground! Even at 'parks' you rarely see older kids playing - just the preschool set mostly. Another curiosity is that we never see swings here - or very rarely. When asking others why, we were told swings are too dangerous. I assumed the danger they were worried about was the kind where kids running in front of the swing get smacked with flying feet. That is, until I spotted this beauty in a nearby yard. Maybe the swings are dangerous due to the use of concrete pads underneath them to prevent wear - instead of that wimpy American wood chips - maybe this is all the start of toughening up those French children.

Ch 7: Fall Cleaning

Speaking of tough - even the houses and trees here need to be tough - recently they came and power washed our buildings - they look great but the chemical and bleach smell was overpowering - it made the kids and I both feel sick and lingered in our apartment for days. It made me wonder about the regulations on chemicals for this type of thing here. As part of the beautification project, they also came and trimmed the trees. It is amazing how harshly they trim trees here - on the sign there is the word toiture which means ? but, when I saw this poor shorn sapling next to the sign I thought it must mean torture! No,this tree will not be chopped down later - we are told it will come back in the spring. I wouldn't believe it, except you see trees all over that are clearly cut back this severely on a fairly regular basis - with scarred strange looks as a result. I'm not sure if this picture can really show you what it is like - sort of lumpy ends of thick branches with dozens of spidery tentacle-like twigs sprouting from them, vying desperately for a chance at life. Sometimes it looks really strange because the whole tree (except for the new desperate twigs) will be covered in moss - making the new comers look even more like an alien invasion. Why they do this I have no idea... avoiding fall raking?

Ch 8: Tis the season

Last week was consumed with the wrapping, assembling and mailing of all holiday packages. Boy, I am so glad that is OVER! I do it every year not only because I love all that far away
family but also for more selfish reasons. I love to get packages- even when they are all just filled with presents for the munchkins. Obviously, I am a dedicated computer person and I love email but there is still something wonderful and magical about getting a real card or (even better) package in the mail. I also do holiday cards each year - I like to touch base with people I don't get a chance to talk to often but I still care about and writing our holiday letter is a chance for me to look over the year and marvel at all that happened. I am still working on them but they are easy to do a few at a time. This week will be holiday baking.... that part is fun (and delicious). We had friends over to help make our annual holiday favorite - winter fun cookies. It was very fun and the cookies turned out almost as good as in the US - it is hard since the butter here is very different! Nadine (Olivier's wife) gave me a tin of french cookies - she is a wonderful cook as well as baker - yum - I am going to try to get the recipes and try some of them out.

The End (for now) Rebecca

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