Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Carnavale

It’s the weekend again!  Saturday was a day at home – we spent special time with each of the kids, Zander attended a mini_DSC07371birthday party in the afternoon and we cleaned our house since we had some friends over for dinner.  Here you can see the lovely ‘tree’ that Callie created – collecting the materials during her special time walk with Dad and creating the design during special time with me.

On Sunday we had daylight savings (that’s right – it’s 2 weeksmini_DSC00700 later than at home for some strange reason) and spent the morning together finishing up special times.  It takes about 3 hours for full special time for all three – 1/2 hour each with both Mom and Dad and we didn’t pull it off in one day!  Well, we finished up in the morning since we had big plans for the afternoon – CARNAVALE!  We wanted to be to the parade on time which meant catching the 2pm bus.  Andre’ wanted to do his run in the afternoon to prep for next week’s race.  That meant he was around in the morning and left around 11:30am.  He was supposed to be back from his run at 1:30 but didn’t make it until almost 2 – but I forgive him since he found a new thrift store for us to visit on his journey and since we didn’t miss the bus! (He just missed his shower) We got off the bus at a bridge running right over the Doubs. It has been raining lately and the river was running quite high – the area pictured on the left side of the bridge usually is a sidewalk!

We got to Pont Battant at 2:30 and had to wait until 3ish for the parade to start.  I am often amazed by the inconsistency of my kids’ patience.  At times, like when they are handing me a jacket to hang up they absolutely CAN NOT wait (the what, 15 seconds?) it takes for me to hang up my own coat before I take theirs…. – MOM, tiens, tiens, tiens, TIENS!  But other times, they can just sit and stare at an empty street for half an hour with no complaint while I’m fidgeting and shifting my weight around.

It was a great parade- well organized and full of energy and tons and tons of confetti.  (Usually, when people say ‘tons’ it is just an expression – but in this case there actually were several thousand pounds of shredded paper) We had a great front-row view and could see everything.  Here are some shots of the floats.  There  were those I’d expect- flowers, a giant moon, friendly mice, and a dragon eating a person – scary!  Then there were several ‘princess’ floats – one featuring Miss Besançon herself, with attendants and another with Miss Franche-Comté and her attendants (wow). There was also a float with young princesses--of course Callie would like to join their ranks next year.  The backs of the floats were equally elaborate – if you look closely above the blue clover you can see that some lucky folks live above the parade route and were watching through their windows.  All the fun and none of the confetti.

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Then there were a couple of floats I don’t believe you’d see in the USA – I shall refer to them as the potty and porno floats.  I must say, I felt bad for the folks from that Latin Restaurant – they were gyrating with the best of them but still, it was a mighty cold day to only be covered with a bikini and your bulging muscles!  The floats and bands were sponsored by various restaurants, banks and community groups.  Some of the costumes were amazing!  Here are some of the bands….

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The costumes in the first shot are a bit tame, I admit – but I was trying more to show off the interesting instruments they were playing – kind of looked like about 6 horns all stuck together. In the second shot you can see the amazing drum sets used by many of the bands – they just rolled them along down the street in front of them.  The third shot shows traveling xylophones!  I was impressed with how they managed to rig a truss to carry it along. The elaborate costumes reminded me of the Mummers in Philly – I guess the tradition does come from European roots.  In the last shot you can see a small child leading off the group.  I must say that this was the most diverse, ethnically and age-ically (OK, I KNOW that’s not a word – but how do you say that the ages were diverse?) that I’ve seen yet in Besancon.  I actually only saw one group that could easily be identified as a high school band.  The rest had people of all ages – tots in strollers to the old timers barely able to totter along down the street keeping up with the parade.  I was impressed by the ethnic diversity as well, even in places you wouldn’t expect it.  For example, an Indian restaurant float featured about a dozen dancers on the bed – maybe 3 looked ethnically Indian.

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Here are some shots of strange things… The giant puppet reminded me of the Spiral Q puppets from back home in Philly – and seems to have been simply one group of friends who made it – Zander says he wants IN for next year – maybe this would be the best way?  Next, note the pacifier in the mouth of the xylophone playing teenager – is this an unusual sight?  Not as much as you would think.  In France, they seem to potty train by age 2, but I see kids older than Callie with pacifiers with alarming frequency.  I guess it’s all what you are used to.  The marchers representing the Irish presence in Besançon made me laugh out loud. I thought it was wonderful how they were able to laugh at the stereotypes aimed at them and simply embrace one of the most notoriously Irish traits, drunkenness, by staggering along down the street.  Maybe, if we do a puppet for next year, it can be obnoxiously American – and have a sign saying – Sorry world, we can’t help it - we ARE the best!  And, of course, I would be remiss not to mention the confetti (yet again) – almost all the floats were tossing tons of it outward towards us spectators and this, the final float, actually had a confetti cannon!  There was so much the river was coated in it – the photo doesn’t do it justice.

Finally, I thought I’d put these shots in – showing how much fun we had watching – the photo of Griff didn’t come out – but he loved it too!

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Friday, March 27, 2009

Zander

Well, today we had a meeting at school about Zander and I thought I'd talk a little bit about that.  Warning - this is not a cheery, feel good post - sorry - feel free to skip if you are part of the 'blogs should all be happy' crowd.

Zander has had a bit of a tough time ever since, basically, he was born.  But, last year, (in the US) we felt like we had him on the right track.  We knew coming here would be difficult for him and actually almost didn't come because of it.

In the beginning, (after like the first month of serious adjustment that was tough for all of us) he seemed to be doing rather well.  He plays with his friends, he likes school etc...  He is difficult here and there, but mostly stuff we can handle.  Also, he seems to love the travel and adventure part of this France thing – he is the most curious about everything we see and the most excited by it all.  Since the new year, he seems to have been having a harder time.  For Zander, this means he is tired more often, doesn't show an interest in things he usually likes, and gets angry and hurtful quickly.   It is very frustrating for us all.

Well, since the end of the last petites vacances, things have been getting worse.  He is angry, destructive and just plain hurts his sister whenever he gets the chance (but most especially in the mornings before school).  He throws fits every morning to avoid going and seems sad and scared to go each day.  He said he was being hurt at certain times by the bigger kids so we rearranged the way we were doing pick up and drop off to protect him – but it hasn’t seemed to help him feel more secure.  When I try to ask him about specific things at school it is hard to get him to communicate.  He says he doesn't play on the playground, he has no friends, the bigger kids hurt him and (worst of all) that he just plain doesn't want to be here any longer.  Recent things he's said to me include: "Mom, I don't like France". "I don't want to speak French."  "It's too hard."  "I want to go home."  "I want to go back to Jenks."  "They don't help me enough here."  "I have no friends."  "I'm scared to go to school."  "I refuse to learn French." "I just don't want to go" "I give up" and "Mom, I tried it here in France and I just like it better at home.  I'm sorry - I just can't help it!"   He just seems sad and that breaks my heart.

So, I have been really trying to use all my professionally recommended parenting and temperament tricks to both help him feel better and to keep him from exploding.  I have to do this all the time, of course, to some degree, but the amount I am doing now is so draining, both emotionally and physically - and is only marginally successful. (Probably because I don't do it right - often I end up crying, lecturing or yelling -none of which helps the situation)  I also can't help but resent the terrible amounts of energy and time it uses - taking away from the other kids and from the happiness of our family. (Quick example - yesterday morning we had no school - Callie and he and I had been snuggling for about 30 minutes when Griffin wanted to join us.  As soon as Griffin got in the bed and tried to get some covers, Zander started yelling at him and kicking him.  When he wouldn't stop, I plucked Griffin out of bed and went to snuggle Mr G. in another room - this resulted in Zander getting VERY angry and leaping on my back - then a series of unfortunate events ensued - mostly centering around Zander being a big jerk - ending up with Andre' missing his bus and the rest of us missing 1 hour of our 2 hours of swim time that morning.)  Once he gets down in a hole, he just gets stuck - for a long time. It is a downward spiral because, Callie, needing more attention, will do whatever she can to deliberately antagonize Zander (of course, it doesn't take much with him these days) and he, unfortunately, responds with his fists.   Then I have a problem on my hands. I can't expect her to behave as an adult would - but, man, I wish she would stop making things worse.  Does she like it when he whacks her?  It makes me feel awful that I can't protect my kids from this abuse. If I'm fast enough, I put myself in the way, but I don't like being hit either.  He is getting stronger and can really hurt sometimes.  Another problem is how he gives me a terrible time with homework - he just simply doesn't want to do it so it becomes a big nightmare.

Well, we decided to try to go to his school for help.  We (unbeknownst to Zander) met this morning with Cecile (his tutor), Madame Pakiry, his teacher, the principal, his RASED teacher and a school psychologist to discuss this as well as how he is doing with his school work.   Well, everyone who is with him at school is simply shocked at all of this.  So, that is good news.  All agree he is doing very well in school.  They say he is very, very intelligent.  He is working hard.  He is making great progress in all his school work.  Yes, he has a language barrier that is holding him back, but he is speaking more often in French, he doesn't need them to translate for him almost ever and he is behaving great (sometimes he will do something like, whisper or play with his pencil in class - but just normal 7 year old stuff).   They say he will definitely be ready to move on to the next class next year - the only barrier for him is the language and he is working through that.  They also say he is simply lying when he says he doesn't play with other kids.  He runs around the playground. He smiles all the time.  He plays with his friends - and he has lots of them. They have never witnessed anyone hurting him.  All the kids in his class like him and he enjoys being with them.  Mme Pakiry claims that he says things like "I like France" and "I like to be here" in class at times when asked.  It is true that I noticed some girls making kissy faces at him the other day.  When I asked him about it he said "They kiss me all the time" and I said "Do you kiss them back?" His response "No - I think if I kiss them back they might kiss me even more and I hate it!"  I guess sometimes I hear stories that imply that he isn't alone - but it seems like he doesn't enjoy the attention - maybe he isn't getting anything out of it?   Cecile, his tutor, is surprised at this description of him as well - she says he is very difficult to work with and she almost never sees him smile.  She has to really work hard to get him to do what she wants.  About the only thing that he likes is reading books, according to her.  So, why the disconnect?  The way the psychologist described it was that he has two compartments—one at school (where he’s not at ease) and one at home (where he feels safe).

They weren't sure if they could do anything differently but had ideas for home.  First they gave us information on some other resources for psychologists and group activities that can help.  Also they said to forget about homework for now - Mme Pakiry and his RASED teacher are happy just to work with him.  Also, they suggest laying off pushing French in general at home - let him just get stuff at school - it's enough.  Especially if it makes him angry. They also suggested, rather astutely, that perhaps part of the problem is that he thinks that that I am unhappy.  (I can’t imagine why)  Of course, in my typical 'heart on sleeve' fashion I cried about 3 times during today’s meeting.  This makes it harder for him to adjust.  Maybe, on some level, he thinks if he can convince me he is sad enough, then we will go home.  Too bad he doesn’t realize that a large part of the reason I am unhappy is that he is having such a hard time.

On the way home from lunch pick up today, Griffin wants to go one way and Zander another.  They would not agree or compromise in any way.  This led to me, literally, having to stop and sit down on some stairs for about 20 minutes, while they played happily around me, but refused to bend on which way to walk.  Of course, I could have forced the issue by scooping Griffin up or something - but I don't think it is fair that Zander always wins so I decided to wait it out.   In a way, the conflict ended successfully because no one got punched and no one ended up falling into despair.  Zander finally worked it out with Griffin and agreed (miracle) to go his 'ramp' way (as opposed to the stairs) and we all went home in harmony.  But it took 35 minutes instead of 10.  Then, once we were home, Zander started hitting Callie (who was teasing him).  Andre' didn't come home for lunch today so I ended up forbidding Callie to be in the same room with him unless I came with her.  Good thing our house has lots of rooms.  Griffin was having some sort of crisis as well - he was crying over not taking the bus, over the walk, over the lack of strawberry jam, over how we didn't have small enough apples - it was insane - I ended up resorting to force with him so we wouldn't be too late for our return to school. Grr!  Andre’ says this is how all kids are – and I know I fought with my siblings all the time – especially with Jennie.  I guess it is just part of life  - and I have to learn to not get bogged down on the little things so much.

This morning things went pretty well.  I think knowing he is doing well in school helps and also I am trying to not get too invested in all this.  It’s hard when I don’t have much else to focus on while I’m here.  One idea that Andre’ has is to leave Zander at school for lunch.  This will help me have more time to spend with Callie (which she needs) and lessen the amount of transitions Zander has to go through on a daily basis.  Since transition is so difficult for him, this might be a good thing.  And, apparently, he is happier at school than at home, so why not keep him there longer?  I’m not sure if it will be possible, for several reasons.  The first is that they only have a limited amount of room in the lunch program – and priority goes to families where both parents work out of the home.  Besides that, I’m a bit worried since I’ve floated this idea in the past and he’s been dead set against it and also since, in France, they expect you to eat whatever is put in front of you – not one of Zander’s strengths.   But it would definitely make life easier – so I think we’ll try it, if possible.

In like a lamb and out like a lion

That’s March in Besancon.

The weather has been absolutely disgusting this week. It has been very cold – forget about putting those winter jackets in storage.  It has been rainy (OK, that’s normal for Besancon) and the wind has been unbearable. The kind of wind that kicks dirt up into your eyes and makes you bend over to walk kind of hunched.  The kind of wind that, when you are 3, threatens to blow you away. Tiens la main! (Hold my hand) shrieks poor mini_DSC00691Griffin.

And, one fine Tuesday, walking to pick up the kids before lunch, it HAILED!  I don’t think I’ve ever been caught in a hail storm before.  I’m sure you won’t be surprised to learn that it isn’t very fun.  I was walking innocently along when the sky opened up and I started getting pelted with little, pebble sized ice balls.  I ran over to the school, worrying about how I was going to get the kids to walk out of the building!  Luckily, just then, it stopped and the sun, for the first (and last) time this week, started to shine.  As you can see, the amount that got dumped from the sky in about 10 minutes was incredible.  It all melted in about 10 more minutes.

Exercise is looking up this week.  I enjoyed my yoga class on Tuesday (we even stood up) and they have fixed the road so I can go back to horseback riding next week.   I stopped in to sign up and was handed an (incorrect) bill.  I thought I was supposed to get a discount as a new student but when I tried to explain this, the secretary got pissed off and eventually just stormed away.  So, obviously, my French is still not up to par (or maybe she was just a bitch).  I am definitely making some progress though. I NEVER would have even walked into the horseback place without Amini_DSC00694ndré at my side a few months ago.  I have been talking with people more in French as well – one of my biggest problems is that  I think I’m saying one thing – and I’m saying something completely different.  The other morning, I gave Zander a note to give to his friend, Julia.  When I saw Julia come out of school around lunch I asked her if she had gotten the note – she looked a bit confused so I said Ca va? (OK) – and she said yes.  I then said, give it to your mom, OK?  She said yes again. Well, I was busy congratulating myself when Zander came out and told me he couldn’t find the note and needed another one.  What?  How is that possible?  I just asked Julia and she said you gave it to her.  Here Callie jumps in – well, actually mom, what you said was WHEN Zander gives you the note, give it to your mom – not DID Zander give you a note.  Oh, shoot! Zander is going to Julia’s birthday party tomorrow –here is the picture he drew for her (he also made her 2 cards and some other crafts – he’s got so much love to give – and not enough peoplemini_DSC00695 to give it to.

Griffin has really been enjoying playing with his cars lately.  He likes to line them all up on the carpet in different and ever more elaborate designs.  He gets very upset if anyone messes with his designs. Here he is taking a shot with his camera of this special arrangement. He is definitely going through a ‘power struggle’ phase right now. He is having lots of tantrums, sometimes in public places and just plain wants his way.   Today it was that he wanted to eject Callie from her window seat on the bus.   Were there other window seats? Yes – but he wanted this one and ONLY this one. I felt bad for the other passengers – luckily it was a short ride.  I used to be able to reason with him, trick him or force him to do what I wanted but I think I need to find some new tools for my littlest guy.  I guess it's true that he will be 4 in only 2 weeks. 

 

Sunday, March 22, 2009

blunderful run Sunday morning

For a couple of months I've been eyeing this radio tower on the highest peak around here... I made an attempt to climb the mountain it perches on two weeks ago but got stuck on the wrong side of the Doubs with no bridges within 3 miles of the mountain... so today I decided to go for it again. I got up at a reasonable time (5:30), switched and folded laundry, ate a small jam-and-bread sandwich, and hit the road at 6:23. I was down past the loop of the Doubs (past centre ville) by 6:45, and on my way to uncharted territory. It's really beautiful in the deep valley carved out by the Doubs, and there's a great, flat bike trail that stretches 135 km (90 miles) along it. I probably went another 3 miles and then started an ascent into the town of Morre. The roads were twisty (switchbacks) and hard to predict... so I dead-ended a couple times. I've learned to pay attention to where cars are coming from, to look for military names in the street labels, using these clues to guess which roads are going up the mountain... but this time I was looking for a footpath, and had no idea which road that might be on. I eventually found one, and it was nice to avoid some switchbacks. Then the path ended on a road, where I soon hit the town of Morre, passing the wonderful scents of a fresh bakery (actually a very painful smell when I'm in the middle of a run because I'm so hungry) and then finally hit open country again... open farmland covered the top of this mountain. I could see snow-covered Alps off to the east, and I really enjoyed sharing the view that the mountain-dwelling villagers enjoyed every day from their own windows. To the south I got this great view of Besancon--the photo doesn't do it justice here, but the central hill/peak is Fort Chaudanne, just below it is a blurry stripe for the Citadel, and just to the right of it is Fort Bregille. I liked this perspective because I could clearly see the elevations of the three hills, and obviously the Citadel is the lowest. By about 90 minutes out on this run, I hit my goal--the radio towers! It was a great view, definitely worth a 90 minute run. I walked around, read all the signs, called Rebecca in an attempt to share the moment, but since it wasn't yet even 8am she didn't answer. I called a couple more times and then gave up and chose a way back down the mountain--a trail that would hopefully lead me past the chateau de Montfaucon. Then Rebecca called back and we chatted for a minute before I journeyed onward. The path seems to have taken the scenic route, as it went up around the north face of the mountain before hitting the west side. Along the way I found this cute little spring, frozen over, but with goldfish swimming around... I also passed this meticulously planted stand of evergreens. I finally hit the chateau, which is an 11th century creation that is now in ruin. Apparently it simply got abandoned when the Montfaucons lost power and therefore couldn't afford to stay around any more. I spent probably 45 minutes walking around the site... it was absolutely amazing. Next time I need to bring flashlights! Then I headed back down the mountain and got to see some of these beautiful spring flowers--they were covering the entire hillside. I hit the Doubs and continued running another 3 miles or so, and then just ran out of energy. I walk-ran for maybe 45 minutes, then just walked. I decided to bail and walked through centre ville to catch a bus. Unfortunately the first bus stop said I'd have to wait 19 minutes, and I knew that at 40 degrees and no jacket that would be impossible. So I walked on to find another bus line... and it said 14 minutes. I decided I'd walk along the route so the bus could catch up with me... and then I lost the trail. For the last mile and a half I had to walk and take breaks. Turns out I went about 18 miles (30k) and it took me 5 hours. Near the end it simply took all my willpower to just keep moving. That means I entirely lost track of time, I was kind of dazed & confused, and I didn't notice Rebecca's phone calls at all. She started to worry around 10am, and I didn't get home till 11:30. What a nightmare that return trip was!

After choking down some food (literally--for some reason my throat was very sore--seems sensitive to acidic foods since this run), I read to Callie for 10 minutes, had a 30 minute nap, showered, and lunched with the family. Then it was my turn to take over the kids for the afternoon. We cleaned up lunch (the kids helped), we headed outside to play bikes, and ended up climbing trees at the park for a while. Then we came back for the kids to watch tv and for me to read Rebecca's blog entries for the day... made dinner, gave kids baths, and voila... here I am, ready for bed myself!

Saturday at home

We spent the weekend at home. We went for a nice walk in the grand foret on Saturday. This is a huge mountain covered in forest, but, unfortunately, scarred with logging roads and logging. It is interesting, because they have very strict rules here about how much you can log - there is no clear cutting. But, it seems, there are also no 'off limits' forests. So there is evidence of people no matter where we go. This raw looking stump just sticks out like a sore thumb. The kids were excited though-to climb on fallen logs and to get a chance to hear and see the giant logging truck rolling through the forest, picking up limbs with a pincher type device. Here you can see the kids perched on a barrier over the road. This section was replanted with over 22000 plants back in 1989. It will reopen to loggers in 150 years. I wonder how long this tradition of 'replant and wait' has been going on? We stopped and spent about 10 minutes counting the rings of one giant stump. (If I pick up no other French skill, it may be counting out loud -- think I can put that on my resume?). We found it was approximately 155 years old. Just the same time range as that other stand of trees--coincidence?

The kids wanted to know why they would cut them down. Well, for pencils, paper, furniture - books! Yes, I am sad when I see a fallen tree - but I'm not willing to live without wood - that's for sure. Zander was excited to see buds sprouting on the trees arching overhead - unfortunately the shot didn't post well - but I am still including the position that Andre' got into to accomplish the perfect shot. I am a point and shoot type - he likes to get the lighting and angle just right! We found a clearing to enjoy our picnic lunch. It was very private, we saw no other people. When I remarked on how it was our own private area Zander's response was "Yeah, we can act like psychos!" (Lucky day!) He then started to scream and whack trees with broken off sticks. Callie and Griffin, of course, followed suit. Well, I guess you have to take your chances while you can! They calmed down enough soon to gather these fuzzy seed pods for a fairy pillow and to direct the forest in some music (coming out of daddy's phone). Then it was out of the forest and back on the bus down to Centre Ville to check out the Musee de Temps (museum of time). Entrance is free with our bus passes and we have been meaning to visit for awhile. I thought it was going to be all old watches, and they did have some wonderful examples of that, but they also had tons of interesting displays on the history of Besancon and the entire museum was located in the historic Palace of Graneville. We could walk to the top and see interesting views of the city. We stopped to get Callie a new pair of sneakers and headed home for dinner and bed.

Sunday morning Andre' went for his long run. He is usually gone for about 3 hours on these. He called me at 8am saying it would take him longer than 90 minutes to get home. We all slept in and then made our usual pancake extravaganza. I expected Andre' around 10am (30 minutes later than usual). Around 9:45 I called him to see how close he was (should i refrigerate his breakfast or leave it out?) and got no answer. Well, time moved on, the kids started digging in the back yard and I did some spring cleaning. I tried calling again at around 10:30 - no answer. This is when I started to get worried. One other time, back in Philly, Andre' went out for a long run and, quite literally, collapsed (it's called bonking). He is always careful to eat a bit before he goes out now and he also knows his limits - or so he thinks. I, however, worry that he might be lying out on the side of some mountain, alone. (Especially since, when he called at 8am, he said he was really tired and on the verge of bonking) I call again about 10:45 and text him at 11 and 11:15. No answer. He has now been gone for almost 5 hours. Did I mention he is only wearing shorts and a technical top covered with a t-shirt and it's 35 degrees outside? (He considers this dressing warmly - notice two layers on top) I try again at 11:30 and then, I can't hack it any longer. I want to call the police or something! Why hasn't he called? The only reason I can think of is that he bonked. However, there is a problem. I don't speak French well enough to communicate to them. Also, what are the laws about missing persons in France? I know in the US - a person isn't even considered missing for 24 hours. He might be dead by then.

Here is where my loneliness really sinks in. What would I have done in the US? Simple. I would have called my mom. I would have called a friend. I would have talked it over with them. I probably wouldn't have called the police, but I would have been able to figure out some plan of action - maybe even calling in friends who know the Wissahickon to bike around or something. Here, what do I have? Who do I have? I'll tell you. Nobody and nothing. I end up calling (who else?) Olivier. He doesn't answer. Then I call Isabel. She doesn't answer. And, folks, that's the end of the list of people that can understand me on the phone who don't live in the US. Luckily, that is also the moment when I hear the key in the door. It's an exhausted Andre'. He just didn't think to call - and didn't hear my 7 calls or messages. I could have killed him. Isabel called back a few minutes later. Luckily, I was able to give her the good news. He took a couple of hours to recover and then gave me the afternoon to do my own thing. Well, what I've done is blog - and, I'm grateful to say - I've finally caught up to present.

Friday, March 20, 2009

TREE

OK - TAKE NOTE - MY SHORTEST BLOG EVER!

We went to the park after school on the first day of spring - the lighting was right and my phone got some amazing shots to share with you. The one comment I'll make is how I LOVE how Griffin is sticking out his tongue as he focuses on climbing. Zander and he both do this - as does my father (but never Callie). I am forced to wonder, what is the genetic advantage to this habit?

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