Tuesday, August 18, 2009

9. Aunt Tina, Uncle Peter and Ayla

I have 3 sisters, and, for whatever reason, my kids have a hard time telling them apart at times.  I would say that, although we are sisters, we definitely do not look like twins. (OK, it’s true, we sound very alike, but still….) We are different heights, different weights and have different eye and hair colors, soooo, what’s the problem?  It has often been quite embarrassing when the kids call their aunts by the wrong names.  Of course, they have problems with other adults in their worlds, teachers, friends’ parents, etc…. that they see far more frequently, but that is not so embarrassing – because they are not actually related to me!  I do talk to them about their aunts and uncles often, try to help them remember, show pictures etc…., all to no avail.     It’s kind of incredible how I boil people down to (I hope) an easily remembered thing so they make a permanent connection in their little brains.  Aunt Melodie – the artist with lots of bracelets, Aunt Jennie – she is Lina and Livi’s mom and has the big old house and fencing school, Aunt Tina, she works in NYC and has a dog.  I wonder what my shorthand is…. Aunt Beckie, mom to Zander, Callie and Griffin, and lives in France?  You would think Jennie (my sister with children) would be the easiest for them to remember, because of their cousins, but, no, she was Aunt Melodie for half our visit this time.  Zander especially has a tough time remembering, except with Aunt Tina.  Ever since the third member of their family arrived, it has been easiest for him to remember her. That’s right, it’s all about the dog.  I admit it, Ayla is pretty beautiful.  I can’t wait to someday have a dog of my own.  Well, I take that back – I can definitely wait until I’m not living in France!

Zander was bit by a dog quite badly when he was about 3 years old and had, for a very long time, a serious (and understandable) hatred and fear of all dogs.  After we moved to Mt. Airy, he started to get over his ‘climb on the top of the nearest table if a dog appears’ level of fear since there were so many dogs all over, but was still very wary.  While here in France, he recently hung out with friends whose new puppy nibbled his toes, he decided he liked that and wanted a dog, but only if it would stay a puppy, like, forever, and would be a guaranteed toe-nibbler.  Hmmmm….. not so sure we could have pulled that one off!

mini_DSC00665Well, a big thanks now goes out to Tina, Peter and especially, Ayla, since after a weekend at their house Zander finally got over his fear of 5 years and fell mini_DSC00672in love with even grown up dogs everywhere (especially his canine cousin).    We accompanied Aunt Tina and Ayla on their daily walk in the forest first thing Saturday morning and  Zander was on Ayla like fleas on a dog (OK, perhaps that is a bad analogy, since Ayla actually is a dog, maybe I should have chosen ‘like white on rice’???).  He was clapping for her, whistling to her and exclaiming over her every little movement.  How she wagged her tail, bounded after a squirrel, splashed in a stream – you name it!  It was a lovely walk.

While Zander was dog-watching, Griffin was busy being ‘the leader’.  He really enjoys leading our hikes recently and walks as mini_DSC00670far in front of everyone as possible, often running to keep his distance.  He did absolutely great until the last half hour or so of our walk, when he ran out of steam and had to have a few rests!  You might be wondering what Callie was doing--talking Aunt Tina’s ear off is the only way to mini_DSC00691 explain it.  I honestly don’t think she stopped long enough to do more than take a breath for over an hour.  I don’t even know what all they were talking about!  Callie also fell quite a bit in love with Ayla – who, although not really used to lots of rowdy kids, handled their presence with seemingly no qualms whatsoever – she even seemed a bit concerned about the kids and Tina said she was hanging a bit closer than usual – maybe she was listening to all that Zander clapping on some level or another.

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Anywmini_P180709_18.17ay, we had a great time hanging out with them the rest of the weekend. We did crafts, played games, did homework (yes, that’s right, I am having the children do homework as part of this vacation – I am terrified of their eventual return to the US – and they won’t know c-a-t spells cat!). We hung out in the back yard, had tacos (YUM) for dinner and were ever so happy to see the arrival of none other than Daddy!  That’s  right, he finally has rejoined our crew.  Hallelujah!   His journey took him through Penn Station so he paused to take a quick shot of the one and only New York Times building.  Every morning when he arrived at the top of these steps the newspaper vendors would be greeting the commuters with: ‘Good Morning, New York!”  The kids were so happy to see him, and so was I. 

Aunt Tina and Uncle Peter picked up a bike at a yard sale that is the perfect size for Zander.  I went out and bought him a helmet and he had a great bike ride around the park with Aunt Tina.  We played at the playground and got some ice cream from a truck, too. Zander, Callie and Griffin especially enjoyed the chance to be on the swings – a rarity in France and I was excited to hear how Tina and Peter have joined a local group to help improve the park.  Be the change, sister!

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Omini_DSC00696n Sunday we were happy to note Zander’s actual birthday. That’s right, he is officially 8 years old now – what a large number!  Aunt Melodie showed up (hooray) and she and Tina brought him out to Dunkin Donuts for a donut breakfast – complete with candles and song (in French and English, naturally).  Thanks, aunts!  Aunt  Melodie headed back home around 11 since, earlier that week, Uncle Jan had got into a car accident and was still recovering – poor Uncle Jan!  After lunch we went to a Shakespeare festival in another park not too far from their house.  I’m not sure what happened here, because I seem to have zero pictures of this day.  Did I forget my camera?  Did those pictures somehow get lost while transferring from my camera to the computer??? Frustrating! 

One great thing we did was climbing in an awesome tree with some other families.  I was saying something to Zander when another mom, standing nearby, said “Zander? Is that your son’s name?”  When I replied  affirmatively she went on to tell me how her son was also named Zander.  Cool!  One thing led to another and we ended up chatting for about 5 minutes and companionably watching our kids climb a giant tree.

I mention this incident only because it just shows how different people in the US are from people in France – In France, no one ever has struck up a conversation with me on a line, or in a playground.  No one. Ever.  The culture is just so much more closed in that way. Conversation with random people was actually one of the nicest things I experienced while visiting home. I guess that’s part of the reason I feel so lonely all the time.

We then moved on to the festival which had live actors doing plays and a Punch and Judy show.  If you have never seen Punch and Judy, you might be a bit surprised at what it is like.  I know I was a bit shocked. During the show that we saw, Punch did terrible things like throw babies down the stairs, beat people with sticks, kill them and get away with it all.  It’s quite dry, quite sarcastic and terribly funny – but it just goes to show that violence has been a part of entertainment for children for a very, very, very long time!  In spite of my vow to not do research and get caught up on blogging, I looked up Punch and Judy – the wikipedia article is here http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Punch_and_Judy and states, among other things, that this thing has been around for about 400 years –  (originally it was for adults, it has only been thought of for children for about 200 years) Read this excerpt….

“The show typically involves Punch behaving outrageously, struggling with his wife Judy and the Baby, and then triumphing in a series of encounters with the forces of law and order (and often the supernatural). The classic ending of the show has him upending the Devil himself, exclaiming "Huzzah huzzah, I've killed the Devil!".

All is performed in the spirit of outrageous comedy and is intended to provoke shocked laughter.

The stereotypical view of Punch casts him as a deformed, child-murdering, wife-beating psychopath who commits appalling acts of violence and cruelty upon all those around him and escapes with impunity – holding fascination and appeal for both children and adults.”

I was fascinated, that’s for sure.  This is just the kind of stuff I want my kids exposed to  - good old fashioned values, right?

After this we wandered around a bit had an artery clogging American-style lunch (which included fresh made fried tortilla chips that were the best, like, ever) and Zander got a chance to fight with a knight.  The teenage volunteer, dressed in medieval costume, wielded a sword and basically let the children who paid 3 bucks beat the crap out of him.  We watched a few kids before and after Zander and, frankly, they were ruthless – they attacked aggressively (some after initial hesitation but most dove right in) and even when the knight was down, begging for mercy, they didn’t stop, whaling him over and over with their Styrofoam weapons until pulled away by laughing parents. 

When Zander came up, he fought bravely, but, I say with pride, with honor.  If the knight slipped, dropped his weapon, or fell to his knees Zander, quite politely, stepped back and let him regain his footing before beginning again.  He clearly was having a great time fighting – but was also very concerned about the well being of the other combater.  Chivalry, my friends, is not (quite) dead. A true gentleman, my son!

That night we spent some time watching the Tour de France on TV with Tina and Peter.  They are huge Tour fans, especially Peter, of Lance Armstrong and really enjoy watching.  It was amazing to see these guys zipping right through our home town of Besancon on their bikes.  Only comes through our town once every 50 years or so and we are here instead of there – oh well!  I would rather be with my sister, her husband, and, of course, their dog!

We miss them already.

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