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We have a yearly tradition of walking to the pumpkin patch a few blocks away and getting all the children in the center a tiny pumpkin.  In past years this also involved a really odd storytelling couple who looked so corny you couldn't believe they knew what they were doing, but they did, and the preschool children at least got quite a lot of of it.  but this year the storytellers moved to a pmpkin patch which is too far away, and we just went to the same one without storytellers and it was fine.

Seriously, it's a really fun time to take twenty or so children to a pumpkin patch. The babies of course are equally interested in the dirt and rocks as they are in the pumpkins, and the toddlers mostly want to run around, and the preschoolers want to climb on the decommissioned tractor and mess with the wagons. The adults, of course, want photographs.  My favorite is going to be one of the series where I had like six children all trying to sit on me at once because I was holding a baby sister (no, they were not all trying to sit on me because I am that awesome, though me being that awesome of course has a bearing on it).

And then we came back and it was the quietest nap time ever.  Really.  The kids who always fight going to sleep didn't, and the oens who usually wake up screaming after half an hour woke up serene (mostly). There were two kids who cried for a bit when they woke up.  One was an almost-three who also wanted a diaper all afternoon -- she was positive that she didn't want underwear, she seemed almost frightened of it: I figured that something in the nightmare that woke her up sapped her of her confidence for the rest of the day, and we found her a diaper, and she was fine. This was her third trip to the pumpkin patch, by the way. I have a picture of her at eight months pointing to her name on the cribs that we used in the teen program back then.  Actually, I have a jillion pictures of her doing baby pre-literacy things.

on another front, I am beign saved, once again, from my own depressive, lazy, work-avoiding nature by the arrival of my friend Bonnie.  I have a weekend to get my bedroom ready for Shukuntula to move in. I had a month and a half, but I squandered it. And Bonnie is here to help me! And I have acquired enough mental health to let her.

on yet another front, tonight Truffle decided to take her battered toy corgi for a walk.  She held that thing in her mouth for the whole walk, which was the version that goes around two blocks -- that is, six blocks linear (I tried to get her to go farther, but she had a specific itinerary in mind.) She didn't do much but cart that toy around, so I imagine I'll be washing the tile floor by the back door in the morning.  She's taken things on walks before, but always dropped them after a block or so.


Sep. 26th, 2012 09:11 pm
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Dropped the boom on Yanek. Now he just has to flop around a bit before he's marching away with the other "recruits." The chapter will end in drum training camp, which I cannot find any references for so I'm making it up whole cloth.  So glad this is a fantasy. I figure they drum and drum and drum, mostly.

On another front, I witnessed the most amazing tantrums today.  We think the child in question is having tooth and tummy discomfort, but all we know is he was doing the back flop and the kick and lash and screaming. The most amazing part was when I had laid him gently on the floor to keep him from launching roughly there off my lap.  He put up his hands -- like he wanted me to pull him back up, which is not unusual -- but as soon as he got th8em, he pulled himself half up and tried to launch himself as hard as he could on the floor.  I stopped him, making his descent softer, but it made him even angrier.  Later he was still doing it when we were outside (he stopped long enough to eat snack, at least) and he threw himself backwards in the sandbox: while he was ltying there, he threw sand in his own face.

Tyke is seventeen months old.  He has a lot of new words, but apparently not enough.

On another front, I can carry a box of groceries up a short flight of stairs putting one foot in front of the other like a normal person now, instead of having to step and place the right foot on the same level as the left before proceeding. Nine months of physical therapy! And also, I can squat to clean a thing on the ground, instead of getting down on my butt.  Nine months! Of physical therapy! MRI in late December, pre-op early January, first surgery late January or early February.  I have to log some paid work time between the surgeries or I have to pay a thousand dollars a month COBRA payment to keep my insurance, so the second surgery will be in mid-May.

My friend who has had a different type of knee replacement says the thing to watch out for is not going back to work too early.  Can't be helped. But at least at my job I have a boss and coworkers who will help me do whatever is the least wrong we can figure out.

On yet another front, I spent last night listening to Warren Zevon on youtube and tonight listening to the COon Creek Girls.  It's kind of hard to find much of them.  And you have to get the early stuff, and not "The New Coon Creek Girls" or videos with (TRIO) in the description.  After a while it's inevitable: you must ditch the girls and start listening to Grayson and Whittier.
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Personhead [livejournal.com profile] pantryslut gave me the link to the article that was raggedly and incorrectly referenced by various people I have talked to in the last year or so.  It turns out -- after I had written for hours about stranger anxiety and (apparent) race and how babies don't, in my experience, tend to express stranger anxiety about skin color in environments where more than one skin color is present normally (did I ever actually manage to say exactly that?  I was tanked on vicodin all day yesterday, so nothing is guaranteed -- I'm afraid to go back and read the thing) -- it turns out, after all, that the study concluded two things about babies' preference (not babies' anxieties):

Newborn babies don't exhibit preference based on "own-race:"
Three-month babies do.
They think that this is because they have been building up an idea of what people ought to look like and that they use cues that also differentiate between races.  They don't think they're talking about skin color only, but also about facial features in general.

How did they determine this (very tiny and possibly shaky) conclusion?

First they took a pile of white newborns and exposed them to a black and white photos of unsmiling men.  They were quite rigorous about how they did this.  They recorded the babies' eye movements and found no difference in how long they looked at the pictures.

Then they took a new pile of white three-month babies who had only been exposed to white people and exposed them to the same set of pictures in the same conditions.  They recorded the babies' eye movements and discovered that the babies gazed longer at the white guy.

Go look at the article and check if I have represented it correctly.

Look at the pictures they used (I gather there were more of them but they were all about like that). Personally, I think you can find more facial features variation than that within a "race."  I hate the word, by the way, and it's not because of squeamishness: it's because of something it implies about genetics and evolution that simply isn't true in the human species.  Our genetic variation simply isn't great enough to warrant the label, and even more to the point, the variation within groups that we call races is greater than the variation across races. As they exist in our minds, races only exist in our minds.

Of course, there are things we can point to and say -- those eyes, that nose, that mouth, those eyebrows, that skin color, that hair texture -- but if you really, really pay close attention, you will find that (except --historically --for the very palest and the darkest skin colors) all those features show up all over the human family. But they only mean something because we say they do.

The article references a mixture of other baby-preference studies, some of which I have read in the past and have found dubious either in their conception, methodology, or implication.  I'm wary of baby-preference studies anyway.  Sixty-four babies  gazing at photographs in a laboratory just doesn't impress me as much as babies on buses making eyes at real people. There's apparently at least one study sayign that babies raised by a female caregiver prefer female faces and those raised by a male caregiver prefer male faces.  But in real life, with real babies, when we see young babies raised in an all-female household, some of them gravititate towards the men in our program (staff, fathers, uncles, big brothers, etc).  There's a difference between a photograph and a real person with an animated, smiling face, saying gooey things and wiggling fingers.

One gripe I have is the term "own-race" which implies, though the authors would probably admit it isn't warranted by the design or results of the study, that the babies are actually forming a theory of race.  They apparently haven't done a study with babies raised in a homogeneous environment of people whose apparent race is not the same as theirs, nor a study with babies raised in a diverse environment.  Or if hey have, I haven't found it. 

My prediction would be that, if the study is reproducible at all, they would find that the first set of babies would prefer faces like their caregivers' and the second set of babies would have idiosyncratic tastes.  My prediction too is that these photograph tests would be utterly unreproducible with real human beings instead of photographs. 

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Every so often somebody tells me about a study they read that tells us something pithy and surprising about human nature and the evolutionary determination of every damned thing about human psychology or cultural quirks. Honestly, I never care much about these things, because I don't believe a methodology exists or can exist that would legitimize any such study. I've railed before about prettiness studies which purport to prove that people naturally favor whatever kind of cute appearance the authors have decided are the best. ("And so therefore you're accounting for all the large majority of the people who live in the world who do not fit whatever standard of beauty you are proposing -- how? Why have we all not been bred out?")

The one I want to talk about I cannot track down. I have heard about it from a couple of intelligent people who mention it as if they came across it embedded in some other discussion, but googling does not aide me. It goes like this: "studies" have revealed that infants prefer people who look like themselves, or possibly that they express more stranger anxiety when confronted with a person who does not look like themselves.

Not being able to track down these "studies" I cannot confirm what criteria were used for "look like themselves," but the first time I heard this there was a really strong implication that it was skin color we were really talking about. It was a while back, so I can't be certain, but I am pretty sure that skin color was in fact the overt topic of discussion that time. But with my inability to track down the articles that these people seem to have seen reference to somewhere, I am not sure the articles really exist, or that they really make any claims about infants' recognition of "people who look unlike themselves," or that the articles did reference skin color.

This is pretty flimsy stuff to be discussing, so let'ssay I'm not responding to anything in particular. I am responding, I suppose, to the question, whether anybody has raised it or not: "do babies exhibit race recognition?" Because I can, in fact, answer that. You probably can too.

Spread out over the last thirty years or so, I have maybe twelve? fifteen? years of experience with infants and toddlers in modestly diverse settings. Most of these groups were majority whitish, with sprinklings of other kinds of babies and adults. The current group is majority Hispanic, adults and children, with a smattering of other things. So what I've seen is a lot of babies interacting with people "who look like them" and "who don't look like them."

(Lori, there's something you want to say right now, and if you bear with me, I will say it, loud and clear, pretty soon. But I have a piece of foundation to lay first).

There's a famous pair of things that babies do in the second half of their first year. These are stranger-anxiety and separation-anxiety behaviors. They are not the same thing, but they do arise at about the same time, and they feel really similar to the observer. I believe (along with most people) they have roots in closely related cognitive and emotional developmental issues. Most babies show some of both of these: but beyond that. they vary widely in every aspect. Some babies start up remarkably young, some don't go through it till much later. Some babies are strongly affected by both of these issues at the same time, others are bothered more by one than the other, or they have one issue first and the other after, or they glide through with a mild case, and a very few really don't seem to go through it at all. Then the specific triggers and expressions and coping mechanisms that babies have vary a lot too.

Really quickly, separation anxiety is when a baby is worried, sometimes to the point of panic, at the departure of the parent or close caregiver. "But that's only natural," you say. Yes, it is. But for a period of a person's infancy and young childhood, it's not just prefering the favorite, or loving Mom: it's a deep-down, existential concern -- that's why we call it anxiety. Experts will tell you it is normal and even healthy, though it can be nerve-wracking when the baby screams for hours when Mommy goes away. It accompanies strong bonding -- though it is not the case that babies who don't show strong separation anxiety are not strongly bonded to their parents. You'd think that maybe babies who were generally ill at ease with the world would cry more about this, but it doesn't seem to be very true in my experience. It's a "some of this, some of that" situation as far as I can tell. Some of the babies with strong separation anxiety seem to want the object of their affection to sit right there and never leave the baby's side, and they seem tio be afraid of noises and bugs and things. Others -- not so much. They're taking on the world in other respects, happy and outgoing, and relatively unafraid -- they just hate it when their caregivers leave them.

Stranger anxiety can accompany separation anxiety or stand on its own. A baby with marked stranger anxiety hates it when a person they don't thuink they know well enough -- or a person they don't expect in the present contect -- comes into their presence. Or soemtimes they get upset when someone comes too close to them when they first come into their presence. Or when they see a half-familiar person for the first time that day or week. Again, it's a normal thing for babies to do. Some of them are really, really vocal about this for a long time, and some of them just skitter away to a familiar caregiver and signs to be picked up. Or, being in the caregiver's lap, will try to climb deeper into the caregiver's embrace -- sometimes it feels like the kid is trying to get back into the womb. Or sometimes the child will make a worried face and look at the trusted caregiver for a bit, and then stare in horrified fascination at the newcomer for a bit.

So this rumor that I keep hearing is that some folks, in a study or studies somehow conducted with some number of infants of the appropriate age, found that these babies either were more likely to show signs of stranger anxiety, or were more likely to show stronger signs of it, when certain people entered the testing area than others. And that these certain folks could be described as "looking different" from the babies. I see a lot of methodological problems with this.

How do you decide what features to control for? If you're going to use, as I suspect they did, skin color, as your marker of difference, then have you made sure that the test people were identical in other salient ways? Have you controlled for the non-verbal messages the babies are getting from the other people present? Have you checked out children who come from backgrounds of different levels of diversity? Remember, at least as this was presented to me, the claiam is being made that theis is an innate tendency. So if it is innate, then if your sample is large enough, the effect would tend to maintain over time and with repetition with kids with different backgrounds . . .

What about babies whose parents don't "look like them"?

In actual fact, adults don't look a whole hell of a lot like babies. Mothers and fathers and uncles and aunts and grandmas and grandpas don't look like babies. They look like adults. We all say "she has her mother's eyes" or "He has great-grandma's chin" but we're talking about subtleties and sometimes lies when we say those things. We're not talking about really categorizable differences. Are we really supposed to think that babies are searching for aquiline noses -- but they all have baby noses -- or deepset eyes -- but they all have baby eyes -- or what? This is why I'm inclined to think "looks like" was meant to be "has the same skin color."

But skin color is likewise an elusive thing. Even in a relatively homogeneous population of human beings, there's a significant spread of skin color. You can see people in families holding their forearms together and musing about where this color came from and isn't that interesting how much darker this one is than that one. Along with scurrilous jokes, of course. And any time you have one part of the family that comes from a populatin who has darker skin than another part of the family, the children will have the potential to come out any color at all. Really. People are not Sims. We have complex genetics. In my current batch of babies, I think there's maybe one whose skin color is all that close to that of their siblings and parents.

And what do I see triggering episodes of stranger anxiety? Not me, though I don't look much like any of my babies (None of my babies have hairy arms, for one thing). New people in the room. People they know, but who they have not decided are "normal" for the infant room. People who sh8ow up suddenly. People wearing hats or sunglasses (they're pretty used to regular glasses because I wear them). People with unexpected voices. People they know but they have decided are a problem (usually for reasons we can't determine. Oh, a correction to the beginning of the paragraph: I've had a baby, who I was really close with, decide I was not a Good Person for Stressful Ocassions. He acted like I was a true monster if I approached him when he was already upset about something. I figured I was not Lupe or Normita -like enough, and after a while he decided I was okay after all.)

So, what about the question that these studies purport to answer(if they really exist outside of whatever pop society books people were reading in the last couople of years -- writers of such books have been known to lie in the past)-- is xenophobia innate?

Well, maybe. Probably. But it doesn't matter. I mean, xenophobia is a thing that we find in human beings. So I think it is a natural variation of the things that people can do. But it's not an itneresting question -- is this innate, is that innate, what is the nature of humanity? Clearly, if people do it, it's a human thing to do. But it's not all that helpful to characterize behaviors as natural or abberant. It doesn't really answer the question of why people do the things they do. Because as innate as a thing might be, the fact remains that some people do them and some people don't. So what it comes down to is, is this a behavior that we want to foster or one we want to minimize, and either way, how do you go about that? And for that, you don't want an evolutionary just-so story, you want to watch what real people really do in real conditions in the real world and with respect to other real people.

I'm teaching my babies to be friendly, generous, cooperative, communicative, and brave. I'm teaching them to take delight in each other, to care about each other, and to stand up for themselves and each other. None of these is more "natural" than greed, racism, selfishness or hate. They just work better.
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I have easily spent a thousand dollars over the last six years or so on printers -- not ink, that's a whole other fiasco -- and I never ever have a working printer. And whatever is wrong with the printer can never just be fixed.

The last printer had a phantom paper jam. No paper was acutally jammed but I couldn't convince the printer of this fact and the manufacturer had no advice.

This one simply doesn't print. As far as I can tell, the printer thinks it's in fine condition: the computer thinks it's in fine condition: the USB connection appears to be in order . . . it just doesn't print. Not from Open Office, not from Word Perfect, not from Notepad, and not from a command prompt, and not from Windows troubleshooting. It will print a nozzle check. I have gone through the troubleshooting steps in Windows and from the manufacturer's website. I am currently uninstalling the printer so I can re-install it. After that I guess I have to go crying to the manufacturer's phone help, at which point. . . I don't know. There's not much support for the model.

I hate the idea of giving up on having my own printer and taking files to a copy shop for printing, but I may have to. Too bad Kinko's, the big, well-equipped one down the street, closed.

On another front, I have decided to write other things for about a week and then go on a revision blitz for the not-Poland story before continuing with the draft, because the things I need to do to the story are giving me the trots, I can't sit and write the further stuff until I get that other stuff fixed.

On yet another front: spring blossoms scented the air when I rode over to the Women's Center this evening to teach moms in recovery how to do fingerplays with their babies. February's almost over, and it hasn't been very winter-like lately, but I haven't been heavily impressed with spring events either. The almond tree is blooming, though.

edit: . . . and the uninstall-reinstall did the trick. But why, for the love of all things real and beautiful, did I have to do this? Why don't things just work?
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today's thousand words will probably be pared down to five hundred or less later since the conversation between Sasha and Yanek leads away from the conflict instead of towards it like I planned.
I don't know. I have a story conflict of my own: Sasha cares more and more for Yanek, while Yanek doesn't particularly notice Sasha. I thought I'd have Sasha, as he gets older, trying to make things better for Yanek and being frustrated because Yanek is never grateful or even all that friendly. But it's hard to have Sasha do things for Yanek without them interacting, and whenever they interact, they either have a premature meltdown that I have to go back and prune, or they have too much of a reconciliation, and I have to go back and prune that. It was easier when Sasha was still a child(he's only a young teen now, but he has more agency because he's the oldest son of an autocrat) and when the two of them spent less time together and Yanek could thoughtlessly snub Sasha more effectively.

I have reached the stage in the project where I have to stop and outline things. Jo Walton was saying that she doesn't outline, except when it's required, in which case she outlines after she writes. Other people write an outline and stick to it. Me, I usually have what looks like an abortive novella to work from, and then sometime after the halfway point everything goes wild and I have to stop and outline the last half of the book, bit by bit.

Continuity is becoming a problem too, as I have Better Ideas for the later story that demand Different Things in the earlier story. I have a great big revision note I added to the chapter before this, which changes a number of prominent things in the chapter and possibly in earlier chapters. I put it at the beginning of the file, in maroon letters, yellow highlighting, all caps, and bolded. Yeah, I was that afraid of disturbing continuity glitches arising from this chapter I'm working on now.

Anyway. I am on the way to work today: tonight I am to give a guest appearance at somebody else's parenting class for parents in drug and alcohol recovery. I'm supposed to spend a half houjr showing them stuff about music with babies. Next week it's infant massage.
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For a baby, to imitate every sound they make is to play a delightful game and to validate their communication skills.

For a preschool-aged child, to imitate what they say is to tease them cruely.

Dark Horse Girl is . . . two and something. Today she said something wonderful, and having just come from the baby room into the toddler yard, automatically said it back to her. She gave me a disdainful look and walked off, carryin her chair with her, looking over her shoulder just long enough to say "stop it."

Guess she's not a baby anymore.

Why, yes, I apologized, Wouldn't you? And she forgave me, and let me put her shoes and sweater on. And on. And on again. (She's practicing)
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Personhead carbonel said in response to my previous post:

"Threat" is all the bad things that could happen to you, from getting a paper cut to being killed by a suicide bomber. You can't change a threat. It exists.

"Risk" is the likelihood of any of those bad things actually happening. There's a lot you can do to affect your risk level, like crossing the street to the lighted side to avoid creepy shapes in the darkness (an example the course was fond of).

I read this and I immediately thought, no, wait, that's the opposite of what we do in the infant environment. You can't strongly influence the risk of babies doing what they do, but you can remove the threat of them getting hurt when they do those things.

And so all day I've been seeing examples of that. And also the original carbonel statement. But mainly my way, really.

Babies will fall down when the begin to crawl and walk. They will chew on things. You can't reduce the likelihood of these things happening. But you can remove the threats involved: you make the environment one where it is safe to fall. Mats and carpets on the floor: low elevations for them to climb on (and fall off of). They'll fall the same number of times (if not more, since you will know they are safe and you won't be rushing to stop them every time they take a wobbly step), but they won't drack open their heads or twist their spines. But they will get bruises and small scratches.

And for the chewing: things that are safe to chew on: no toxic paints, no splinters, no chokeable bits easy to gnaw off: and things that can be effectively cleaned and easily sterilized, and then you do clean and sterilize them. This could probably be expressed either way, as risk abatement or threat abatement. In any case, you're not trying to change the behavior of the child, you're trying to fit the environment to the child's natural behavior.

Now when it comes to babies biting or scratching other babies, we have to work on both ends of the thing. On the one hand, we have to create an environment that lowers the possibility that a child will start to bite or scratch another baby. And on the other hand, you can't remove the possibility completely because these behaviors are outgrowths of really basic reflexes and drives, So you've got to create a situation in which you can respond fast enough to interrupt most of these incidents before the teeth close, and where if the teeth do close on the skin, you can get the bitten child comforted, examined for broken skin, cleaned up, and a cold compress applied to the spot, while also using the opportunity to get the biting kid to understand and empathize with the bitten kid's distress and to feel the age-appropriate level of responsibility for it, And yes, even with the pre-verbal kids we talk about using your words, even though a pre-verbal kid's words might be only NO! or even waah!

In this case the risk is 100% that a given child will bite another child at some time and 100% that they will be bitten at some time, if they are spending their days in the company of a bunch of other babies. The threats we're guarding against are several:

-- that the bite will be severe
-- that the bitten child will be bitten enough to make their experience in the group unpleasantand unhelpful for them
-- that the bitten child will draw from the experience some conclusons about life that don't help them stand up to injustice, or to get along with others, or to feel unafraid most of the time (this may be the same as the second point)
-- that the biting child will draw the wrong conclusions from the event (they could, for example, come to believe that hurting others or frightening others is a legitimate or even the only way to get what they want: they could decide that they are more real in the social world when they are causing a sensation by doing hurtful things: they coudl decide that they are just bad, and there's no point in trying to be good)

But knowing that a child will bite and will be bitten doesn't mean capitulating to biting. We still plan around eliminating biting incidents as if we actually could eliminate all of them. Because planning around preventing biting means paying attention to the developmental needs of babies and how satisfactory their environments are. For example:

Are there enough toys so that the babies can share the shiny? Of course the toy with a baby attached to it is a much, much better toy than the identical lifeless one lying on the ground next to it, but if that toy is there the caregiver has an opportunity to demonstrate that the idle toy will come to life the same way as the one already being played with.

Are there enough interesting things to do so that merely banging on other children doesn't present itself as a more compelling actitivity? If there's a ball to throw with another child, that has more potential fun value than even the most alarming scream you can elicit with a big juicy chomp.

A corollary to this: are there enough safe toys and are the toys safe enough that you can let the babies do whatever they can think of with them ?(within reason. You cannot prevent some child in a group from imagining what it would be like to stack chairs on the table and put a rocking horse on top of the chairs and then try to climb up. So you have to be there to stop them doing that, regardless of how much you don't want to interfere in their initiatives. Also, know that when you stop a determined child from doing this, they will more often than not invent a new horrifying thing to do before you are done unstacking the perilous pile -- or they will go and chomp on their best friend, if you can't head them off first).

Do you have enough responsible adults (or teenaged volunteers to flesh out the numbers, for that matter) that you can head off a child with that particular look in their face? And are they experienced and sensitive enough to recognize that look, or the situations that will bring it on?

Do you have enough predictibility in the day that the children aren't always anxious about what's coming next and worried about when their lunches and their mommies are going to appear?

On the other hand, is there enoujgh novelty in the day that the children aren't flat-out bored?

Are you watching for signs of distress, of boredom, anger, resentment, thirts, sleepiness, hunger, the need to pee or the aftermath of having peed, slimy faces, coughing, stomach upset? Do you have the wherewithal to respond to any of these if you see them coming on?

Do you model problem solving, and interpret the children to each other as accurately (and at the same time as positively ) as possible? So you've intercepted Baby Incisors from savaging Baby's Got a Rocking Horse on the arm, and Baby's Got a Rocking Horse has just noticed they almost got a huge bite from Baby Incisors who's bitten them before, and BGARH bursts out wailing and BI freaks out and lunges for BGARH to thwack them with the huge toy garbage truck they originally dragged over here to show to BGARH before BI got distracted by the shiny rocking horse and the shiny bare arm of BGARH and got intercepted by you, because you're so awesome you saw this coming. What do you do now?

I'm going to skip the bogus multiple choice question and give you an answer (not THE answer, you might do differently depending on the kids, yourself, the environment, etc). You intercept again. You might or might notsay to Baby Incisors that Baby's Got a Rocking Horse doesn't want a garbage truck thwacked on their head, and Baby's Got a Rocking Horse doesn't want to get off the rocking horse and doesn't want to get bitten on their tasty round arm either. But you necessarily say "I see you have a hug shiny garbage truck. Did you want to show it to Baby's Got a Rocking Horse?"

and, you know, whatevger Baby Incisors wanted a minute ago, now they want to show Baby's Got a Rocking Horse the big shiny garbage truck. Or maybe they don't because they suddenly remember how precous the garbage truck is and they're pretty sure anybody else would notice how precious it is and try to take it any from them and theat would be unpleasant so Baby Incisors hides the truck behind themselves and backs away. "Oh well, " you say. "You're not ready to show off your garbage truck. Maybe next time." Either way, the conversation now is about the essential thing, the interaction of these babies, and not about the superficiaal thing, and either way, the babies have something more consequential to grapple with.

And what you've done, you excellent baby caregiver you, is to remove the threat of a bite and a thwack from a situation without much altering the risk. It's still 100% that those two will interact: but you've altered the nature of the interaction so that it is no longer dangerous.

In real life, there may be several iterations of threat removal and conversation starting before you get closure to this. Usually involving Baby's Got a Big Plastic Wrench and Baby's Got a Book That Must Be Read This Very Second or I'll Thwack It on Everyone In Reach as well, or at the very least Baby's Going to Hold On Like an Infant Possum No Matter What. So somewhere in all this one or another of these babies is going to take a hit or something and you'll be doing all the stuff I described up above. But because you're in the middle of all this, you're able to thrust you own arm in and get some of the impact diverted -- again, lessening the threat while not being able to impact the percentage of risk to much degree.

On another front,Emma set eight traps for me and Truffle sprang one. No great damage, and she didn't yelp, but she did look embarrassed.
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So maybe you saw how yesterday I witnessed a baby taking on a third language after listening to a mother talk to her baby for a couple of hours.

Today I participated in a six-month-old perhaps taking a first step, depending on how you want to count it. I don't think I want to count it as a first step, really, at least until I see when he actually starts getting from one place to another on his hind legs (with or without support). This is how it went:

I'm sitting on the floor like I usually do, and the baby -- who I will call Slugger because both his parents are high school athletes -- is trying to get me to help him stand up. How is he doing this? He puts his hands into the air and clutches at me fingers or my shirt and grunts and pushes himself a bit upward, trying to shift his weight into my hands. I am having none of this. "I will not help you stand up," I say cheerfully. "Because that's ridiculous. I will support you if you do all the work yourself, though."

And so that's what he does. He maneuvers my hands into position (lots of babies do this wh8en they want to sit up from lying down, or roll over from an awkward position, or stand up from sitting), and grips them hard and uses them to haul himself to standing. His feet are still little round baby feet balls, so this isn't really stable. He does a bit of the unstable-standing dance, and then moves my hands to the side and lets go of them and launches himself at my chest. Naturally, I have to catch him, but this is beyond ridiculous: it is epic and wonderful and absolutely hilarious. The "normal" time for this is maybe ten months, and you don't get worried unless it doesn't show up later than that unless the kid's not making some kind of progress over time or the kid has some kinesic weirdnesses that make you uneasy on their own.

Is that a step? I kind of think not really, although one foot left the ground and lurched forward ahead of the rest of him in a sort of step-like fashion. The trajectory and feel of the body, the directions the joints were (not) moving, some other things I can't really describe, were less like walking than I would usually call a first step. I told the parents about it anyway. It's hilarious and impressive and when you tell parents stories like that it makes their evening smoother when they go home with a tired baby, tired themselves and with several hours of homework ahead of them and most likely the baby's going to be cranky and hungry and not want to sleep conveniently. To have a thing like that to talk about just makes a more enjoyable time.

Later on, a toddler some months shy of two years old was jargoning incomprehensibly at me while I was holding the youngest of all. This toddler is tiny and elegant and has the world's best eyebrows: there are several rows of assymetrical hairs marching all around his forehead, like they're setting up for some arcane kind of round dance mixer sort of thing. Most of my conversations with him are about things with motors or the projected arrival time of his mommy, although some are about soccer (well, kicking balls and yelling "Goal!") This time he's talking about a wide range of subjects most of which I can't identify but after a while I think he's pointing out the kids in the yard, so I go into that. "Who's that? Who's this? Where's this kid?" -- like that. And I point to the baby in my arm, who is the new baby brother of one of the older toddlers, and I say "Who's this guy?"

And my little motorhead friend looks upwards and says, "The sky . . . airplane."

Yes, there had been airplanes all afternoon, some quite low and loud (on pretty days, especially when stuff like the Cold Water Classic is going on, we can get a lot of small-craft coast-buzzers around here). But dang. A pun! No, I do not believe it was merely a misunderstanding. I think he had an inkling of what I was talking about, didn't want to deal with tryign to figure out an answer with his limited vocabulary, and noticed that the sounds I was making could be applyied to something he felt more qualified to deliver an opinion on.

And my last story of the day. We have in the toddler yard -- whither we repair in the afteroons with our babies and combine the programs for dire financial reasons and then desperately try to make it into a good thing (and sort of succeed) -- two plastic climbing structures with slides (one of them is bigger than the linked one, but I couldn't find a picture of it). They pop together, and more often than we would like, they pop apart. Anyway, the slides are only anchored at the top end and the bottom end swings free, a good quality if you're tossing the toy into an uneven backyard. Today we had about four or five toddlers playing with these and also with these largeish plastic cube chairs

The older girl, the one whos ebaby brother I was holding, got this idea to haul one of the platic cube chairs under the end of the slide, which would make the slide stick out straight like a plank. It took several tries and the coordinated help of the two boys she was playing with to get it to work. It simply couldn't be done by one toddler. But once she got it to almost work the others figured out what she was tryig to do and helped by holding up the slide so she could slide the chair under. And then they all jumped and fake-jumped from the edge of the slide-plank for a good half hour, with only the slightest need for help in taking turns and not jumping on each other and not drastically changing the configuration in the middle of another toddler's jump. And I do mean only the slightest help. Then Motorhead Boy and a girl who had been contentedly pouring sand (and throwing it in wide circles sometimes when I didn't appear to be looking) joined in too and everybody who was big enough to get into the climber had turns.

And also. Big sister, the one who conceived this idea in the first place, started out not being able to jump. Really unable. She got to the edge and demanded a hand from an adult, and then eased herself off with a kind of slidey maneuver. By the time her mother arrived, she was really jumping all by herself. When her mother arrived she asked me "Can I show my mommy how to jump?" which sounds like asking for permission but I notice she uses that construction mostly when she wants to bring you in on a cherished project, and she is not so much asking for permission as asking for witness and endorsement. And then told her mother to say "You can do it [name redacted]. You're not scared. You're okay."

Though she had shown no signs of being scared even before she could manage the jump.

Dang, the kids are so smart.
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So on further investigation only one of the Russians looks like they might really be a bot. So I'll probably report that one when I'm not late to work.

But, hey: why do you guys on my flist who insist on posting your incomprehensible tweets onto your journals also all seem to label the posts in Russian all of a sudden?

Speaking of languages -- yesterday the Israeli baby came back and one of the Mexican babies immediately set about learning Hebrew. Mama was sticking around to help her baby re-acclimate, and talking to her baby, and this was going on for less than two hours before the other baby started imitating her words, really quite accurately.

So now we all know how to say "great!" in Hebrew.
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I have written 9.8K words n the cheat outline since September 10: which is respectable for this stage, I think, especially considering that I have been advancing my bagatelle stories at the same time (I hope to conclude the 2 current bagatelles before November 1st. I think there's something wrong with me, that I'm writing a light-romance novella about a person who has had erectile dysfunction his entire adult life, and the other one involves a threesome which pivots on one of the characters having ridiculously low self-esteem -- oh, that one is supposed to be a romantic comedy -- no wonder nobody ever believes me when I say that about my writing).

I was just looking at the bookshelves last night and I noticed that I seem to have succeeded in giving the nice fellow's military history books away. I thought they were still up there collecting dust. That means I'm going to have to struggle with finding out stuff. Anyway, I've outlined 24 chapters out of probably less than 30 depending on how the last bit sorts itself out. My experience is that as I work on a novel-length thing the chapters tend to increase a bit especially in the beginning and middle, but I've been working on this in my head for a long time and I think most of the increase will be in the second half of the book. Also, I noticed that I've been using a lot less flashback material in the later parts of the book and I am not sure that is a good thing for my sense of the rhythm and tone of the book, so when I go over the outline again in a week or two I will have to evaluate that.

I continue to accumulate highlighted questions for research at an accelerating pace.

Favorite highlighted questions so far:

*Look up army organization. Choose silliest for Empire
*What citified knowledge? Probably political
*Figure out dashing young officer
*Mutualism in Plants
*Military telegraphy
*Prisoner exchange
*Ethnic cleansing as described by LanguageHat

There's apparently another weird little Polish horse, the Konik, which I thought was its own (sub)species but it turns out all horses belong to equus ferus caballus. Isn't it at least a little bit dd that a domestic animal has as part of its name the word for "wild?"

I do not have time to gush about the upturn my career has taken, or why it doesn't matter that it won't increase my earnings, or the very exciting event the day before yesterday where I got to watch a kid conquer crawling in the course of the day, step by step. Later, maybe.
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"Baby dialectics"

I'm not comfortable with it, but it's all I can think of.
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What would you name a blog about child development and childrearing, with an emphasis on babies but not confined to them?

And what platform do you suggest? I keep reading bloggers complaining about their hosts, but I don't understand the complaints. I don't want to do much that is fancy, though I'd like to illustrate the blog with photographs, and I'd like to have a (possibly moderated) comments function.
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Worn cartilage is osteoarthritis, correct?

Apparently, because of the ways that my knees are tender and the ways that they are not, the doctor says I have a cartilage issue and not, unfortunately, a tendon issue (tendons heal, cartilage doesn't). Long term: cortisone or surgery. For now, until I get back from Prague: take more acetaminophen and keep walking.

I'm strangely not bothered: compare this to twenty years ago, when the mere mention of the word "arthritis" in reference to something that was probably somehwere down the line brought unwilling tears.

I guess I've have enough time to get used to the idea.

On another front, I'm still trying to get a room in Prague, and I'm researching kennels.

And Czech is starting to make sense to me. The problem is just the memorization. I need practice. Which I will be getting, eventually.

And on yet another front: grumpy babies still lower my blood pressure.

(which at the checkup was normal, as was everything else except triglycerides, but I expected trouble there because I had dropped the niacin. We're trying some other drug for a bit).
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I entered into a discussion about breastfeeding at James Nicoll's lj, and now I've exited it (without flouncing: I don't want to be that person). There's only so many responses a person can make without becoming an asshole. So here's my private musings about the fallout from the dscussion. I've not friendslocked this because why bother? But I'm not going out of my way to invite people to continue the discussion over here because, again, why bother? I think I'm doing this because I am annoyed, want to express my annoyance, and I don't want to keep arguing, but even more so because I want to be really clear in my mind about what I'm thinking and saying and doing, and this is an opportunity to work on that clarity.

One tremendously useful thing has come out of this. I've figured out why the phrase "agree to disagree" always makes me want to be violently rude. It's because "agree to disagree" actually means "agree that the less-privileged position will shut up and the more-privileged person will continue to say whatever they feel like, without challenge."

And the privileged position in this case is: "you can recommend breastfeeding, but you must put my very specific and unusual difficulties front and center to make sure you don't offend me."

One person (who says they're not intending to have children, so I don't know why they took this so hard: I never said everybody who raises babies has to breastfeed, them much less that everybody in the whole world has to breastfeed babies whether they have any babies or not) said that it was "deeply antifeminist" of me to suggest that breastfeeding is nearly free. Because see, this person makes 35 dollars an hour and so therefore they shouldn't be throwing that time away on baby care. I did point out that it takes more time to bottle feed a baby than to breastfeed them, and somebody else said -- oh, I forget, and I am too weary to go heck, but it was something to the order that you can have somebody else do all that icky baby feeding if you're not using the breast.

Several other people objected to my saying that breastfeeding becomes enjoyable after a while, because they knew somebody who didn't ever enjoy it but did it for two years or something anyway out of duty (I don't get that. Six months, yeah, but two years? For why? So you can throw it in the kid's face later when they aren't sufficiently grateful?).

Then there was "What if you're taking medications that babies shouldn't have in their breastmilk? What if your working hours are long and terrible?"

Honestly, there's individual exceptions to every epidemiological recommendation I can think of except perhaps for "don't smoke cigarettes" and "don't inhale carbon monoxide" amd "stop making candy and wallpaper colored with Paris green." Everybody should eat a nice amount of protein foods every day -- except if they have phenylketonuira. Everybody should eat foods rich in fiber -- except if they have certain malformations of the digestive tract. Children with chronic diarrhea should eat lots of rice, bananas, applesauce and toast and not much else till it resolves -- unless they have the apple allergy that causes diarrhea, skin rash, and potentially anaphylactic shock. With a bit of research I could go on.

It's a typically libertarian tack taken by typically privileged people. They find the rare exception and insist that it disproves the common (and scientifically demonstrated)situation. They debunk epidemiology. Reflexively, as far as I can tell, because also, as far as I can tell, none of these people actually want to tell people not to breastfeed -- they just don't want me to tell people to breastfeed. At least not in sincere, comprehensible language.

For a moment here and there I thought maybe they were confusing what I was saying with the weird narcissistic homeschool-novaccination-everything-has-to-be-done-in-the-most-difficult-and-intensive-manner people, but I don't think it was possible for a person to actually think that and be honest, given what I actually did say.

Apparently the reason James invited this shitstorm on his journal is that Michelle Obama has suggested that people should breastfeed their babies to cut down on the incidence of obesity. Apparently this is offensive to people. Of course this is a controversial subject on a lot of fronts. The science of obesity is not well developed. There's a lot of claimas about obesity that are dumb. The causal direction of the diseases of obesity are not clearly established, though since it looks like moderate weight loss improves health and longevity for a lot of obese people, there's something to the idea that it's better to be less obese than more. And there are studies that show greater incidence of obesity in people who were bottle-fed for their whole infancy. Trying to get a nice roundup of the studies led me to stuff I wasn't looking for, including abstracts of two studies about obese mothers and breastfeeding, one seeming to show that obese mothers were less likely to continue past 6 weeks than overweight ones, and another finding different prolactin levels in obese mothers and other mothers. I don't lknow anything about the quality of the studies, but that's interesting.

Apparently the Tea Party types are offended that Michelle Obama should be taking this on. Because, um, why? Because Michelle Bachmann has to oppose anything from Michelle Obama? There can be only one Michelle?

So, anyway, James asked whether it was a good thing to promote breastfeeding or whether we could just all agree to disagree, and I said I wouldn't agree to disagree, and gave a few of the arguments in favor of breastfeeding, and then I was told I was deeply antifeminist.

I swear, there are some really strange people hanging out at James's journal. A while back I said I thought it was selfish and wrong for post-menopausal women to enlist a big chunk of expensive medical care to reactivate their wombs to bear their "own" babies rather than spend those resources, for example, improving the lives of existing children, and one of the commenters suggested that I might possibly therefore be anti-abortion.

Originally I was going to go into a contrast between the kind of breastfeeding promotion I do, and the kind that these folks seem to think I should do, and the kind that hey seem to think I actually do. But it's taken me this long to say what I have said so far, and I do need to go to bed eventually. So I think I'll stop here.

On another front, I am in lesson 4 of "Chcete Mluvit Česky?" ("Do you want to speak Czech?") and I have found out why it is so hard to tell Czech verbs apart. It is because they tend to be made of base verbs plus prefixes that change their meaning in specific ways, for example, they make them into perfective or imperfective verbs, which are described as being verbs that finish and verbs that don't, though I can already tell that is an insufficient description. Other prefixes have functions more like what we're used to (those little bits of usually Latin detritus that indicate direction or whatever, except when they don't, like and obverse and converse and diverse and perverse and universe and subversive and like that there. But the thing is, Czech prefixes are not mostly from Latin, they are mostly from Old Slavonian or whatever that is, and they have a different logic that I have not grokked yet.

Also, the adverbs and preopisitions and conjunctions and quasi-pronouns and not-really-articles and occasional nouns and adjectives tend to sound a lot alike, much like words of those categories in English (these this that those there then thing thus: which who what why when where whither whence). Notice that these kinds of words in English don't come from Latin, they come from Old English. Anyway, I've learned some of these -- kdo kdy kde and I'm struggling with others -- ten tenhle tam tady taky ted' to ta which overlap because some of the same forms which are gender and case forms of one word are different gender and case forms of other words, and I just have to memorize the whole lot of them because there's no more logic to it than there is to English (probably no less as well, but I don't have a lifetime of experience with it).

Frank says there is no excuse for Czech, it is just a horrible language. But I don't know. Certainly it is a lot harder than Spanish, but I imagine that ninety percent of the world's languages are harder than Spanish.

On a further front, we had almost every possible kind of weather you can have in February in Santa Cruz in the last two days, with the exception of lightning and snow that sticks. And both of those are rare.


Sep. 5th, 2010 05:59 pm
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"Retention" is the word we use when we talk about keeping people in a program (school, and Even Start, in this case). It's hard.  You have to be there every time the person gets cold feet: every time the person gets overwhelmed: every time the person gets hit with a crisis: and every time the person just gets tired.

We have a couple of tired recent graduates right now.  They're ambitious, in the long run, but they want some time off.  They actually kind of deserve time off: they both worked very hard to get where they are. But they have to be in school a minimum of 15 hours a week to qualify for the program, and the program is what pays for their childcare and gets them extra free medical screenings and holds their hands when they go to get birth control or financial aid.  The program is where they meet other mothers and their babies meet other babies.  The program is where they get parenting classes and free diapers and back to school supplies and countless other things.  If they take a break from school, they take a break from the program.  If they take a break from the program they take a risk that they will lose their place.  Because if someone leaves the program for whatever reason someone else must be enrolled right away or we lose the funding, which means, among other things, we can't pay me.  Which would mean no program.

So we're all relentless about it.  "Find some classes you can stand to take."  "Don't give up."  "Remember your goals."  "We don't want to lose you."  We don't.  As easy as it is for me to attach to the new mother and her baby, it's a wrench to lose the old ones to anything but a successful completion.  Which is not just a high school graduation but an A A or a vocational certficate and a job in hand.
On another front, I made both garlic dill pickles and bread and butter pickles today.  I forgot to buy more lids, so I haven't put up the tomatoes I bought yesterday. Also, I'm redoing the dandied habaneros because the method I chose did not work out right.  After gthose, and after I figure out what to do with the apples, I'll be done with the required stuff for the year.  I'm considering asking the neighbor round the corner for some of the quinces I don't think she knows what to do with, and I mean to carry off a small number of Emma's Japanese pears and Gravenstein apples, if I can figure out what to do with them.  And then it will be lemon season and I'll havew to make a bit of marmalade.  And Emma may have more pomegranates than she knows what to do with.  Or not.  And there's the persimmons at her house.  I'm not generally fond of them, but my father used to make a persimmon pudding that I loved, and dried persimmons are wonderful also.

I picked blackberries at Meder Street Park today, bt just enough to eat with cottage cheese.  I was originally planning on making berry jam, but honestly, the satsuma plum jam came out with the same dark rich type of flavor as blackberries this year so there's no need.

And now I need a nap.
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I locked the dogs in the back yard and caught the cat and moved him from the attic to the front yard, which was fine by him. I moved his food and water to the front porch. I go out there and pet him and he purrs and rolls around on the ground. He's dealing with this better than he has dealt with other, less alarming canine invasions.

However. When I let the dogs back in I guess I didn't notice that Lola went back out before I closed the door again. She's the wolfy one. She howled for hours before I figured out where she was.

I've been useless all day. Three nights of no sleep due to dog shenanigans has wrecked me utterly.

Then MC came over to do his laundry and Lola took offense and howled the whole time he was here. I had him give Lola treats but she wasn't giving an inch. Finally I asked him to wait on the porch while his laundry finished. He was goodnatured about it.

Whenever I go to lie down and sleep the dogs come after me and jump all over the bed and howl and bark and pant in my ear. But when I am not in the bed they are capable of sleeping. What the hell?

I saw "Babies" yesterday. I had a wonderful time with it but I had a feeling that there was some unconscious cultural bias in the way some of the clips were chosen -- especially the Namibian sequences. I wish I'd seen the raw footage.
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I'm hearing a fair amount of folk medicine these days as the teenagers tell me what their mothers and aunts and grandmothers are telling them to do for their babies. The good news is most of it's right, or at least benign. I love being able to say "Manzanilla is harmless and makes you feel cozy," for example (manzanilla is chamomile), or "yes, chicken soup is good for colds. There's even been scientific studies of it, and it helps." And it's bemusing to hear that a rattlesnake bone necklace or bracelet is good for teething, but all I have to say is "oh, I didn't know about that one," because if Grandpa ties the red string securely and the baby doesn't choke on the rattlesnake bones and the string doesn't catch on something, baby will not be harmed by the gift. And in making the necklace for the baby, Grandpa has done some important family-building work.

But I heard second-hand that somebody was saying that a sunken fontanelle (soft spot) was a sign that the brains were slipping and they should be righted by turning the baby upside down or by sticking a finger into the mouth to massage the palate.

Nope nope nope nope!

If the baby's fontanelle sinks visibly, the baby is in trouble and needs to be seen right away. That baby is dangerously dehydrated and needs to absorb fluids now, probably given intravenously. The original trouble may have been diarrhea, or hyperthermia, or a failure to take in enough liquids because of a loss of appetite or problems with the sucking reflex. But what matters right this minute is that the baby has lost enough fluid that the bath around the brain has shrunk. That baby needs a doctor.

I don't know who was the source of the bad information, but the good information is back in circulation, and they may not remember exactly what I said, but they're remember "if the baby has a sunken soft spot, that baby is in serious trouble and needs to see a doctor."

None of the babies has a sunken fontanelle, by the way. They are all healthy (including the one with the bad cold and the couple with "I-just-started-eating-solid-food constipation." Their mothers take them to the doctor a lot, because even after all the cuts there's still a bit of public health care for low-income babies, and the babies of teenagers are taken to be automatically low-income. They get their shots and their well-baby checkups and they get looked at when they get the runs or a persistent cough. And consequently, the babies are healthy.

Consequently, the parents can stay in school.

Consequently, the babies will grow up healthy and be able to finish school

Consequently . . . well, you know where I'm going with this.


Nov. 27th, 2009 10:16 pm
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Here's a trailer for a movie I've not heard of before.

Watch the first scene of the trailer a bunch of times before you come to a conclusion about exactly what has passed between these two babies. (any time you have two babies who can sit up you will see the same scene played out several times a day, with variations, and no, it doesn't mean they're not getting along. It means that learning to do things together is hard work and babies get frustrated -- these babies are clearly the best of friends).
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I didn't watch the debates. I would have got home after they were underway and when I went driving to take the dog to the bank and the pet store I only heard McCain lying anyway.

But today I realized that a 3-8 month old baby in your arms has much more freedom of movement than a baby of that age sitting or lying on the floor. I had two babies who wanted to be held a lot, one a youngish crawler and the other a toppling sitter, and when they were in my lap they were twisting and turning as if they were in zero-gravity. So that's another reason why babies do that.

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