I retain the right to make up new rules whenever I see fit

We are in the car again, just leaving the beach. Jane is sniffing her hands.

Jane: My hands stink.

Henry: Let me smell.

He takes a big whiff.

Henry: Eeeew. They do smell.

Erin and I look at each other.

Erin: What do they smell like?

Jane: Stinky. Smell them, Dad.

I do not, in any way, want to smell those hands.

I pause a moment. Erin is driving. There is no way I'm getting out of this.

I sniff.

Me: Yuck.

Erin: What do they smell like?

Me: (rubbing my nose) Like, vaguely cheesy?

Henry: (smelling his own hands) My hands smell great.

Erin has some hand sanitizer in her purse. I get it out, reach back, and squirt some in Jane's hands.

Jane: EEEEEEW! That's even worse!

Alice: (holding out her hands) WANT SOME, TOO!

Jane: It's dripping everywhere!

Me: You've got to rub it in.

She rubs for half a second, then smells again.

Jane: Daaaaaad! It's horrible and drippy!


I reach back to dribble a bit of sanitizer on Alice's hands.

Alice: (sniff) SMELLY!

Jane: (sniff) Daaaaad!

Henry: (sniff) Mine really smell great.



Me: OK! New rule! No one is allowed to smell their hands anymore. Got it?

All is quiet for a few seconds.

Henry: Can we buy some gum?

Acknowledge me

Alice is grumpy.

We are in the car. It is the afternoon, and she has not napped. Probably will not.

Alice: Want say something! Want say something!

Me: What would you like to say?

Alice: Want say something! Want say something!

We cannot understand why she doesn't just come out and say it. It is driving us, and her, crazy.


Alice: Want Henry say something!

Henry, who ran out of patience with his screaming sister a while ago, is not impressed.

Erin: What would you like Henry to say?

Alice thinks a moment.

Alice: Want Henry say, "Hello, Alice."

Henry: (reluctantly) Hello, Alice.

She smiles. Her suddenly bashful shoulders scrunch up to her blushing cheeks.

Alice: Hi.

Effort with pronouns

A neighbour commented the other day about how well Alice speaks.

"She just turned two?" she asked.

"Yes," I replied. "We grow them big and verbal."

It reminded me of Henry. He was speaking in paragraphs well before he turned two. It was creepy to people how well this chubby baby could talk. There was only one problem: pronouns. Specifically "I" and "you." He had them mixed up, to adorable effect.


Baby Henry sits on the potty. He is shocking his newbie parents with his enthusiasm and competence. (He will later abandon the project until he nearly turns four)

Baby Henry: (standing up from the potty) You want to look.

Me: But you're not done yet, Cornbread. Just take your time. Relax.

He sits. His little face turns red. He tries to show his dad how patient he can be.

Baby Henry: You're really enjoying it.

Exclusive laughter

I have discovered a secret laugh that Jane and Alice share. It usually comes after Jane has convinced her younger sister to say something she knows she couldn't get away with saying herself -- calling her father a poo-poo face, for example.

Their eyes meet and lock. Their shoulders bounce. It is not a laugh shared with the room. It is a laugh shared by two. It is a conspiracy.

I can very much imagine this same laugh being shared by a couple of 90-year-old sisters. It's a laugh I'm sure will outlive me.

Lost in the waves, part two

We have been battling the waves for hours. As much as we try, we cannot seem to stop those things from reaching the shore.

Henry: (yelling to an oncoming wave) This one, for sure, is not getting past us. STOP! WAVE!

Jane: Yeah, wave! Stop right there!


We are rolled over again in the foamy surf, laughing and spitting water. We do this again and again.

Henry suddenly has something very urgent to tell me.

Henry: Dad! We have to make something! We have to --

He is overcome by a wave. I wonder what device of war his mind has devised to finally stop these rogue waves from hitting the shore.

Henry: (spitting more water) We have to make rice pudding! We haven't had that in a while!

Another wave rolls over us.

(We do have leftover rice...)

Lost in the waves, part one

The waves are pounding at Brackely Beach today (we have our pass back, thank-you very much), and the kids are ready to take the plunge. Every other day this summer we've been here it has been placid calm. It's probably why I don't even think about removing my glasses.

I'm out in the water with the big kids while Erin and Alice dig in the sand on shore.

We find the perfect spot to stand -- right where the curl of the wave overcomes itself and begins to churn the water to foam.

Henry: (emerging from a tumble in the water) That one was the best!

Another wave hits us.

Jane: (spitting salt water) That one was better!

I am perfecting my technique of sticking my head right into the base of a wave's curl -- do it just right and the wave sweeps you off your feet, spinning you vertically before spitting you out its back end -- when it happens. The powerful suction of the sea yanks my glasses from my face.

"My bite plate!" my mind screams.

On a nearly identical day 22 years earlier, I lost my bite plate in Lake Erie.


The summer is nearly over, and the first of the big waves of fall have begun to roll. My twin brother, John, and I practice body surfing -- something we're positive we invented. I stand up between waves and yell something to him. Out of my mouth pops my bite plate -- a little pink plastic retainer I've been wearing since my braces came off several months earlier.

Me: Oh, no!

I see it splash into the green water. A wave has just passed and is beginning to pull back into the lake. The bite plate is sucked with it in a swirl of sand, water, and green. I plunge my hands into the water, hoping my fingers will touch it. I reach and reach. It is gone.

I make the slow march to the beach to tell my mum. She is not mad, but she's not happy. She is a piano teacher and my father is a farmer -- neither careers offer much in the way of dental plan.

I sit on a towel beside her for the rest of the morning, a big lump of guilt sits in between my chest and my stomach. I should have taken my bite plate out before swimming. Stupid.


My vision is obstructed by the foam of a wave that just broke on my head. My hands grab desperately into the water before me. My left hand touches something familiar dancing in the bubbles.

My glasses.

I put them on my face, then make the slow march back to the beach. I put them safely in my bag before heading back into the water.

Did the kids enjoy Avonlea Village?

You tell me.

That would be Jane with an "e" -- all tuckered out from a day of fending off that jerk Gilbert.

Playing tourist at Avonlea Village on a day when, literally, half the Island was in Charlottetown watching a parade was one of our better parenting ideas. But for a few dozen tourists, we had the place to ourselves.

Lego wedding

Henry and Jane love Lego. Henry plays the way I did with it as kid: build something, show Mum how cool it is, break it, build something else. Jane builds relationships.

Lego Skater Girl: We're getting married!

Lego Space Guy: Really? Do I get any say in this? What if I don't want to get married?

Skater Girl: Daaaaaad. You're not playing right! We're getting married.

Space Guy: Of course. I'm sorry. We're getting married. Who is going to be the minister?

Skater Girl: (thinking) Ummmmmm... him.

Lego Pirate Captain suddenly appears.

Space Guy: A wedding at sea! How beautiful.

Pirate Captain: We are gathered here today to celebrate the union of Lego Skater Girl and Lego Space Guy in holy matrimony. Do you, Lego Skater Girl, promise to love, honour, and protect Lego Space Guy, and totally rescue him if he ever falls in a deep moon crater or something, so long as you both shall live?

Skater Girl: Yes.

Pirate Captain: And do you, Lego Space Guy, promise to love, honour, and protect Lego Skater Girl, even if she falls and scrapes her knee while doing some sick 360 flip on the half pipe?

Space Guy: I do.

Pirate Captain: Then, by the power vested in me by the Lego Group, I now pronounce you Lego Man and Wife. You may now kiss.

They kiss.

Skater Girl: Let's have a baby!

Space Guy: Awesome!

Lego Darth Vader appears.

Space Guy: Noooooo!

Fishbowl! Fishbowl! Fishbowl!

My guest post is up at a peek inside the fishbowl!


It's very early in the morning. Alice and I are the only ones awake.

"Alice!" I whisper. "You're two today!"

"Two!" She replies. "Cake!"

She nods.

Happy Birthday, Alice. You are an imp.

Karma. Then Irony. Then karma again.

We're in the car. We're wearing bathing suits. We pull up to the gate at Prince Edward Island National Park, just outside Brackley Beach. The woman in the booth notices we already have an annual family pass dangling from our rear-view mirror.

Woman: (smiling) Hi!. You can go right through.

Me: Thanks. My parents are in the car behind us. If I pay for their day pass, can you give it to them?

Woman: Sure!

Transaction complete, we drive into the parking lot.

Henry: Why did you just do that?

Me: Do what?

Henry: Pay for Grandma and Grandpa.

Me: They came all the way to see us. It's the least we can do.

Henry: But they should pay for their own car.

Erin: But doesn't it feel nice to do something for other people? It's good karma.

Henry: What's karma?

Erin: It's the idea that the good things you do in life will eventually come back to you.

Henry: (not convinced) Huh.

Other than when my dad punches me in the arm as a thank-you, we don't think of this again.


It's the next day. It's sunny. Darn it, we're going back to the beach. We're in the car approaching the gate.

Erin: Hey, where's the pass?

I look to the rear-view mirror. It's gone.

Me: Maybe it fell under the seats.

I look. It didn't.

Erin: I guess someone stole it.

Henry: Stole it! Why would they do that?

He's very mad. I'm a little miffed myself. The words we choose to calm him down are just as important for me to hear as they are for him.

Erin: We can't let this bother us. Someone obviously needed it, or they needed the money. I hope they enjoy it.

Henry: That's dumb. It was ours.

Me: It's not dumb. We came to the beach every sunny day this summer. I think we got our money's worth.

Henry: (grumbling) People shouldn't steal.

Me: It's true. They shouldn't. But we can either be mad about it all day, or we can enjoy a day at the beach.

We all choose the latter. It is a beautiful day. We run into great friends. We have a blast. It's only later, at supper, that Erin reminds me of our discussion the day before about karma.

Me: (smiling) I think karma has a healthy sense of irony.


Postscript: I tweeted about our stolen pass, and was contacted immediately by the fine folks at Parks Canada. After a few messages back and forth with our new best pal Frances, we have a replacement pass. I truly feel we'd wrung our money's worth out of the pass even before it was stolen, but now we'll be able to keep enjoying the park -- the beach, the trails, everything. Thank-you, Frances!

Other postscript:

I'm on the phone with Erin.

Erin: What's the name of the woman who helped us get a new pass?

Me: Frances Gertsch.

Erin: That's the best name ever.

Samosas. Earwigs.

Erin and I are making samosas. She's doctoring the spicy mix for the insides while I roll the pastry. Erin is our baker, but I do enjoy playing with dough. I like the language of it -- "knead until satiny and elastic."

I dust the bread board with another coating of flour, flip the ball of dough and keep rolling. Our rolling pin lost its pin and handles years ago, so we just manually roll with the cylinder of wood. Push. Roll. Flip. Press. Earwig.

Why is there an earwig in the middle of my breadboard?

Where did it come from? I look around. Could it have climbed the table and just walked across the board? No. I would have seen it. Could it have fallen from the ceiling? Possibly. Doubtful. My suspicions turn to my rolling pin.

I pick it up and look in the end. Something is blocking the tube. I hold it up to the light and look inside. It is writhing.


I grab a chopstick from the drawer. I calmly walk outside to the deck. I pound the end of the pin on the railing. Out fall a dozen earwigs.

Me: Ugh!

I pound it again. Six more fall out.

Me: Oh, god.


Another dozen.

I pound and pound and pound. I stop counting earwigs after several dozen have fallen out. I pound for a full minute before they stop.

I did not hate earwigs until now. Not as gross an experience as the cabbage incident, but pretty gross, nonetheless.

Nice work, Boron

Much of what we teach our kids is prompted by their curiosity. So many of Henry's questions lately have led us to some of the basic building blocks of the universe -- natural questions about what things are made of, what those things are made of, and what those things are made of...

Last night.

Me: Henry -- what's K?

Henry: Potassium.

Me: What's Fe?

Henry: Iron.

Me: What's Pb?

Henry: Lead.

Me: What's Au?

Henry: Gold.

Me: What's Ag?

Henry: Silver.

Me: Hg?

Henry: Mercury.

Me: What's Na?

Henry: Um.... Uh....

Me: Give up?

Henry: Give me a hint.

Me: NaCl is salt.

Henry: Sodium!

Me: Right!

A long pause. He smiles.

Me: You're not a normal kid, you know that?


I've been invited to write a guest post on a blog that receives -- ahem -- significantly more traffic than the modest site you're reading now. As you can imagine, I've asked the kids to be on their cutest behaviour, in order to provide the quality anecdotes the Big Time requires.

Henry wonders if this means he should wear a tie. Thoughts?

Monoculture. Delicious monoculture.

Erin and I made pesto the other day. We made it, then put it away to let it mellow before eating.

Last night, at supper.

Erin and I simultaneously stick our forks into our bowls of linguine. We synchronize twirls. We lift the coils of pasta to our mouths.

Lightning flashes. Angels sing. Fonzie pounds his fist on the jukebox.

There is basil. I can taste that. Fresh, nasal basal.

There is garlic. Oh, he's there.

Roasted walnuts. Subtle. Delicious.

What's that saltiness? That touch of dry, sharp cheesiness? Ah, yes. Parmesan. I remember you.

Olive oil. We couldn't have done it without you. High five.

There's something else. Something.... I can't figure out. I go over the ingredients in my head: basil, garlic, walnuts, Parmesan. That's everything. But I can taste something else.

Then I realize: it's just one of those dishes in which the ingredients create something better than themselves. It's like when you're singing barbershop, and the four voices hit a chord so perfectly the vibrations create a false overtone -- a note everyone can hear, but no one is singing. A fifth voice.


Erin's eyes light up. She's tasting the same thing. Her mind jumps to our garden.

Erin: Next year, we're only growing basil.


Henry: Jane! Our picture is in the newspaper!

Jane: I know!

Henry: Isn't that cool?

Jane: Yes! Does this mean we're famous now?

Henry: It does.

Sore throat

Alice escaped Hand, Foot, and Mouth Disease with just a mild fever and a case of the grumpies. Henry, so far, seems immune (though we're still within the incubation period). Jane, I'm sorry to say, has it. Oh, boy. She has it.

It is usually difficult to tell when Jane is sick. She is such a trooper. I think she was born with the ability to discreetly blow her nose by herself. The only real sign is that she sleeps a little longer in the morning. This time, she's making a bit of noise. Which is understandable.

Her mouth is infected with several evil-looking ulcers (terrible cankerous giants). It hurts me to even think about them. Even a tiny sip of water leads to screaming and crying in genuine pain.

I made oatmeal this morning, as per usual. I'd hoped she'd be able to eat a bit, but no. She couldn't even look at it. She was, however, mighty interested in some of Erin's recent baking.

Jane: Can I have a cookie?

Erin: Oh, Janey. Chocolate-chip cookies are just about the most painful thing you can eat right now.

It's so true. Most of her ulcers are in her throat. Just imagine them being coated in buttery sugar and milk chocolate. Ugh.

Jane: PLLLLLEEEEASE, can I have a cookie?

We relented. She sat bolt upright at the table with a cookie in one hand, and a tall glass of cool water in the other.

She took a tiny bite. She strained every muscle in her neck, her eyes watering, her lower lip protruding. She took a sip of water. She strained again. Pain. Relief. Pain. Relief.

It took her 20 minutes to finish the cookie.

Erin: Was it worth it?

Jane: (eyes near tears, but mouth smiling) Yes. I'm going to lay down now.

Every wedding should be a Cape Breton wedding, epilogue

We arrived home Monday from the wedding, and found this message waiting from some dear Cape Breton friends.

"well, it was so nice to see you folks on the weekend, it seems that we may have left you with a nice parting gift -- turns out the kids probably have "hand foot and mouth disease". since there's apparently no treatment for it, we're not going to bother taking the kids to the doctor, but we wanted to give you a heads-up to watch for the symptoms.


hope you had a good trip back. "

Good thing we totally love these guys. It sure was nice to see them. Their son, Shep, is the second-heaviest baby I've ever thrown in the air.

Every wedding should be a Cape Breton wedding, part two

The bride has thought of everything. Everything. From a bucket of flip flops to dance in (for those afraid to square dance in high heels) to a generous stock of pretty parasols for Jane to twirl and dance with in the grass, this is a wedding with Planning.

The seating plan for dinner is conveyed by a giant map. Instead of reading your name at a specific table, you look for a little photo of yourself. And then you take your little photo of yourself home with you, because it is a fridge magnet.

She has thought of everything.

I find our photos surrounding table eight. When we arrive, the family we are sharing it with is already seated.

Man: Hi.

Me: Hi!

Man: This may be a bit of a forward question, seeing as we've never met -- but why is your photo a picture of a tomato?

I smile. She has thought of everything.


It's 10:30. The wedding party and guests boogie in the big tent. I stand off to the side with sleeping Alice on my shoulder.

The band is going back and forth between modern music and traditional Cape Breton tunes. Henry doesn't care whether there's a back beat or a fiddle bow -- he's here to break dance. I see the occasional hand or foot fly above the crowd. During one of his special moves that requires twitching on the ground, he is nearly stomped on by the square dancers.

I step out into the dark night. My eyes take a while to adjust to see the billions of stars overhead. I'm walking with my eyes pointed up. I nearly stumble on a cobblestone.

I walk out to the grass and the band has moved on to a slower song. I'm slowly turning around, picking out constellations, and wishing Alice were awake so I could show them to her. I sway back and forth, because that's what dads do when they have a sleeping baby on their shoulder.

I realize that between the swaying and the turning it looks like I'm slow dancing with an infant.

Then I see the very drunk couple making out 20 paces away.

I'm going back to the tent.


It's even later. We're saying our goodbyes. I want to say something helpful to the groom.

Groom: You're leaving? We hardly got to see you guys!

Me: It's your wedding! You're a celebrity! You only get to have snippets of conversations, then ride the wave to the next one.

Groom: Exactly.

Me: Listen -- I just wanted to say -- weddings are lots of fun. Marriage is even more fun.

Groom: Really? (he smiles) That's great, 'cause I'm having a fabulous time.

Every wedding should be a Cape Breton wedding, part one

The piper has played his tunes. The guests have all arrived. Most of them sit patiently in the rows of chairs in the grass. A few of us with kids hang back in the wings, near the trees.

The fiddler starts. Everyone is so focused on the tent where we assume the bride will emerge, we miss the fact the groom is already standing at the front with the minister. Sneaky groom.

The first of the bridesmaids and groomsmen emerge from the tent. They walk the 50-or-so metres to join the groom. A second and third pair follow. Most of the women in attendance ready their tissues for the big show.

She appears. Henry's assumption that she would surprise us all by being dropped in by helicopter is false. She emerges from the tent and the effect is no less dramatic (except to Henry). She is beautiful. This is her day.

Jane bolts.

She is heading directly for the bride. I gasp and take off after her. She has a ten pace lead, and damn it if she isn't fast for a four-year-old.

"Jane!" I quietly wheeze . "Stop!"

She turns her head slightly. The corner of her eye sees that I am chasing her.

Oh good, she thinks. A game.

She runs faster.

"Hee-hee hee-hee hee-hee!"

She is a third of the way to the bride when I catch her.

"Hee-hee hee-hee- HEY! DADDY! LET GO!"

She kicks. I carry her by her armpits to a quiet spot by the trees, where we watch two of our best friends get married.