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Pickle Me This

May 22, 2019

Ten Years is What

“Parent time is like fairy time but real. It is magic without pixie dust and spells. It defies physics without bending the laws of time and space. It is the truism everyone offers but no one believes until after they have children: that time will actually speed, fleet enough to leave you jet-lagged and whiplashed and racing all at once. Your tiny perfect baby nestles in your arms his first afternoon home, and then ten months later he’s off to his senior year of high school… It is so impossible yet so universally experiences that magic is the only explanation.” —Laurie Frankel, This is How It Always Is

I remember ten years ago, the weeks leading up to this weekend, a mysterious “here-be-dragons” date on the calendar. I remember sitting in the chair in my living room and the books I was reading—The Girls Who Saw Everything, by Sean Dixon, and The Children’s Book, by AS Byatt, which I binge-read all day on Monday May 25, because the book was a hardcover, big and heavy, and I was having a baby in the morning, and if I didn’t finish it before then, I knew I probably never would.

Our garden was huge and overgrown that year, and I am sure I could see the top of the forsythia from my second floor window, where I sat sitting reading these books and waiting for the day to arrive, anticipating an unknown I couldn’t properly comprehend, which was even incomprehensible in itself. One afternoon while I was sitting there, uncomfortable and enormous, a ladder appeared at the window, the housepainter I’d not been expecting, and that was day our blue house turned yellow, and now I don’t properly understand that it had ever been any other way.

The arrival of double digits is a momentous occasion in the life of a child, a kind of pseudo-legitimacy, and as a parent it is also cause for reflection. The containment of a decade is a remarkable thing, finished and solid, and all the lifetimes it has managed to hold, which was what I didn’t properly understand when Harriet was born ten years ago and my world was thoroughly rocked in a way that felt terrifying and dangerous. Because I hadn’t understood how everything would always be changing, how nothing would ever stand still again. I thought it would always be like this, those broken nights that stretched out long as my baby cried and cried, long and lonely days, and the weight of my ineptitude. The first book I read after her birth was Tom’s Midnight Garden, which seemed congruent with my own disorientation. On June 9, 2009, I wrote about the book, “The secret world wherein the clock strikes thirteen, and I feel like I’ve been there lately, up with the squalling baby who refuses to eat properly or be satiated. ‘Only the clock was left, but the clock was always there, time in, time out.'”

But those days were only ever a moment, though it didn’t feel like it at the time, and there would be moments after that were different, and I began to understand how much of being a parent is standing in the middle of a whirlwind. The person who my child would become as much of an enigma as parenthood had been in the first place, and now it’s hard to understand that that baby and the nearly ten-year-old girl who lives in my house are the actually same person. How is that even possible? Her very existence as miraculous as it has ever been, but also that she has existed in thousands of incarnations, which is weird because hasn’t it only been about ten minutes since I was sitting in that chair?

When Harriet was born, words failed me. I wrote about the greeting card verses that read so hollow, and all the cliches that didn’t work for me—the people who couldn’t imagine their lives without their children, who were “over the moon.” Although I didn’t properly understand it until after the fact, I was very unhappy and felt like I’d lost the ground beneath my feet, and was struggling to make sense of this new world that I’d arrived in—and imagining it all was permanent, that things would ever after be broken. I imagined my life without my child all the time, and missed that life—how carefree and easy it had been. I hadn’t anticipated the labour of motherhood. I’ve never had to work like that before, and it didn’t satisfy. It should have been enough, I told myself, that I had this healthy child, which I’d thought was all I wanted, but reality would prove more complicated. And complicated realities has been my salient lesson of the last ten years. There is so much I never knew before, my limits more close at hand than I’d ever imagined.

But ten years on, some things are simpler. So much isn’t, BUT the certainty with which I can say now: I can’t imagine my life without her, or her sister. I’m still mystified that they’re here at all, that we can go and make new people, and that they’re here, but also that they weren’t always. Is that even more impossible? That I had a life without them? Because I can’t fathom it, my life without the richness my children bring me. Two of the most interesting people I’ve ever met, and perhaps I’m biased because they’re mine, or else that’s just the result of knowing somebody ever since they took their first breath, and having spent year-after-year watching them grow into such remarkable human beings.

The thing about becoming a parent that is so fascinating but also excruciatingly boring for everybody else is how the most ordinary things become miraculous—pregnancy, childbirth, crawling, walking, growing, talking, reading, writing, arguing, questioning, learning, and then when they start telling you things—the moments when I feel like this is what I came for. My daughter knew all about the Winnipeg General Strike, and when I’ve got a question about insects or small mammals, she’s the one I turn to, and she’s the only person I know who read more books than I do, and her jokes are super terrible, and she’s much less proficient at magic tricks than she’d like to be, but she did a presentation in front of her whole school about climate change, and read almost all the Silver Birch Fiction picks, and she goes to Guide Camp, and she plays piano, and (most of the time) delights in the company of her sister, and she asks the best questions, and challenges me in good ways (and bad—full disclosure), and I’m just so glad she’s here, and I don’t think I will ever stop being dazzled by the fact that she’s here. Who she has been and who she is ever becoming.

June 7, 2018

but it’s your existence I love you for…

“… but it’s your existence I love you for, mainly. Existence seems to me now the most remarkable thing that could ever be imagined.” —Marilyn Robinson, Gilead

My children turned nine and five in the least week and a half, which is exciting, because this is the only year in which their ages accord with the title of a 1980 feminist film starring Dolly Parton, Lily Tomlin, and Jane Fonda. And as they get older, it becomes harder (and less necessary, it seems) to encapsulate their respective beings in a blog post—but also it gets easier to to find joy and wonder in everything they do (except the annoying things, which is no small percentage of the total, but still). They are two of the most interesting people I’ve ever met, and they fill our home with light, song, and messiness, they each tend to blow my mind at least three times daily, and it is the greatest privilege of my life to get to live with them and watch them grow. And yes, I will miss them—and their crumbs—very much when they’re gone. But we’ve got a while until then…

May 29, 2017

Age 8

I remember being eight. I mean, I remember being younger too, but eight is the earliest age I feel a connection to: that was me then. I did a public speech on sexist stereotypes and started being praised for my story-making prowess when I was eight. I decided I wanted to be a writer when I was eight, and now I am a writer. It was a very big year. Ramona Quimby knew as much. (A joke on the back of one of Harriet’s magazines: What did the zero say to the eight? Nice belt!)

And now Harriet is eight. How extraordinary is that? That the tiny little bundle I held in my arms so long ago, that nut brown baby with that perfect little button face, a simply beautiful infant (and everyone said so) has burst forth into this girl, this small woman, all arms and legs and laugh and gappy teeth. Irrepressible. Where did she come from? Where is she going? Whoever would dare to stand in her way?

She reads, all the time now. I think it was as recently as Christmas that I’d have to promise her there were pictures in a novel before she’d consent to read it, but now she reads everything—although she’d pick up the graphic novels or Archie comics first. They’re her go-to. Her books are piled all over her house, beside my book piles, and the other book piles. She is at home here, although her domain is up on the top bunk, which is hers and hers alone.

She can’t decide whether to grow up to be a rock star or a scientist. She devours books on animal facts. I never dreamed that being a mother would mean suffering car journeys in which I am dispensed fact after fact about toad sex. She still really loves hedgehogs. She makes up weird song lyrics. Last week she made up a song about city life with the lyrics, “Luxury condos and deluxe mini-vans” and I became concerned that I was not imparting our values. She wrote an alternate verse about apartment buildings and public transit to placate me. She is very understanding.

She has secrets. She has stories. I used to write posts like this on her birthday in order to capture her exactly as she is before she becomes a whole new person tomorrow, but she is old enough now that she cannot be captured. She belongs to herself and I am simply observing, albeit with wonder. I made her, but she has nothing to do with me. She is her own incredible self going out into the world, and when she gets anxious I remind her: “You are smart and you are brave.” She will figure it all out. The process being the very point, of life itself.

She is funny, she is silly, she is grumpy, she is moody, she is sullen, she is kind. And she feels things, picking up on subtle points, throwaway details on the radio from five days ago. Sometimes I think we ought to turn the radio down, but no. This is the world and we’re giving it to her, and she deserves to know what she’s getting. This is the world, all of it, and it’s our job to figure out how to love it anyway.

She is tall, she is gangly, she has freckles across her nose. She wants to get her ears pierced, which seems reasonable, except I am afraid the first punch will scare her and she’ll be too terrified for the second, and then she’ll be an earring cyclops. She’s a bit of a melodramatic. She still loves us, so much, and we adore her too, and admire her, and enjoy her company. Most days. It’s mutual. She’s an incredible sister, and while Iris is a perfectly admirable person in her own right, we have Harriet to thank for a lot of her goodness. Iris has learned good things from her sister, kindness, patience, and how to love. Although Harriet is growing up enough that now Iris is the person walking around the house complaining because no one wants to play dragon witch hunter with her, which is the role in our household Harriet alone used to occupy. But Harriet is off somewhere reading.

She was always herself. She is becoming herself. I am so grateful that she’s in the world, and grateful to the world for bringing her to us, and I love her. I remember how it took me a little bit of time to learn to love her, which was ridiculous now, but man oh man was it ever worth the wait.

September 23, 2016

Buddy and Earl and the Great Big Baby

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Today for #PictureBookFriday, I’m relinquishing book review duties to Harriet, who has started a blog to explore her fascination with hedgehogs and whose latest post is a review of Buddy and Earl and the Great Big Baby, by Maureen Fergus and Carey Sookocheff, which is the funniest Buddy and Earl book yet (and that is saying something). We love this series, and not just because it features an adorable hedgehogs (although that helps).

Check out the post and all things hedgehog here.

May 26, 2016

7 Years Today

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I continue to strongly feel that mothers should be free to write (respectfully) about their children and the lives they share together, though I suppose if my children were unusually vulnerable in some way my feelings about this would be more complicated (and they’re inevitably going to be more complicated anyway at some point in the future). I was talking about this with my friend Diana after we’d seen Vivek Shraya at the Festival of Literary Diversity discussing using her mother in her art and writing, and how she didn’t ask her mother’s permission for this. “Why can’t this license work both ways?” I wondered, though I can anticipate so many possible answers to that question. And Diana made a very good point about the dangers of mothers (it’s always mothers. I don’t suppose fathers get so tied up in knots about writing about their children, or maybe they just don’t, for various reason) writing about their children, which is that the writing might define the child before the child has a chance to define herself.

Although I don’t think I’ve ever done such a thing with Harriet. In writing or in person, I’m strongly resistant to the idea of defining my children (“she’s shy, she’s clever, she’s like this or like that”) because I don’t want such definitions to be the box they feel confined by. A person who is seven years old (or any age for that matter) should it feel absolutely possible to blossom into any kind of person, or not to be a “kind of” person at all. It certainly seems possible to me that this could happen anyway, because of how children are changing all the time. I’ve made a point of writing about both my girls on their birthdays, and from one year to the next, I don’t recognize the curious creature that went before. And that’s why writing it down is so important I think—the value of writing, “This is who she is right now.” Because tomorrow she’ll be someone else entirely, and the only thing that’s consistent is what a pleasure it is to watch her grow.

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Harriet is seven today, and has been obsessed with hedgehogs ever since Anakana Schofield came to visit and brought her a small stuffed toy of one. She fills pieces of paper with all the hedgehog facts she knows, and likes to quiz us. She likes to open conversations with, “What is your favourite animal?” just so you’ll ask her the same in return. Sometimes it is a bit much. Sometimes she doesn’t care if it is or it isn’t. She loves reading comics and graphic novels, and every trip to the grocery store involves a look at the magazine stands for new Archies. She is a forthright, strong-willed character, who manages to couple such qualities with being pretty easy-going—you can take her anywhere. Her imagination is enormous. She is besotted with her sister and so kind and patient with her in a way I appreciate more than I can ever express. She eats whatever I cook for her, which is new and wonderful, even if it’s beans and spinach fritters. She loves meals out and doing Mad Libs while we wait for our food to arrive. She reads in bed until she falls asleep every night. She is a perfectly average, well-performing student in every way, except that her reading level is over the top. No surprise as she forever has her face in a book. In the past year, she has learned to swim, to skate and ride her two-wheeled scooter, so I no longer fear (mock hysterically, or not so mock) that she has a spatial awareness and balance disorder. She is determined and works very hard to learn new things, which is the most important skill a person can have. She loves her friends at school. She is brave and goes forth when I drop her off at places where she knows nobody, and expect her to get along in a way that I don’t even expect of myself. She pays a lot of attention to the news on the radio, and I don’t always perceive how much she understands. There is a whole side of Harriet I don’t even know at all, depths and fears and fascination, and sometimes a bit comes up to the surface and it floors me because of how familiar and known she is to me otherwise. But as a parent, permitting a child that space to work things out for themselves is really important. She is kind most of the time, and tries to be good, which is as good as it gets. She loves Taylor Swift and wants to be either a rock star or a scientist when she grows up. She loves to sing and dance and put on performances. She likes school and loves her teacher, and is a staunch feminist, which is cool for somebody in grade one. She is old enough to read the Rainbow Fairy books by herself now, so that I don’t have to. (Phew!) She loves Ms Marvel and superheroes and gets really annoyed by lack of female representation in any context. She still reads picture books with us, which I’m so glad about, that she has not deemed herself above childish things yet. She likes cake and ice cream and is so much fun and up for anything, and someone one told me that the ages from 6-11 were the sweet spot of having children, with most development in check and hormones not yet kicking in—and it is true.

Last night our power went out after midnight and Harriet woke up in the pitch black, her nightlight out, and she started calling me in a panic. She’d flipped out of bed and was walking into the wall trying to regain her perspective, and there I found her. I led her out of her room into our front room (and, apropos of nothing, I thought it was so funny when she was discussing the possibility of being rich recently and said, “We would have a really big front room.” Not understanding that the really rich possibly have houses wide enough to accommodate more than one room at the front) where the windows were letting in light, though houses were dark all around us. In the apartment building north of Bloor that we can see from our couch, lit windows were scattered throughout. I pointed them out to help her find her bearings. “Look,” I said. “There’s light up there.” And how she hugged me as we sat there—so solidly and wholeheartedly. It was one of the nicest things that I have ever ever experienced.

The day I found out I was pregnant with Harriet, Stuart took my picture standing before those same windows, positive pregnancy test in hand, and I look ecstatic. And it’s remarkable now think of what was taking shape just then as the picture was being taken, all the things we had no idea about. That everything we were waiting for would be so far beyond our wildest dreams.

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May 16, 2016

How to Terrorize Your Child with Margaret Wise Brown

the-dead-birdWe were at the bookstore a few weeks ago, and I couldn’t narrow down my selection of picture books.

“Should we get,” I proposed to Harriet, “The Fox and the Star, by Coralie Bickford-Smith, or The Dead Bird, by Margaret Wise Brown.” I was emphatically waving the latter in the air.

Harriet pointed to the other one. “Why would I want to read a book about a dead bird?”

“Only because it’s a reissued book by a literary icon that dares to confront uncomfortable issues of mortality.”

“No,” she said.

I said, “Why?”

She said, “I don’t want to read books about dead things.”

She was still annoyed about a recent book I’d read her in which the Grim Reaper comes to tea and takes away the children’s grandmother, and everybody understands and feels good about the whole thing. Even though the children appear to left without a guardian. And even though the book doesn’t address the question of death coming for children, or young parents—would we put the kettle on for the reaper then? Though if someone wrote that book, I’d probably make Harriet read it too.

“So we’re getting The Dead Bird,” I told her. The illustrations are beautiful—by the award-winning illustrator of Last Stop On Market Street— and normalizing death is healthy and wasn’t there a dead bird in Sidewalk Flowers by Jon-Arno Lawson and Sydney Smith? And everybody liked that book.

And Harriet said, “No.”

The Dead Bird,” I said.

She said, “No dead bird.” And she seemed kind of immoveable, so I didn’t want to push it.

Two weeks later, we were at the library and I saw The Dead Bird on the new releases shelf.

“Now isn’t that lucky,” I said. “A brand new copy of The Dead Bird, and nobody else has picked it up yet. It must be fate. The book was meant for us.”

“Do you think nobody has picked it up,” said Harriet, “because nobody would ever, ever want to read it?”

But I pooh-poohed her. Dropped the book into our library bag. A red-letter day—we’d brought The Dead Bird Home. What a find!

I told her, “I can’t wait to read this.”

She said, “I can.”

I told her, “Just wait. It’s about death. And dying! Come on, you’re going to like it.”

“I won’t,” she said.

I said, “You’ll see.”

Today I told her, “I’m writing a blog post about you reading The Dead Bird.”

She said, “I’m still not going to read it.”

“But how am I going to write the blog post if you don’t?

She told me, “I read it already, actually. By myself.”

“And did you like it?”

She said, “No. It’s about a dead bird. What’s to like?”

I admitted to her, “You know, the New York Times Book Review shares your assessment of it. And of the Grim Reaper book also.”

She said, “I told you.”

I said to her, “Who are you? Are you even my child? Ursula Nordstrom would be rolling in her grave if she could hear you right now.”

And she said, “Yeah. And then Margaret Wise Brown would go ahead and write a picture book about it. And then wouldn’t you like to go and try to make me read that too.”

“You’re not going to let me read you The Dead Bird then.”

And Harriet said, “No.”

March 13, 2016

We did it.

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“WE DID IT. WE FUCKING MADE IT. AND LOOK AT HOW AMAZING THESE GIRLS ARE? LOOK AT HOW MIRACULOUS AND INTERESTING AND SMART AND FUNNY AND WILD AND BRILLIANT THESE BABES BE!? AND SOME DAYS ARE REALLY FUCKING HARD. AND SOME DAYS ARE REALLY FUCKING BEAUTIFUL. AND ALL OF THE DAYS… EVERY SINGLE ONE OF THEM ARE WORTH IT. THEY HAVE ALWAYS BEEN WORTH IT.” —Rebecca Woolf, Girl’s Gone Child

I never had twins (thank goodness; one baby at a time absolutely pushed me to my limits) but the post from which I quote above really resonated with me. Iris turns two-and-three-quarters next month, which means her third birthday’s on the horizon, and we’ve recently given up diapers, some days we don’t need a nap, she (usually) behaves perfectly well in a restaurant, and today we all went out for afternoon tea. For no occasion, and yet it seems like all the occasions—my novel is finished and gone into copyedits; Stuart (hopefully!) becomes Canadian next week; it’s March Break; how doesn’t like celebrating return from a tropical locale with a lavish lunch. And because Iris is finally old enough to partake. We’re about to leave the baby years behind us, and I can’t think of a better reason to celebrate than that, the future unfolding as it should.

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We never could have dreamed up Iris—she’s a full fledged mould breaker, hilarious, mischievous, irascible, loving, kind, silly and always paying attention. If you ask her anything, she’ll answer you: “Pooks.” We don’t know what pooks is, the definition ever-shifting, whatever is convenient to hang it on. She loves her sister, reading Go Dog Go and talking about nipples. She likes exclaiming, “Goodness gracious,” when she’s not saying, “Pooks.” She knows more about immigration than most two-year-olds: “Daddy’s going to be a Canadian,” she says. “I’m a Canadian already.” She is a favourite pet of Harriet’s classmates and happily ensconced in a class of her own at playschool, where she plays in drama, paints pictures, learns songs and stories. Her favourite thing is singing Twinkle Twinkle Little Star. She still likes to climb up onto the table and jump up and down. If she’s hungry, she can be trusted to go fetch a snack, no matter how (seemingly) unattainable that snack might be. She likes reading picture books and gets annoyed when we read books without pictures, goes and throws toys on the floor to get our attention. When she does something wrong, most of the time she is willing to say sorry, but always follows up her apology by asking, “And you say, ‘It okay, Iris,’ okay?”

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Harriet will very soon be six-and-three-quarters, which was the age I was at when I discovered there was such a thing as fractions. She will forever to us seem old and wise, just as Iris is forever little, and part of the pleasure I take in the prospect of Iris’s third year was all the fun we had the summer that Harriet was that age, when all at once the days were longer and the world was bigger and we could do almost anything. But she was so little then, I realize now, particularly compared to where she is today. She is bright and articulate and forthright and ambitious, and imagines that she can make anything at all. When she grows up, she wants to be a scientist or a rock star, although she’s leaning toward the former. She loves Taylor Swift, and dancing, and identifies as a feminist. Yesterday we were at Value Village sorting through t-shirts, and I held up one that said, “Girls Rock.” “Okay,” she said. “I mean, it’s what I believe.” She is strong and brave and loves heroic tales of awesome girls. Though she also loves Archie Comics and Betty and Veronica, so she contains multitudes. She’s nuts about the Amulet series, the Narnia books (when girls are in the story), is still more partial to graphic novels than novels proper, and is determined to invent a series of feminist superheroes who do not necessarily fight for justice in their underpants.

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We went shopping yesterday, because what better way to mark the explosion of crocuses across the street than buying shoes for our children’s ever growing feet. It was our biannual expedition to the world of commerce, with purchases of nightgowns too and suburban dinner at chain restaurant (with Jello for dessert!), always a big occasion—we get to drive in a car and everything. Plus a stop at Value Village for amazing clothes for growing girls, which was really an excuse to go on a mug-hunt, but the pickings were slim in the kitchenware dept. Alas. We got what we went for though, and I will never cease to be grateful that we can afford shoes for our children—rain-boots, sneakers and sandals too, which is a small bundle. I can’t imagine how hard it would be to have to struggle for that, but nor can I imagine how we got here after all—to be grown people who buy small children tiny new shoes year after year, though they become less tiny with every season.

January 5, 2016

Lottie: Empowering Girls from Outer Space

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We discovered Lottie Dolls over a year ago, and their premise intrigued me. A proper alternative to Barbie, designed to empower girls and their play. I wrote about them here (and check out the pictures! Iris was still a baby! Harriet was so little). It could have been a one-time thing, but I return to Lotties because now it’s my girls who are crazy about them. They’re the one toy, along with Legos, that gets returned to again and again, and they play with them together, which I love so much. We have five or six of them, and received more for Christmas, along with two new Lottie outfits, including the Superhero Lottie suit shown above, which has proven very popular—this is the one Lottie who never gets her clothes changed. When Harriet and Iris received Christmas money from their grandfather last week, they knew what they wanted to buy with it—more Lotties. And so we’re currently awaiting Rockabilly Lottie and Spring Celebration Ballet Lottie in the mail, expected delivery scheduled for tomorrow. Everybody is very excited.

Though we’ve also got our eye on Stargazer Lottie, who was sold out from Indigo.ca when we made our order last week. (Darn!). Like all the Lottie dolls, she’s designed around what she can do and be rather than how she looks (although admittedly, once they’re indoctrinated into Harriet’s play, the Lottie dolls also take on peculiar new identities…) I was so interested to read this post about how Stargazer Lottie was designed in consultation with an astronomer, and even more thrilled to learn that a Stargazer Lottie doll was currently in space with British astronaut Tim Peake on the International Space Station.

And most remarkable? That none of this would have happened at all without a six-year-old girl from Comox, British Columbia, who helped dream up the Stargazer Lottie doll. I showed the video below to Harriet who had her mind blown, and then went to put on her own dress with a space print and proceeded to have her head in the stars for the rest of the day, totally inspired.

November 4, 2015

Butterflies

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As much as I cherish the feeling of my children’s hands in mine, I do so love watching them race ahead of me down the sidewalk. I love their freedom, speed, their unfettered exuberance, the possibility that their feet might indeed sprout wings. Their sense of entitlement that this world, this city, is open to them. And I like trusting too that they’ll know to stop at the corner. Every time.

IMG_20151031_165340 (1)But there was something remarkable about watching them fly down the sidewalk on Saturday, Halloween, butterfly wings billowing out behind them, colourful spans. The most low-maintenence costumes in our family history of Halloweens—we had one pair of wings already, and borrowed the other from our cousin. We made antennae out of pipe-cleaners, styrofoam balls, and headbands. Ordinary clothes beneath. I was terrified that all this would backfire the night before and Harriet would decide that what she really wanted to be was a fiery glittery invisible incandescent humdingermabobber. Or Elsa. But she didn’t. And whatever Harriet wanted to be, Iris wanted to be too.

Butterflies are special to us. We can trace this back to ancient times, when Iris was a small baby and was given a dress with a butterfly print that was designed to become a shirt as baby grew. As Iris is small, it’s possible she’ll be wearing it forever. She loves it, and calls it her fuff-eye shirt, and now we all call butterflies fuff-eyes because  this is what happens when you live with a two-year-old. And obviously, we like to read about them also.

We love love love Julie Worsted’s How To, which has a real butterfly or two, but also has a girl in fuff-eye wings on the “how to go fast” page. (From experience, I can say that wings are an excellent suggestion.)

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Then there is Elly McKay’s Butterfly Park, about gardens and community, and mostly about McKay’s exquisite illustrations, which my children get lost in.

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It’s also been a pleasure to revisit Up in the Garden and Down in the Dirt, a book we bought in July when gardening fever was at its height.

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Autumn seemed a long way off then, so we’re re-reading it now with entirely new eyes—even if the butterflies are gone.

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And butterflies always have been more than a little bit fleeting, haven’t they? Inherently ephemeral.

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One of my favourite butterfly books is Bye Bye Butterflies, by our friend Andrew Larsen, which came out just before Harriet started preschool. And I’ve always linked the story to our own experience, in two ways. One, that this was a book about a kid going to school for the very first and beginning to make his way in the world—it was amazing to be on the cusp of that. And also that Charlie’s adventure caring for the butterflies was analogous to our own lives as parents. That these amazing, ever-changing creatures are only with us for a very short time before they find their wings and fly away—an achievement that makes us “a little happy and a little sad all at once.” Which is true.

But, yes, how joyful is watching them soar.

October 7, 2015

No wonder the children grew peaky

the-borrowers“So he didn’t have your advantages,” went on Homily breathlessly, “and just because the Harpsichords lived in the drawing room—they moved in there, in 1837, to a hole in the wainscot just behind where the harpsichord used to stand, if ever there was one, which I doubt—and were really a family called Linen-Press or some such name and changed it to Harpsichord—”

“What did they live on,” asked Arietty, “in the drawing room?”

“Afternoon tea,” said Homily, “nothing but afternoon tea. No wonder the children grew up peaky. Of course in the old days it was better—muffins and crumpets and such, and good rich cakes and jams and jellies, And there was an old Harpsichord who could remember sillabub of an evening. But they had to do their borrowings in such a rush, poor things. On wet days, when the human beings sat all afternoon in the drawing room, the tea would be brought in and taken away again without a chance of the Harpsichords getting near it—and on fine days it might be taken out into the garden. Lupy has told me that, sometimes, there were days and days when they lived on crumbs and water out of the flower vases. So you can’t be too hard on them; their only comfort, poor things, was to show off a bit and wear evening dress and talk like ladies and gentlemen…” —Mary Norton, The Borrowers

(We’re reading this right now and I’m loving it so much. I don’t know that I’ve ever read it before. When I was a child, I was into the American knockoff, The Littles, but I had no taste, and Mary Norton is so clever, funny and bright. I also like our copy because the cover is by Marla Frazee, who is one of my favourites. And sort of related, we recently finished reading The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe, which went over very well, except that Iris now walks around saying apropos of nothing, “Aslan die?” and I don’t think she knows what die means, or even Aslan for that matter. But Harriet is quite enchanted and now we’re going to read the whole series, and tonight we were reading a new book called Written and Drawn by Henrietta, by TOON Books, and there was a Narnia reference, and I haven’t seen Harriet that excited since she found out she had a wobbly tooth.)

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