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Pickle Me This

December 5, 2014

There comes a time…

IMG_20141106_165935There comes a time in every family’s life when their copy of Janet and Alan Ahlberg’s The Baby’s Catalogue needs replacing. “Uh oh,” said Iris, pointing to where the book had split in two, on the “Accidents” page, no less. Though we’d seen it coming—this was the book I took care to always have in my bag when Harriet was a baby, so that when Iris was born, the spine was already shredded, and she took great pleasure in furthering the damage herself. Until the whole thing had come to pieces.

It’s a turning point, and we’ve been encountering a lot of these lately. Iris turns 18 months old exactly today, and I’d forgotten what a huge turning point this age is. Her words are coming fast (and often furious): car, and truck, and yuck, and cheese, and banana, and please, and Mommy and Daddy and Hatty, and her grandmothers’ names, and shoes, and book, and most curiously of all is “hockey”. We have no idea where she learned that one. She loves cats and dogs and babies. I take her to the library baby program, where she ignores all programming and instead walks around the circle tickling the other babies’ feet.

irisShe sees the whole world as a series of climbable objects, and while her compulsive climbing instills fear in all those who love her, it’s true that she rarely ever falls. She knows the right techniques for capturing out attention: teetering on tabletops, screaming in quiet restaurants, and placing tiny objects inside her mouth with a defiant gleam in her eye. She gives excellent hugs, is a champion napper, has her teeth coming in in all the wrong order, and usually tries to give gentle touches instead of hitting and biting (though she doesn’t always succeed). She gets less bald with every passing day. She is at that age at which sitting at the table for more than three minutes at a time is impossible, so she comes and and goes. She just recently learned to jump. We adore her, and are blown away by how smart she is and her insistence on doing everything herself—well, even. But we’re never having another child, because our children seem to get increasingly Iris-ish with every one, and an Iris who out-Iris’d Iris might kill us. So we’re just content to love this one madly.

ADSC_0452nd then there is her very patient sister, who turned 5 and a half last week (which is 66 months old, for those of you keeping count). She continues to be excellent with just the right amount of naughtiness that we’re sure she’s a real child. She likes school and watching her learn to read is so exciting (and it’s also so exciting to see how useful Mo Willems’ Elephant and Piggie books are in this process. We’ve enjoyed these books for years, and that such good books can also be the best reading tools is amazing). We’re reading Tom’s Midnight Garden at bedtime now, which is exciting because there’s a literary Harriet in it, and also because it’s the second book I read right after she was born, a time I was thinking about last night as Tom and his Uncle discussed there not being just one time but instead all different kinds of time (and his Aunt pointing out that it all leads to indigestion—it’s such a good book!). Harriet has reached this marvellous age where she wants to be helpful, and she actually is. I like her so very much, and adore her company. It’s not a lie when I tell her that picking her up at kindergarten is the very best part of my day. (Well, after bedtime, of course).

IMG_20141120_165025Technically, now that Iris is 18 months old, there’s no resident baby at our house anymore (though I don’t believe this, of course, and Iris’s baldness is permitting the illusion to be sustained). Just because we’re running low on babies though doesn’t mean we don’t still need a copy of The Baby’s Catalogue, so we bought another one, a pristine edition that is sure to get a bit battered, but probably not as battered as its predecessor. This wonderful book is full of the ordinary moments—all the incidents and accidents—of ordinary family life, and it’s such a part of ours.

I hope it always will be.

September 4, 2014

First Day


First day of Senior Kindergarten, which proceeded with no trauma or drama, unlike last year’s. Except that I am missing my big girl terribly (never mind that now I have to spend the day making conversation with a baby), and sort of considering that someone as averse to change as I am probably should never have embarked on parenthood. I could have just avoided mirrors, and, well, windows, for that matter, and lived comfortably in a blissful bubble imagining that everything was ever the same. Instead of meeting each day with this marvellous piece of irrefutable evidence that life is going, going, going (but, happily, not yet gone).  Anyway, onward. We were contemplating all the things she didn’t know how to do one year ago, and wondering what miracles this next year will bring.

September 1, 2014

This is a bad idea

IMG_20140830_121723Just a little over two years ago, we took Harriet to Centre Island, and watched her go around on the little boat ride, ringing the bell and looking happy enough, but sitting alone in her little boat, while the other boats were filled with pairs of siblings. It was a pivotal moment, watching her ride by herself, one that cemented the fact that we were probably going to go forth and have another baby. For Harriet’s sake as much as ours, because Stuart and I are both so glad we have sisters, and we wanted to give Harriet a similar relationship. Because we wanted her to have someone to ride the rides with.

Never mind the absurdity that sometimes things really do work out so neatly—we were grateful that nature delivered us the baby we’d planned on. A healthy happy baby too, and also that Iris and Harriet already have such a close relationship. (I’d considered the irony of possibly delivering Harriet a sister who she’d hate, or who might destroy her life, in addition to just pulling her hair. I read too much literary fiction…) I will never cease to be amazed at the fact of getting what I wanted, and so it meant something to have travelled though all these weeks and months and come back to the island this weekend. Harriet and Iris rode around in their little boat together, and was hugely significant. The first ride of many.

But of course, that’s not the whole story. I haven’t told you the funny part. We were lined up for the ride and both Stuart and I sensing that this was really not the smartest plan. Iris can walk, which means that technically she’d be permitted on the ride, but Iris is only 15 months old, and is small so she looks younger than she is, so the attendant looked wary when Stuart led Iris and Harriet  through the turnstile.

“I think she’s too young,” she told Stuart, about Iris.

IMG_20140830_121708And Stuart became even less characteristically un-English than usual, throwing caution to the wind and standing up to carnival authority (although he had stood patiently in the queue.)

“Nope,” he said, “she’ll be fine.” He put her on the ride anyway. He is not sure why he did this exactly, except that he had a vague sense that I’d be angry if Iris didn’t get to ride the ride as I’d envisioned. We’d travelled over 700 days to get here after all. It would be terrible not to have a photo to show for it.

So Iris was in the boat, and the attendant told Harriet to make sure she stayed seated. The ride began, and it was good for a round or two. Iris rang the bell, spun the steering wheel, and was thoroughly enjoying herself. I snapped the photos. They could have been the whole story. Until it became apparent to Iris that she was untethered. She stood up. “Iris, sit down,” said Harriet, shoving her back into her seat. They go by us again. We wave. Iris stands up again. “Sit down, Iris,” Harriet is shouting now, and trying to get Iris in a headlock. Iris starts to cry. We’re still waving. Everybody is looking at our children. Who pass the remainder of the ride with Iris crying as they turned round and round, Harriet shouting, “This is a bad idea! This is a very bad idea!”

August 12, 2014

Summer of the Yellow Dress


In most of our photos from this summer so far, a memorable (much) recurring character has been my yellow polkadot dress, which is one of the few things I own that always garners compliments from strangers. I bought the dress at a secondhand store at the end of May, which was surprising because I’m sort of between bodies right now and clothing is an awkward fit. So it was shocking to encounter this Donna Karan shift dress for $30, and then the yellow polkadot dress for $20, which I can even breastfeed in if I’m unabashed about having my boobs out.

The yellow dress was a strange purchase for me–I’ve never worn anything yellow before. I am very much partial to red and blacks, to fuchsia if I’m feeling like some colour. But the yellow dress appealed to me because it looked like something Harriet would wear. Yellow is her favourite colour, and she’s zealously devoted to it, still, even though she has recently consented to be served dinner on a plate that is another colour (if necessary). When I wear yellow, I look even more sallow than I actually am, so I’ve always avoided it, while celebrating Harriet’s affinity for it. Hooray for a little girl whose favourite colour is anything but pink.

But this dress… “What would Harriet do?” I wondered. Obviously, she would buy it, and insist on wearing it to bed, and while I didn’t go that far, I bought it and even put it on. “What do you think?” I asked my family, and they loved it. It’s kind of a weird dress with a ruffly colour, one that’s meant to be worn off the shoulder, I think, but I don’t do that because I am not a 1970s’ bridesmaid. It’s a wee bit too tight (but what isn’t these days) but the cut is flattering. And it turns out that I look not so terrible in yellow after all, or at least not once summer has arrived and the sunshine has kissed my face a bit.

And it’s a lesson I think, as well as a fortunate fashion tale (because it could well have gone the other way). That I can learn a little something by taking a leap and seeing the world through Harriet’s eyes. That something might be gained by aspiring to be just a little more like she is.

I am thinking of taking up her practice of lying on the sidewalk and screaming and kicking whenever I’m hungry or tired…

June 27, 2014

Last day


May 26, 2014

Harriet turns five

IMG_0553Harriet turned five today (I know! Crazy) and to celebrate, we all came down with a stomach bug. It was brutal, and poor Iris had it the worst of all of us. I do wonder if fate wasn’t hoping to counter any nostalgia I might have for baby days, now that my first baby is impossibly grown (5!) and my little baby is just days away from turning one. Waking the baby to feed, having to sit up to do so–ugh. And then walking around like a zombie this morning, all of us taken down by illness, sleeping lying sideways on my bed beside the baby while the strains of Frozen made their way up the stairs. I am so glad this isn’t my life anymore. Iris doesn’t sleep much, but she sleeps more than she did last night, and I’ll appreciate it now. We’re all feeling much better, and looking forward to a final day of convalescing tomorrow in which we’re feeling well enough to go to the park or even out to lunch.

IMG_0557So Harriet had the most disappointing 5th birthday ever, but it wasn’t so bad because we managed to throw her a party on Saturday, a little fete for five friends from playschool. The theme was Beetles Bugs and Butterflies, and we pulled it off beautifully, stringing up extra bunting for the occasion. Things were very simple–drawing bug pictures, hunting for plastic bugs, making antennae and dancing to The Beatles. Dessert was served in flower pots with gummy worms, and everybody got a copy of this fun book to take home. Nobody cried, which was pretty much our goal, and it was totally nice and un-overwhelming and would all have been so perfect had most of the guests not also come down with a stomach bug the next day (but so did many children in Harriet’s class who were not at the party so it’s not all my fault.)

IMG_0556So Harriet at five–what can I tell you? She never stops talking, she loves Wonder Woman (dressing up like her, reading her comic books, pretending to be her), is learning to read, still loves H best of all the letters but can write them all now (though she doesn’t see the point of lower-case). She does a terrific job of taking care of her sister, and the two of them have a really excellent time together, making one another laugh. She gets along well with friends at school and even tries sometimes to rise above the pre-pre-adolescent girl drama squabbles. She can be really helpful, empathetic and kind. When my book arrived in the mail and I showed it to her, she said, “Oh, Mommy…” and gave me a big hug. We have reached a comfortable arrangement in which she can tell me she hates me and I’m not bothered. She thinks that all families eat ice cream daily and sometimes twice. She is excited to get a scooter and ride it to school. She loves school and has learned so much this year. She is obsessed with Riders of Berk, and idolizes Violet from The Incredibles. She likes Ramona and Laura Ingalls, and loves to be read to. She is clumsy and uncoordinated but we’ve enrolled her in emergency dance and soccer classes and she’s happy to be learning and having fun. Her powers of observation are formidable. She is tone-deaf but we’ll never tell her. She is funny and smart, so aware of the richness of language. She finds the world interesting. Sometimes it is too much with her. I can’t believe she is that tiny bundle of baby I first encountered five years ago. It seems impossible now, and also like yesterday, and it seems like I’ve known Harriet all my life. And I think I really have.

May 15, 2014



April 22, 2014

#MakeSomething: The Most Magnificent Book

It is always a good day when we get a package in the mail from Kids Can Press. In particular, when that package has to do with a book that we’ve loved as much as we continue to love Ashley Spires The Most Magnificent Thing.


Remember that book? The book of which I wrote, “ It’s got everything. It’s got a dog, a girl who builds things, appealing illustrations that stand out against simple line drawings of an urban street-scape. It will appeal to both sexes. It’s got words, so many words, terrific verbs employed in the act of construction. It’s about coming up short, making mistakes and getting angry–the acknowledgement of such experiences is incredibly profound and has echoes of Sendak.” 


So it was so cool to get this kit in the mail full of stuff for making, including a modified version of the book for us to “hack” and include in our creation. Harriet quickly set to work making blueprints, and was determined that her magnificent thing would be a monster.


The project came together fast. Harriet’s dad worked alongside her.


She cut, she stuck, she modified, she erred and tried again, and came up with something even better than her blueprints.


Like her mother, Harriet is blessed with not being a perfectionist, and so her final vision seemed more than satisfying. We hooked our guy up with the book, because monsters like reading just as much as anybody does.


What fun fun fun, and just an example of the creativity this fantastic book will inspire. Thanks, Kids Can Press! So happy to spread the word about a book we love as much as this one.

Read my review of The Most Magnificent Thing

February 25, 2014

On Living With Harriet the Spy #Harriet50th

harriet(See Harriet the Spy Celebrates 50 Years of Sleuthing).

I never read Harriet the Spy when I was a child, and to be honest, I’m not sure I would have been sophisticated enough to appreciate it if I had. There are subtleties at work in the novel, a subversion I might not have been comfortable with. Instead, I loved The Long Secret, the lighter, sunnier Harriet novel. In The Long Secret, Harriet’s father is always home, and doesn’t say “rat fink” once. It’s Beth Ellen’s novel, the girl they call “Mouse”, and really, this novel is subversive too. I was just too stupid to know. Beth Ellen, like Harriet, can wield the power of the pen, but that’s the secret. I loved the map in the book, tracing my finger along its paths and roads. I never owned the book, but The Long Secret is one I borrowed from the school library over and over again. It acknowledged that people could be ugly, and I appreciated that. (Of course, I own a copy now.)

(See Lizzie Skurnick on The Long Secret)

I didn’t read Harriet the Spy until I was 28, and I couldn’t remember why I did, but a search through my blog archives reveals that it was the internet’s fault (and isn’t everything). In 2008, I found an article on Harriet the Spy (via Steph at Crooked House), and it was only then that I realized that Harriet had not been a girl-sleuth solving boring neighbourhood mysteries, but had in fact been a writer.  So I finally met Harriet in her original form, and was besotted. The novel was a guide to life, a guide to how to write and be a writer, and guides to such things were important to me in 2008, when I was just a year out of grad school with my writing career going nowhere at all. And that character–she was everything I love about everyone that I love best. She was the best and worst parts of me as well, and I adored her unabashedness.

“When I have a daughter, I am going to call her Harriet.” I remember telling my husband this news in the waiting room at our dentist’s, and lucky for me, he likes most of my ideas, and this was no exception.

long-secretHarriet was born in May 2009, and right away, I saw where I’d gone a bit wrong. All these spirited heroines are very nice to dream of, but to have to live with them is a whole other matter. To have to be the person whose job it is to teach Harriets civility, or at least enough to get by–can you believe that I signed up for that? But we’re figuring it out, and so is she, and she really is everything I dreamed of her being when I first dreamed of my own Harriet seven years ago. She loves books, has a vivid imagination, swears too much and is often rude, has a jam-smeared face and messy hair, makes up great stories, is full of faults, is absolutely perfect, and fierce as all get-out. She’s the kind of girl I want to see in the world. She’s worthy of being a Harriet namesake. It might have been easier to name her Beth Ellen, but would probably have been less fun.

Last summer we read Harriet the Spy. Our Harriet had just turned 4 and was much too young, but she was eager to read the book she’d been named for, and I wanted her to hear it too. And I think most of the book went over her head, but she never complained of being bored (and believe me, she would have if she were). As I read aloud, I noted to myself that this was the first book I’d ever read her that contained the word gestapo, and fortunately, she didn’t ask for clarification. I would have told her, but it might have interrupted the flow of the book.

As we were reading the book, Harriet found a notebook of her own, and took to going around scribbling in it. That she didn’t know how to write as much as her name at the time to my Harriet was no deterrent.

It’s a complicated legacy, Harriet the Spy. To give it to a daughter is to open a can of worms, and yet it also contains almost everything a daughter will ever need to know.  About character: the sense of self and strength of conviction I wish for her, for one. I want her to know the power of her own voice. Harriet is a good way to learn how to be a woman. And yes, I want her to learn the lessons that Harriet learns too–that indeed, people can be ugly. People can be horrible, but you don’t have to tell them. That we go wrong when we always privilege the truth–sometimes you have to lie. People are rotten and sometimes you have to lie, but also the world is fascinating, full of things to be seen, and you just have to pay attention. Stories are everywhere. Stories are also everything, and happiness and freedom can only come when yours belongs to you. 

February 3, 2014

Harriet Meets the Gruffalo

Fun was had at Totsapolooza on Saturday!


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