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“What’s This?”

Mark Stole my Kindle at the Park, Ottawa, April 2015
Mark Stole my Kindle at the Park, Ottawa, April 2015

“What’s this?”


“This? Books. What’s this?”


“What’s this?”

“Shampoo. And soap.”

“Soap. Wash. What’s this?”

“Mark, come on. We have to go to the post office, remember?”

“No. Mooommy! What’s this?”

“Baby food.”

“Apple! Banana! Oooh… cookies!”

Shoppers Drug Mart sells a bit of everything. The pharmacy chain stores often open 24/7 and they almost operate as convenient stores. Sure, there is a pharmacy for prescription drugs at the back, but there are also entire aisles of over-the-counter drugs, health and beauty products, baby supplies, seasonal items and a lot of junk food—sorry, “food essentials”, as the store claims—but trust me, there are more chocolate eggs than actual eggs.

I used to shop there, ten years ago, when Shoppers and Loblaws were the only two stores within walking distance of our newly-developed neighborhood. I was even a member of the loyalty program, Shopper Optimum, and I would redeem my points for expensive Shiseido cream. Then the loyalty program changed, you had to spend more to receive less, and prices went up too. When Food Basics and Walmart opened their doors across the parking lot, I stopped going to Shoppers.

I’m a North American customer. Loyalty? Meh. Money talks.

These days, I only stop by when I’m looking for discounted chocolate after each major holiday (Shoppers always has a ton on sale) and when I need to go to the post office, since there is a Canada Post outlet inside.

“Mark, post office. Please.”

“What’s this?”

“Juice. And water.”

“Ooooh…! Mommy drinks!”

The old lady who was smiling at us, probably amused by Mark, averts her eyes.

“Yes, mommy drinks COKE ZERO,” I announce a tad too loudly and cheerfully. “Good job, Mark, you recognized the brand.”

“Mommy drinks, mommy drinks!”

Great, now the entire store thinks I’m an alcoholic. Grammar can change the meaning of a sentence.

“Okay, can you run to the next aisle, Mark?”

“What’s this?”

“That’s… I don’t know.”

“I don’t know,” he repeats gravely as if I had said something extremely controversial. What? I don’t know what’s in the box. What I do know is that it’s 5:30 p.m. and I need to buy a stamp and mail this contract today.

“Okay, almost there… see the big red box? That’s a mailbox.”

“What’s this?”

“Choco—… never mind Mark, let’s skip this aisle. Next one, run!”

Phew. Candies-and-chocolate tantrum avoided.

I know that six-year-old is the “why?” stage. I had no idea that two-and-a-half was the “what’s this” stage. And Mark never stops. I’m thinking of lending him to ESL students—your very own human flashcard! Test your vocabulary and get a tantrum if you don’t reply fast enough! Can be switched to Mandarin or French!

I buy my stamp under Mark’s watchful eyes, seal the envelope and let him put it in the box. He walks away proudly as if he had solved a major technical issue—actually, he kind of did when he realized the envelope had to be dropped straight and not jammed sideways into the slot.

“A. T. Zero…”

“…this is a ‘O’, Mark.”

“… N. Seven. Two. Four.”

… and this is Mark walking through the parking lot. He reads license plates. All of them. I parked at the very end.

Fuck my life.

No, I’m proud of him, really. Just… not now.

Mark has been reading numbers for a little while now. It started in Latin America, last winter, where we let him press on the elevator’s buttons if he could read the right number. He still mixes up six and nine but he is comfortable with numbers. And now, he moved on to letters—“I read!” he says. I’m not pushing him, he is still young, but I’m supporting him. This includes reading books with him (it takes forever, he reads each letter one by one), buying flashcards with letters and yes, reading license plates in the parking lot.

“What’s this?”

“… the sidewalk?”

“No! This.”

“A drain.”

“What’s this?”

“A store.”


“An ant.”


“A pothole.”


“A Tim Horton’s paper cup that probably spent the winter there.”


“… Okay Mark, how about that: we go home and I’ll ask daddy to take you to Harvey’s. Okay? You two can go eat together.”

I need a sanity break.

“Harvey’s! I go Harvey’s! Eat fries. Mark eats. Harvey’s!”

Where the fuck is the off button?

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