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October 27, 2006

Avocado Tree

"You're a baddy and I'm a goody!" He shouted at me, excitedly, from the kitchen door with a wooden sword held tightly in his grip.

"Do I have to be a baddy?" I asked in a slightly disappointed tone.

"We can both be goodies!" He shouted.

"Of course we can! I'm so pleased." I yelled, as we both ran down the corridor. "Where's my sword? We need to fight baddies!"

We reached the living room, yelling, and like King Arthur I drew the other sword which had been buried in his box of toys.

We slew countless dragons and monsters and finally found ourselves back in the kitchen.

"Do you know what this is?" I asked him.

"Yes." He said.

"What is it?"

"I don't know." He replied.

"It's an avocado. What is it?"

"An avocado." He said.

He had told me before that he didn't like avocados.

I lifted the heavy wooden chopping-board onto the floor of the kitchen and found a sharp paring knife.

"Squeeze it," I said and reached it out to him, "does it feel slightly squashy?"

"Yes." He answered while crouching on the wooden floor in front of me.

"That means it's probably ripe."

I took the knife and cut the fruit around the entirety of its girth. "First I cut all the way around like this." I then took an end in each hand and twisted them, gently, in opposite directions. "And then I twist it like this." The two parts came apart revealing the seed. I pushed the knife into the seed.

"This is the seed. The new avocado tree grows out of this." I said as I wiggled the knife and removed the light-brown sphere, impaled on its tip.

Then I took a teaspoon and pointed to the meat, "This is the part that feeds the seed so that it can grow into a big avocado tree."

I carved a tiny piece onto the tip of the teaspoon, "Would you like to try some?"

"Yes." He said.

I fed it to him and he responded instantly, "Hmm."

"Do you want some more?"

"Yes." He said.

I fed him a bit more, "Are you going to grow into a big avocado tree now?"

He hunched his body and curled his arms in, and then began to stand up slowly and spread his arms out, "I'm a big avocado tree!" he shouted.

"You are! Reach to the sun!" He reached his hands out, grinning. "Shake in the wind!" A wave of wiggling passed through his three-year-old body. "Be rained on!" He shook his hands and made a loud noise at the back of his throat.

I got a loaf of nine-grain bread from the breadbox. "What's this?" I asked.

"A loaf of bread." He responded.

"I mean what's this?" Pulling on the clear cellophane wrapping.

"Plastic." He said, "That's bad for the environment."

"Is it? Why is that?"

"It goes in the landfill."

"That's right, it does. And then it doesn't rot down for a long time. Did you know that plastic can be biodegradable? It can be made so that it rots down."

"Hmm." He said in contemplative agreement.

I ripped the plastic cover from the bread, "Do you know why the loaf is in plastic?"


"It keeps it fresh. The plastic stops the air getting to it. And the exposure to air makes it go off." I said and took a large knife from the drawer; "This is a really big knife!" I said enthusiastically.

I sat on the floor on one side of the chopping-board and held the knife with the handle towards him on the other side. "Would you like to help cut this?"

"Yes." He said and held onto the handle. I held the loaf with my left hand and guided the knife, his knuckles beneath my palm, with my right hand. We cut four slices. With each slice, his confidence grew. The fourth slice was cut almost completely using his strength.

"Why is it okay for you to do this Callum?" I asked.

"Because you're wid me." He said.

"Yes, that's right. I make it safe for you to do this." I responded and then continued, "Take these four slices and we'll put them in the toaster." He held the stack of bread between his hands and I lifted him onto the counter.

"Drop them in." I said.

He placed each slice carefully into the toaster at his side. When all were in place I said, "What next?"

He pushed down the first lever until it clicked and then pushed down the second.

"Well done Callum! That's amazing!" I started to clap and jump in the air, whooping, with a big grin on my face.

I watched as he became excited, his eyes widened, his curly lips changed into a grin, and he began and clap and shout as well, "Yeah!"

I took the container of soup from the fridge; Italian bean soup. I checked the ingredients to make sure there were no dairy products or eggs in it, opened it, and poured it into the pan. "Would you like to help me by stirring the soup?" I asked.

"Yes." He said.

Click, click, click, boom: I lit the stove. "Slide over here then." I said.

He shuffled across the counter, took hold of the wooden spoon, and began to stir.

"Do you know why you have to stir soup?" I asked.

"Yes. To make it hot."

"That's right! To make it consistently hot all the way through, and to stop it burning."

"It's hot on my hand." He said.

I ran my hand under his arm and felt the heat. "Is it too hot for you?" I asked.


"It's hottest here because the heat from the flame is channeled up the outside of the pan like this." I showed him how the heat moved using my finger. "It's also hot in the middle because the soup's hot. But it's not as hot in the middle as at the edge; See?" I moved his hand back and forth over the pan.


I showed him the flames. "What's that?" I asked, pointing to the blue tongues.


"Yes, and what's burning?"

"Gas." He said.

"Yes, that's right. Where does gas come from Callum?" I asked, thinking of rock formations.

"From the gas company." He responded.

I chuckled a little, "That's absolutely right."

Pop, pop: the toast was done at the other end of the counter. "Okay, we're going to remove the toast now." I said while getting a plate and putting it next to the toaster. "The toast is going to be hot so we need to do it a special way: make sure not to touch the metal of the toaster because it's very hot and also you have to use the tips of your fingers to hold the toast."

"What are the tips of my fingers?" He asked.

I pointed to the ends of my thumb and forefinger, "These parts here. I'll show you first."

I pinched the slice furthest from him and lifted it quickly onto the plate, "You have to do it like that, really quickly, so that you don't burn your fingers. Okay?"

"Yes." He said.

"Do you want to try this?" I asked.

"Yes." He reached out and pinched the next slice very gingerly between his thumb and forefinger. He lifted his hand and a small crumb broke off.

"You need to grip a little bit more of it."

He took hold again and this time pulled the slice free of the toaster and dropped it onto the plate.

"Well done! How was that?" I asked.

"Good." He said, matter-of-factly, before transferring the final two slices onto the plate.

"Well done! You did it Callum!" I put my hands in the air and started to jump, "Woo! Woo!" and then to clap, "You did it!"

"I did it!" He said clapping and smiling.

I spread the avocado onto the toast. "This is a very good alternative to butter." I said, "It's very good for you."

"Crisps aren't good for you." He said.

"That's right; they're not very good for you. What else isn't good for you?"

"Macaroni." He said.

"That's a form of pasta; are you sure it's not good for you?"


"Okay. Do you think that spaghetti is good for you?" I asked him, a little confused.


"I see. So it's something about the shape of macaroni then?"


"That's interesting." I said.

"The soup's hot now." I said, lifting him over to the other side of the stove. I moved the pan off the flame and said, "These four dials control the four flames. This one controls the bottom-right one. This one contains the bottom-left one, the one that's lit. And these two control the other two flames. Which one do you need to turn to switch the flame off?"

"This one." He said, pointing to the ignition button.

"Not that one. Another one." I said.

He pointed to the control for the bottom-right flame.

"Not that one either."

He pointed to the correct one and said, "This one?"

"Yes! Very good Callum! That's the right one. Turn it off then."

He started to turn the dial and the flame grew to full-size. He jumped a little and turned it back all the way to the lowest level.

"That made you jump didn't it?"


"The way to turn it off is to move it through the highest point." I said, "Try again."

He turned it to the highest point and again it made him jump a little. "That's right. Just leave it there now for a minute." We looked at the large flames and listened to the hissing. "Now continue turning it in that direction." He turned the dial and the flames got smaller until they died. "Now turn it until it clicks." His little hand turned the dial until it clicked. "You see how that little dot on the dial lines up with the line on the stove now?"

"Yes." He said.

"That's another way to be sure that it's off." I said.

I started to clap and jump, "Well done! You've done it."

He clapped too.

"Do you know why you can do all of this cooking: using the knife, the toaster, and the stove?" I asked him.

"'Cause I'm wid you." He said.

"That's right. I make it safe for you to learn about these things. When you're much bigger you'll be able to do these things safely on your own."

I handed him the wooden spoon and showed him how to hold it over the bowls. "Now I'm going to pour the soup into the bowls. You need to hold the spoon there and I'll pour the soup over the spoon." He held the spoon in place and I poured the soup.

"Why am I pouring the soup over the spoon?" I asked him.

"I don't know." He said.

"It's to stop it splashing out of the bowl. If the spoon wasn't there, the soup would fall all the way from the edge of the pan onto the bottom of the bowl and it would splash out. But with the spoon there it drops a short way onto the spoon and then runs off into the bowl."

"Hmm." He hummed in contemplative agreement.

"We've finished!" I yelled. "We've finished making lunch!" I shouted. "Yes, yes, yes!" I ran up and down the kitchen pumping my fists in the air, elated. I lifted Callum down from the counter. He wrapped his legs around my leg and looked up to me. "We've finished Callum!" I said. "We made lunch together. You cut the bread, you made the toast, you stirred the soup, you switched off the flame, and you helped pour the soup!"

"I'm stuck to you." He said as I pulled up on his arms and looked down at his beaming little face.

"Well done! You've done a great job. I've had so much fun and I'm so proud of you!" I said and lifted him up to cuddle him. I stroked my hand forward over his soft hair and kissed his face. "Well done Callum."

We spent a long time eating lunch: dipping the avocado-coated bread into the soup. I fed him and I fed myself. I fed him; I love to feed him with my own hands; one day he won't let me do that; why try to bring that day closer?

I sat at my desk later and asked him, "Would you like to see a video of me on stage making people laugh?"

"Yes." He said.

I showed him some snippets from the video. "Funny daddy." He said emphatically. I stopped the video and he ran out of the room. Then he ran back in, approached me, and said, "I love you daddy."

I slid from my chair onto the floor, held his little body in my arms, kissed his face, and said, "I love you telling me that." I held him really tightly and said, "And I love you as well."

"Thank you Duncan. I feel like that with my granddaughter who is two years eight months old. What struck me, is for us to have goodies we always need baddies. It is really all appearance to mind." — Elizabeth (Brighton, UK)

"[I] was so touched that I shed a tear! I wish more fathers behaved like you do." — Kelly (Brighton, UK)

"Best dad ever :). You have a special way of writing that makes me smile all the way through. Thank you for another great smile Duncan!" — Clairey (Brisbane, Australia)

"I loved your article!" — Ariana (San Francicso, California, USA)

"I cried reading [this]. Very touching." — Rosita (London, UK)

"Sweet stuff." — Charley (Santa Cruz, California, USA)


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