Nichole Bernier's Blog

September 11, 2014

BTMDogIsMyCopilot By Nichole Bernier

As I’ve mentioned here a few times, we have a young Bernese Mountain Dog. We got her last summer at 8 weeks old and named her Cricket because she was the least graceful thing ever to hop through grass.

She eats. She eats socks. She eats toys. She eats my husband. She eats the house.

Protectively, defensively, we’ve kept her restricted to the main kitchen/family room area of the house. She and the cats eye one another distrustfully through the gates, and when Cricket gets through, it’s off to the races.

When time came for our annual vacation on Martha’s Vineyard a few weeks ago, the owner of the house we rent gave us permission to bring the dog. My husband thought this was great news.

My heart sank. This meant schlepping the gates, the crate. It meant a week with a clenched stomach, wondering what she’d destroy. And yet there was an opportunity to experiment: we’d be in a house without the cats, and were curious to see what would happen if we let her roam free. By which I mean, my husband was curious to see what would happen. I just wanted to be on vacation and maybe sleep in a little and not have to safeguard food on the countertops.

Well lo and behold, she galloped through the place in an introductory way, and then was pretty much done with the crimes and misdemeanors. That week she was like a new dog. She didn’t destroy anything except one straw beach mat, and he was asking for it. No aggression, very little jumping for food. She didn’t even bite my husband. She pretty much just enjoyed following us from room to room. Who took our dog, we asked, and what have you done with her?

When we came home we decided to give peace a chance. And aside from a first day bonanza of chasing the cats and kids, nails raking the hardwoods as she turned the corners, she’s been mostly the same here.

What to make of the change? Using all my advanced animal and child psychology (aka none), I can only conclude that all this time we had an evil feedback system going. She was naughty, so we didn’t trust her. Her freedom was restricted because of that naughtiness, but boredom/frustration was making her worse.

Maybe all she wanted was a little head space, a little more free rein, a little chance to rise to the challenge. Which echoes the messages about teens I’m hearing from fellow parents, now that I’m entering that chute. Too tight a leash and

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Published on September 11, 2014 05:45 • 3 views

August 15, 2014

stomachThe 5yo had trouble falling asleep last night, haunted by a DVD we rented from the library that spooked him.

“Think about ice cream cones,” I tell him. “Don’t think about the movie.”

Him: “But my body keeps pressing the play button.”

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Published on August 15, 2014 05:55 • 4 views

July 22, 2014


The 6yo, eying the urn with our old dog’s ashes. “What are ashes like?”

“Sand,” I tell him.

He thinks. “Plus love.”

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Published on July 22, 2014 13:58 • 10 views

July 9, 2014

mazeThe 4yo is doing a maze, blazing wantonly through solid lines.

Me: “Can’t go through walls, bud.”

Him: “They’re just gates. I push them open.”

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Published on July 09, 2014 05:24 • 4 views

July 1, 2014

kayak2Last week the yoga class I take from time to time decided to meet on the water.

“We’ll visit the swans,” said the instructor Erin as she directed three of us into kayaks. Then she climbed into her own — well, they were all her own, she lives on the pond, and teaches the small class at her home — and pushed off from the shore. “Then we’ll have a little blind paddle, see how it might expand our morning.”

My mornings tend to start in a not very expansive way, something I’m not very proud of. My initial reflex when I open my eyes, in that first lucid moment between dreams and reality, is to do a mental check of the things I know are in store and brace myself for the things I don’t. It feels like there’s usually some unforeseen thing, some blindsider that makes me exhale at the end of the day and say, Wow, I didn’t see that coming. Sometimes I wake up wondering what’s going to be The Thing today. I know this isn’t the most open, optimistic way to greet the day.

“There she is,” Erin called back from under the brim of a floppy pink straw hat, and reached back a muscular arm to hand me her binoculars. Not more than 50 yards away, an enormous swan sat on her large nest, a camel-neck queen on a pedestal of sticks. Her mate drifted watchfully about 30 yards away. “Last year when I sat here once, the cygnets poked out and walked around,” Erin said. We floated there awhile letting our kayaks drift, then back-paddled away with quiet strokes.

When we reached the middle of the pond, Erin told us to close our eyes. “Point yourself in a direction away from anyone else, set your sights on a far point onshore, and try paddling toward it blind. Don’t peek.”

I have sat down to writing that way, trying to ward off distractions by typing with my eyes closed. But that’s sitting stationary. I was never a big fan of pin the tail on the donkey or three legged races. I’ve woken abruptly from nightmares about driving a car blind. Like many people stuck with the label control freak, I tend to be far more comfortable when all of my senses and limbs are in play. Surely I’d paddle into one of the other kayaks, into someone’s dock, the swan.

That’s the cornerstone of the control myth, isn’t it, this belief that if you can see it, touch it, hold it, you can better fend off disaster — and its corollary, that if you can’t hold onto something with an iron grip, you’ll falter. I faced this the hard way on a highwire outdoor adventure in December, and by hard way I don’t mean the mortal-danger way but the tearful mortifying way. Months later, it’s still sinking in.

I pointed the kayak toward the far shore, a small patch of town beach where my children sometimes swim, and closed my eyes. After less than a minute I became aware of the sound of a power tool on shore, possibly too close, and the buzzing of an insect, definitely too close. I opened my eyes a crack, feeling like a kid touching her security blanket. Of course I was only a few feet from where I’d been before, well in the middle of the pond. The insect was either gone or never there in the first place.

I closed my eyes and started again. Slower, more conscious paddling made me better able to hear which sounds were close and which were further away. I held the paddle loosely and kept my path flexible, listening to the drone of construction tools and the quieter sounds under them: the other kayakers receding, insects, birds, my own breathing. I went on for about ten minutes until Erin called us back, and I didn’t peek again. It didn’t feel as if there was anything up ahead that I needed to see.

What I didn’t know then was that the day would end with my six-year-old breaking his arm on the backyard swingset, a displacement of two bones that would land us all in the ER for hours, except for the 13-year-old, who was playing in a concert the rest of us would have to miss. Over the course of four hours we had vending-machine popcorn for dinner and played Tic Tac Toe and made silly iPhone videos, waiting on a gurney between xrays and verdict, and changing tactics hourly about the 13yo’s ride home from the concert. By the time I went to bed it seemed impossible that the tranquil kayaking had taken place that same calendar day.

But in the scope of things, the drama was like high tide. Up, down, no permanent damage done. The 6yo wasn’t in much pain, and would be fine after readjustment and a cast; the three others would live without finished homework and a proper meal; the 13yo learned that sometimes you have to play to an audience with the empty seats of loved ones.

I used to wish I had a crystal ball to help me be better prepared for whatever the day was going to kick up. But knowing the day would hold the ER visit wouldn’t have added to my kayaking hour, and almost certainly would have detracted from it. And in fact the not-knowing didn’t make me any less able to handle it on the fly — ditto the car trouble a few days later, that would leave me roadside at 10pm an hour from home after a book event. Things happen. You deal with them as best you can. And usually, the tide recedes with little or no harm.

In my novel The Unfinished Work of Elizabeth D., I wrote about the arbitrariness of life, how you can either be paralyzed by the fear of being blindsided, or choose to accept the not-knowing, move on, because what’s the alternative? It’s easier said, or written, than done.

I’m in no way advocating going through life with blinders on. But. While it might be true that what you don’t know can, in fact, hurt you very much, sometimes knowing ahead of time isn’t helpful, either. If I’d known how difficult it would be to write, revise, and sell a novel, would I have done it anyway? Would we have children if we could be given a glimpse in advance of our most difficult day with them?

Here’s one more cliché with more than a glimmer of truth: A little knowledge is a dangerous thing. It might just be safer, and saner, to paddle blind into each uncertain day — loose grip, quiet enough to hear what’s happening around you, and flexible enough to adjust on the fly.

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Published on July 01, 2014 06:03 • 11 views

June 5, 2014


The 4yo, irritated that he has to stop drawing this morning and get to preschool.

“Why did you even sign me up for school? It wastes into my art*.”

*part of his “sister’s ballet recital” oeuvre



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Published on June 05, 2014 15:40 • 4 views

May 29, 2014



The 6yo, biking over a boardwalk through a marshy field, sees tall stands of cattails.

“Mom, look!” he says. “It’s the way corn-dogs grow!”





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Published on May 29, 2014 15:36 • 3 views

May 10, 2014



I put unmatching white socks on the 4yo.

He grabs the miscolored toe seams, clearly disturbed.

“These do not rhyme!”



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Published on May 10, 2014 11:32 • 3 views

April 20, 2014

Mint-leaves-2007A little “Who’s on First” with the 4yo and 6yo after their dentist appointment.

The 6yo: “Did they ask you if you like mint?”
The 4yo: “I like mint.”
The 6yo: “That’s not what I asked. I asked you if THEY asked you if you like mint.”
The 4yo: “Yes, I like mint.”
The 6yo: “NO! I asked you if THEY asked you…”
The 4yo: “Don’t tell me no! I do too like mint.”

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Published on April 20, 2014 09:18 • 2 views

March 30, 2014

Hoboken-Walking-Tour-map pic

When time is short, and I don’t have much time for writing at length beyond work-related projects, there’s one type of writing (if you can call it writing) that consistently gives me pleasure: recording the beautifully absurd, gorgeous tiny nonsense my kids say. It takes one minute to jot it down, or two minutes to forget it forever. 

The 8yo, when my novel came out in paperback a year after the hardcover:

“Mom, if your book is really popular, will you be able to read in places like Japan and Hoboken?”



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Published on March 30, 2014 05:42 • 4 views