How Rice Pudding Gave Me Courage

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Our son was still only crawling when Marie-Cécile, a young Frenchwoman, became his babysitter. That she stayed with us for years explains why he has a near-perfect French accent and why I know the lyrics and accompanying hand motions to nursery songs from the 1960s. It’s also why I know the expression au pif.

The first time I heard the words (pronounced “oh peef”) was when I asked Marie-Cécile how she made the rice pudding that was cooling on the counter. “Au pif,” she said, bouncing her index finger off the tip of her nose as though she were playing charades. Encouraged to give a definition, she shrugged her shoulders and shook her head slowly.

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