We'd been watching a beach vendor show off his merchandise - a flock of inflatable plastic penguins that he threw into the waves, and that wobbled their way back ashore again with the surf - when Rebecca asked if she might have a plastic penguin. And she asked again, and again.
Eventually, I gave her my usual spiel, a variation of my very concise and reasonable grocery store line "We're here to buy food, not junk": "We're here to enjoy the beach, not shop," I explained helpfully. Only, this time, the conversation that followed wasn't part of the script.
"But you do!" she replied.
I objected vehemently, "I NEVER!"
"Yes you do. Once you bought a dress." Then she gave all the particulars to prove her point: "You bought it from a lady carrying a basket on her head. It was a long, white dress with blue poka dots that you took to Portugal, and then cut into a shorter dress, and a skirt for me." Oh, that dress. Don't you just love it when your kids contradict you, and have the bad form to be right?
Though I have no idea how she could possibly remember that moment of weakness three whole summers ago, she was right: I did once do some beach shopping. We escaped without buying any inflatable plastic penguins, but I needed a better line.
The story of how I once broke down and bought a dress from a beach vendor seemed to spread in mysterious ways. Because the next day, a Senegalese beach vendor carrying a basket on her head came right up to us, and in a way that was jolly, graceful and assertive at the same time, showed us a series of dresses for girls ("on sale!"), including a very fetching blue sundress ("with lace!") which she put right on Rebecca ("how well it suits her!").
I bought the sundress. As well as a yarn braid with a green plastic bead at the end, that she wove into Rebecca's hair in what seemed a split second. It didn't feel like breaking down: in part I was glad to give a little business to that migrant woman with wonderful vending manners who'd walked our beaches all summer long with a heavy basket on her head. And in part because the best family rule is flexibility.