Oops. Another scar for life on the little one’s psyche. And–natch–I had such good intentions.
Though, btw, I think the problem with good intentions is not inherent per se but rather a reflection of the fact that if you’re thinking of your intentions then you aren’t responding to the situation itself, which creates a mismatch.
Anyway: books. The little one is now old enough that I though she might enjoy kids’ chapter books as opposed to picture ones. Things like The Little Princess, Swiss Family Robinson, The Twits, The BFG, the Little House series.
I decided on Little House in the Big Woods as the little one is quite obsessed with history and how things were different back “when the grown-ups’ days were kids.” The main character is about her age so, while I thought she might enjoy hearing about how another little girl lived, I still knew it would be a hard sell.
I didn’t wait until we were snugged up together for bedtime stories but brought it up on the way to school. I put on a big smile and said, “I thought that tonight, we could read a new, big girl type of story.”
No dummy, she knew if it was really that great, she’d be asking me to read it. So she bites her lower lip as her pale brows furrow. “Is this for school?”
I possibly sound too chipper. “No, no. This was one of Mummy’s favourite books when she was small. It’s about a little girl whose family live in the woods and they grow their own food and their Mummy sews their clothes and they help her make bread and butter.”
She sucks in the rest of her lip and I can see the thought process: A story about chores, great.
I fumble for a quick salvage. “You’ll love it. She has all sorts of pets: a cat, a dog, cows, a little pig…”
She perks up at that. “What s the piggy’s name?”
“We can find out when we ready the story. Sound good?” At this point, I think I’ve got it in the bag. My mind has wandered in to other things: do I actually have a copy or will I have time to get to the bookstore?
“Did she play games with the piggy?”
To expand on the wisdom of John Lennon: much as life happens when you’re making other plans, the truth is what comes out when you talk of other things. With my mind off trying to recollect the last time I read The Little Princess, I answered off the cuff. Honestly, though, in my own defence, I gave a 100% honest answer. No wonder it upset her do much. “No, she didn’t play games with it. They killed it. Killed and ate it.”
She makes a mangled noise that could be a gasp, could be a sob, or some hybrid of the two. Eyes wide, lower lip trembling, little hand tugging my sleeve. “Mummy?”
I realise what I’ve said so I try to lighten the bombshell by grinning inanely and letting out a chuckle. “Well, they did play games with the piggy.”
The lower lip relaxes into a still-wobbly smile. “Like catch?”
I rack my brains to recall the chapter. The pig ran wild into the woods until chop day, iirc. Then it dawns. “Yes, they play catch, kind of.”
“Does the piggy catch the ball with its nose?” Her head bobs, demonstrating.
I’m congratulating myself on my save, so again, the truth slips out: “Uh, they make a ball out of the pigs bladder.” For some reason, a biology lesson strikes me as important. “The bladder is a pouch inside your body, like a stomach, Sweetie, and play ball like that. It makes a sort of balloon.”
Ashen faced, freckles standing out like scorch marks from unshed tears, she doesn’t say anything for a long moment, just shakes her head slowly, a subconscious cleansing motion. Her eyes squeeze shut, trying to erase the mental image.
Finally, she speaks. “Uh, Mummy? I think that is a book for you, not for me.”
Great, now my child thinks I enjoy reading pig snuff books. But I quit while I was only slightly behind and that night, she picked out The Littlest Ballerina instead. Her dreams were safe another night.
Until I get hold of Watership Down, that is…