Posts Tagged ‘The Witches’

Questions – truth or dare?

December 27, 2012

I am keen on telling the truth to children – for lots of reasons, but the two main ones are: because I want to set a good example; and because I want them to find me reliable.

My grandchildren asked me two truly difficult questions this morning.

Their Dad had gone to work early, and they were staying on with me till their Mum came to collect them after breakfast.  Anyway, they came and sat on the bed while I drank my cup of tea.  We chatted of this and that in a friendly way.

They asked ‘Why do you love dogs so much?’  That was where I stumbled – maybe there are too many reasons, and I felt under pressure to answer quickly and truthfully, but also to get the really best answers out first, as I know they will stop listening after one or two reasons, and move on to the next ‘why?’  So I said that I grew up with dogs (scepticism here – they have dogs, but don’t interact with them very much), that dogs always tell the truth (even though sometimes they steal stuff) and so you always know where you are with them.  (That led to a pause.)  I think I might have slipped in some banalities about dogs as loyal, and as company.  Then they said ‘But it’s boring having to walk them’ and I answered that I liked to get out into the fresh air.  After they had gone, I was still wondering whether I had really given the truthful answers.  More and more responses came to me – how good it is to have something to look after; how snuggly they are (even when ‘a wet dog is the lovingest’); how they look me in the eye and I feel that we know each other across the gulf of species; how it might be about power and obedience when I enjoy training them; how proud I am of them when they are praised by strangers.  How they might be child substitutes – I don’t think so.  Maybe children are dog-substitutes – has anyone suggested that?  How they teach us to live in the moment; to bear adversity and old age; to be joyful for small cause as well as for large.

Of course, that answer took moments to say, and even fewer moments for the rest to flash through my mind.  The conversation was moving onwards briskly.  The next question was  fairly easy: ‘Why do you have pillows on the other side of the bed?’  (A. For when Grandad comes to stay.)  And: ‘Why does he sleep on that side of the bed?’  (A.  He likes the right-hand side).  OK – I know there are lots of answers to that second one – the feminist answer; the noble, or ‘sword hand’, answer; the ‘Adam’s Rib’ answer.  But I felt fine with the mild evasion as offered – it, too, was true, even though superficial.  It triggered a ritual sequence: one of these kiddies is right-handed, the other left-handed, and they often tell me this.   Bored, I suggested writing with the wrong hand, and reached for a notebook and pen beside the bed.  (‘Is that your diary?’ – ‘No, just a notebook I write things in.’)  We had fun with that, but time was knocking on and their mother was due at ten.  I jumped up, followed by the dogs (who generally come with me to the shower), to hear a real stumper: ‘Why do you love books so much?’

The best response might be something like ‘How much time have you got?’  But what, dear reader, would you have said?  Take a moment now before you read on – bear in mind that you have at most one minute in which to think and speak before their thoughts will have flown off elsewhere.  After all, they don’t know when they have hit on a big question.

So I said: ‘You’re right.  I love books.  I think nearly everything useful that I know has come from books.  And [oddly faithful to my theme of the day] books tell me true things.’  Now – I know that I needed to modify that last one – but there is something in it, too.  Think of Bruno Bettelheim and The Uses of Enchantment if you believe fiction to be untruthful.  I didn’t mention their rôle as comforter, companion, escape-route, inspirer.  What would you have said?

Next, I said briskly, ‘I’m off to the shower’.

‘Why do you like showers?’  (Easy one – no thought needed.)

‘I like to start the day feeling fresh’

‘I don’t have showers.’ (He runs interference a lot – another no-brainer.)

‘You’re fine – you had a bath last night.  See you in five.’


Later, tap tap, their mother came for them.  The nine-year-old said (among other things, of course): ‘And I got a DVD of The Witches.’

‘You got what?’ her mother said

‘The Witches’

‘The what?’

‘The Witches, Roald Dahl, you know.’

‘Oh – yeah – .’

I’m not convinced that the name was familiar to her, but maybe she was just thinking of other things.

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