Would you have told the truth?

A dilemma. And a story.

The story:

Once upon a time there was an enchanting little girl called Hat who went to the market with her big sister. They knew their mum was having a tough day because she’d recently moved to Outpost in middle of the African bush and was getting cross with intermittent power/water/internet connection, so they bought her a chicken to cheer up. Which it did; their mum laughed for the first time that day. They called the chicken Henrietta. The next day a kindly neighbour brought Henrietta a boyfriend in the hope of increasing flock numbers. And the day after that, Hat and her dad and her big brother and sister spent all morning building a love nest/chicken house for Henrietta and Arnold.

Two days later, Henrietta disappeared. Hat was distraught. She escaped through a hole in the fence, said her mum, and James – who helps her mum water the lawn she hasn’t got yet – has gone to find her, her mum told her. An hour later Henrietta reappeared, with a pretty brown friend who Hat christened Hilda. Hat’s mum secretly thought perhaps Arnold’s amorous advances were exhausting Henrietta so she had embarked on developing a harem, to give herself the occassional night off. She didn’t tell Hat that though, she told Hat that every girl needs a good girlfriend: this was Henrietta’s and wasn’t she clever to have escaped to find her and bring her home for some good girly company.

Hat – of course – was elated. And the chickens looked happy too.

We anticipate they will live Happily Ever After because that’s what happens when stories begin Once Upon a Time.

The dilemma:

I woke early to discover Henrietta was stone cold dead. I was distraught. Not for me but for darling Hat who has tended her chickens with great care and lavished attention and fine food upon them.

What will I do, what will I do? I wailed to husband who was trying to come to peacefully with a cup of coffee.

Ask James to go to the market as early as possible and buy a replacement. And get rid of the bloody body, he instructed (in manner of serial killer which alarmed me further).

James dashed off on Ben’s bike with instructions to buy one white chicken and one other. Any colour. But a chicken, not another rooster.

Hat awoke. Where’s Henrietta she said worriedly. Oh I said, crossing my fingers (for the second time in a week because I was lying through my teeth) she escaped through a hole in the garden fence, James has gone racing off to find her.

What hole? she asked (she is no fool, my daughter).

Oh. I’ve fixed it, I said (in my pajamas).

Hat looks doubtful (more at my being able to fix anything I think, than implausile story about escapee hen), but swallows my explanations.

James comes beetling back with two chickens in a black plastic bag: one white one, Henrietta Mk II, and one brown: Hilda.

Hat is elated. Look, Hat, I say: Henrietta brought a friend back!  Hat is doubly delighted.

I can hear proper mothers out there frowning. I can hear them telling themselves that it’s important to use such experiences to bring lessons about life and death to children.

Yes. Sometimes it is.

But sometimes it isn’t.

Hat doens’t need lessons about death: she’s had enough in the last three years. Her beloved Granny Neville died, her dear great uncle Robo died and her black labrador, Marmite, died. None of them could be replaced sadly – and certainly not with a clone from the market – and all of them were ill before they died, something Hat witnessed.

It’s not often – as a parent – you can make it OK for a child when a pet (and in the Outpost most creatures will count as a pet) dies. In this instance I could. I fabricated a story, pulled a couple of chickens out of a black plastic bag and began my daughter’s day with delighted chickles and happy disbelief. Instead of tears and heartbreak.

Thanks to her clever dad’s suggestion and James’ pedal power at the break of dawn.


7 Responses to “Would you have told the truth?”

  1. Tash Says:

    Pole, kuku…. just don’t tell the other two, otherwise, one way or another, little Hat will learn the truth one way or another. I remember Mum telling me, after he’d been missing more than a day, that my pusscat Perky had gone off to die – he was very old – and then learning later the neighbours had found him run over, taken him home and buried him and called Mum to explain. While I could live with Mum’s story quite happily – the truth coming back to me later was like a thump in my stomach – I’m still not sure why – whether it was because poor Perks had been killed by a car, or because I didn’t know and the young girls next door did, and they buried him, not me… etc… complicated!

  2. The Good Woman Says:

    Would I have told the truth? No. So if this incident makes you an improper mother, at least you now know you have company.

  3. Caught « Reluctant Memsahib Says:

    […] Reluctant Memsahib the diary of wife, mother and failed domestic goddess in Africa « Would you have told the truth? […]

  4. MisssyM Says:

    No- this dilemma is being repeated all over the place with hamsters, budgies,goldfish, rabbits etc. Why did you do it? My guess is because your daughter brought you Henrietta to make you smile and you just wanted to keep her smiling. Kids learn about death anyway, from the things you can’t easily replace. As you say.

  5. Roberta Says:

    I would have done the same thing.

    Then I would have sent the poor dead Henrietta to a local testing station to find out what killed her. (Bird Flu scares the life out of me/more than malaria).

  6. Post of the Week » Blog Archive » Shortlist for the week ending August 24,2007 Says:

    […] Memsahib – Would you have told the truth? nominated by […]

  7. OutThere « Reluctant Memsahib Says:

    […] generosity and joy”; I don’t think I’ve taught anybody anything new (except how not to raise chickens, perhaps). And alas I frequently fail miserably at the ”living life fully with genorosity and […]

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