Emily and Phoebe

Friday, December 14, 2007

The End of Innocence (Part two)

A whirlwind of thoughts races through my mind. Chief among them are: a) This was not the way this conversation was supposed to go and b) I am an idiot. Why couldn't I just have lied? Or fudged the issue and left her to work it out for herself. I really did think she knew, though.

What I have to do now is to try and retrieve the situation by somehow accentuating the positive (if not completely eliminating the negative). I just need a moment to pinpoint where exactly the positive is in this situation. Not in me having ruined all her Christmases past, present and future, that's for sure. Think, Paul, think.

OK, I have an idea: "Think how wonderful it is, my darling, that every year mummies and daddies spend all their time looking for presents for their children just to make sure they have a happy Christmas. Isn't that even better than Father Christmas?"

She looks at me as if I am mad. "You don't understand, Daddy. It's not just that Father Christmas doesn't exist, it's that you lied to me." Hmmm. I suppose I can understand how she might see things that way. Perhaps I can put some spin on that particular interpretation of events. "We didn't exactly lie to you my love. We just didn't tell you the whole truth!" She stares at me, but says nothing. I think she is offering me a chance to explain. If only I could find the right thing to say. Come on Paul, this is your chance. Say something. Say anything. I open my mouth but nothing comes out. Concentrate. I screw up my eyes. "Well my love," [this is it; I've started;] "the truth is" [come on, come on, the moment is now] "you never actually asked me the question directly, before."

Oh, yes. Excellent, Paul. So it's all Emily's fault. For not asking the right question. Even to myself (and with the best will in the world) I sound like some corrupt or incompetent junior minister trying to wriggle his way out of a grilling by Jeremy Paxman or John Humphries. Except that I am not being harried by a journalistic rottweiler but (supposedly) trying to comfort a heartbroken eight-year-old.

Luckily (!) Emily is too upset to register this disgraceful attempt to pass the buck back on to her. "But I believed in Father Christmas," she says, "and now I can't." She is looking away from me, too proud to let me see how hurt she is. "What next? Will you suddenly tell me that the Tooth Fairy doesn't exist?" She turns to face me again and, as she sees my expression - enchantment (at her idea of the Tooth Fairy being the absolute bedrock of belief) interrupted by horror (as I realise that whatever I say will only make things worse) - she lets out what can only be described as a howl and buries her face in her hands.

I should point out that the above conversation took place during the summer. I am not (quite) so stupid as to have this particular discussion so close to Christmas Day.

I am also pleased to report that Emily recovered from this double blow more quickly than might have been expected. Indeed, it was mere hours before she was steering any and every conversation round to the topic of Santa Claus, so that she could pointedly pronounce the words "Father Christmas" while simultaneously holding up her fingers in ironic quotation marks.


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