A tale of lies and flies and thongs.

27 03 2013

I’ve already said that the girls were older when Jen and I got together and our families blended. It’s true … they were older, more sassy, more difficult and generally harder to read. Erica developed a strange and hitherto unknown capacity for lying, and Ella became one of those kids who would happily ping the strings and push the envelope, but would appear totally outraged if accused of doing so.

So … they were kids … and they were going through it, in their own, very individual ways.

There’s a quarry near to us, and next to it is a large lake. It is called, for the sake of anonymity, Something Pool. My ex-husband was driving Erica, Max and Vinnie by this lake one day when Erica announced that she had previously swum in Something Pool.

Max: No you haven’t, Erica.

Erica doesn’t turn round to face her accuser, but remains staring steadfastly ahead.

Erica: Yes I have.

Max: No you haven’t.

Erica: Yes I have. You don’t know.

Max: That’s rubbish. You’ve never swum in Something Pool.

Erica: Yes I have!

Max: So why didn’t I know before?

Erica: Because I kept it a secret!

At this, Max, aged six, falls about laughing.

Dad: Don’t tell lies, Erica.

Erica: I’m not lying! I have swum in Something Pool!

She begins to cry at the sheer injustice of it all.

The thing is, nobody swims in Something Pool. It just isn’t done. And when you add to this one of Erica’s other memorable untruths,  that she’d heard on the news that a man had turned into a fly, you get some idea of where her head was. Well, I say that, but if you do, you’re closer than I ever got.

Ella didn’t tell lies like that because she didn’t need to. She was the boss and the others played along accordingly.

It wasn’t long after we got together that we took the four of them out to a sandwich bar. We thought it would be a nice treat. They sat together, a little bit away from us, because the place was pretty full. Soon, we realised there was an ‘atmosphere’. Whenever we looked round, everything seemed fine. They were engaging with each other. But every now and then there’d be a quick silence followed by a short but noticeable group giggle. This didn’t feel right.

I got up and went to their table.

Carol: What’s going on?

All four look mortally offended.

Ella: What do you mean?

Carol: There’s something going on. What is it?

All four of them: Nothing/don’t know what you mean/ why are you always accusing us?

Carol: I know something is going on.

She continues on to the Ladies.

A couple of minutes later it became clear when I returned from the Ladies to find them all looking intently at a customer sitting at the table to the left of theirs. In full view, as this customer leaned forward, the top of her thong was exposed. At the very moment I caught on to what they were doing, the poor woman did too.

I froze in mid-return. The whole thing took a second or two but felt as long as it takes to get Max to do the kitchen recycling. The woman had clocked it and looked as humiliated by them as I felt (although it has to be said: she could at least go home childless).

We left that building in some haste.

Jen: I give up on you, Ella. That’s disgraceful behaviour.

Ella is most put out, striding down the road with that ‘I don’t know what the fuss is all about and I’m not hanging around to find out’ air.

Jen: Come back here!

Ella doesn’t turn round.

Jen: Ella, I’m warning you!

Ella turns, but keeps walking.

Ella: Why are you having a go at me?

Jen: Because what happened in there was disgraceful and you are quite clearly the ring leader.

Ella: What? I’m not the ling reader!

She runs across the road to the toy department store.

Ring leader … ling reader … who cares? Somehow, that lady’s shame was avenged. It didn’t matter if the others heard, or understood. It mattered that we heard and we understood,because we could laugh at Ella’s mistake, and get rid of the pent-up shame and embarrassment the kids’ behaviour had caused us. From that point, we have always laughed at the children. Rightly or wrongly, we have never held back from a good old belly laugh on occasions of their (within reason) misfortune. It helped us get through those early years, and still does.

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