From Fox Hunting To Cancer: Conversations With My Three-Year-Old

12/05/2017 12:32

Whichever side of the divide you fall, if you're a parent of a small child, the revival of the fox hunting debate is incredibly inconvenient.

"Bloody foxes", was the first expletive I ever heard my then two-year-old mutter. As a Londoner and a keen gardener, I can curse the scourge of urban foxes with the best of them. That doesn't mean I want their country cousins hounded - literally - and torn to shreds and it definitely doesn't mean I want my toddler to hear about it on the radio over her Wednesday morning Weetabix.

"Do all dogs kill foxes?" she asks me a few hours after the radio revelation, eyeing our docile Basset with new suspicion. "No. But some dogs are trained to hunt for them; like that's their job", I try, hoping to shut this down as quickly as possible. "If you live on a farm, foxes can be very annoying and some special dogs are really good at scaring them away" - at this point I can feel myself digging a hole not unworthy of Mr. Fox himself. "But must the dogs really eat them, dead?" comes the response; this innocent little girl unwittingly cutting to the heart of the debate.

A lot of our conversations have been turning to death recently. At three years old, Marnie's awareness of humanity's mortality has kicked in hard. I'm not uncomfortable talking to her about it; my family faced death in one of the most unimaginable ways when my big sister died from bone cancer aged just 28, so we know it walks among us. We are all painfully, beautifully and noisily aware of how lucky we are to be here; to be living, loving, laughing, even dodging awkward conversations with inquisitive children, but we also know the realities of death and that is what makes me squirm when my daughter asks me about it. For death doesn't really look like how we package it to children: think Snow White sleeping peacefully after taking a bite of the poison apple or Sleeping Beauty resplendent in a painless slumber. We suffer the agony of childbirth because it brings unmitigated joy, but the only other comparable pain and indignity I have ever witnessed was in the last days of my sister's life.

How to explain this to a child? The answer, surely, is not to. We should keep it quiet and hope, against hope, that they might live long lives never having to encounter this truth.

And so back to the foxes and why the details of their sad gruesome deaths unnerve me when they are broadcast for little ears to hear. I know these revelations are crucial to the cause but the realities of death don't just apply to hunted animals - it will be messy and humiliating and unjust for most of us, but we really don't need to tell the children that.

Do a good deed today: write to your MP to help keep the ban on fox hunting or make a donation to the incredible Bone Cancer Research Trust.

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CONVERSATIONS