Thursday, December 1, 2011

Tell Me A Story

I love children's stories. The Velveteen Rabbit and The Very Hungry Caterpillar and Alexander who had a crappy day and even the Pat the Bunny, even though I was kind of disappointed when McGee had to point out to me that his name isn't actually Pat. I just thought it was a happy coincidence that you patted Pat the Bunny.

But it speaks to a larger problem that I have, and that is that I'm for crap at telling stories. I think I've read Goodnight Moon about twenty-eleven thousand times. Probably as many times as I've said the Pledge of Allegiance or sang Poker Face in the car. And yet, somehow, I have retained nothing but the first three lines.

In the light of the moon, a little --wait. Holy crap. This isn't even the right story.


In the great green room, there was a telephone, and a red balloon, and a picture of a cow jumping over the moon. And there were three little kittens and a bowl of mittens and...and...mush.

And then my kids are the ones telling me to hush, because I'm ruining their damn story.

And then there are the picture books, which you would think have the advantage of no words to remember, so you can just make up a story as you go along. "Here's Jack, and he seems to really like this yellow outfit he's wearing. Oh, and apparently he has a little monkey -- let's call him Grover Cleveland. So, anyway, Jack is a scientist, and Grover Cleveland probably helps him with his research..."

But nooooooo. The next time we get out this particular book, which is probably a year later, I'm supposed to remember that Jack was in the middle of the cure for cancer and that Grover Cleveland was -- training for the Olympics? Really? I said that? And then the children, particularly Happy, get these looks on their faces like "what is wrong with this woman?"

In my telling, Finklehopper Frog makes it out for his jog, but forgets to stop by Mrs. Chimpanzee's store now he's committing a Class C Misdemeanor by streaking through town. Next book: Finklehopper Frog Goes to Juvie. And poor Santa never made it back up the chimney with the twinkle of his eye and finger up his nose or whatever, so now we've basically kidnapped a jolly man in red velvet and the roof is starting to smell.

A few weeks ago, I was sitting at my desk working and Happy came inquiring.

Happy: Mommy, you have a job?
Me: Yep. I sure do.
Happy: What do you do?
Me: I tell stories.
Happy: [looks both confused and alarmed] [shakes head and walks away]

[Editor's note: Kate is very modest but I'm not. I'm super proud of her and you should know that hotshot in high heels is a TV news producer. So technically, she produces stories while she tells them. xo, Lydia]

Soon after, Happy stumbled across his baby album and brought it to me, asking who this baby was that Daddy was holding. I said it was the Boy with the Red Hair and Freckles. And then he sat in my lap for three albums as I weaved a story of the boy who "surprised and delighted his mom and dad by being a boy..." and "took his first bath in the kitchen sink and was so angry that he howled like wolf at the moon..."

Two days later the book was on his bedside table, and he asked -- almost hesitatingly -- if I would tell him the story again. And we slowly flipped through the pages while I recited the tale of the Boy with the Red Hair and Freckles. At the end, Happy patted me on my cheek and said, "You said it just right!"

McGee and Lefty wanted in on this too, and brought their own albums -- The Girl with the Eyes Like the Ocean and The Boy with the Big Round Head. And we snuggled on Happy's bed and I told stories of the shock and surprise when McGee turned out to be a girl and not a boy like we expected, and who loved to wear colanders on her head and shoes that didn't match. And how the world stopped and waited and prayed when the Boy with the Big Round Head was born because he would not breathe...would not breathe...please baby, breathe...and his mommy's eyes filled with tears as she waited...and there was nothing but quiet, quiet, quiet...and the room filled with sadness and no one would talk because no one wanted to say that sad thing out loud. And right as the hope was slipping out the windows and under the doors, the tiniest of tiny cries, a cry that would never have been heard if there had been one other sound in the world, peeped out of the Round-Headed Baby's mouth.

And, sitting in rapt attention were those three little faces.

Happy: Was the mommy very scared?
Me: Oh yes.
Lefty: Because she had made that baby from scratch?
Me: Yes. And all she wanted to hear in the whole world was that tiniest of tiny peeps.
McGee: How long did she wait?
Me: Too long...

The next night, I was reading a book on the sofa and they appeared, their books in tow. McGee got to go first this time, and they heard about the shoes of two-kinds and the bowl on her head that her hair would peek through, and that she'd run outside fighting dragonflies. And when the sun would shine, her eyes would be as deep and as blue as the place where the sky meets the water.

And then we read the story of the boy who could howl like a wolf at the moon, and who had magical freckles that appeared like pops of popcorn across his face, and if you follow them from one side to the other, you can almost write his name. See? Not every boy has his name written across his face, and his mommy knew as the freckles appeared that she had given him the perfect name.

And then they brought out the book of the boy with the Big Round Head, and huddled closer, knowing that very happy things sometimes come right after very sad things, and that if you're so very quiet and listen carefully, you can hear the most beautiful sounds in the world.

At the end, Happy looked up and said, "you tell these stories really good, Mommy. You didn't forget anything!"

You're right, little man. These stories, the stories of you. These are stories I know. By heart.

Oh, and the one about Pat. Good little bunny.

(c)Herding Turtles, Inc. 2009 - 2011

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