catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 6, Num 16 :: 2007.09.07 — 2007.09.21


A story before bed

I have an admission:  I often use storytelling in a didactic manner to serve parental purposes.   

For the last six or seven years, my husband and I have told a bedtime story to our daughters.  Usually he-of-the-MFA-in-Fiction-Writing gets away with re-telling a true, or strained-through-the-eyes-of-memory true, story of his childhood and growing-up years.  For some reason, though, I almost always have to tell an entirely invented story.  Typically this is when I am nearly asleep myself after a long day, in the half-dark, yawning, waiting for that second wind to hit—not at the peak of creativity.

I don’t know how it started, but I began making up stories featuring one of our daughters and an imaginary friend of their choosing (for one the name was James, the other Robert).  Perhaps to stretch the story out a little bit on a night when the story line was a bit thin, I added our home address onto the beginning “Once upon a time” lines.  A few nights later, I included our phone number too.  I was feeling a bit guilty: what kind of a dumb story teaches your kids in such an overt manner?  It sounded like I had used the “mail merge” feature and inserted relevant information into a story template! But here was my two-year-old, and she already had learned both her address and phone number in a reeeally painless manner.

Additionally, I began using the nightly story to address any number of different issues through the story line du jour: starting a new school, learning how to tie shoes, taking care of a pet.  Long ago our oldest daughter, though she loves fantasy, did not want these stories to be in that vein, so all “James and Robert stories” turned into realistic fiction, with the girls solving problems at the beach, in school, in the grocery store, in backyard forts, and more.  Often the girl/daughter character shows great traits—bravery, generosity, forgiveness—in the face of danger, need, or unkindness.  Sometimes I tell stories in advance of an event filled with some uncertainty, such as going to the dentist for the first time. Sometimes, when we need a laugh, James or Robert will exhibit unbelievably gullible, thoughtless, or ignorant behavior temporarily before the circumstances (or often, the girl) would set him straight.  I often take requests about what the story should be about; some nights I get an entire outline, some nights it’s up to me.

Are these stories great literature?  No.  I probably wouldn’t even check them out of our library in our biweekly bagful of good books, but in our family they fill a need for a certain kind of predictable, encouraging story…a nice tradition before bed.

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