Tell Me About Me: Stories Kids (and Grownups) Love to Hear

Both our daughters love when Stanton or I read to them. Lately, Anna especially has been requesting more and more time with books. She’ll pull one book after another off a bookshelf…stack them all into a tall, teetering pile…and then call, “Mom! Dad! MOMDADMOMDAD!”

We’ll hurry over. Anna will point to the pile. “Read all my favorite stories?” She’ll add a smile; we’ll sigh.

One afternoon, after reading for forty-five minutes or so, I felt my eyelids begin to droop. Many parents have found that reading to their children helps lull them, the kids, to sleep. For me, reading to Anna lulls me to sleep. I closed my eyes. “How about,” I suggested, “I tell you a story?” Telling a story—something I could do half-asleep.

Happily, Anna agreed. “Tell me about me!”

Kids love to hear stories about themselves, don’t they? Actually, we all do. So I began telling Anna the story of when she was born.

The story of when you were born—everyone’s personal favorite.

“I was so happy to see you,” I said.

“Mom gave me kisses,” Anna added. “Smooch, smooch!”

I’ve told her this story before, many times, and she loves it as much as I do.

“Yes, I kissed you so much,” I confirmed. “Then I gave you some milk…”

“Then I had scrambled eggs…”

My eyes blinked open. “What?” I started laughing. I had never said that, and obviously, Anna had not eaten any solid protein minutes after birth.

Anna frowned at me. “Stop laughing, Mom.”

“Honey, that’s not true. I did not give you scrambled eggs.”

“Yes, you did!” Now Anna was yelling. “I had scrambled eggs! I had milk and scrambled eggs!”

I could tell we weren’t going to be able to have a rational conversation. (This may be one of the hardest parts of parenting small children: dealing with wildly irrational behavior.) “If you say so,” I said.

Anna nodded. “Milk and scrambled eggs,” she said. “And Grace sang to me…”

I picked up with the story. “Yes, Grace sang ‘Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star’ to you when she met you…”

The story of when you were born—everyone’s personal favorite.

In telling a story, have you ever had to change it? To finesse the facts, so to speak, in order to move the conversation forward, as I did with Anna? Or, as my husband would say, lie?

(I don’t like to say lie…)

Storytellers—especially when they answer to “Mom” or “Dad”—are not court reporters, or accountants, or any other kind of official record keepers. And in family life particularly, we narrate these scenes of shared history not to develop a personal Encyclopedia Britannica, but to revisit and remember milestones and more everyday moments alike—all the occasions that make a family just that: a family.

The upcoming holidays will be prime time for family storytelling. At dinner tables, or on couches in front of TV’s showing a football game or animated movie, or wherever else we might gather with our loved ones…we’ll tell (actually, we’ll re-tell) the memory of, “That time when…”

If we’re lucky, we have lots of “times when.” Even if we wouldn’t have considered ourselves lucky at the time…every time was an experience. Every time became a story. And taught us something about life, or love, or surviving. Our “times when.”

Handprints 11-15-17

What stories do you re-tell holiday after holiday, year after year, so much so that everyone knows the punch line (but wants to listen anyway)? That feeling of being part of a history, of being known, is, simply, awesome. And more often than not, it makes any holiday stress worth it.

For those of us who celebrate Friendsgivings, or help serve holiday meals at soup kitchens, or spend the holidays in less traditional ways…storytelling probably appears on these menus too. We can’t help but make connections, or make sense of our lives, through stories. “To be a person is to have a story to tell,” said author Isak Dinesen.

From when I was growing up, and even now, I remember telling a story and then glancing at my sister, who’s seven years younger, to add, “You weren’t born yet.” Today, Grace does the same thing with Anna. We’ll be talking about Grace’s first birthday party, or first time flying on a plane, and Grace will inform Anna (not always graciously), “You weren’t born yet.”

To have not been born yet—to have missed out on that story in your family’s history—it’s the plight of youngest siblings everywhere, isn’t it?

Anna, as I’ve shared, has a flexible sense of history, and reality. So, bless her heart, she’ll often retort to Grace, “Yes, I was! I was born yet!”

(Luckily for our youngest siblings, they’re often the hardiest of us all.)

The truth is, the stories we tell—the way we remember things—they’re all imperfect. The details can get fuzzy in our memories…so we do the best we can in relaying those facts. And things don’t always start when we think they do, or end when we stop talking…stop telling the story.

Beginnings and endings can be just as permeable as our memories. Just as arbitrary. “There is no real ending,” according to Frank Herbert—“just the place where you stop the story.”

That feeling of being part of a history, of being known, is, simply, awesome.

What matters, I think, are the people. The people you were there with when the story unfolded in real time. The people you’re telling the story to now—the people you’re sharing the memory with.

When those people are the same—when you’ve been together, and stuck it out, since way back when—you’re lucky, friends. You’re lucky to have had family or friends along for so much of your journey: shotgun riders to your stories. And one day, you’ll be glad they’re there to help you remember the punch lines, and color in any details that you missed.

The people in the stories are what matter. Family. Friends, both old and new. People who passed through—people whom we miss, maybe—but to whom we feel gratitude for the wisdom they left us.

We shouldn’t stretch the truth too much, in the name of a good story. We should try to keep the facts straight. Anyway, a good story can stand on its own legs.

One day, I will tell Anna there were no scrambled eggs in her delivery room.

Photo credit: Pixabay

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Like what you just read? Then check out Melissa Leddy’s newest short fiction e-book, “What Happens Next.” A story that’s heartfelt, relevant and can’t-put-it-down good.

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Book Review: The Cuban Affair by Nelson DeMille

The Cuban Affair Book CoverIn my high school history classes, I remember learning about Mesopotamia (the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, fourth millennium B.C.); the Magna Carta (England, 1215); and World War I. In college, I took a course called Greek and Roman Values to satisfy my history requirement. I didn’t get much formal education regarding current events post-November 11, 1918.

This is why, in large part, I enjoyed Nelson DeMille’s new novel, “The Cuban Affair” (September 2017), so much. I learned so much intriguing history about Cuba, and the international politics surrounding it, in DeMille’s work of fiction.

DeMille traveled to Cuba as field research for this book, and he wonderfully incorporates the local colors and flavors from that trip into “The Cuban Affair.” As I read this book, I really felt Cuba. DeMille engaged all my senses with his descriptions of the climate, architecture and overall feel of the Caribbean island nation. Also, I didn’t realize how close Cuba is to Key West, Florida: just 90 miles.

I really enjoyed learning about Key West too. As always, DeMille gives his main character, Mac, a former military man, a wry sense of humor. (I don’t think you can write a Nelson DeMille book review and not use the word “wry.”) I loved Mac’s wry description of his bar hangout in Key West, occurring early in the novel: “The place was starting to fill up…Freaks, geeks, loveable weirdos, and a few Hemingway look-alikes. He used to live here, and you can see his house for ten bucks. You can see mine for free. Bring a six-pack.” These words helped me see the scene Mac inhabits, and gave me a sense of Key West’s laid-back, quasi-Lost Generation vibe.

I found Mac to be a fairly well-developed character. I appreciated his social-cultural reflections on Maine, where he grew up, and his current hometown of Key West, along with his perspective on military life and, by extension, Afghanistan. Mac struck me as a man who had been to war, as his character was intended. Two examples of Mac’s reflections: “Close by was the Zero Mile Marker for U.S. Highway One, the literal end of the road that started in Maine. I’ve had a lot of profound thoughts about that, usually fueled by a few beers,” and “Portland, though, was a good place to grow up and it’s a good place to grow old. It’s the years in between that are a challenge to some people.” (Pretty deep, right? I found myself reflecting on my own “years in between.”)

At the same time, Mac seemed older than 35, the age he was supposed to be. That’s pretty much how old I am, and some of his character behaviors (or lack of behaviors) didn’t ring true to me.

For example, Mac didn’t have cell phone service in Cuba. Shouldn’t that have driven him crazy? Not being able to text, not logging in to Facebook, not playing Hearthstone? Also, Mac goes out of his way to make snide remarks about novelist Richard Neville, who is a thinly veiled fictional version of Nelson DeMille (I love how DeMille made the last names similar!). DeMille may have been having some fun with his storied alter ego, but it was hard for me to believe Mac really would have cared enough about Richard Neville to prank him with a sweaty Hemingway T-shirt.

Much of the plot of “The Cuban Affair,” once Mac gets to Cuba, depends on a series of circuitous events happening. All these events—from hoped-for encounters to code words to restored Buicks—seem a little convoluted. None of that bothered me, though, because I so appreciated the taste of Cuba and U.S./Cuban history that DeMille serves up in his engaging story. I believe, though, that you need to read this story with some suspension of disbelief. Don’t think too critically about the practicality of the various plot points, and you’ll enjoy it.

It’s a fun story, overall, and funny too. Later in the story, the anti-Castro Cuban “godfather” Eduardo explains to Mac, “‘Almost all Cubans believed that the Castro regime would not last more than a year. That the Americans would not allow a Communist country to exist off its shores’”—to which Mac sardonically considers, “Why not? We’ve got California and Vermont.” I laughed out loud, friends. Why not, indeed?

As an aside, I liked the cover design. I thought the turquoise background featuring red palm trees, one of which showed Mac’s boat, correlated beautifully with the story. Turquoise brings to mind the Florida Keys; red signals Communism. The bright color palette stands out from DeMille’s previous books, many of which present darker, more ominous palettes (“The General’s Daughter,” “Plum Island,” “Up Country”).

I have read nearly all of DeMille’s books, and “The Cuban Affair” is one of my favorites because, to me, it felt fresh and different. I also sensed the hours upon hours of research DeMille had put into this Cuban adventure, and I appreciated that a lot. “The Cuban Affair” is a worthy read.

Photo credit: Simon & Schuster

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Like what you just read? Then check out Melissa Leddy’s newest short fiction e-book, “What Happens Next.” A story that’s heartfelt, relevant and can’t-put-it-down good.