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.”
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
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.