a new ritual

I am not a storyteller. I do not regale my children with enchanting tales that have a beginning, middle, and end. Rather, I am more of a conversationalist and lecturer. If something happens to me and I want to tell someone else about it, I regurgitate it all, in a rush, splat. There is no weaving, no crafting, no plotting. Therefore, it is a rather odd coincidence that I have fallen into the habit of telling my baby a story every night before bed.

It came about quite by accident. One night when I went upstairs to tuck the kids in to bed, my littlest grabbed me with his big blue eyes and said, all sweet-like and pleading, “Mama, tell me a story about when you were little.”

So I told him about the time when my dad woke me up in the middle of the night but it didn’t seem like the middle of the night because everything was lit up with a weird yellow-orange light because a gas line had exploded a few miles away. It felt like the whole town was out and about, and we walked around talking with the neighbors just like Atticus and Scout and Jem did when Miss Maudie’s house burned down (though I didn’t include that last part in my story).

And wouldn’t you know, that pleading question is now the first thing he says to me every night when I walk into his room. So I curl up on the bed beside him and rack my memory for something interesting. As I start to talk, his breathing slows and his body stills. His eyes fix on my face, and he listens for all he’s worth. I can actually see him listening. When I finish—and the stories are no more than a minute or two long—he smiles, sucks in a big breath like he’s coming up for air, and giggles. He always, always begs for one more story.

A week or so into our new routine, he asked me to retell a specific story. “The second one you told me,” he said. I was surprised. Was he keeping a mental list of the stories I told? I asked him to recount the ones I’d told him, and sure enough, he could correctly identify story one, two, three, four, etc. I was impressed. For whatever reason, these random memories I’m dredging up to appease him with are sticking in his noggin.

I doubt he could keep the stories in order anymore, though, there have been so many. Usually they’re just bits and pieces of my past, like the time one of our rabbits chewed off my Barbie’s hand, or the one about how I put our neighbor’s chubby dog on an aggressive keep-up-with-me-while-I-ride-my-bike-around-town fitness plan when I was just supposed to be taking it for a little walk every day, or the time bear tracks were found in the swamp below where I waited for the bus on dark school mornings and how I was too scared to go to the bus stop by myself anymore. Others are more well-rounded stories, like when my dad chased the joyriders out of the creek, or when one of our rabbits abandoned her litter and we tried to keep the bunnies alive in the oven (total fail). In every single case, no matter how fragmented the memory, he acts like I just gave him a piece of the moon. Which makes me wonder: is story telling more than just the sum of its parts?

In any case, I’m slowly, very slowly, beginning to see this new ritual as an opportunity and not a chore, and sometimes (but not often enough) I think about the story ahead of time. Once in a great while there’s even a beginning, a middle, and an end.

This same time, years previous: orange-cranberry bread, smashing for pretty, chocolate pots de creme, feminism part one


  • Michelle @ Give a Girl a Fig

    Catching up on your blog…this might be my favorite post ever…maybe one day you could even write them down. Sweet..

  • Jennifer Jo

    Margo, I'm glad to know I'm not alone. Funny thing is, I don't remember asking my mom for stories…

    Shirley, No, chatty time is when we talk about our life or whatever. These stories are very specific. They take my brain energy.

    Mavis, Just to keep them warm, you know. I guess they needed more than a heat lamp? Huh, now I'm not sure why they were in the oven. Ask my dad.

  • Margo

    oh my holy cow – MY son has started asking me for stories every day, several times a day!! It came out of nowhere (I think – is there some kind of seismic shift going on in little brothers??). And my stories, like yours, are such little ragtags of my childhood, sometimes even composites of events and so rarely with a climax or even a POINT. But Ben loves them and begs for them! It's wild. I have always admired storytellers, so I should start sharpening my skills and thinking ahead like you 🙂

  • SortaCrunchy Megan

    Storytelling IS more than the sum of its parts! ABSOLUTELY! For centuries, our human souls were fed on oral tradition. It is so, so important. I love the way you tell about telling stories. You ARE a storyteller, you know. Don't sell yourself short there.

    And I, too, love it when you can SEE them listening. It's so magical.

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