Tell me a story!

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Inspired by my fellow blogger, Leslie:

“Tell me a story!”

This was one of my children’s first sentences. And even before they could speak they could crawl or toddle over to the low bookcase where we kept the children’s books and pull them all down into a big pile. They would sit in the middle of the pile and look through the books. Sometimes they just seemed to be looking at covers, or at random pages. And sometimes they would pick out one book for each hand and make their way back to me or my husband and hand us the book with a pleading look in their eyes that clearly said “Tell me a story!” Each of my three kids did this, and the amazing thing is that they are far enough apart in age that none of them saw the others pulling down the books. It was more like a deeply ingrained genetic/instinctual thing. Like baby birds leaping from the nest and somehow figuring out they could fly.

Each of them had their own favorites like “Danny and the Dinosaur” or “Gus the friendly Ghost” but there were some that had so much crossover appeal that I had them memorized. On days where the youngest had kept me up all night and the six cups of coffee the next day still didn’t keep me perky, I could settle into our comfy reading chair with a pile of these familiar books and tell the kids they should hold the book and turn the pages and I would ‘read’ it. I could lean back, close my eyes, and recite the book from memory while in my semi stuporous state.

I actually discovered this power during a road trip. We often travelled by car at night so that the kids would just sleep and not be so stressed by long stretches confined in one spot. It also was a nice quiet time when my hubby and I could talk. We had time to get through the daily living conversations and move on to news of the world and even life goals, dreams, religion, ethics, philosophy…… We had some great car ride conversations. Before we left for the car the kids would be fed, clean diapers put on, snuggled into warm PJ’s, a story read, and then carefully tucked into their car seats and we would hit the road.

On This particular night we had been visiting my parents and in the flurry of kisses and goodbye hugs we did not read a story to the kids. We all piled into the car and headed down the pitch black country road. We would be on this dark, dark road for hours. My oldest, who was now about 5 years old and able to keep himself awake by sheer will power, got tired of looking at the stars in the sky and the dark amoeba like shapes of the passing trees and bushes. He started the familiar refrain of “Tell me a story!” I realized that I had packed all our story books into the suitcases which were in the trunk of the car. I explained this to S1 and started to make up a story. He frowned and said “NO!” He wanted his familiar bed time stories. I explained that even if we stopped and got the books out of the suitcase that I would not be able to see the words to read them. S1 felt this was no excuse for not having his bedtime stories. And of course, once the big brother wants a story, Everyone wants a story! Quickly changing tactics I said “Oh look! I DO have the stories here! I will read them to you now, but it’s so dark you won’t be able to see the pictures. So close your eyes and imagine them.” They all sweetly scrunched up their faces in their best imagining pose and waited. I took a deep breath, closed my eyes and imagined the pages too. I started to “read”…..”Big bird is yellow, big bird is making something yellow. Elmo is red, Elmo is pulling something red……….” I could feel their bodies relax and their breathing slow to a steady pace. My confidence built and I moved on to other stories. “In the great green room there was a telephone and a red balloon…..” By the time I got to baby bear peering down to the basement and seeing his grandfather ‘feeding the dragon’ (Frank Asche’s “Milk and Cookies”) they were sound asleep. The gentle rhythmic breathing filled my car, punctuated every once in a while by little baby snores.

As the boys grew and started to read more on their own we discovered they needed glasses. My memories of my own loathing of my glasses made me worry that they would resist wearing them or ‘loose them’ (as I often did) so they wouldn’t have to endure the torture. But I was wrong. Hubby also wears glasses and I think seeing him in his glasses combined with the fact that now they could actually see the words made it all ok. They looked very sweet and studious in their new glasses.

Years later we moved on to ‘chapter books’ and then they started to read at bedtime on their own. I missed reading to them at bedtime but was so proud that they enjoyed reading enough to make it part of their daily routine. And we would have lively discussions about the plots and characters in their stories. The boys often shared books, recommending them to each other and then having their own little book club like discussions. My daughter, the embodiment of independence and determination at a very early age, did not want to be left out of this game. She was only 3 years old. My mother ran a school with a pretty extensive dress up section which my kids loved to raid.

One evening my daughter showed up with her own glasses. I knew they were from Grandma’s dress ups because they had the name of the opthamologist’s office etched in the plastic lenses to show they were a showroom sample. D put on her PJ’s, donned her glasses and crawled into bed. She brought with her a leather bound Harvard Classics edition of King Lear with print so small and dense even I would need magnifiers to read it. I asked D if she wanted me to read one of her favorite picture books to her. She looked at me sweetly and said “No thanks, I’m reading myself!” For a moment I wondered if she really was reading, or at least working on sounding out groups of letters. Then I looked more carefully at her book and saw she was holding it upside down! I guess her very active imagination filled in all the gaps because she spent a good ten minutes looking at that upside down book, slowly turning the pages and shifting her head as she scanned all the words. 🙂

Now they are becoming young adults and share their book choices with me and hubby, not just each other. S1 likes thriller/mystery type books with a good CIA or espionage sub plot, S2 loves sci-fi fantasy, and D loves fantasy as well as a good coming of age type story. They are hard to keep up with they read so much! When we travelled several years ago to Ireland S2 brought three books in his backpack. They were each over 600 pages long and we would be away for only two weeks. I thought that would be enough. HA! When we left his backpack was crammed with the 10 extra books he had picked up along the way (and read all of).

So to prepare for out trip to China we came armed. We let each of our children bring the 20 books they swore they could not live without. Then we bought a nook for S2. We also have an iPad loaded with the nook app, the kindle app, and the ibooks app. Some of these companies can’t/won’t sell books to you if you are outside the USA so we have had to seek out places to get real paper books. In Shanghai we saw there was a monthly book swap (at a bar!) but I have taken the kids and it has been a life saver. We are going home for Christmas and I plan on loading the nook up with lots of new books for the coming winter months.  We are all looking forward to spending winter days with a big pot of tea and a good book.

What have you read lately?  let us know and tell us if you recommend it.  We will tell you our favorites in future posts.

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2 responses »

  1. Lovely as always! I’m currently reading “Everybody Was So Young: Gerald and Sara Murphy: A Lost Generation Love Story” by Amanda Vaill. It’s not new, out in ’95 I think. I’ve always been fascinated by the Fitzgerald/Hemingway Paris expat scene. You may enjoy it, now having an expat’s perspective.

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