Bedtime routine at our house is not for the weak. Until recently the normal routine consisted of 6 books (and we’re talking substantial Dr. Seuss length books) and 2 stories. When this routine was conceived, the “stories” were the usual suspects: we rotated between Three Little Pigs, Goldilocks and the 3 bears, Hanzel and Gretel, and Little Red Riding Hood. But then, not surprisingly, after at least a year of hearing them repeated nightly, Hannah tired of them.
“Make up a new story, a really new story, from your head.”, she’d request.
It was a challenge. It is a challenge. For a while, Hannah wanted to be a super hero in all of the stories. We named her “Rescue Hannah” and each story was about her rescuing a different person. It held for months. But she remembered THEM ALL and any sort of repetition she blew the whistle on. And then she (and we) got bored of all Rescue Hannah stories. Done. No more. My brain started to hurt. I started DREADING bed time for fear that I wouldn’t think of an entertaining enough story, a long enough story, a new enough story.
We started giving Hannah a choice, books or stories, confident that she’d choose books, the bookworm that she is. Surprisingly, without hesitation, she chose stories. Every night. So books at night have gone by the wayside. And oh my god, the stories will be the death of me.
Last week I told her a story about a pair of sneakers who were sad because they wished they were high heels since it seems high heels get to have all the fun. High heels get to go to fun parties, dance, have clean, buffed feet inside them. Sneakers get stinky feet, get run through mud, get pounded on the cement, get dirty. So they raised riot in the closet until they convinced the high heels to step aside so the sneakers got a chance to go out for a fancy night on the town. But after the sneakers got their day in the spotlight, they realized that they missed the mud. Missed the beautiful days at the park and disliked the other high heel shoes they met at the parties. So, they decided to be happy with the life they had.
Impressed? Feel free to use it in your next story telling with your child. Could you do this EVERY NIGHT? You know you don’t envy me. I’ve also told stories about giraffes befriending worms and having a hard time since they can’t really see each other. Fish who want to see what it’s like on land, tigers who want to explore the beach, and on and on.
This week, I decided enough was enough. I just couldn’t do it anymore. I didn’t want to dread this wonderful, peaceful, special time of day with Hannah each night. So I told her that I’d make up a story 3 nights a week but the other nights, I’d tell her a story about my childhood. Luckily, after a few minutes of pondering the idea, she gave me the green light.
I’ve had three nights now of telling stories about my childhood (finally the point of this post is approaching…) and it’s been special for both of us. I’ve told her about my first swim meet when I was five, and how I loved to swim but I was incredibly slow and not only came in last place but by the time my fingertips touched the wall, everyone else was OUT of the pool and wrapped in a towel. I told her about the time when I was 6 and I was swimming at Sea World with my mom, and how we were talking to the strangely uncomfortable life guard who wouldn’t make eye contact with us and then we realized it was because my mom’s bathing suit was down around her waist and her “boobies” were showing. I told her about my 9 year old birthday party at Rollerland.
Unfortunately, what this new approach to story telling has NOT been is EASY. I am realizing that I sadly can’t remember very many specific stories to tell her, at least of my youngest years. I am realizing that my memories are like snippets of stories, images of my past. And I’m also realizing that many of these snippets and images are only there because I have photographs of these times. And so I’m not even sure if the memories are in my head, or the images from the photographs are making me THINK I remember them. Thankfully, my parents took hundreds of pictures throughout my childhood, so even if I don’t remember the specifics, the pictures bring back parts of the memories. It makes me wonder how much I’d recall without these prompts.
The strongest memories I have from my childhood are the things that happened routinely. Things that became tradition. Today certain smells and sounds evoke very strong emotions as I recall how they were a part of my childhood. When I hear opera, I am brought back to wonderfully relaxing, quiet Sundays in my home where my dad played his favorite operas on the record player while golf was on the TV in the background. I am unable to listen to opera without imagining my dad asleep on the couch, and my mom reading or knitting while I colored on the floor and my brother built a model airplane.
We used to cook Fondu growing up for special occasions. Birthdays, New Years, random Saturdays when I didn’t have a babysitter put me to bed. We’d sit around the table cooking our raw meat and dipping it in the delicious sauces my mom had prepared. My dad would make virgin Pina Colatas. I still think of these nights when I have a (not-virgin) Pina Colada on the beach.
I also have unbelievable crisp memories of our family summer camping trips. A week in Cape Cod, 4 of us in a pop-up camper that we pulled for six hours behind the family Volvo. We’d arrive at our camping site, crank up our “home” for the week, pull out the beds and settle in. We rode our bikes to the bathroom and showers. We cooked over a small grill amongst the pine needles and sap (that smell, I love that smell) most mornings and some nights. We washed the dishes from a small tank of water that we had to savor for fear it would run out and force my dad down to the showers on his bike to fill it up again. We biked to the beach. We played ping pong with other random campers at the “lodge”. We roasted marshmallows. We lay by a dim lantern at night and read until our eyes closed for the night. It was here that I learned to love the hammock. It was where I learned to take an efficient 2 minute shower because my quarter would only give me that much time. It was where I learned to love “roughing it”. We could have afforded more I’m sure, but it was the peacefulness, the quiet, the close (very very close) family time that my parent’s sought. And I remember it all. I don’t have pictures of it all. I just remember it… because it was special. Because it was tradition.
These memories are the ones that are imprinted hard and fast in my brain. And I find myself today, worried. Worried that I have this responsibility on my shoulders to create and cement memories for Hannah and Luke. Am I taking the right pictures of the right occasions so that even if the memory isn’t completely remembered at least the snippet will be there? What traditions do I want to start (should I already have started them?) so that i’ll be sure years from now, after we’ve repeated them year after year, they’ll fondly pull them forward as happy family memories? Should I take a picture of Hannah and Tim outside Dunkin Donuts so that in 20 years we can say, “see, you went there EVERY Saturday morning together!”. Or do I just rely on the fact that the special times, they’ll stick. That the ones that matter, they’ll always be ingrained in their heads.
I just don’t want her lying in her child’s bed, 30 or so years from now, struggling to come up with stories from her childhood that can accurately portray how happy those days were. Or maybe she’ll be lucky enough not to be forced to come up with these stories in the first place.