Archive for the ‘storytelling’ Category

There’s an interview with Caroline Kennedy in today’s Parade magazine. She has a book coming out this month based on eight hours of interviews historian Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr. conducted with her mother Jacqueline Kennedy.

Here’s the part that caught my eye and heart:

Did your parents read to you as a child?
My mom did when I was younger. I don’t remember my father reading to me, but I remember him telling me bedtime stories. I got to pick what was in them, and then he’d make them up.

Tell me more.
They were adventure stories. I had two ponies in them—one was black with a white star and one was white with a black star, and they were called White Star and Black Star. I could pick who rode the other one. Mostly I picked my cousin Stevie. [Now a business executive, Stephen Kennedy Smith Jr. is the son of Jean Kennedy Smith, the sister of John F. Kennedy, and the late Stephen Smith.]

Were you always the heroine?
Of course. [laughs] Well, would you want to go to bed thinking that Stevie Smith had triumphed over you? No! My father was spectacular at making up stories. And he used to tell me about a purple shark.

A purple shark?
Yes, he said there was a purple shark that used to follow the Honey Fitz [the small presidential yacht]. It liked to eat socks. My father would make people throw their socks overboard, and they’d disappear. He’d say, “See? See? Did you see the purple shark? He ate the socks!” And I’d go [gasps like a child], “I don’t really see him. Oh, oh, I think I see him! Look, the socks are gone, so it must have been the shark that ate the socks!” Those stories were fantastic.

An amazing and lovely reminder.  The stories we create and tell our children — no matter how simple, no matter how fantastic, no matter what they are — have incredible power to make an impression that lasts a lifetime. I’m especially taken by the reminder of how to create magic with stories by bringing a part into action like JFK did with the socks.

Read the full article “Courage, Strength, and Dignity: A Conversation with Caroline Kennedy” at parade.com.

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Story Dessert

LP seems to have inherited my sweet tooth.

She’s a very open-to-experiences eater (she loves sushi and thai but sadly not indian food), so as long as a decent amount of real food has gone into her, I’m up for her enjoying sweets in modest amounts.

I enjoy surprising her with special dessert treats every once in awhile.  Often I make small food sculptures with frozen fruit and various kinds of chocolate chips. Sometimes I arrange faces on the plate. Recently I had the inspiration to add a story to the mix.  Her (and my) current favorite is Panda on the Mountain.

The “recipe” varies although it always includes a red gummy panda perched atop a mini-marshmallow. Tonight’s version (pictured above) included 4 mint chip trees, 4 ginger chip rocks and a blue sprinkle river with one large chocolate chip under the marshmallow.

As I bring it to the table I tell her a short story about the panda’s adventure from her home to the top of the mountain.

This is food to play with!  LP and the panda slurped up the blue sprinkle river together and she played with the panda all over the plate while eating the other elements; she even wrapped the panda up in her napkin for a nap.  When it was time to finish up, she chose to put the panda in a little container rather than eat her so they could play again at tomorrow night’s dessert.

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LP is in love with never-ending stories.

These are made-up stories that are always “to be continued…”  At least five times a day, she says, “Tell me the rest of the story.” She has latched on to them as one of her top procrastination techniques at bedtime; as I reach to turn off the light, she pipes up “No, that’s not how it ends.” (Anything for a few more minutes before sleep). In general, I see her request for the “rest of the story” as a cue that she wants to connect (except for that obvious bedtime ploy).  I like that idea she has…there simply is always “a rest of the story” to be told.

The story she likes for me to tell revolves around her dog friends (including her in her dog persona of Honey Muffin).  ImprovDad’s story involves a bunny named Snuffles and a horse who lives underground named Flutter.

I have a little story envy because Snuffles and Flutter seem more interesting. The stories LP wants me to tell about the dogs are INCREDIBLY REPETATIVE!  The dogs get muddy, someone gives them a bath.  The dogs go for a walk in the woods and have a dog party with kibble cake. Then they get muddy and have to get a bath.  Sometimes when the dogs are muddy, the mud dries and they get stuck as mud statues until someone comes along and gives them a bath (sense a theme here?).

I’m curious about why I get so restless with the repetition in our made-up stories when I’m pretty willing to read the same book 4 or 5 times in a row.  Is it because of my own expectations of what a made-up story should be?

LP is incredibly joyful about these stories and I think focusing on that in my impatient moments will help. She loves incorporating any new dogs that we meet. All of the stories involve my brother’s family’s dogs, Kjarni & Lucy so it is sweet to get to include the family in the stories too.  Sometimes I ask her about what comes next, sometimes she offers up ideas spontaneously and sometimes we act out parts of the stories.

I’ve been trying to get LP to tell me the “rest of the story,” an idea that she has firmly resisted.  Until this morning when she actually told me (most of) a story to wake up to (a precious extra few minutes lying in bed – heaven!).  AND it had new elements in it!

In this morning’s story (a summary not verbatim), Lucy woke up early and went downstairs by herself. She went past the teepee and cousin A was in it making s’mores. Lucy went in and A made her a s’more with kibble instead of chocolate because dogs can’t have chocolate. Then Kjarni woke up and went and jumped on Honey Muffin’s bed to wake her up and all the dogs went downstairs together.

I’m sure later today we’ll be telling “the rest of the story…”

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So says the Little Person.

At almost 5 am. After crying for hours. Really since 2:30. All those minutes ticked by very slowly. It reminded me of the bad old days when she regularly had meltdowns in the middle of the night. ( I am grateful that these are increasingly rare.) It has been an emotional week and  I know that she’s working through a lot. So as the time went by, I tried to stay compassionate and put my sleepy energy into being gently present and holding and breathing. Easy but wearying. I was so relieved when she did calm down and tearfully whispered, “Tell me a story.”

I wasn’t even sure I had the energy to tell a story. I just wanted to get a little sleep. I took a breath and began, “Once upon a time…”

LP burst into tears, “No, no. Tell me a story and make it a GOOD story.”

It is a funny thing to think about what “good” means at almost 5 am.  The first things that come to mind are about creating a rich, detailed world with compelling characters and an interesting story arc.  No way can my overtired brain do that. No. No. No. No.  That’s what starts repeating in my head.

Deep breath. Because even in that moment of “no,” I know that isn’t what LP is asking for.   She’s asking for a story that is familiar and comforting. She’s asking for a story she can relax into. While in the moment, I don’t know what the exact elements of that story are, I trust she and I can figure that out together.

In the end, I told her a simple story about two bunnies, Violet and Simon (characters from a favorite book), and their dog Lucy. She chimed in occasionally to keep the story on the track she wanted which was a very ordinary day story.  The story helped her settle down and transition from her upset state back into sleep.  Nothing exciting about it. No adventures. No big upsets or triumphs. It was a bare bones kind of story that described an ordinary day.

So having been rescued from having to achieve my version of “good,” the story was done and then we got a tiny bit of sleep.

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Yesterday the Little Person and I were looking at photos and videos on my computer.  She was particularly interested in the videos and we had a great discussion about the difference between pictures which are still and videos that movie.

I asked her if she wanted to make a movie and she said, “Yes!”

When I asked her what she wanted her movie to be about, she had many ideas. One was to make a video of Mei Xiang and Tian Tian (the pandas from the National Zoo in DC) eating honey off of a crate.  We had seen photos of that at the zoo in a part of the exhibit about how the keepers engage the pandas.

Here was a choice point.  The jump-ahead, say yes me was ready to go and cast some of her stuff pandas in the roles of Mei Xiang and Tian Tian and grab the camera to start filming them with a crate in the backyard.  Yet, I had a moment of pause. Was that the story that LP wanted to tell?  And if yes, was it important for the story to be preserved and not to worry about which medium we used to tell it?  We could make a picture book of the pandas playing either with our own drawings or photos…or LP might come up with a different way to tell the story. So first I needed to find out, what was it that was capturing her imagination — the story or the medium? And of course, the pace of the storytelling needs to be LP’s and not mine.

When given the choice of making a movie with “pretend” Mei Xiang and Tian Tian or writing and drawing the story, LP chose writing and drawing without hesitation.  AND she was ready to get down to business telling a different story. She narrated and drew (and art directed me doing part of the drawing) while I wrote.

Here’s a picture of the final story on LP’s easel.

It is about a grandfather clock named Goldie (along with her love of pandas, LP has a thing for clocks. Goldie is what she named a grandfather clock that was at a party we went to in December.)

The text reads:

Once there was a clock. It was my grandfather clock. There were jewel blossoms in his garden. More clocks were scattered around him. He tickled their tummies.  Goldie splattered paint all over the hills. Goldie scrubbed away the paint and a big splatter here.

(The “here” is followed by an arrow which points to where she was scrubbing with a scrub brush while I wrote those final words.)

Sometimes creating a story with a little person is about jumping onto the production of it and other times it is about taking the time to let them get to the story they want to tell.  I’m glad I had the vision of making a movie together (which we’ve never done with much intention) and I’ll tuck it away as an offer of how to tell a story on another day.  This day’s story was a tribute from LP to a clock she loved meeting.

LP and the grandfather clock, Goldie


This post is a part of this weeks “We Play” over at Childhood 101. Click on over for a bevy of play ideas for little people.

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What Else?

This might be one of the most simple story games ever.  I overheard ImprovDad and LP make it up as they were hanging out before bedtime last week. I think it all started when LP asked for a story. It went something like this…

ImprovDad: One you know or made up?

LP: Made up.

ImprovDad: There was once some paint. What color was it?

LP: Green.

ImprovDad: The green paint spilled and got on the floor.

LP: What else?

ImprovDad: and the ceiling.

LP: What else?

ImprovDad: and the cat.

LP: What else?

ImprovDad: The cat tried to lick it off and said “yuck!”

LP: What else?

They went on like this for a long time. First exploring the cat’s feelings about the green paint experience and then moving on to the next thing and exploring that, all with LP asking “what else?”  Then ImprovDad turned the question back on her.

ImprovDad: Now its your turn…what else?

LP: Why?

ImprovDad: I made up a lot of things and so now it is your turn. What else?

LP: There was paint on the car!

And they were off again.

I love how simple this is. So often I am tempted to make the process of storytelling and co-creation complicated and the truth is simple is not only easier, it is also very satisfying. It turns out that “what else?” is a lovely question to expand a story moment…either to provide more color or move on to the next plot point. That question communicated to ImprovDad, that LP wanted more and led to a playful (and long) story interaction.

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I wrote this one back in November and never hit “publish”…so here it is now:

As a new improvisor, I remember being awed by how quickly experienced improvisors created stories and brought them to life. They were just so fast. I certainly could never do that.

As I became more experienced in working with stories and re-engaged with the joy of making things up, I started to learn how quickly my own brain worked to create stories AND how one of the many challenges of co-creation is to simultaneously allow stories to blossom in our imaginations and to discard them in response to what someone else says or does.

I became fascinated with the process, with how we are storied creatures. This is what humans do; we tell stories. We are made for it. Our brains are wired for it. If someone asks you to use the words cow, spoon and river in a sentence, you’ll do it by creating a very brief story. I immediately see a cow floating down a river with a spoon around her neck. That’s what my imagination offers me. I’m  curious about that image…I’ll have to see where that story goes.

As a drama therapist with and interest in narrative therapy, I’ve had many opportunities to explore how stories function — both to hurt and to heal — in people’s lives, including my own. Again and again, I’ve reawakened to that early improv-based discovery — we create stories fast.  Improv has helped me become more aware of the process and also the rate at which we discard our imagination’s offerings because they are not good enough, funny enough or some other reason. (Really? A cow on a raft on a river? That makes no sense, there’s no story there.)

As a parent, sometimes my story-ing is wonderful and helpful at imagining what might be going on in LP’s world.  Other times it gets in the way.  When I don’t realize that I’ve created a story about her experience and am missing her expressing her actual experience, we are often bound for a clash or a visit to tantrumville.  Truly, nothing sets off my girl like the phrase “I know…” even if it is something I do know is true for her.  She is sensitive to that turn of the phrase and I think the meaning underneath it — that I already have a story about her that explains it all.

A recent life example:  LP had her first dentist visit last week.  She was a trooper and for the most part pretty curious and engaged. Until the tooth polishing. She tried to climb out of the chair so fast it was hard to catch her.  After a bit of coaxing (and  a promise of a red balloon), LP was willing to lie on top of me on the chair.  The dental hygienist said (and I echoed) “It’ll go real fast” and LP fought her hands away protesting.  It took some work to help calm her down and then LP said, “NO. Not fast, slow.”

Oh. Yes. That is her telling her story, expressing her needs. I would want it to go fast so of course that was the story I told myself about what LP wanted. However, LP is different she wants it to go slow. And with the dental hygienist going slowly she was able to have every tooth polished and when it was over, she seemed quite proud about that.

Our innate story ability is a beautiful, amazing thing AND as parents who have such influence over our little people’s worlds it is important to take moments to check-in and see if the story we have about them matches their reality.

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