Broken Record

July 18, 2010 at 9:49 am 2 comments

Without a doubt the single most common refrain that I hear from my children is: Will you tell me a story from when you were a kid? There are other fragments that pop up with more regularity, Mama? or, Can I… ?, or I’m hungry… but the most consistent request is for a description of something, anything, that happened before.

I am genuinely flattered and amused, Something about me?, and it is fun to reach back and find a little descriptive nugget to relate. Finally I have something to do with all the multi-hued illustrations that float through the nostalgic portion of my brain. I have stored pieces of information that seemed useless until now. The girls are satisfied with the most banal event, the presents I opened on my second birthday, for example, but if I can formulate a dramatic tale, preferably including pain, poop, or fear, their eyes bulge in wonder and their tiny thighs squirm with delight.

We’ve taken many trips to my parents homes, the same houses that I grew up in, so when a tale starts out:

Well, Aunt Emy and I were swinging on the swing under the big redwood when…

their ruffled heads nod, letting me know that yes, they know that tree. Or:

You know the steep stairs at Grammies house? Well we put a mattress at the top and …

their mouths open in a grin, they can picture the scene perfectly.

It’s deliciously fun for them to imagine their stepmom, or mama, as a young girl, and especially enjoyable to imagine their sweet Grammie, or gentle Grandpa sternly voicing objection to my disobedience.

But their appetites, my god. I have barely caught my breath after “The Time the Squirrel Bit a Boy’s Finger and Raced Into Our House to Hide” when they ask for another. Please? I pull out another oldie but goodie, “The Time I Used the Broken Toilet After My Mom Told Me Not To”, and they clamor for more. Our girls, if we let them, would watch the same movie more times than seems psychologically healthy, in fact it appears that the more times they have seen a movie the more they enjoy it, and the same is true for my childhood stories. But as a storyteller I resist repeating myself. I often start conversations with my close friends or even my partner with Did you read my latest blog post yet?, not because I am looking to drum up more page views but because I am about to talk about something I have already written about and deeply detest repeating myself. So when the girls chant insistently for another tale, instead of repeating a tried and true favorite, I scour the depths of my memory, walking the halls of my elementary school, the catalog of my owies or disappointments, looking for new material. It can be exhausting.

Sometimes I want to simply cook dinner, or manage a bowel movement in peace. Other times I want to use my personal brain space for my own thoughts, as a place to be alone in a crowded room, not as a stage for the evening entertainment. In fact the requests have gotten so out of hand, in my opinion, that I have been declaring official breaks from storytelling, and stashing bits of resentment.

Then I started the The Red Tent and my perspective began to shift. I have girl children. They are supposed to sit at my knee and learn our history. In fact, in the “olden days” when Bible stories were real life, if a woman reached the end of her fertility without bearing a girl she would anoint her youngest son as the heir of her stories. She’d excuse him from enough of the traditional role of boys to permit him time to open his little ears to her words, to her knowledge of things past. But what she yearned for, what all women yearned for was a girl, a vessel to hold verbal treasures.

I am not wrapped in tribal robes, squatting over a fire, spinning wool with my hands while I speak. I am stirring macaroni noodles, pulling a synthetic broom across hard wood floors, and chopping fruit for a smoothie. I am not describing gods and goddesses, the births of valleys, or the location of sacred trees. I am describing my parents, the births of kittens, and escapades to the drainage ditch. My tales take place on a neighborhood street in Santa Cruz, California, not the deserts and hills of the ancient Middle East, but I am biblical nonetheless.

I am a mother, like all mothers before me, whispering stories of love, pain, and adventure. Instead of seeing the hundredth story request as another intrusion, another task to tend, I now see it as a sacred ritual, a way to love my daughters, a way to pass history into gently cupped hands, and begin…

Well, we were in the backyard playing Native Americans. We loved that game, gathering berries and scraping acorns between rocks. I was the medicine woman and needed a wand, so I picked a stick and peeled the bark, using my teeth to make a decorative pattern. But later that night my face and eyes were really itchy, as it turns out… the stick I had chosen for my wand… was… POISON OAK!…


Entry filed under: life lessons. Tags: , , , .

mental collage Keeping With The Theme

2 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Lauren A  |  July 19, 2010 at 10:15 am

    Yes I remeber that game all too well. my sister and i used the red shiny leaves to WASH our faces!! I think I missed a week of school!

  • 2. kris laroche  |  July 21, 2010 at 9:06 pm

    i want to sit at your knee and be the vessel into which you pour your stories and history. lucky for me, sometimes i am.


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