Our Lives

Stories tighten family bonds

CorrespondentFebruary 3, 2009 

My daughter is poised to become the next Great Communicator.

At 20 months she is having her language explosion and talks nonstop, and I am getting no rest. She follows me around the house, waving her tin cup and saucer shouting, "Tea! Tea!" until I stop and take some pretend slurps -- ladylike sips do not suffice for this child. Pleasing me with her ability to construct German-like sentences, my daughter pleads with me, "I wanna cookie make!" For my little girl, language is proving not to be a way merely to express ideas or interests, but a way to boss us around.

My 3-year-old son, however, has recently realized the amazing capacity that language has for storytelling. Whenever there is the slightest lull in conversation, he is apt to pipe up, "Tell me a story about a fire where there is no crane, but it's in the mountains in the summertime and there is a dog." My husband and I find ourselves trying to run Google searches in the blank hard drives of our minds, but repeatedly coming up empty.

While it's easy to groan each time my son asks for another story, I am touched by this request because what he's asking for seems so primitive. He doesn't want to watch a DVD or read a beautifully illustrated picture book. He wants to hear our voices and to connect with people and events in the past, even if they are greatly embellished, if not completely fictionalized.

The more he asks for stories, the more creative we have had to become. My son is particularly interested in rescue stories this week, and during our recent snowy days and nights, his dad has been telling him stories of Shackleton and his Antarctic exploits. Since I don't have the memory for historic names and dates, I draw my stories from my childhood. I spent an entire shopping trip at Target telling my son about the explosion of Mount St. Helens and how I visited there when I was a kid and how it looked so much different when I lived near it as an adult.

I like this connection to the past, this passing on of inane but personal stories. My husband's family, in the grand Southern tradition, loves itself some stories. Spend enough time with them and good stories come pouring forth. There are memories of my husband's great-grandmother, the only person who could get him to eat collards and lima beans. Then there's the time my parents and my future in-laws met for the first time and my husband-to-be fell through a screen door.

Starting with my children's birth stories, I have been keeping a journal for them filled with the tiny (and often mundane) stories of their lives. If it weren't for the journals, how would I ever remember how my son used to crouch down and greet the ants on the sidewalk or my daughter's favorite sock-throwing game?

My memory is already proving faulty enough. Stories are the web that connects us to each other, and I like the idea of my children's children flipping through these journals written in my scrawl and reading about their parents as rambunctious toddlers. I like the idea of our daily lives being captured in all of their ignominious glory, and I like knowing that much of it will be fodder for laughter and joking and even for tearful reminisces for someone, someday.


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