Tell Me a Story

There's nothing more heartbreaking than your child taking an active interest in your childhood. It shows that she looks up to you and admires you. And then you remember that the admiration will stop abruptly on her tenth birthday. This then leads to heaps of guilt as you wonder why you're not appreciating this moment enough or why you're not basking in the warmth of pure, sweet love. The timeout you gave her an hour prior seems mean spirited and cruel. 

Darla, at six, has recently been asking me to tell her stories from when I was her age.  This is actually a huge relief as our relationship transitions away from the vapid, space-filler questions she used to ask, such as "how old are you?" I find this way of communicating much easier. This question, on the other hand, has also led me to feel very disappointed in myself as a mother.

First, her interest is so pure and easy to satisfy that I feel terrible hiring sitters and doing anything in my power to get away from her and her brother for a break.

Second  for someone whose greatest passion is talking about her childhood, I find telling Darla stories about my childhood to be surprisingly difficult. As I scan the landscape of my mind, I see nothing but a wasteland of hard-knock lessons that I don't think Darla is ready to hear. Do I tell her about how my dad thought I drew a picture of a penis when it was actually a chef when I was six? Or is she ready to hear about how I got slapped by a skinhead on the same night I lost my virginity? For some reason, my favorite stories to tell seem a tad too mature for a six year old. 

Third, my greatest challenge when faced with the obstacle of oral storytelling is overcoming my debilitating self-doubt. As I speak, I start to hear myself speak and then my mind wanders to the very real possibility that what I'm saying is either incredibly offensive or makes it very clear that I'm a fraud. This thought process makes telling stories off the cuff challenging and nearly impossible, even when it's an audience of one sex year old child. 

This is why I stand in our kitchen, holding a bag of frozen broccoli, and stare off into space. As I made dinner, an activity that fills me with so much anxiety that I find it difficult to hold up a conversation, Darla asked me to talk about my childhood. She sat at the white kitchen tables, swinging her legs and eating a pre-dinner snack that I gave her because I didn't have the energy to argue.

As I dumped the frozen broccoli into the pot of boiling water, I mentally filtered through all my favorite stories and rejected each one because each one contained content that wasn't appropriate for a six year old. 

I persevere, however, and find myself telling Darla that simplest, boring story that popped into my head. 

"Well," I said, taking a deep breath to give myself a moment to collect my thoughts. "One time, when I was six, your grandma brought my brothers and sisters to the mall to buy us clothes. My mom left the kid's section where the toys were to find clothes for your Aunt Bridget, who got to shop in the big kid section. She told your Aunt Erin to watch me, but she only watched me for about five minutes before she decided she wanted to go somewhere else. She told me to go with her, but I refused because I found a stuffed bear that I was really excited about. After a few minutes, I realized that I was actually alone in the store and got really scared. I walked about to the cashier who let me sit behind the counter while she paged my mom. I played with the hangers until my mom got there."

I was completely ashamed of the story with its complete lack of anything inspiring or interesting. It was simply a retelling of facts. The story was heavily edited and so simple that the telling was over in a matter of seconds. I disappoint myself and begin to question my abilities as a story teller. 

I looked over at Darla, expecting her to throw herself on the floor and have a full blown tantrum because my story was so awful. I was surprised to see that a small, satisfied smile had spread across her face as she popped a veggie stick in her mouth. 

"Tell me another one," she says with a laugh. 

"Oh man," I said, breathing a bit more freely now as I realize that she's not that difficult to please. "Let me think..."

And, again, I'm stuck. I stare at the ceiling wondering if she'd like to hear about the time I got caught shoplifting CD's for my friend and was grounded for a month.