Why I Tell Stories

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Once upon a time there was a girl who was in a hurry to grow up.  She wanted to be independent.  She wanted to be and go and do.  And most of all, she wanted people to take her seriously.  Naturally, she did grow up, as you do.  She went to college, traveled, got married, got a job, and was as grown up as she had imagined being.  She was surprised at what she discovered in grown up life.  She found that being independent was only fun with other people around to share it.  She found that, very like childhood, what she wanted to be was happy, where she wanted to go was a place in her imagination, and what she wanted to do was share a Slurpee with her best friend.  In the end, she even found that she would like people to take her a little less seriously.  That last discovery gave her the freedom to say out loud some of the things she had been thinking all her life, to make believe with other people and not just inside her head.  Which was, of course, the moment she was truly grown up.

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Once upon a time there was a brand new mother.  Her little tiny baby was precious and wonderful and wanted to be held and talked to every moment of every day.  This mommy loved her baby, but day after day the baby just lay there, looking extremely cute but not actually doing anything interesting.  The baby grew.  The mommy’s love grew, too, and so did her boredom.  The baby wanted her mommy’s attention, so there were very exciting breaks.  The baby wanted to play with little toys, which she pushed back and forth on the floor in the world’s most boring way.  The baby’s eyes sparkled, but her conversation skills were distinctly lacking.  The mommy began to feel that she was going to lose her mind with all this adorable tedium.  Then she discovered that stories could save her.  She learned to read a book with one hand while building a block tower with the other hand.  She learned how to read a book while pushing a stroller.  Then another baby came along, and she learned how to read a book while feeding a toddler with one hand and bouncing a baby in a chair with her foot.  Then when things got really crazy, she learned how to think out stories in great detail so that her mind could roam free in open spaces while her hands changed diapers and pushed swings and folded laundry.  Which is how the endless round of duties began to feel less like serving a life sentence and more like truly having a life.

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Once upon a time there was a mother with three beautiful, intelligent, charming, headstrong, emotional, intense and overwhelming children.  When they were still quite little, her life was full of the drama and misadventures that only extraordinary little people can bring.  A simple drive to the store would result in a (not so) well-reasoned argument about why they should just keep going the two hours to Grandma’s house.  The time it took to make a box of macaroni and cheese was enough for a toddler to grow monkey arms and hang around the knees like an inconveniently-placed, shrieking backpack.  And God forbid simple grooming habits need to be cared for, such a a bath or the removal of tangles.  Life with the three children challenged every part of of the mother’s being.  In desperation, she turned to the thing that had helped her through all the worst moments of her life: stories.  When a comb was in hand, a story could be the difference between a little girl terrifying the neighbors with her screams and the occasional, inevitable, moan or yelp of pain.  On car rides of all lengths, a story could be the difference between a string of unending questions and a string of unending giggles.  And on long afternoons when older siblings had at last gone off to school, a story could be a difference between a fifteenth request for craft time and a snuggle on the couch.  So the stories grew, as stories do, and took on a life of their own, and soon the three extraordinary children began to invent their own extraordinary stories.  Which, of course, gave the mommy a break, and also delighted every part of her being.

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