Tonawanda News — “Mommy, tell me a story.”
It had been a long day. Ain’t they all? My younger son’s question threw me out of the usual get-the-kids-to-bed routine, but since we often pick out a storybook at bedtime, it didn’t really surprise me. I’d just read his brother “Little Quack” for the estimated 12,000th time.
“Sure, buddy. What do you want to read?”
The child already has that I’m-not-quite-rolling-my-eyes-but-I-could-be tone down. I thought that didn’t start until at least 13.
“TELL me a story. A kingdom story.”
“A kingdom story?”
Mommy was not very quick on the uptake this evening.
“Yeah. A story with a king. And a castle. And that kind of stuff.”
He settled back on his Perry-the-Platypus pillow, content and confident that Mommy would come through.
Mommy’s mind was a complete blank.
I like stories. I love stories. I became a writer at an early age — not so much older than Sam — because I love to tell stories. I still do today, although now I tell real stories about real people, which can be even better.
But that evening, I was tired, and the ideas just weren’t clicking. So I fell back on the classics.
“Once upon a time, there was a little boy named Arthur ...”
Cribbing heavily from both the Disney “The Sword in the Stone” and the T.H. White novel from which it originated, I told him the story of a little boy who would be king, his quirky teacher and their adventures, concluding with the incident of the aforementioned sword in the aforementioned stone. He wanted to know what happened next. I told him it would have to wait. I’m a great fan of Arthurian legend with a fascination for the hundreds of versions, but I wasn’t going near some of it with a 12-foot pole when it came to a 5-year-old.
He kissed me goodnight, then settled down contentedly. Bemused, I turned off the light.
Where did that come from?
We’re all readers, here. Seven bookcases overflow in our house. My husband and I are avid readers — although not as much as we’d like to be these days — and the boys are working on it. In the meantime, we read to them. I avidly await the day I can sit down with the kids and open my battered copy of “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.”
But this is the first time I had a request for a story from thin air, as it were. I hate to admit that it unnerved me. Like many parents — I’m pretty sure — I’m beat by the time I’m tucking the kids into bed, and the only thoughts on my mind was checking to see if there were any M&Ms still hidden in the cupboard and wondering who might be on Facebook at that time.
Stories? They require thought.
At the same time, I liked it. I liked it a lot. There are many positive attributes I wish to encourage in my children, and imagination is near the top of that list. And how can I encourage it if I don’t show it myself? And, just maybe, I could do both.
The next night, it happened again. “Mommy, tell me a story.”
I settled next to him. “What kind of story?”
“Um. Another kingdom story?”
“A kingdom? Hmm. What about a queendom? Does it have to be a king?”
That made him think. Grinning, he allowed that a queen would be just fine.
We talked about what was so special about this queen — she was also a wizard, decided Sam — and where she lived. A castle, duh. No, a rainbow castle! A rainbow castle with a big moat. That had a monster in it. A friendly monster. Who liked eating seaweed.
Then, I said, there was a little boy in the story. Maybe he was blond, just like Sam. And he had blue eyes, just like Sam. And — gee! — maybe his name was Sam, too! The real Sam giggled.
Walking through the kingdom — queendom? — one day, the little boy decided to visit the castle. And what happened then, well, maybe you just have to finish the story yourself.
I don’t think we’ll make up stories together every night. It pushed things considerably past bedtime, though the kid was not displeased by that.
And there are still books to read. It is a joy and consolation to me that there will, always, be books to read. But some nights, we’ll just let imagination go, and see where it take us.
Even if it’s a rainbow castle, 20 minutes after bedtime.
Jill Keppeler is a writer for the Tonawanda News. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter at @JillKeppeler.