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Saturday, March 5, 2011

Telling Our Stories


Long before I wrote stories, I listened for stories. Listening for them is something more acute than listening to them. I suppose it's an early form of participation in what goes on. Listening children know stories are there. When their elders sit and begin, children are just waiting and hoping for one to come out, like a mouse from its hole. -- Eudora Welty, American author


Have you ever noticed how eager our children are to hear stories of our own childhood? It seems as if they yearn to know us as we were, before they existed. We are their “in the beginning,” their creation myths, even when (as in adoptive or blended families) we didn’t actually create them. They see us as adults, they see us as people who successfully got from there (childhood) to here (adulthood) and they are curious how it happened. What is the story of how I became grown? The Anne Sexton poem Lisa shared a few posts back reminds me of this – those moments of courage from our past are our story, the record of our hero journey.
c. Yanni Raftakis, Dreamstime.com



In our house, the stories I most often tell of my own childhood and teen years have to do with “most embarrassing moments.” These are the stories that required social courage. In an era where physical courage is called upon less and social courage called upon more often, these are the hero tales I find myself telling. That they more often feature me failing in social courage makes them no less compelling for K. I try to inject these tales with as much comedy as possible, and make myself as much a figure of fun as possible, because how else to show that you can survive an embarrassment? Here I sit, alive and unscarred. Somehow I survived the infamous wetting-my-pants-in-the-snow story (there was steam), the blushful yesterday’s-underpants-creeping-out-from-the-cuff-of-my-jeans-at-school story, the cringe-worthy smelly-feet-during-play-rehearsal story. These and many others are requested again and again like sentimental ballads on an all-request radio station. I am commanded to tell these stories not just to my daughter, but to audiences of her friends as if they were edge-of –the-seat war stories of near misses on the front lines. The fact is that’s what they are. I think any parent could search their past for their most embarrassing stories and tell them with relish – slather them with juicy detail and groaning laments. Their cheerful willingness to share them is proof enough that the battle can be won and the hero can survive to tell the tale. “Some day, my child, you shall have a hearty laugh over this,” may be a difficult pill to swallow in the moment, but the stories will be reassuring evidence that it is true.

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