RAISING ELLE
Childhood Stories More Enthralling Than Any Book
by Martinique Davis
Sep 12, 2011 | 1393 views | 0 0 comments | 7 7 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Every night, as part of her bedtime ritual, Elle makes this request: “Mommy, tell me a story from when you were a little girl.”

She’ll ask Craig the same, and I’ve wondered why she is so fascinated with hearing these stories from our childhoods, night after night. A few stories here and there, fine. But a story every night? I’m running out of material.

“Once upon a time when I was a little girl,” it will always start. And then… I tell about the time a dressed my cat up in a baby doll dress and pushed him around in a stroller (I can’t believe that cat stood for that). The time at Girl Scout camp when we went horseback riding and got stuck in a lightning storm. The time I went camping with my parents and the watermelon froze.

It’s not like these stories are earth-shattering. They barely even fit the bill as stories at all, at least from a literary perspective (as in, a story with a hook for a beginning, friction or conflict for a middle, and a resolution at the end… take the cat in the dress chronicle, for example).

And, yet, the child hangs on my every word.

“What color was the dress?”

“Um, yellow.”

I have no idea what color the dress was, only that I had to throw it away afterwards since the cat shat all over it at some point in our travels. (I left that part of the story out… although, it certainly would have added the conflict component, wouldn’t it?)

“What color was the cat?”

“Yellow, with tiger stripes.”

I suppose a yellow tiger-striped cat stuffed into a yellow baby doll dress and sequestered in a child’s stroller paints an amusing picture. Yet it’s nowhere near as exciting as all of the stories she watches on television or reads in picture books, is it?

I mean, she’ll follow Dora the Explorer as she tracks down stolen friendship bracelets at the Great Wall of China, and travels along as Steven Kellogg’s charming mice become marooned on the Island of the Skog.

How, I’ve wondered, are my stories of cats in dresses and frozen watermelons anywhere near as interesting as these fantastical tales? Why, I’ve wondered, would she rather lay in her bed listening as I reach back into my cobweb-enveloped attic of childhood memories, pulling out stories that are as anti-climactic as frozen produce?

The conclusion I’ve reached on this front is that no matter the simplicity of the story, and irregardless of the other fictitious fables vying for a child’s attention, a story told from one generation to the next carries a certain irresistible allure.

In this culture of video games, television shows, and slick-glossed picture books, we’ve quite forgotten that the tradition of storytelling is how we give our children their identities. Our personal histories, shared through the stories we tell, weave a picture of the past for our children that is as unique and as fascinating as anything Dora could dream up – because it’s a story that is theirs, and theirs alone.

So while I’ll continue to struggle to come up with new material for Elle’s nightly story time request, I’ll resist the urge to tell her we should just read a book. Because by telling her a story, I’m sharing with her a deeply human tradition. Through the tradition of storytelling, we’re not just listening to other people’s stories, we’re also learning about our own.
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