(or, My One Saving Grace in My Inability to Interact with Small Children)
I’m at that age where my peers keep inexplicably producing offspring. To be honest, I guess I’ve been at that age for a while, but my closest friends and family have had the good sense not to engage in reckless baby-making, at least until now. In the past year, however, I’ve had one of my best friends give birth to a little baby boy, and I’ve discovered I’m going to be an auntie as well. It seems I can’t let my discomfort with these little imps continue as it was.
Now, to be fair to my own ineptitude, I’m still no good with babies. Try as I did, while handling my friend’s infant son, most of what passed through my head sounded like, Look at you. All you can do is drool, flail, and nod off. You’re like some kind of mutant slug creature that somehow inspires adoration instead of revulsion. OH GOD I’M SCARED I’M GONNA BREAK YOU! Here, back to your mommy before I do something wrong … However, now that the boy has mastered things like eye contact, giggles, blowing raspberries, and basic motor skills, I’m feeling more optimistic. You see, there’s one thing I think I could be awesome at. I am super excited about the prospect of telling these children stories.
These days, something about the act of being read to personally makes me cringe, but when I was a child, it was about the best thing ever. There wasn’t a huge selection of books my mother to read to me, especially since I was reading my own books pretty young, and I realized in retrospect that some of the stories she read got a lot of ad-libbing, but they were special nonetheless. I’m almost ashamed to admit it, but one of my favorites was some generic 1960’s Western boy-and-his-horse tale that belonged to my mom called Fury and the White Mare by Albert G. Miller. She would read me the whole thing with cowboy voices, and though I can’t recall most of the plot or characters, I do recall thinking it was pretty neat.
Of course, there were also the stories told on the spot, and sometimes those were even better. Sometimes they were anecdotes of my parents’ own pasts, sometimes they were paraphrased stories and fairy tales, but no matter what the subject matter, hearing them told on the spot from memory somehow made them more real and intriguing. Precious, too, because when I asked for the same story again, it was always slightly different.
That’s the part I’m most excited about. Reading to children is certainly important, but I feel like there’s a lot to be gained by both the kids and the adults when passing along a story from memory. Plus, the library becomes infinite! I can share fairy tales, fables, and myths, personal experiences, plots of films and video games (or spin-offs based on those stories and characters), or I can ask the child to give me a few things he or she wants in their story and just make it up as I go along! Sure, they may not always be the best, most technically competent stories around, but I have an audience who is basically willing to give me the benefit of the doubt, at least for a while. So, could my desire to tell little children stories be in part a way to bolster my ego by winning the praise of someone who doesn’t have the experience to know whether or not my stories actually suck? No. Shame on you for thinking that.
I don’t know if I’ll ever be a mother myself, and I don’t pretend to know the first thing about parenting, but storytelling is something I know and love. For now, I’m perfectly content with being “that lady who visits every now and then with all the cool stories” – here’s hoping that’s what I become!