I call myself a writer. Jon is an engineer. Our children—like all children—love stories. And in this family, one of us parents is constantly creating fantastical stories: full of magic and forests, dragons and fairies; the other tells tales of two little brothers who get lost in the woods or boring "mini-shorts" about animals who learn that it's awesome to be different, and it's important to be nice to people.
I am "the other." I suck at telling stories. (Jon rocks but who's comparing.) Sure, my brain churns out fiction but it tends toward character development. I've never really gotten very far with plot. That's why I've only dabbled in short stories and why writing a novel, even a really bad one, feels way harder than running a marathon. But even if I were able to draft a novel with a solid plot, it'd be fraught with family secrets... or it'd circle around one moment, one event, or one meeting that unraveled relationships, or saved a life. I don't know what exactly—but drama kids definitely don't care about.
Nevermind the topic or tone, anyway. Telling anything on demand, isn't something at which I excel. Particularly at the end of the day. I try. Tonight, I told Julian about a monkey who loves oranges and all the other monkeys make fun of him but his mom tells him that he is so special for loving what he loves and, because she and his dad and his brother collect bananas, the oranges make their dinners more colorful and delicious. This 30-second story was lame-ass and Jules told me so, nicely. And because he was super sleepy and because I actually am a good back rubber, I got off easy.
Not so with Kai. I started with a story of many dinosaurs. His request. This story was about a carnivorous dinosaur who'd decided to become a vegetarian. Kai demanded that I include a pterodactyl, an allosaurus and a "long neck." So I made the allosaurus, a carnivore, the star. Basically, he walked around looking for plants. I named all sorts of plants. I asked Kai to contribute. He added onions. Brilliant. So the plot became that the dinosaur had bad breath and his friends taught him to eat mint. Kai thought this plot lame. He was right.
"Tell me about the long necks."
"What should I tell you about the long necks?" This is what I do. I turn the tables, looking for interaction, or a team-effort exquisite corpse sort of story approach. It never works.
"Long necks are brachiosauruses, Mom," he says, exasperated.
I try my best to think of something, talking about the long-necked brachiosauruses looking for food in trees. It does not suffice. I offer a back rub.
"I want a stooooorrrrry!!!" Kai begins kicking me. For real. Kicking. And punching.
I literally am incapable of producing an acceptable story. I tell him this. He keeps kicking and yelling. I leave, walking downstairs, telling him I won't listen until he can be nice. Moments later, he appears at the bottom of the steps.
"I'm angry at you, Mom." He snarls and growls. Literally. I laugh. He is not joking. This is serious—and I am fucking up. I get serious.
"Why are you angry?"
He runs up stairs, screaming—and sobbing, like his feelings are hurt. I follow. He reiterates that he is "angry at [me]" and turns away from me to face into a large plant in the corner of the hallway. I tell him he needs to talk with me about why he's angry, or to go into his room for some alone time (after he sits on the potty because he forgot to do that earlier and I'm sick of washing sheets... I didn't say that last part). After a bit more snarling and pouting he reveals that he's "very angry at me" because "he wanted more story and a snuggle."
We go back to his bed and I cobble together a tale about a beautiful girl with long green curls and purple basketball shorts. Her name is Sack (Kai's choice). She's sad because her brother is at school and so she has no one to play basketball with. She rounds up a bunch of insect teammates (reminiscent of those in James and the Giant Peach - I have no imagination). They walk to the court and... to be continued. Tomorrow, I'll tell the story of who they encounter there...
This story was incredibly lame. But Kai snuggled it all up with his "favorite blankie" and, with heavy eyes, started nodded off, satisfied.
I feel only defeated, a storytime failure. I'm sure there's a some sort of solution out there for unimaginative parents like me and I'm going to find it. And get more sleep, so that my brain isn't too tired to tell tales. Perhaps I should start reading books about fairies and dragons instead of ones about mothers dying of cancer. I could use a little more magical thinking, across the board. How 'bout you?