what’s the story?

Griffin is hard for me, right now.  I mean, hard.  As I’ve heard happens with thirds, he has done everything earlier, faster and fiercer than the two before him.  Walking, running, climbing, troublemaking. Yep.  And including giving up his naps.  Please, child, can I just tell you the beauty of a nap?  Since months before his second birthday the dude has not napped, and I don’t see this changing in the future.  Are you kidding?!  I can still count on Renee to conk out at least once every few weeks.  Sigh. Our evenings are hard.

The upside to this, though, is an early bedtime.  I mean early.  The boy gets manic when he’s tired, as the other two do, too, a study in perpetual motion.  Last night, it was hard enough to control his Tasmanian devil craze until 6pm, and there was nary a sound as I closed the door behind me.  Boy is TIRED.  And an early bedtime for Griffin means some time with Grant and Renee that can be more focused, less chaotic.  We can play Candy Land without threat of the pieces being tossed on the floor.  We can play Go Fish and not have to play 52 Pick Up at the same time.

Their favorite, (and mine, too) these days is to break out the Story Cubes.  If you don’t know Story Cubes, let me just tell you that it is a set of nine dice that are illustrated with a different picture on each side.  There are many, many ways to play, but the most basic, and therefore the easiest and most gratifying for the four- and six-year old is to just shake them up, roll them out, and tell a story using the pictures as a spring board.

To no one’s surprise, Grant and Renee each have their own way of doing this.  Grant is very methodical.  He looks at the pictures that he has, thinks it through, and orders them out the way he wants.  When he’s good and ready, he’ll make sure that his audience is, too, and dive in with precision.  It’s all about the plot.

Renee, on the other hand, just dives right in.  There is no forethought; no concern about the order of the pictures.  Her stories may circle around a bit more, touch on one picture a couple of times, before landing back at the end.  She reacts to the plot twists, as do her characters.  And there is dialog!  “The door to the castle was locked.  The boy says, ‘Oh no!’ He wanders into the woods, then climbs a tree. ‘Why is the castle door locked?’ he asks his mom.”

They take turns sharing the spot light, each basking in their own creative autonomy, and the undivided attention of the audience.  Both methods of storytelling are a brilliant display of imagination, of personality, of problem solving and critical thinking.

***

It may seem a little late to reflect on my word from last year, but here I am.  Last year, the word “story” floated above my head like a thought bubble in a cartoon.  I worked out each misstep, each adventure, each heart swell, each struggle as a tale to be told. I told the stories of family folklore, histories written into the character of who I am.  I looked for the bigger narrative in my life – the story that was made up of the building blocks of my everyday, that was greater than the sum of it’s parts.  I sought a story written into the mundane, the ordinary life of raising a family.

The pieces of my life were like those Story Cubes.  They would tumble out, helter-skelter on the kitchen table, and I tried to make sense of them, to order them out to tell some kind of story.

Having spent a year like this, I see a few things differently now.  I can tell you that in choosing one narrative I was not choosing another.  When the dice tumble out, only one surface is facing up.  But there are other pictures on those cubes still, pieces that are part of my life, still part of my story.  But I overlooked these pieces.  It was not the story that I was telling.  It’s easy to get seduced by something dramatic that looks like the main plot, only to realize it was merely a subplot and I’ve missed the whole point of it all.  Sometimes a story actually isn’t bigger than the sum of its parts.  I have forced a morality tale when there wasn’t any there.  I have pushed the corners of a story, rounding them out to make them fit into something that it wasn’t.  Sometimes there are faulty narratives, things written out long ago in history, that need to be rewritten, a new narrative set in place.

***

The dishes from dinner are loaded into the dishwasher, and the music is on quiet in the background.  The lights are low, the way that I like it in these winter months, reflecting the natural tendency towards hibernation.  A candle flickers, casting moving shadows on the kitchen counter.  The Story Cubes are rolled out onto the table, but this time we take turns, creating one big story.  We move around the table, each picking a cube, lining it up next to the one before it, adding layers to the story.  Renee, Grant, Mark and I – we each take a turn, adding our words carefully to the ones offered before.  The styles are obviously unique, each voice having a moment at center stage before passing the baton to the next person.  The story becomes delightfully absurd, unpredictable and beautiful.  It builds in ways that are impossible without the bolstering of the story before it.  This building and braiding of all of our voices and stories together into one – this is my story, too.   Delightfully absurd, unpredictable and beautiful.

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