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Parenting Perspectives: Storytelling, a family affair

“We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful about what we pretend to be.” – Kurt Vonnegut, “Mother Night”

Bedtime can be difficult at our house, as the children seem to have the same reluctance to say goodbye to each day as I do, finding many reasons to extend the ritual.

“But I haven’t had a bedtime snack” is where we start, and “but you haven’t told me a story” is where it ends.

After all, once teeth have been brushed, hugs and kisses exchanged, and assurances that we will indeed see each other in the morning when the sun comes up have been given, a good story is all that remains.

Human beings are natural storytellers. In fact, telling stories seems to be one of the unique abilities separating us from the lesser animals (the kind of story with a narrative arc and a compelling protagonist, anyway).

While we all come from a long line of storytellers, my children are perhaps especially prone to spinning yarns as their grandma Patty (aka Nino) has gigged as a professional storyteller for years and is a member of the International String Figure Association.

I have moonlighted from time to time as a storyteller and entertainer, and my wife helps people tell their “stories” in the form of resume writing.

My personal repertoire of made-up bedtime stories is constantly growing and changing. Some of my favorites include the story of the little girl who played hide-and-seek with the troll girl but never found her as she changed into a rock and stayed in that form for 20 years (which is not so very long to a troll, you see).

Other favorites include creation myths/Just So stories such as “how the bumblebee got her stripes” and “how the whale lost his legs.”

We have an entire genre of bedtime stories that I believe may be unique to our family, stories about the pinball arcade.

Our pinball arcade stories are borderline horror stories, wherein we have amazing games that seem to go on forever, but then something out of this world happens, like Rudy the Dummy from Funhouse comes to life, or Thing from Addam’s Family jumps out of the machine and finger-runs around the arcade.

Julia, our 4-year-old daughter, has been experimenting with fiction outside of bedtime stories lately. When asked what she did at her park program today, she may respond, “I was at the park with robot teachers all day, and robot kids, and they made me mop the floors all day long.”

Another kind of fictional story is emerging as well, the kind of story one tells when one wants to obscure what really happened. “Who put the gum on the blanket, Julia?”

“Well, there was actually a bird, and he actually found the gum outside, and he actually put it on the blanket.”

Oh dear, have we gone wrong as parents and over-encouraged storytelling? I think not.

Telling whoppers to avoid responsibility for one’s actions is not unique to young children, they simply need more practice shading the truth with tales of what may have occurred.

Lukas Brandon, a former stay-at-home dad, lives in Moorhead, where he parents his 7-year-old son and 4-year-old daughter with his wife.