Path2Story Ch. 47 “What do you think happened?”

The other day, my son told me about what he saw in the dirt and trees. He said, “It was really strange Dad. Two ants from opposite directions ran right into each other. They continued until the first half of their bodies were both upright and their front arms knocked against each other.” Now, what we didn’t do was talk about scientific terms and conduct a review of events with an encyclopedia search etc. No, that was for school. I asked him what he thought had happened and why, and that’s when the adventures began!

First, as was typical for him, he went for warfare and described the ants as warriors locked in an epic duel. They met, as they always did at that hour, to fight over a bit of land they both claimed was theirs. With quotes of Gandalf’s, “YOU shall not pass!” mixed with Monty Python’s Black Knight, “NONE shall pass!”, the combatants entered into mortal combat! However, as my son watched, he said the ants paused and then moved around each other and went on their way. As cries of “Fly you fools!” and “I’ll bite your legs off!” faded in the background, the interaction of the ants brought a different scenario to mind.

Next, he saw them as brothers who had embraced after being lost in the vast jungle of our backyard. Last night’s storm had separated them and they didn’t know if they’d ever see each other again. It was a teary eyed moment for my son, then it was over. The ants didn’t even wave goodbye!

It was at this point that my daughter added her take of events. With all of the stories that filled her mind, she imagined them as a man and woman’s forbidden love for each other. Like Romeo and Juliet, the two said goodbye before they were forced to depart.

These stories were a great example to me of time well spent. Video games, tv shows, books, movies, and the like, take their places as parts of entertainment, but they shouldn’t be our only source. Using story as a means of explaining the world around us can bring us closer together like the long lost brother ants. It helps us see different perspectives, and have fun imagining their tales. In case of competing imaginations, like the Gandalf and the Black Knight ants, we can save the real battle for Mount Doom and the holy hand grenade… Don’t forget, being ridiculous can also be a lot of fun, like trying to see parallels between Tolkien and Monty Python. Not taking ourselves too seriously can help before anyone loses an eye, or a finger, or an arm and a leg. “And as Shakespeare’s romantic tales still play a part in our imaginations, it’s nice to picture them in real life, even with small critters like ants,” concluded my daughter.

The next time you find yourself outdoors and you witness a curious thing, take a moment and have some fun answering: “What do you think happened?”

Path2Story- Ch. 46, “It’ll Be Curtains For You!”

In my house, the guys outnumber the girls. When my daughter was very young, she didn’t mind being the only girl – besides mom – in the family. As she got older, however, it has become the cause of all her woes. When it was just the kids and I, because mom had the job, it became too much for her and I realized something had to be done. Plus, by now with COVID, everyone is up for a krazy idea.

When we moved into our house, there were these obnoxious curtains. I say obnoxious because, at our previous house, we used mere blankets to cover our windows to prevent our neighbors from seeing inside. The ‘curtains’, nay, draperies at our new place had layers. The first layer was a lacy white lingerie type and the second was like a fine gown. As soon as we saw them, my wife and I took on posh English accents and acted like royalty. They covered the windows on the south side of the house. This was important because the amount of sunlight they let in provided the background for what I’m about to say.

As anyone with kids will tell you, their belongings take on a fierce tribal-type of ownership. The brothers better not touch their sister’s stuff and vice versa, or there would be ‘hell’ to pay. House responsibilities came with the new territory and one new job was to open and close the curtains. So, I gave my daughter the responsibility of opening and closing the fancy draperies and the boys got the more manly purposed one layered curtains.

For my daughter, those draperies became her new sisters: Pip, Barbara, Tammy, and Ethel. Each one had their own personality based on how much sun they let in and on what they shone that light upon. The ease in which the draperies opened and the size of the window also played their parts.

At the time, my youngest took upon himself the right to claim the gender based on whoever closed the curtains. This, again – like the birthday penny – took what I meant to be for fun and made it grounds for war. After a while though, things calmed down as the draperies’ personalities took form.

Pip was the smallest window, and opened with a quick pull on the rope. She was facing the sun during the mornings till evenings. She took on a happy, energetic, and cheerful personality and always said “Good morning!” with extra joy. Barbara, a bigger window than that of cute little Pip, let in the most gorgeous bright light. She was the prettiest maid of the bunch. Every time my daughter opened her, you could hear a harp play as the curls of her golden hair danced in the sunlight. Her name was usually sung and would be finished with a slight toss of hair over her shoulder. Tammy was a military soldier. She opened up and shone sunlight upon our dinner table, which gave her the business side of life. “Hup-hup-hup!” was her call with a salute, as my daughter would race to open her for our meals. Last of which leaves Ethel. Now, she was the only window that faced east, and you might think that would make her a bright morning personality like Pip’s, but our neighbor’s house blocked the morning sun. Also, for some reason, the original builders placed awnings over Ethel which gave her heavy eyes. All of that, plus the fact that she was the longest and most arduous curtain to open and close made her the melancholy/Eor one of the bunch. Accordingly, the light she let in was so slight it was almost pointless to open her up at all. I would say her name in a low voice and slowly shake my head breathing out a long misunderstood sigh.

If the girls were closed in the morning, I would ask my daughter to please wake them up. If they were open at night, I’d ask her to put the late night partiers to sleep. In the end, this seemed to somewhat placate my daughter until we eventually bought our family a cute little female kitten.

I share all of this for fun and for families who may need to add more numbers to their flock to even the score. For many, this can be done with dolls, etc. If you are like me and you even want chores to be fun, it’ll be curtains for you!

Path 2 Story ch. 45, “When the Story Strikes Back!”

I was innocently eating breakfast with my kids when I asked them if I could please have my pills which were out of my reach on the table. My youngest grabbed them for me, but just as I was about to get them from him, he walked the bottle backward making a voice like the one on a Spongebob Squarepants episode when his pants ran away yelling, “Freedom!!!” My oldest had mercy and quickly snatched the bottle from his hands and promptly popped the top off and fished around for a pill. My youngest wasn’t finished. He didn’t grab for it back like I expected, but began screaming that it hurt. His sounds became horrific as she scraped the bottom for a pill. I couldn’t help laughing as my daughter desperately tried to speed up the process. After she finally got it, my son made a sound as if the poor bottle had died. I almost had difficulty swallowing the pill that made the bottle suffer so.

That morning spoke to me about a couple of things: my kids’ level of content had jumped a bit from the level in the stories I’d tell them. Maybe it was from a diet of Spongebob, Star Gate Atlantis, Merlin, and episodes of Psych, etc. that did it. Maybe it was the fact that my kids are now 12, and are ready to leave behind Jane and the Dragon and Gummie Bears. Maybe it was from sibling antagonism that can sometimes push the limits into the macabre. Whatever it was, it showed me my storytelling needed to grow. The challenge was made, maybe not overtly, but the mystery of age and the passage of time was shifting. I could feel it quite dramatically. Most parents of older kids will tell you of how fast time flies and then your kids are off and married with jobs, families, and homes of their own. I think I get it from the perspective of how quickly things are changed and gone between the ages of 8-12.

At 12, I have begun to break it to my kids that they are going to have to leave the nest at some point, and that I am trying to help prepare them for it. Puberty seemed a good time for that conversation, along with many others. Equipping my kids for the next chapters of life is ever more important than nostalgia or trying to keep them caged in some period of time so that they turn out like the character in the movie Elf. That is where their eyes are looking anyway. Time moves on and so do we. Stopping time is for the dead.

My son’s pitiful depiction of a bottle having its last pill scraped out reminded me of the dual maturing happening at this stage- both mine and my kids’. I’m learning the art, through story, of keeping pace with their time and the Holy Spirit, and not forcing my kids to stay behind or forge ahead. Sometimes it takes a dramatic moment or a fight to open our eyes to the shift. For me, it was when the story struck back.

Path 2 Story ch.44, “Guess Which One!”

If you have already read to your kids every book you own, twice; if you can’t stand to listen to them whine of boredom or watch them systematically turn on each other like a pack of hyenas, (Besides, the last chapter, “In the Dirt and Trees” only works during sunny days), then perhaps you are ready to pull out the big guns! One such canon of colossal conflagration was a game we made up today called “Guess Which One!”

In this totally free interactive and intense game of competitive imaginations, you ask a question. For example, I planted two flowers but fertilized only one. Guess which one will grow faster. My kids would then make their guesses. I held out my fists with my thumbs tucked inside. Day 1- they both started to grow and a knuckle sprouted. Day 2- both thumbs could be seen just out of the dirt/fist. Then Day 3- the one I had picked in my mind would win and I’d stick the winning thumb up high. Feel free to antagonize a little with cheers for the victorious flower and sobs for the stubby little loser flower.

We were sitting in a circle and it was the next person’s turn to make up a choice between their thumbs. There were only a few rules we had to establish: No matter what story you made up for your hands, you couldn’t add to the story after the time of choice began. Another for the guessers was you have to stick with your first choice, no 2nd guesses! And the last one was more for the person creating the story- choose whichever hand you want to win first before you begin telling your story. A couple of times I got caught up in my own story and forgot to choose. It’s a bad idea to choose afterward. It’s even worse to tell your kids you did.

If the plant story doesn’t do ‘it’ for your kids, some other ideas were: Two stubborn warriors from opposite directions came to a bridge at the same time and fought over who would cross first. Have your hands fight to reveal the winner. We also did one of a lumberjack who had run out of firewood. There were two trees in the forest that he chose to cut down. Which one would he choose first? I put my elbows on the table and held my hands up. I made the sound effect of a creaky falling tree and shouted, “Timber!!!” The hand that fell was the winner. Another option could be a story of two oil tycoons that were drilling for a new well. Who would strike oil first? I made the drilling sound and slowly lowered my hands pointing them down. After the guesses were tallied, the winning hand would strike oil and my hand shot up and waved oil all around. The only limit is the story you create.

Now, for the tallied points and winning the game: Make up a goal like- first to 5 points or 10 wins. We didn’t have a limit which kept the game going indefinitely. My sons took up on the cue from my hand warriors and grabbed lego ones and had them fight. If you guessed the winner the point was yours. My daughter grabbed two of her books and asked questions about them. If you chose correctly you got the point. It got intense as I changed things like the bridge keeper in Monty Python’s Holy Grail. I said whichever hand the last player chooses would automatically lose and take all the points with them. The first two whispered their choices to me which happened to be the same hand, and then the third- with maybe a little glance from me toward the one they chose, made his choice. Zeros all around! A little later after we got back up in points, I wanted some chocolate so I turned my points in for a bar. Again, no limits!

We all are facing this viratic-time with varying degrees of difficulty. Maybe playing a game with sanitized hands will help your family survive with a smile. If not, and this cannon’s a dud, then at least make up a song and give your hyenas some background music.

Path2Story Ch. 43, “In the Dirt and Trees”

There is nothing quite like boredom. It reveals more to us than what we may know about ourselves and our dependencies. It provides us with an opportunity, a choice to either be limited by what we can’t control or find our independence by what we can. When boredom is the result of a global pandemic that keeps everyone home for weeks at a time, addressing it almost becomes a matter of sanity.

I’ll cut right to the point with none of TikTok’s ‘part 2’ nonsense. If you and your kids are bored, give this a try: Go outside, pick a spot on the ground and look at it. Go ahead and put your face close to the ground and look. You’ll be amazed at what you will find there.

When I was a kid, I often found myself playing in the dirt or climbing up a tree for fun. It was there that I remember seeing very unusual things, things you won’t find in a video game, or a movie/tv show. In the dirt, with my face low to the ground, I remember I saw a blade of grass that was partially torn. The torn piece was just hanging there by a thread from the blade and it was waving at me. There was no breeze and I held my breath in case I was accidentally setting it in motion, and still, it waved. I loved that.

In a tree, if I was quiet enough after the disturbance I made from climbing it, I’d see any number of things! One time, I remember waiting in the branches and I heard a loud noise nearby and slightly above me. As I watched, I saw a large raccoon make its way down a neighboring tree. I remember it looked at me almost embarrassed that I saw its undignified and rather noisy descent. I loved that. Over the years, I’ve seen hundreds of movies and played dozens of games, but I don’t remember any of them as clearly as I do those times in the dirt and trees.

There may be nothing like boredom, but may the opportunity it brings reveal our resolve to enjoy the wonder all around us. We aren’t as dependent as we may think. Live the story.

Path2Story Ch. 42, “School Time!”

If you want to keep your children educated during this time of upheaval; if having them stay home with nothing to do is a bit daunting; or if letting their education lose its traction in your children is of any concern, then maybe giving these sites a try will help.

For 3 years, 2nd grade to 5th grade, I attempted to ‘home-school’ my kids (they’re triplets) while my health was manageable. To do this, I created my own curriculum. I did that mainly for 2 reasons: cost and pride. We didn’t have the money to invest in the curriculums I wanted for my children, and the ‘cheaper’ versions were not good enough for them. So, I took up the task of creating my own for them.

I used multiple free education sites for the ‘text’ work: ducksters.com, math-aides.com, youtube.com, and flocabulary.com. Translate.google.com, online dictionaries, thesaurus.com, and encyclopedia.com filled in the gaps left by the main 4 or answered any questions. Anything else I supplemented with my own educational background, or with Google searches which helped to save my kids from becoming like Adam Sandler’s home-schooled character in his movie, ‘Water Boy’.

Ducksters.com often provided videos and a 10 question quiz after their articles which helped my kids to engage with what they read. Math-aides.com was super handy in making various math handbooks that I would print out for them. Youtube.com was perfect for educational videos of different geographical locations, as well as for things like learning languages- Spanish For Beginners | Spanish 101 with Dr. Danny Evans was our favorite. You do need to use caution when using youtube or any other internet site. It is best to visit them first before subjecting your children to them, especially youtube. Flocabulary.com provided a great list of words by grade to study and strengthen my kids’ vocabulary. Weekly trips to our local library also provided them with great opportunities to expand their knowledge in various subjects.

Enjoy time with your kids, and help them to see the importance of education no matter what virus is circling the globe.

Path to Story, Ch. 41: “Snakes, Sharks, and Crocodiles!”

If you’re waiting during an in-between time, maybe before a meal or trip, and playing a video game or watching TV would require too much commitment, playing a random game with whatever you can find with rules that are made up on the spot may be just what you need! “Snakes, Sharks, and Crocodiles” was what recently worked for my family while we waited for something.

Much like at times with the “Blanket of Mystery” in chapter 35, I had no idea what I was doing till I did it. I just knew I had to do something before things got too complicated. At times, my kids would complain about being bored, which can often provide the perfect environment for innovation. A messy room provided the palette of useable toys/supplies.

On the floor was a tri-bladed Nerf boomerang that one of my kids had tied a rope to. Also on the floor were two rugs, they gave us the setting and the challenge for the game. I placed myself between the rugs and stretched out my arm like a branch (I soon had to replace it with a pool noodle reinforced with one of my kid’s bo staffs because of rope-burn). The goal was to wrap the boomerang around my arm with a toss so that it would hold as my kid would swing on it from one rug to the other, sort of a live version of the old Atari game “Pitfall!”. Two stuffed animals also in the room: one a shark, the other a snake, were the enemies/danger. The crocodile was played by another of my kids. He was very excited to eat his siblings.

We started out timing the attempts- as many as you could do in 5 seconds. If you failed to get a wrap, you were considered crocodile bait, but this became an issue so we took the timer off and limited it to 5 attempts.

A missed throw was simply that, a miss. Everyone would yell, “Miss!”, and it would count against your allotted 5 attempts. If your attempt made a wrap but failed to get secured as you tugged on it, then everyone would yell, “Snake!”, and you’d get the stuffed toy snake thrown at you. It resembled when ‘George of the Jungle’ thought that he had grabbed a vine to swing on, only to realize he had grabbed a snake! This also counted as a fail taking another of the allotted 5. If your attempt made a wrap and almost held in time for you to get to safety- the other rug, but still fell, then everyone would yell, “Crocodiles!”, and you were then considered croc bait, which my awaiting son- when not attempting himself, would then attack. This yet again counted against the 5. If you failed all five attempts to get a ‘secured wrap’, then everyone would yell, “Shark!”, they’d throw the stuffed shark at you and you were shark food. After the allotted 5 attempts or a ‘secured wrap’ was achieved, it was then the next person’s turn.

A Secured Wrap and Winning the game: If however, you made a wrap and it was secure, (You know it when you do it because you can’t tug it free), then you’d get a victory point- first one to 5, up to 10, won the game and everyone would cheer, “Yay!” Everyone except crocodile boy…

Creating games may not always keep tempers calm, but it can make time fly with a lot of fun. Besides, if peace is what you want, you can always make your kids read a book while they wait. Boo!

Path to Story, Ch. 40: “Fetch!!”

It all began from a distracted mother’s complaint. “They are too loud! I need to focus on my work!” You see, her two sons had come rolling down the wooden staircase like boulders and had begun quarreling about one’s need for sleep vs. the other’s need for help. This would’ve been fine had the stairs ended in any other room except the one containing their hard-at-work mother, but they didn’t. So again, “Change the Story”, was my mission, and I explored why my son needed help.

Fear was the problem, but I couldn’t understand why. We had moved about 6 months ago and our new house unnerved one of my kids, but even he didn’t understand why. To figure this out, we played a game we called, “Fetch!”. We ‘changed the story’ by making the different areas of the house levels by their inherent scariness. The basement, our darkest room, was Level One. The garage, home to many ‘creepy crawlies’, was Level Two. The attic, sealed off by locked doors was Level 3. We had a small stick, like the alien had in Shaun the Sheep (“The Visitor” from “One Giant Leap for Lambkind”) which he threw to distract Bitzer from barking at him. I used it to distract my son from his fear.

I had my triplets together place the stick somewhere in their respective Levels. The challenge was to go there alone and bring the stick back to me while I waited in a different room with the other two. They would then replace it for the others to take their turn. After everyone retrieved the stick, we would rank the level’s scariness from 1-10, with 10 being the scariest.

I am not a fan of collective punishment, but since this was a game everyone wanted to play, they did it together. Even though I knew the other two would be fine, I included them to help encourage their brother. Besides, they were needed for the stick’s placement.

Level One was a breeze. The highest scary score, or HSS, that was given was a two. Next up was Level Two, which again, surprisingly to me, was easy with an HSS of 3. However, things took a major turn for Level 3. I had the other two go first one-at-a-time, to lend encouragement to their brother, which they did and gave the level an HSS of 2. But when it was his turn, he froze before the attic door. The drama level went to the max as he began to berate his disobedient legs. With confused tears in his eyes, he turned to me not able to explain why he couldn’t fetch the stick. I let his siblings get a little closer, but not enough to spoil the challenge. His legs were freed and he got the stick.

Afterward, I brought them all to me and we discussed it. Fear, as we’ve discovered from “Scary Time” described in Path To Story Ch. 36, and from watching shows like Scooby-Doo, doesn’t always make sense. It can make us think silly thoughts that make things possible that aren’t. Or make us run, jump, scream, or like my son, freeze us in our tracks.

I then explained why I was proud of them: They aren’t afraid of the dark, otherwise Level One wouldn’t have been a breeze. They aren’t afraid of bugs, otherwise Level Two wouldn’t have been so easy. But why was Level 3 so difficult? It was obviously the source of my son’s fear. He told us about how the insulation hung like monster claws, along with other things. He’s right, it totally looked like monster claws. After he told us about it, he didn’t seem so afraid anymore. In fact, I recently asked him about it and he said he doesn’t even think about the attic anymore.

I’m just glad the doors are locked shut on those freaky looking monster claws…

Path to Story, Chapter 39: Power Outage

When a sudden power outage changes everyone’s plans for the night; when your kids, and yourself, are just a little bit scared of how helpless you feel as you wait for the power company to fix the problem; when the crushing realization of how hopelessly dependent you, and your food, are for power in this refrigerated age- you might wish you made some Y2K/prepper plans, bought a generator, and an AR 15, but before you do that, you can help bring peace and comfort back to your home with Story.

We were without power for 12 hours. It was enough time for stuff to start going bad in the fridge. It was also enough time to start wondering if this outage was going to last for days or not. My kids were ok until the sun set and it got dark. We played a card game till then and made sure we gathered the flashlights and batteries.

Previously on this site, I’ve tried to mention how Story can bring in the fun during road trips, homework, and even life & death struggles, but after looking at my family’s expressions, fun was the last thing on anyone’s mind. However, now was the perfect time to help my kids feel peace. We prayed for the safety of the workers and for their speed, then I changed up the sleeping arrangements. It wasn’t necessary, none of it really is, but I wanted to take up the opportunity to make fun memories.

I was with my boys on the recliner and couch, and after we were all set, my sons asked for a story to help them fall to sleep. So I cherry-picked from a movie I saw when I was around their age, “Monty Python and the Holy Grail”. Though the movie was not age-appropriate, it still was one of the funniest movies I’ve ever seen. The part I picked from was of an enchanter- there are some who call him Tim.

In the movie, Tim lead King Arthur and the knights of the round table to a vicious monster rabbit. But for the power outage, I told them how Tim was a tour guide that took people to interesting creatures and places. A giant, a frost dwarf, an elf, and a minotaur were the ones my son remembered and Tim lead us to a mountain, another cave, a forest, and a valley to meet them. Then we fell asleep. He doesn’t remember who fell asleep first, and due to the power company workers who didn’t fall asleep, the power was back on by morning. If I was more awake that night, Tim could have lead us to the whooping llamas or the beaten-like-a-rug cats, making more use of the comedy in the movie. Next time.

Long power outages may indeed be frightful and traumatic for the unprepared, but along with ammo and batteries, may Story also find its place to help arm you for the unexpected. It made our time more than just about waiting impatiently. We now have a memory of a fun story-filled campout adventure.

Even if you are the scared one, be brave and give Story a try, but maybe cherry-pick from a funny story they know, like Captain Underpants. Using funny stories is the best way to combat scary times.

Path To Story, Chapter 38: Take The Pebble

In my relatively short time here I have met many who want nothing to do with collaborating, including authors, business owners, or churches. Like usual, it seems to be left to musicians to lead the charge. As a musician, collaboration makes some of the greatest songs. I have had the privilege of being part of several bands, and a few made albums. I have also written some solo albums, but the ones I made with others have a team aspect that my own albums sorely miss. It is the ‘team aspect’ that my family’s story times have begun to adopt.

It could be because my stories are too slow and boring now that my kids are older. It could be now that I’ve told my kids hundreds of stories, they are getting the picture and are wanting their turn. Or it could be that they’ve seen me eat too many cold meals and they want to give me a break. Whatever the reason, now I usually only get a few minutes to set up the story, then when things are about to get good, one of my kids takes it over. No one is safe. Characters from various sources are employed to create stories, I assume, you have to be 10 years old to understand. Much like passing the baton in a relay race, only this time it gets passed before you even know it, I have taken a backseat and let my kids run with the story.

This new chapter of storytelling has revealed to me what my kids want, think about, and how they think about it. Back in the day, I would either read children’s stories to my kids, tell some from my own past, or make them up from whatever. Now, my kids are mostly done with children’s books, they have their own past to glean from, and their creativity can hardly be held back anymore. In a way, this is awesome and is pretty much the whole point. My kids still rely on me to start the stories, but now I get to witness them begin to practice telling their own. Much like a Martial Arts Master who challenges his students by telling them they won’t graduate his dojo unless they are able to take the pebble from his hand, as a parent, I don’t know of anything greater than watching my kids take the pebble from mine.

But not so fast! The next chapter will tell about how my family recently survived a 12-hour black-out all thanks to God, storytelling, and Monty Python…