Path to Story Ch. 21: On the Road, Part 3

My kids surprised me this time.  They are getting older these days and I sometimes wonder if the stuff that worked when they were 5 will work anymore now that they are 9.

I keep hearing from parents who say, “Just wait till they get older,” with a foreboding tone.  They refer to the age of 5 as this golden era when their kids were actually a joy to be around.  It reminds me of the parents who kept claiming “The Terrible Two’s” or three’s or whatever.  When my wife and I talk about when ours were two, we are grateful that was not our story.  We were still amazed they were real.  We’d been trying to have kids for 9 1/2 years and started to believe that we wouldn’t be able to.  Nowadays I hear parents talk about the “teenage” years with that same “terrible two’s” tone.  I look forward to it like I did before mine were two.

So back to the surprise, we were traveling back from church out on the west side of the state.  We had to get up bright and early to get there.  On the way home, I expected my kids would sleep but instead they wanted story.  They took up their positions, but this time the enemy outnumbered us so much everyone had to bust out machine guns.  If you travel about mid-Michigan you might know what I’m referring to, yep, corn.  Just before harvest time, corn and soybean fields lined both sides of the road.  They were on us at every moment, it was a blast.  Machine guns and bombs were our tools of war.  Any combine that was already out harvesting the corn was an ally.  We did our best but it was a massacre.

In the end, what I’m trying to say to new parents and old, don’t let others tell your story for you.  They are embittered for a reason, and as my wife and I have learned, don’t take it from them.  Let them keep it.  We both are middle children and have found that we feel responsible to take the burdens from others and shoulder it to help make them happy.  But it doesn’t help, they don’t want to be happy.  Walk away, just walk away and shoot some corn with your kids.

Path to Story Ch. 20: Making Faces

When all of this comes out in book form there will be many corrections.  Editors will laugh at my use of commas and semicolons.  Sentence structure and word choice are undoubtedly other points of comic relief.  As far as subject placement in the order of chapters, it will be rearranged and organized so that all this actually makes sense.  Speaking of order, this one should go right with accents in Chapter 4.  And speaking of comic relief, the mastering of this element of storytelling is possibly the greatest one to open the door to its interactivity… with humans.

When you are reading a book to your children the main focus is the book itself.  In many of the books I’ve read to my kids, the pictures are almost as important as the story if not more important.  Accents and dynamics are essential tools for a great reading experience.  In storytelling, you show the pictures with your face.

The greatest comic actors can display a moment of hilarity with a glance.  One of the masters of this that comes to my mind is Jim Carrey.  Back before his movies when he was on “In Living Color”, I was amazed at all the contortions that guy could do.  Then in some of his movies like “Pet Detective”, “Dumb and Dumber”, and “Liar Liar” to name a few, he made me laugh so hard I fell off my seat.  He had the courage to emulate the emotion, to emphasize the story and was able to say so much more than merely speaking his lines would allow.  Now we may not have his ability to make faces, but we can learn from him to be a little more unabashed in our approach.

When we try this, do we look silly?  Yes, that’s kind of the point.  Go get a mirror and practice.  Visualize it in your head and practice moving your face muscles, they need to be worked out too.  Pick a bunch of emotions and go through them like:  happy, sad, mad, confused, afraid, and silly.  Emote them in your voice too.  Laugh and cry, growl and cheer along with them.  Exaggerate them, make your faces as extreme as you can, again match it with your voice.  By doing that, you develop the appropriate range to match with whatever is happening in your story.

I know it helps me when I “get into character” as they say.  For example, try asking “Who?” with all of the confusion you can muster, use your eyebrows etc.  Background story could be:  someone called the wrong number.  Then try saying it with anger, someone ate your lunch.  Notice how your eyebrows change.  Then surprise, someone got you a gift.  Keep it simple, it’s funny how tiring working those muscles can be.  My kids’ reactions let me know if I’ve nailed it or not.

Be patient with yourself.  Allow yourself to learn from your mistakes to improve rather than using them to give up.  Don’t be afraid to enjoy telling stories to your kids.  You communicate courage, bravery, and strength when you do.  You open a new door of comfortability for you and your family.

Using faces in story time with your kids can help fill your home with fun.  So go ahead, be brave and give it a try.

Path to Story Ch. 19: Holding a Spark

Here is something you’ve probably already figured out that I should have mentioned a while ago since this is my first time being a parent.  I really have no idea what I’m doing and have no experience with the long-term effects of my choices.  But that’s the same with everyone.  It is possible to learn from our elders, but be wise in the “what” and the “who”.  We are all here, that’s what we know.  Do we want to enjoy the time we’ve been given?  I do.

I know each of our stories are different, but a unifier is that Jesus saved us all.  His salvation freely offered opens us to hope, and hope ignites our imagination, an imagination that is not held by the constraints of this world.  Because of Jesus, I can imagine.  Because of Him, I have more to look forward to than dirt and worms and with my imagination, when partnered with my faith, I can see it.  The Bible further tells us that He offers us even more now during our daily lives.

My story, in recent years, has been of battling a debilitating disease.  Others have children who were born with all kinds of challenges.  Many have the hopes they’ve imagined for their kids taken from them before their child breathes their first breath.  For those of you who are there, your imagination combined with your faith in His goodness can bring you to places this world will never know and may never understand.

We’ve each been given a path we never asked for.  So in a way, envy and jealousy are pointless and are ultimately forms of madness.  But we’ve also been given the power to change things.  Any limits to that power have more to do with the constraints we shackle ourselves with than the unyielding and unrelenting bonds of reality.  If there is anything we can learn from the story of Man’s ingenuity, it’s that if we don’t give up and give in to hopelessness or have a fragile understanding of what is possible then we can become shapers of reality instead of victims of it.

Story is one of the most readily available tools we have to become shapers.  Imagination is what gets you there and faith can bridge the worlds together.  God spoke this world into existence out of nothing.  His forming and shaping of reality is so amazing it still today and every day inspires people to worship.  The power to create by speaking into existence is truly awesome.  Through storytelling, we get to hold a spark of that Divine Intervention.

Speak a story into existence, take your place as a shaper and inspire those under your care.  They will see how you brave the rapids around you.  They will become equipped to do the same when it comes time for their turn.

Path to Story, Ch. 18: It’s Your Story, Tell It How You Like

If you are ready for what I’ve called “Master Level Storytelling”, then this post may be helpful to you.  If you are wanting to create a story of your own for your kids, if you need inspiration for a starting point, or maybe even the cliffhanger/twist that can keep them guessing, use situations that have happened in your life as the skeleton.  The recent posts about my kids’ birth and of my wife running in from the backyard are examples of this.  Feel free to ham it up however you want.  “It’s your story, tell it how you like,” was a phrase we used when I was a kid.  We’d say it a bit sarcastically to people who were butchering the truth, but for you, I mean it.

My own life has had quite the turn-around even in the last year that provides endless opportunities for story.  At every negative point, there were people who stood with us and blessed us.  We moved to an amazing house, and are daily filled with thankfulness.  We see God’s faithfulness and it inspires a tale or two, and if your story is like mine, the truth is entertaining enough.  Keep the blessings you’ve experienced alive by retelling them to your kids.  These are stories that carry with them your legacy.

So here you go, think of your day.  You can begin your story with waking up, but instead of it being about you, it can be about a giant waking up in your house.  The fun can begin when he tries on your clothes only to find they don’t fit.  He hits his head on every door frame, etc.  He tries to eat potato chips but crushes the bag.  At this point, my daughter is the one who will usually try to help the giant and plays the host giving the tour or instructions on how to do things carefully.  As the story continues my sons will want some kind of action and not just homemaker tips, so I’d try to let their desires shape the story.  I have no clue why the giant is in the house in the first place and left that part blank, but if my boys want action, then so be it.  The giant came to defend the area from a dragon, but as he waited for it to show up, he fell asleep.  There, and let the story tell itself.

Now all my kids usually want to be in the story at some point, especially the action parts, and this is key:  You can actually encourage your kids and challenge them through your story.  If there is something you know your kid is facing at school that he/she needs encouragement on, bring it into the story.  Maybe you’ve had similar experiences with a bully.  Bring that bully in.  If it didn’t end well for you, then you might want to change the story a bit.  Feel free to make your kids the hero, have them surpass whatever it is you did to the best of all endings.  I have seen my own kids rise above on different occasions where I fell flat when I was their age.  I’ve seen them have courage right after a story I’ve told them when they had none before.  I’ve seen behaviors changed, moods lifted, even abilities developed after telling my kids a good story.  It’s a lot of fun to see that happen, at those times I really feel like I’m giving them something more.

Even if your life is rather boring and it’s the same thing day after day, then use that as the plot.  Change it up, bring the giant to your workplace and let him do your job.  Make him a little slower and droll out his voice a bit, use your lowest bass voice to emphasize his size.  That is a standby character that I often use in my stories for my kids.  It’s something that makes them laugh almost every time.

Let your life be the canvas for your stories.  Your kids can learn something about you while having a front-row seat to the lessons life has taught you.  At this point, you equip them while you entertain them.  Remember, it’s your story, tell it how you like.