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!

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, Chapter 34: A Place to Start

It’s been about 9 months since I last wrote on this. So this baby is due. I didn’t plan it this way, and since most babies rarely are, let alone triplets, it seemed appropriate to chronicle the weakest part of my storytelling- beginnings.

As I’ve already said, ‘Once upon a time’, works almost all of the time to begin whatever you want. Over the years the beginning I most commonly use is a lazy version of it: ‘Once there was a _____’, then fill in the blank. I have found I am more of a short-order-cook type of storyteller. I work best before meals, during trips, and explaining things from Spiritfire to homework. Oh, and survival-type situations. But just as babies need to grow, so does my storytelling.

When I can, I look to the Bible, and of course, its beginning is the actual beginning. It may not really work to do that if you want to eat a warm meal, or when attempting to answer a quick question, etc., but it led me to a direct and easy way to find an intro: the 5 Ws. Answering or even asking who, what, when, where, and why, can give a variety of beginnings to the tales we tell.

An example of a ‘who’ beginning would be to focus on a character, like one of the prophets or like Paul the Apostle’s letters. ‘What’ could be about an important scene like a war that may shape what you want to tell. ‘When’ could be a timeline focus like the book of Genesis or Esther. ‘Where’ would focus on the location/setting. And asking ‘why’ could be for a mystery. You might not want to answer these questions right away and let them breathe for a while first like for a mystery unless you want to give misleading information. I will try to get into this later along with a chapter about something I’ve botched repeatedly- telling scary stories to my kids.

In the end, I hope your beginnings are better than mine and can get your kids’ attention faster than a jumping grasshopper. I know I need to keep mine active like with a jolt similar to accidentally touching an electric fence. This can be accomplished with different vocal dynamics.

So whether you are shouting or whispering out your newborn story, may your intros invite all who hear upon a grand adventure. And like with babies, this life can be dreadful boring without one.

Path to Story, Chapter 33: Revenge of the Story

I started writing this blog with no agenda except for fun for parents and their kids. From morning times to family road trips, I wanted to give families an idea of how to enjoy life together, but now it’s about to get ‘real’. What happens when your kids start to annoy you beyond anyone’s endurance? When, “Mom-mom-mom-mom-mom” becomes an alarm clock-like water torture?

The other night, my wife and I attempted to have a conversation at the dinner table. As the first words escaped my wife’s lips, one of our adorable children thought it a perfect time to voice a request. Maybe it was because it was the first time we had seen each other that day and really hadn’t gotten a chance to talk, maybe it was the way my child said, “Mom” every half second, maybe it was my blood pressure, maybe- I think you get the point, I had to make it stop before any facial tic set in. It was then that I had an idea: Give them a taste through story of what they are doing before mommy and daddy have to get sent to the looney-bin.

Meet Robbie the Robot! I made up this character with an annoying robot voice that would say the same thing over and over:

“I am Robbie Robot and I clap like this. I am Robbie Robot and I still clap like this.”

He’d say that till his batteries ran out. Then a guy would come and replace them which started Robbie up again. Now you may be asking yourself, “How is this any better?” Well if you heard my kids’ reaction, you’d get it. After a few rounds with Robbie, I introduced a guy who couldn’t take it anymore. I had him remove the batteries and hide them far away. My kids cheered, till a lightning storm came which struck Robbie and started him up again.

They got the point and let my wife and I talk. Yes, I could’ve just yelled at them, and I also know the Bible says ‘Vengeance is the Lord’s’, Romans 12:19, but sometimes giving them a taste of their own medicine is just what the doctor ordered. Besides, having a conversation after a victory like that is much easier than attempting one right after you’ve lost your cool.

Most parents know kids need to learn what appropriate behavior is and that the majority of those lessons aren’t intuitive. May this chapter reveal a more peaceful approach to engage our precious little children as they develop a greater understanding of how annoying they can be. Yelling for the most part only teaches fear, and it has its place in emergencies, but story has a way to help kids understand the ‘why’.

Next time your kids knowingly or unknowingly drive you to the brink, consider story, let it guide you to safer shores. For whenever parents are in trouble, and where ever children push too far, Robbie the Robot is ready to rescue! He will always still clap like this…

Path to Story, Chapter 28: Mix It Up

If you are running out of ideas for your stories, and you need to be reminded of all the possibilities storytelling provides, or if you want to challenge yourself to see if you can handle multiple characters and their voices, try mixing it up.

Today I mixed up a lot of characters my kids love in a story during lunch. Sometimes it isn’t really that important for the story to make any sense, leave that for the pro’s. My aim was just plain fun.

Hulk, Yoda, C-3PO, R2D2, and Shifu were the cast. It got really silly between Hulk and Yoda, because Hulk kept referring to Yoda as Baby Hulk, and kept laughing every time Yoda tried to say, “A baby Hulk I am not!” Hulk would respond, “But you green! Baby Hulk talk funny!”

At first, I tried to work with the Star Wars universe, and had the Emperor show up and scare everyone with lightning, but “Hulk smash!” sent him flying. Then, because of such a crazy cast, I couldn’t get the idea of a carnival out of my head, so… C-3PO and R2 picked up on strange radio transmissions and found out about an evil clown syndicate attempting to take over the world with a golden cotton candy machine that had mind controlling powers. How does it control minds? An ingredient in the candy, “bad sugar”, stimulates the brain to be hypnotized by a certain frequency employed by the leader through a loudspeaker. Are there gigantic holes in this story? Absolutely. For fun stories, sometimes it’s good to not take yourself so seriously.

It was ridiculously hilarious even to me to picture them all together. Shifu and Yoda made a team as they infiltrated the carnival to get more intel on the evil clown syndicate. Shifu got picked up by a little girl because she thought he was a cute prize from the carnival. Upon seeing Yoda however, the little girl screamed dropped Shifu and ran. Meanwhile, C-3PO kept trying to advise Hulk, much like he tried with Chewie once. I actually didn’t get much farther than that because lunch was done. We had too much fun with Hulk and Yoda interacting to pay mind to much else. Boba Fett and Batman showed up for a brief cameo and we were done. So I incorporated chapters, one for lunch and one for dinner.

During dinner, I only had to say something about Hulk and Yoda and my kids cheered, got right to their seats, and were quiet. The power of story is unparalleled.

Speaking of power, I want to eventually talk about endings, but I’ll save that for a future post. I already tried that a little in this one but had to edit it. I try to limit these to one main idea at a time so as to make it easier to follow.

Mixing up a story keeps everything fresh, like Star Wars & Cinderella in Chapter 9. It also breaks down any limits to imagination, much like the movie, “Toy Story” that used the narrative of many different toys to tell a new one. So go ahead and mix it up. Set your kids’ imagination free!

Path to Story, Chapter 27: God’s Toy Maker

Perhaps you are frustrated with the skyrocketing prices of all the new toys and video games out there, or maybe you are tired of trying to find that perfect gift for your kids that they will forget about the very next day, or you’ve become overwhelmed as you try to find anything that won’t turn your kid’s brain into mush, if any of this is the case let me point you to God’s toy maker. It’s a tree, and it’s totally free.

It started with a thought: “There’s got to be something more and better for our kids than staring at a screen.” So one day I challenged my kids to go in the backyard and make a toy out of whatever they could find. I wanted them to go outside and use their imaginations to create something. I tell my kids as often as I can, “Be a creator, not a copier.” So they did. The benefits of doing this are more than I know. Along with storytelling, making their own toy enables kids to get a taste of the power of their own imaginations. A power that seems to get stunted behind flashing lights and sound effects.

There is an oak and a maple tree growing in our backyard, but the one that gave my kids everything including the glue was the pine tree. I didn’t give any plans, just a mission. My kids took an hour or so digging around and collecting stuff in the dirt. They came back with warriors and a princess made from pine branches. They had acorn faces with helmets and were clothed with cloaks made from the leaves. I was impressed and gave them a marker to draw their faces with.

There is no reason to get caught up in the mad dash for the “new”. Parents want to give their kids good gifts, Matthew 7:11. The best of gifts is enabling and equipping them to know the power they have in their own minds. This life is harder than any addiction can distract us from. If our kids wake up to what they can do for themselves they will depend less on gimmicks and will have a more stable ability to navigate the blackouts of life.

So go ahead, have your kids go outside. Quote Bill Murray’s dad from the movie, “Scrooged” and tell your kids, “Get a job and buy yourself a choo-choo!”, or rather, “Go outside and make yourself a choo-choo!” You’ll be saving them from the mentality that they can only have fun if they get whatever the new thing is.

Path 2 Story, Chapter 26: Chapters

If you’ve finally created a character that you and your kids want to keep, or if you have built a world you all want to revisit, or maybe your brain’s too tired to think up everything again, then implementing chapters can be a good and useful option.

When you think about it, chapters are everywhere: books (obviously), or this website, even the episodes of a tv show can be considered as chapters. The characters remain but the story changes. When I think of sitcoms like the Simpsons (“sitcom” itself carries the meaning of- a situation comedy) each episode brings various situations to its characters. It can get pretty funny when Homer gets in a situation that requires a bit of finesse or complicated reasoning to navigate, “D’oh”. That’s when his daughter, Lisa, steps in to save the day.

Grab a stuffed animal and think of a repetitious plotline for your situations, like fear. If your kids scare easily, make it scare even easier. Put it in various situations where it gets frightened, the more ridiculous the better. If you’re careful, you may see your kids rise up to the challenge and calm the stuffed animal down, which may be insightful when the shoe is on the other foot and you need to calm them down when they are scared.

A quick note about using fear: fear can be tricky even while being a useful plotline, you don’t want to terrify your kids and make things worse. For example, if your kids are afraid of spiders, make the stuffed animal afraid of something your kids love, like butterflies. Now two things can happen at this point, one: your kids will help the stuffed animal love butterflies like they do, or two: now your kids are afraid of butterflies. You are the parent, if you don’t know what your kids can handle, go down a step on the developmental ladder of plots as briefly described in chapter 25: baby, toddler, child, etc. If that’s not enough, go two steps down. Remember this is supposed to be fun.

A benefit of implementing chapters to your storytelling is familiarity. Your kids will know what to expect and what their roles are, whether it be to calm and overcome or figure out and solve. In that familiarity, you equip your kids with the tools they need to gain discernment, and when that happens you bring an element of sanity to your home.

You’re welcome.

Path to Story Ch. 24: Make it Live!

If you want to give your kids a balanced worldview that explains the righteous laws of God revealed in Creation and manifested in the heart of man, if you want to help them gain the discernment needed to choose the path to Wisdom’s house, if walking the paths of God is of any interest to you then a study of the book of Proverbs would be well worth your time.

It was a simple Proverb, just one verse: “The words of a gossip are like choice morsels; they go down to the inmost parts.” Proverbs 18:8. It exposed to me one of the “dark ways” (2:13) that people choose instead of being on wisdom’s path. In its straightforward simplicity, I was given a window view into Folly’s house, a view that revealed the bait and trap that await those who wander in. A power is given to the Gossip, as to a villain in any of the superhero movies, it has a draw that people don’t even realize and brings poison to the “inmost parts”. A poison that tastes like filet mignon, so yummy, so tender, but it rots from the inside those who consume it.

But seeing as this was the next verse for our Spiritfire, I was confronted with the issue of how to explain it to my kids. For years now I have chosen story as a tool for teaching my kids various things, everyday things like the importance of closing a door or cleaning a room. But I have also experienced its explanatory power in the deeper things. When I looked at my kids’ blank stare as I read the proverb to them, and confused expressions as I tried to explain it, I knew I had to do something…

We traveled back in time to the Old West, to a town that for years had been robbed from by a band of hooligans. A hero had come to that town recently, one that brought fear to the villains and deliverance to the townspeople. Until one of the more unscrupulous members of the village witnessed something odd on the way home. The hero was dismounting from his horse when he saw a spider had crawled up on the saddle. Before the villager knew it, the hero, who had thought he was alone, screamed and jumped away in fear.

It is at this point the story has enough to almost tell itself. The villager goes to the hooligans and says he knows something that will let them take over the town again.  He will tell it to them if he gets a cut.  In this story, it is to the villains that his bit of gossip is so tasty.

Yes, it got fun as I gave different voices to the characters: Joker-like for the Gossip, Dudley Do-Right for the hero, Dr. Claw-like for the hooligan leader, and random ones for the townspeople. My kids got to see and hear an explanation that seemed to really sink in as my oldest son said to me, “I think I get it, that was a good story Dad.”

Do whatever you want for the ending, I didn’t want to belabor the point so I left it at the bad guys throwing a box of spiders at the hero, who then ran away screaming. Feel free to let the hooligans take over for a time, until the hero somehow overcomes his fear, or have an opposite Samson-like ending and have a woman take care of the box of spiders.  One of the unspoken bits of storytelling that can really make a difference to your kids is that of the role you allow gender to play in it.  I’ve also told stories where the villain was a Cruelella Deville-type character or a spoiled princess, it’s fun to see my daughter wrinkle up her nose in distaste when I do.  Everything plants seeds, and when it comes to solidifying identity we must be careful to define discernment, for parents are most responsible in equipping their children to navigate who they are becoming.

Joining storytelling with a devotional Spiritfire time can really help bring Scripture to life. I know my kids really enjoy watching Veggie Tales movies, but nothing can replace a genuine family devotional time with God. When you do it, bring story along with you and witness your kids plum the depths of books like the book of Proverbs, the sayings and riddles of the wise (1:6).

Path to Story, Ch. 22: Game Within A Game

Not too long ago, I began to train my children in the ancient art of Mario Kart for Nintendo 64.  They had a blast for a while, and then came the anger.  If you’ve ever played this game you know what I’m talking about.  The game is about winning a race or battle with your chosen cart-like vehicle.  You get all kinds of weapons to knock others out of the race, which can be a point of anger.  The course itself has barriers that will target you to slow you down, another point of anger.  Other characters will also laugh at you as they pass, still another point of anger.  As the anger builds, you often hear screams, see tears, and witness the ever exciting throwing-of-the-controller.

During one particular race, “Frappe Snowland”, my sons were having a hard time navigating around the many snowmen on the track.  After I witnessed all three stages of anger, I decided to “Change the Story”.  I grabbed a controller and began to show them how to have fun even if the game is too hard, and because it’s a 4 player game we could all play it together.

On “Frappe Snowland”, there is a bridge over a river that will freeze you if you fall in.  The makers of the game positioned that bridge right before the finish line for maximum fun/anger.  I chose to race with Bowser, the “Bad Guy” in all the Mario games, and claimed the bridge as being “Bowser’s Bridge”.  I didn’t race, I was only there as another barrier.  For my sons, I was a sitting duck.  They would race around the corner, having just acquired new weapons, and they would blast Bowser right off his bridge into the frozen rapids below.  I would ham it up with my own “Bowser voice”, calling out things like, “This is my bridge!”, “No one comes on my bridge!”, etc.  When he’d get knocked off, I would scream about how cold it was and beg for mercy or cry out for vengeance as they drove away.

This whole game within a game cooled everyone’s temper with a lot of laughs, and extended the gameplay by many minutes.  The normal race isn’t really that long, maybe 5 min. if that.  With “Bowser’s Bridge”, we played it together for 15-20 min., my boys each wanted a turn being Bowser.  And the next time we had video game time, they went right to “Frappe Snowland” calling for Bowser to take his place on his bridge, much like one of their favorite stories “Billy Goat Gruff”.

After we played that for a while, it became a game within a game within a game.  Bowser’s Bridge got boring, as all games do, so instead we played “Clean Bowser’s Bridge”.  One of the in-game weapons was a banana peel which once you ran it over you were sent into a spin.  We would put them all on Bowser’s Bridge and the new game was to scrub them off without getting knocked into the river.  This game extended the race even more, putting the total time to +30 min.  They had so much fun, the room was full of laughter.

I know sometimes things can be a “growing experience”, and learning to control the video-game-rage is something I know I needed to learn.  But to me, video games are meant to be fun.  I tell my kids if you aren’t having fun, you need to take a break.

If your kids are having a bad game day, playing the “Game within a Game” approach can change it up by removing all the points of anger.  For “Frappe Snowland”, it wasn’t about the race anymore so it didn’t matter if my sons got knocked off the track, hit with barriers, or laughed at.  They were doing most of that while beating on the troll, I mean Bowser.

I’m not a professionally trained child care worker, I’m just a Dad who loves to hear his kids laugh.  I wonder if Jesus used a similar “Game Within A Game” approach for His disciples when He said, “I will make you fishers of men,” in Matthew 4:19.

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.