Path to Story, Chapter 36: It’s Time for Scary Time

If you have kids who scream in fright over ants and flies, if they would rather stay inside because a bug is on the door, or if an insect has somehow found its way into your car and your kids are ready to abandon ship, then it might be time for a taste of some good ole fashioned scary. As I’ve heard before from many Dads that tell their kids, “I’ll give you something to ‘cry’ about.” Wait, wait, wait, this is supposed to be fun!

My kids were the ‘run from a gnat’ type. I’m not sure if this was my fault because I used to tease them when they were little by making mosquito sounds. Or maybe it was that time they were attacked by a swarm of hornets… yeah, probably that. Anyway, their panicked screams over a minuscule pest revealed to me that their ‘flight’ over ‘fight’ tendencies needed to be rearranged and to do that I chose to use Scary Time.

I wanted to show them that ‘fear’ was a trick of the mind based more on imagination than fact. So I became, for my kids, a maître d’ and used a ‘Vincent Price’ voice to guide them around a grand hall. I imagined myself escorting them around the building commenting on the draperies, the rugs, the books, etc. all with a creepy “anything-could-jump-out-at-you-at-any-moment’ voice. Then we got to the kitchen…

“Would you like to munch on a head……. of lettuce? Or perhaps you’d prefer to eat a baby……. carrot? If not, I’m sure I can cut out a kidney or two……. beans.” At this point, it didn’t take much to send them running for a pillow/blanket/stuffed animal to clutch for safety. What’s the point? Well, as the fear would build, I would stop and switch to a “Gomer Pyle” voice and then I’d go to my normal voice and ask them which was scarier and why. Slowly but surely I was able to shine a light on their shadowy fears and reveal that there was nothing there. Now they hunt down any bugs they find in the house with fervor. Sure, it’s been a while since the ‘Vincent voiced maître d’ days’, but I’d like to think I helped.

It’s all about having fun with your family and calming their fears over bugs/whatever helps to keep everyone sane-ish. Give a gentle bit of scary a try. You might enjoy yourself. For as Vincent Price famously said,

“It’s as much fun to scare as to be scared.”

Mwhahahahahahaha……

Path to Story, Chapter 35: Blanket of Mystery

“Guys, guess what I have… It’s the Blanket of Mystery!!! What’s behind it? I don’t know, it’s a mystery.”

If you’ve exhausted all of your books and even the Gospel Preacher- from chapter 2, has retired; if you’re poor as dirt, along with most of the world, and you want to protect your children from the hopelessness of poverty; if you know there’s more to life than what you know and want to tap in and awaken excitement, curiosity, and wonder in your kids, then give mystery a try.

If you want, all you need is a blanket or a cloth/shirt/something, but even if you don’t, you can use your hand. The point is, like a magician, to block your kids’ view. You can build up the excitement with your voice being in awe like the first snowfall of Winter and announce it like Show-and-Tell at school. How you intro this time can make it a great experience even if you have nothing behind whatever you’re using to hide it. The point is the mystery.

I did this when my kids were little and it worked to pass the time any time. At a Doctor’s office, waiting in line for something, or gathering your kid’s attention for whatever, using mystery can help time fly. If you have nothing behind it, like I sometimes did because I preferred the challenge, then make up clues. Be like, “What?! Where did it go?” Then get them to look around. Kids want to help. If they find some random treasure like a button or even carpet lint, add it into your story, “I’ve seen this before…”

Using the Blanket of Mystery is a great way to bring excitement and fun to family time. What is behind it for your family? I don’t know, it’s a mystery!

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.

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.