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.

Path to Story, Chapter 37: Can You See What I Hear?

Have you ever told a story of a giant without making its loud stomping footsteps, or told one of a swarm of bees without making them buzz around? Or how about one of a snoring dragon without the resounding zzz’s? Sound is all around us, and maybe at times too much. From traffic in the air to traffic on the ground, beeping phones and computers, crying babies and snoring spouses, tv shows and movie screens, these are a few of my favorite things. However, telling a story without the accompanying sound effects can be rather bland. Actually, if I forget to add some, my kids will provide their own.

Sound effects were one of the first elements of storytelling that my kids mastered. When they were around 2, their favorite movie was Disney’s Robin Hood. So, like in the movie, I gave them each a birthday penny. Now, I wasn’t going to give my kids a real penny that they could swallow, but I would reach deep into my pocket to dig out an imaginary one. I would take this imaginary penny and place it in each of their hands. Personally, I had grown up with an older brother and a younger sister so I wasn’t new to how sibling’s interacted, but for my triplets, I was surprised at how quickly things escalated. For as soon as I dropped the imaginary penny into my daughter’s awaiting hand, my youngest son, much like the Sheriff of Nottingham, would take it from her.

Now in all things imaginary, there are rules. For example, if someone creates something like a tea party or a birthday penny, it doesn’t suddenly become a bird and fly away. My son, and especially my daughter, already understood this. He would walk up and take it by reaching out to her still open hand and then make a ‘take’ sound that resembled the cocking of a gun. My daughter understood what his devious sound effect meant. Her imaginary birthday penny was gone. The scream that erupted from her was as if a priceless prized possession was irrevocably stolen. I might have encouraged my son a little by my uncontrolled laughter.

Afterward, I would calm her down by somehow replacing her imaginary penny with a new one. One, I added, that couldn’t be stolen. Which is another rule of all things imaginary: ‘Whatever parents say can’t be undone.’ For kids, it’s much like saying, “Infinity ‘No-backs’”, which gives the claimant immediate authority, rights, privileges, and powers over whatever was said.

I know for many, a time of silence can be like answered prayer, but a story without any sound effects is like a toothless smile. Unless you are doing some kind of Charlie Chaplin tribute for ‘silent films’, of which they still had background music, try to employ a bit of effect devious or otherwise to help bring your story to life. Make that giant sound huge, the swarm of bees all around, or that snoring dragon getting the best-uninterrupted sleep you wish you could get, all with sound effects. Can you see what I hear?

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.”


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. 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. 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.

A Path to Story Ch. 16: Unlock the Epicness

By now hopefully, you’ve found some encouragement to see things as opportunities for story.  From car trips to surviving life and death struggles, this new way grabs ahold of every day revealing the adventure within them.  It can open the door to greater family memories than the ones we get from movies and video games which are ultimately the imaginations of strangers.

Now some days it takes a lot of imagination to see the adventure in them.  Others, the story can come running in through your backdoor.  Here’s a tale of a quest to save a damsel in distress.  The damsel was my wife, and the quest was to find whatever it was that scared her so bad she ran back inside:

Hunt the Beast

One morning, my wife was frightened by a beast of legend that was hiding amongst the long grass in our backyard.  She didn’t get a good look at it, but it flashed through the grass at an alarming rate headed right for her!  She let out a surprised yell and ran for it.

Mom’s description:

  • not furry
  • not scaley
  • small, about two inches wide or so
  • light brown

What we thought it could be:

    • a deadly bunny (a common sight in Michigan)
    • a vicious baby groundhog (a full grown one had just moved in under our shed)
    • a fierce kitten (lots of strays in our neighborhood)
    • a rabid puppy (our neighbors have Chihuahuas)

Just after lunch, we talked about it.  There was no way we would let this beast, whatever foul creature it may be, scare Mom out of her own backyard.  So we suited up and went a-hunting chanting “Hunt the beast!”

My daughter grabbed our family pike (a broom). One of my sons got a sword and shield (made of wood).  He hit his shield with his sword as soon as I started the chant. My other one got a dagger and shield (made of wood but broken).

We went right to the crime scene and investigated.  Right away, one of my boys attacked the entrance to the groundhog’s home.  The other attacked a spotted mushroom (bouncy ball).  My daughter stayed close to her Mom to shield her from any further attacks.

We found no sight of a beast but my wife did find a stick that could fit the description.  If she had kicked it just right, the stick could have looked like something coming right for her.  But we kept searching just in case.

My daughter spoke to some Purple-Princess-flowers to see if they knew. They told her just a little deeper in. Our warrior dog bravely went first.  After a quick search, we came up with nothing and the flowers said it must have moved on.  My son heard from his defeated mushroom ball that it ran toward the shed, meanwhile, my other son searched the pines.  He found an evil basketball hoop monster and soundly defeated it by knocking it to the ground.

Pesky mosquitos were relentless, but we continued on.  I went in for a closer look toward the deepest grass.  Just before I was going to yield and send my kids inside, I saw amidst the green a familiar deep purple cluster. Blackberries!  I called the 3 to me and with Mom’s help, we feasted like kings and queens.

We determined the stick, I mean the fierce-and-deadly-pointed-monster, was the beast.  My wife gave it what-for and threw it on top of the kids’ stick fort and secured it to the roof. She made sure its terrifying days were over.

I know we all are tired.  We work too much to make too little and we have just enough energy to do it again tomorrow.  But it doesn’t have to be that way.  Being willing to see the different opportunities life gives us for adventure can unlock the epicness loaded in each one.

Be bold, be brave.  See the adventure.