Path2Story Ch. 48 “Challenge Accepted”

Once upon a time, I sat at our dinner table before mealtime and looked for an adventure. Things had become rather dull in our house as days sometimes are. I looked, and I saw two floss picks, two ceramic yellow pig shaped salt and pepper shakers, and an empty mug from which I had just drank my morning coffee.

As I grabbed them, the floss picks instantly became shepherd’s staves and the pig salt and pepper shakers became members of their flock. I had already begun walking the staves around herding their pigs when I looked at my mug. It was a gift to my wife from her sister, and it had an owl’s face on it. Just for kicks, I flicked it on its beak, and the sound it made completed the adventure.

As it was empty, the mug reverberated the clear sound of a locomotive. Because it had an owl face, the train called out a “Hoo! Hoo!” and I pushed it aimlessly around the table. As the owl train drew dangerously close to the swine, the shepherds would do their best to guide their droves to safer parts of the table.

Since there were no apparent railroad tracks, the train ended up following the pigs’ tracks. Seeing this, the shepherds became frantic and started calling out for their pigs to run. It was at this point that my kids had become interested in the plight of the shepherds and their pigs and the run away owl train.

Just then, the train hit one of the shepherds and knocked him down. It was only a glance but as the shepherd tried to rise to his feet, the mug turned and struck him with its handle. The unfortunate shepherd was tossed from the table as the owl train steamed by.

The “Hoo! Hoo!” had then taken on a maniacal call as the owl train turned and hungrily raced after the pigs. The lone shepherd had witnessed what had happened to his friend and fearlessly faced off against his locomotive foe. With a final call to his pigs to flee, that sounded oddly like Gandalf, he charged.

My kids, at that point, were all sitting around the table. I explained to them what the challenge was and without waiting they started grabbing the pigs and made their own adventures. What had only taken me a few moments to create entertained my kids for many minutes afterwards.

Wait, what happened to the brave shepherd? Don’t be like Fred Savage’s character in Princess Bride. If there’s one thing I’ve learned being a storyteller Dad, it’s that sometimes stories don’t have endings. If there is to this one, owl never tell.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Path to Story, Chapter 39: Power Outage

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Path To Story, Chapter 38: Take The Pebble

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

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

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

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

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 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 31: Endings

I know I haven’t specifically mentioned beginnings or plot twists, but for some reason, it seems appropriate to me to talk about endings first. For any readers who can’t handle the disorder, use the famous “Once upon a time…” phrase for your beginnings. It’s genius and can fit any direction you may want to go with the stories you tell your kids.

For plot-twists think of the opposite ends of a magnet and their reaction to another magnet. Flip whatever you are doing and go an opposite route. If your story is focused on the dragon who has been terrorizing the town as the bad guy, flip it to the mouse who lives in the dragon’s cave and is the real instigator. Of course, if you do this all the time it loses its twist effect.

Endings are an interesting thing to think about. Like when we consider taking a vacation, we are already at our favorite destination in our minds. We may not even want to think about the journey or the process it took to get there. So skip it! We are at the spot you set out for, what does it look like? Why did you come? What was the point? These kinds of questions can lead to various stories, but what do you want your kids to walk away with? Like a special Christmas present your story bought and wrapped for them, is it ‘character’, ‘integrity’, or my personal favorite, ‘discernment’?

Sometimes I occasionally give a quick false ending to get my kids’ attention or to get them to behave if they’ve started acting up. For example, I’ll wrap up a story with: “Then everybody died.” Done, quick and simple. My kids so far have responded with a unanimous, “NOOOOOOO!!” Then you are in a position to ransom the story and make your parental demands. I’m just being funny when I do this and they know it, but it works!

So endings have multiple uses depending on ‘why’ you started and ‘where’ you are going with it. I was just reminded to think about where I want to be in 5 years by a job search engine. Where do you want to be by the end of your story? I look for Jesus to be at the end of my life’s story welcoming me home.

Whatever they end up being, make your endings something worth your kids’ attention.