Picture This

Bedtime routine at our house is not for the weak. Until recently the normal routine consisted of 6 books (and we're talking substantial Dr. Seuss length books) and 2 stories. When this routine was conceived, the "stories" were the usual suspects: we rotated between Three Little Pigs, Goldilocks and the 3 bears, Hanzel and Gretel, and Little Red Riding Hood. But then, not surprisingly, after at least a year of hearing them repeated nightly, Hannah tired of them.

"Make up a new story, a really new story, from your head.", she'd request.

It was a challenge. It is a challenge. For a while, Hannah wanted to be a super hero in all of the stories. We named her "Rescue Hannah" and each story was about her rescuing a different person. It held for months. But she remembered THEM ALL and any sort of repetition she blew the whistle on. And then she (and we) got bored of all Rescue Hannah stories. Done. No more. My brain started to hurt. I started DREADING bed time for fear that I wouldn't think of an entertaining enough story, a long enough story, a new enough story.

We started giving Hannah a choice, books or stories, confident that she'd choose books, the bookworm that she is. Surprisingly, without hesitation, she chose stories. Every night. So books at night have gone by the wayside. And oh my god, the stories will be the death of me.

Last week I told her a story about a pair of sneakers who were sad because they wished they were high heels since it seems high heels get to have all the fun. High heels get to go to fun parties, dance, have clean, buffed feet inside them. Sneakers get stinky feet, get run through mud, get pounded on the cement, get dirty. So they raised riot in the closet until they convinced the high heels to step aside so the sneakers got a chance to go out for a fancy night on the town. But after the sneakers got their day in the spotlight, they realized that they missed the mud. Missed the beautiful days at the park and disliked the other high heel shoes they met at the parties. So, they decided to be happy with the life they had.

Impressed? Feel free to use it in your next story telling with your child. Could you do this EVERY NIGHT? You know you don't envy me. I've also told stories about giraffes befriending worms and having a hard time since they can't really see each other. Fish who want to see what it's like on land, tigers who want to explore the beach, and on and on.

This week, I decided enough was enough. I just couldn't do it anymore. I didn't want to dread this wonderful, peaceful, special time of day with Hannah each night. So I told her that I'd make up a story 3 nights a week but the other nights, I'd tell her a story about my childhood. Luckily, after a few minutes of pondering the idea, she gave me the green light.

I've had three nights now of telling stories about my childhood (finally the point of this post is approaching...) and it's been special for both of us. I've told her about my first swim meet when I was five, and how I loved to swim but I was incredibly slow and not only came in last place but by the time my fingertips touched the wall, everyone else was OUT of the pool and wrapped in a towel. I told her about the time when I was 6 and I was swimming at Sea World with my mom, and how we were talking to the strangely uncomfortable life guard who wouldn't make eye contact with us and then we realized it was because my mom's bathing suit was down around her waist and her "boobies" were showing. I told her about my 9 year old birthday party at Rollerland.

Unfortunately, what this new approach to story telling has NOT been is EASY. I am realizing that I sadly can't remember very many specific stories to tell her, at least of my youngest years. I am realizing that my memories are like snippets of stories, images of my past. And I'm also realizing that many of these snippets and images are only there because I have photographs of these times. And so I'm not even sure if the memories are in my head, or the images from the photographs are making me THINK I remember them. Thankfully, my parents took hundreds of pictures throughout my childhood, so even if I don't remember the specifics, the pictures bring back parts of the memories. It makes me wonder how much I'd recall without these prompts.

The strongest memories I have from my childhood are the things that happened routinely. Things that became tradition. Today certain smells and sounds evoke very strong emotions as I recall how they were a part of my childhood. When I hear opera, I am brought back to wonderfully relaxing, quiet Sundays in my home where my dad played his favorite operas on the record player while golf was on the TV in the background. I am unable to listen to opera without imagining my dad asleep on the couch, and my mom reading or knitting while I colored on the floor and my brother built a model airplane.

We used to cook Fondu growing up for special occasions. Birthdays, New Years, random Saturdays when I didn't have a babysitter put me to bed. We'd sit around the table cooking our raw meat and dipping it in the delicious sauces my mom had prepared. My dad would make virgin Pina Colatas. I still think of these nights when I have a (not-virgin) Pina Colada on the beach.

I also have unbelievable crisp memories of our family summer camping trips. A week in Cape Cod, 4 of us in a pop-up camper that we pulled for six hours behind the family Volvo. We'd arrive at our camping site, crank up our "home" for the week, pull out the beds and settle in. We rode our bikes to the bathroom and showers. We cooked over a small grill amongst the pine needles and sap (that smell, I love that smell) most mornings and some nights. We washed the dishes from a small tank of water that we had to savor for fear it would run out and force my dad down to the showers on his bike to fill it up again. We biked to the beach. We played ping pong with other random campers at the "lodge". We roasted marshmallows. We lay by a dim lantern at night and read until our eyes closed for the night. It was here that I learned to love the hammock. It was where I learned to take an efficient 2 minute shower because my quarter would only give me that much time. It was where I learned to love "roughing it". We could have afforded more I'm sure, but it was the peacefulness, the quiet, the close (very very close) family time that my parent's sought. And I remember it all. I don't have pictures of it all. I just remember it... because it was special. Because it was tradition.

These memories are the ones that are imprinted hard and fast in my brain. And I find myself today, worried. Worried that I have this responsibility on my shoulders to create and cement memories for Hannah and Luke. Am I taking the right pictures of the right occasions so that even if the memory isn't completely remembered at least the snippet will be there? What traditions do I want to start (should I already have started them?) so that i'll be sure years from now, after we've repeated them year after year, they'll fondly pull them forward as happy family memories? Should I take a picture of Hannah and Tim outside Dunkin Donuts so that in 20 years we can say, "see, you went there EVERY Saturday morning together!". Or do I just rely on the fact that the special times, they'll stick. That the ones that matter, they'll always be ingrained in their heads.

I just don't want her lying in her child's bed, 30 or so years from now, struggling to come up with stories from her childhood that can accurately portray how happy those days were. Or maybe she'll be lucky enough not to be forced to come up with these stories in the first place.


Anonymous said...

Lovely post, Becca. Thank you for sharing it.

I think about this question of memory formation all the time, especially when I look through the thousands (yes, thousands - thank you, digital camera) of pictures we've taken of our boys.

It sounds to me like you are doing plenty in the memory creation department - and I don't think you need photos to help cement the impressions of these moments for your kids. I wouldn't be surprised if Hannah lies in bed 30 years from now telling her own daughter about her mom and the stories she would create for her at bedtime.

Lindsey said...

This is beautiful - I have the EXACT same thought you do, that perhaps I don't really remember actual memories but just the pictures of them I've seen so many times. I think that all the time!
And I agree with Kristen, you are doing a wonderful thing for Hannah by recording it all here. I know at least that is part of my motivation for my blog.

Liz Aguerre said...

Oh, you KNOW what got me on this post: the high heel story. But as much fun as my sneakers have...my stilettos have ALL the good fun.

Carrie @ Who Knew? said...

I remember my Mom telling me stories about her childhood when I was little. I loved hearing those stories.

I think a lot about traditions too. I think those have the most impact on children's (and adult's) memories. Decorating the tree together, birthday celebrations, opening one present on X-Mas Eve. I want Maya to experience several of these. Now I just have to figure out what and be consistent with it. Yikes.

Sarah said...

Becca. Oh I have so many, many things to say about this post. But, my dear, not quite all the energy to say it right now. (A full day with the brood of six and I'm pooped, girl.)

But I can't leave this box empty. So.

The descriptions you gave of your fictional stories? Much better than I could ever do. And? It does not even matter what stories you are telling your daughter, you are creating one of the most lasting, loving memories for her by so consistently doing it. I read books to my kids. It's just about all that I can do at the end of the day. And? I cut them short. I'm so tired. I hate bedtime. I just want it over. (OK, I'm not making this short, am I? Fuck it.)

After reading about your storytelling...especially of the fact that you are now looking through your own memories of childhood for inspiration, I feel that this my child are really missing out. And it's no wonder there is really very little imaginative play in this house. Oh we are so literal around here it's almost disturbing. Yes. Digress. Sorry.

So. That said. About your memories. Yes they are bits and pieces and little glints of light. we take them and we let our mind embellish them the way we need to in order to flesh them out and satisfy ourselves that we haven't forgotten. I don't know. Perhaps. Something like that?

I have to believe that you remember enough specifics so as to be able to back up all the strong emotions that you have. The wealth of love and comfort that you felt with your family.

The telling of your memories. Cape Cod. Camping. I was right there with you.

Oh how I love this post.

And? I know you can't even believe it. But I have more to say. But too tired to go on.

Over wine, friend. Over wine.

Unknown said...

What a beautiful post, and what a wonderful mother you are! Love the sneaker story!

Just stopped by from SITS to say hi; hope you'll do the same.

TKW said...

What a lovely post!

I absolutely adore the story about the high heels and the sneakers and I do believe I'm going to steal it.

I'm soooo glad my parents took pictures, because you're right, it jars the memory. It sort of makes me think I'm cheating my own kids in this digital age...I love touching old photos and reminiscing.

I worry sometimes, too, about making memories (the *right* ones) for my kids...I guess we just cross our fingers and hope that they remember us at our best?

LZ @ My Messy Paradise said...

I love this post! I, too, don't remember too much from when I was a kid, but recently have starting remembering a few things...mom painting my toes, our weekly trips to the library, etc.
I can relate to the lengthy bedtime routine!!

Aidan Donnelley Rowley @ Ivy League Insecurities said...

I am really digging your blog and this post is killer. My favorite part of the whole thing? The high heel story. Pure genius. Nothing better than evincing your own robust imagination to your little girl. I love that you are asking the big questions about how to fashion memories for your children. I think we all think about this (particularly we bloggers?) and there is no easy answer. I think capturing "stories" here on this space will go a long way toward creating a substantial stockpile of memories to fall back on going forward.

(I might have to hijack that heel story. It's too good not to.)

Kelly Miller said...

I learned a long time ago that many of my memories are the result of my imagination filling in the gaps left from pictures and stories my parents told me as I was growing up. However, I do have some (not many) of my own and can only hope that my children will one day remember more vividly than I do.

We work around crazy bedtime story routines by making our son read US the stories. We still lay in bed with him but we do the listening as he practices words and enlarges his vocabulary. :)

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