Nearly five years into parenthood, the girls have cycled through several different going-to-sleep rituals. They are sometimes traumatic (oy, Lulu's months of hand-holding and weeping) and usually exhausting (the year or so that Estelle began each night with an arsenal of monologues, questions, and requests comes to mind).
And, it always, always takes more time than I would ever have dreamed possible. How long? The vast abyss between the start of bedtime stories and the actual sleep of our children is, god, best left uncounted. But yeah, it's long.
These days, bedtime starts around 7:30. We each take a kid and read her three stories, then they surreptitiously suck the flavored toothpaste of their toothbrushes, and we tuck them into bed. In the past, I'd sing a couple of songs (Alas, my personal favorites, Mr. Rabbit and Eliza Jane, have been replaced requests for songs from Frozen), but these days, the girls aren't in the mood for a song. They want stories.
Not just any story. The girls want real stories that have happened to us. We try to oblige. "Something bad that was also funny" stories are their favorites. We take turns telling them stories from when we were little. "The time great-grandma filmed Mom's movie upside down with her videocamera" is a favorite, as is "The time Dad puked on Auntie Jill's pillow right before her camping trip in the mountains."
Of course, they prefer stories about themselves. The time Lulu went to the hospital for eating baking soda. The time they were in a pie-eating contest. The time we found a kitten in a tree. The time Estelle jumped into the bath with her clothes on.
We couldn't wish for a better audience. Yeah, I know part of this storylove is the 10 or 15 minutes it inches back bedtime. But even uninspiring tales such as my recent "The time Halloween was rainy" held their rapt attention.
In the end, I've spent a lot of time recently thinking about the craft of storytelling...probably more than I have since my early, quixotic days in journalism school. Thinking of worthwhile stories is tricky. Physical humor, accidents and minor crises are hits. (Serious accidents and major transgressions, not so much.) Provide many opportunities to laugh at mom's and dad's faux pas and foibles. Sometimes it's good to trot out a recent catastrophe...is it funny yet? Or does it hit too close to home. "Most bad things are funny eventually," Estelle says, and she's right.
My recent turn of Scheherazade has given my new affection for PRX's The Moth Radio Hour, which I find myself listening to most days at work. Have you heard it? The radio show has a simple concept: Somebody stands up before a live audience and tells a story from his or her life. Some are writers or actors that you might have heard from, but others seem like ordinary people. Most stories tend to orbit everyday issues of family, marriage, love, illness. I'm almost always captivated. Maybe it's the fact that the stories are real. Maybe it's the refreshingly stripped down product: no literary tricks or complex plot lines here. Listen to one, already.