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Shared Storytelling

As grandparents, we want to do the right thing. We want to respect the wishes of our children and follow the schedule they lay out for us when we babysit. We want to make sure that our grandchildren eat the prescribed meal for the evening or they “don’t get dessert.” Ha! That’s another posting. And we want to be sure to adhere to the bedtime rule or else we’ll be responsible for breaking a pattern that took so long to establish.

Seriously, I get it! I understand how parents who spend “twenty-four-seven” with our grandkids need time for themselves. I’ve been there. I can still recall those seemingly endless evenings when I would try to get my daughters to sleep when sleep was the last thing they wanted to do.  But, I’m the grandmother! What harm can be done if I deviate from the routine every now and then?

In my brief tenure as a grandparent, I have come to learn that there can be no such thing as a set bedtime when grammy is babysitting. What might work for my daughter and son-in-law seems to elude my every attempt. Hugs, kisses, stories and more stories transpire before I descend the thirteen steps to the living room only to ascend and descend several more times before I am able to stay put. I like to think of these nighttime rituals as May’s way of helping to keep her grammy in shape.

There is no doubt that young children have a lot of fears that surface when the lights are dimmed. Shadows take on sinister shapes, monsters lurk in the closet and a child develops supersonic hearing. For a while May had a fear of the elusive nighttime monsters. My husband and I tried a number of tactics to assuage her fears. As adults we attempt the rational approach. Sometimes, we forget that we can’t rationalize with a three or four-year-old.

My very clever daughter devised a simple solution to the monster invasion; she created “monster spray.” Worked like a charm! At bedtime each night, Nancy would just spray the room and say something like, “Go away all you monsters. Go away any scary things.” No long explanations. No long stories. Just a simple spray and an exit! Now, why couldn’t I think of that?

May has grown out of her “monster stage,” but her need for grammy’s attention continues long past her prescribed bedtime. However, it is now I who am hesitant to leave her room. I thoroughly enjoy the new direction our nighttime ritual has taken. Her budding curiosity about her mother’s and Aunt Jessica’s childhood has increasingly surfaced and she relishes hearing about their mischievous antics. I must admit that as much as she loves hearing these stories, I take great pleasure out of reliving the childhood of my daughters. The belly giggles are not necessarily the best remedy for her sleep avoidance, but some moments are worth cutting into a child’s bedtime. At least that’s how this grammy views things.

One evening, after May and I had read a few books and heard two or maybe three stories about her mother and aunt as children, she was still begging for more of grammy’s time. I had already exceeded her parents’ established bedtime and, truth be told, I was relishing every minute of feeling her little arms wrapped around my neck and her warm breath against my cheek.

“Please, just one more story, grammy, Ple-e-e-e-se” (accompanied by a wistful puppy dog look). How could I resist?

My long-term memory was getting taxed and I had run out of “mommy and Aunt Jessica stories.” My aging eyes rebelled against reading another book in a dimly lit room so that was not an option. I decided to play one final game. I began a story then stopped at one point and asked May to pick up the flow of the story. Of course, I chose a topic that she could readily relate to, “May Goes to Dylan’s Candy Store,” a topic based upon her recent excursion to New York City. It was a theme that instantly appealed to her sweet tooth and one in which she could successfully interject her own creative thoughts. I began simply.

Me: One bright, sunny Saturday, May and her grammy went into Dylan’s Candy Store in New York City. (I stopped and told her it was her turn to add to the story).
May: And May went to the gummy worms bin to get some gummy worms, but the bin was EMPTY (loud voice on her part as an expression of her surprise and disappointment, then it was my turn).
Me: May was very sad so she went to the salesgirl (I took this route with the hope the story would have a happy ending and bring sweet dreams).
May: The salesgirl went into the back and came out with a huge bag of gummy worms. May bought all the gummy worms and she ate them all up.
Happy Ending! Hurray!

May loved this little exercise and continued to enjoy it on subsequent nights. Shared storytelling enables the adult to get a glimpse into the thinking of a child. It is also a helpful tool for developing sequencing and predicting outcomes, two important reading comprehension skills.  Most of all, it is one more way to share meaningful time together.

Although Eloise is still too young to share the same experiences as her sister, she is a keen observer of May’s behavior and I am sure that it won’t be long before she will demand her due. That will be fine with this grammy. I know all too well that these special years are but moments in the scheme of life. May and Eloise will one day read stories on their own late into the night, under the covers with flashlight in hand, just like their parents before them. They will be writing their own stories with their own conclusions. One day the doors to their rooms will close out the adults of their world as they talk on their phones (or reasonable facsimiles thereof), listen to their music, study for the next day’s exams or do all three at once. And if I am fortunate enough to bear witness to these changes, I will fondly recall these days when I was as reluctant as they to part from our special time together.

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