I’ve been making up stories for my daughter, Goldali, almost every night for a little more than two years now. That’s somewhere between six and seven hundred installments of Monster Child, or Fishameara, or Rona in the City, or Tyra and Lyra, or Mushroom Girl, or The Purple Pirate Princess, or The Six Princesses, or Magic Broom, or Star Chick and Moon Chick or scattered tales of toy horses come to life.
I say making up rather than telling stories because the process shares an imperative with the meals I cook daily: every night must see something on the table. Some days we eat holiday meals, some days, leftovers. Some days it’s my best salty roast chicken. If all we have is bread, eggs, potatoes and onions, then its breakfast dinner.
I began making stories for her during one hard bedtime. Each night ended with “tickles,” her name for the last few moments before I left when I rubbed her back. That night, “tickles” became “tickle stories.” Gradually, the “tickles” stopped and only the stories were left. Soon, what started as me telling became something we made together, night after night.
She contributes characters or situations or narrative twists; I make up the rest. When her friend Angelina broke her leg and turned up in a wheelchair, broken legs had a vogue. It’s surprising, though how, between the two of us, stories just seem to get made up, one night leading into the next, one story leaping to the next. Sometimes I can beg off and insist I am too tired to think or, when she asks for just a little more, tell her I need tomorrow to think of what will happen next. But if I accidentally say “The End,” she reminds me, “The end for tonight, no for forever. Because the story isn’t over yet.”
The stories are rarely therapeutic. An obvious moral, a clear draw on her everyday life for the purposes of sticking my nose in where it doesn’t belong refuses to gather the night to night momentum we need. The stories are imbued, however, with what she wants, or fears, or what comforts her or makes her wonder. So there are often two best friends—sometimes two girls, sometimes a girl and an animal, once a girl and a broom. Parents are present, mostly in the background; so are babies. Often, she wants stories in which the characters just play and sometimes she wants an adventure. I will ask her, “Should this be real or magic?” And she will tell me. And I listen to her listening, so I know where to go next.
Of course, the stories reflect my sense of wonder, my fears, too. I see the slow turn from five to six to seven. Life starts to respond less to her needs and insists she respond to its intractable demands. Time makes its claim, whereas before she rested in it. Once, what was near seemed so big and enough; now what is far away entices and frightens and is, well, far– across a road, at the end of an endless bus ride, a night away. The stories are my hedge against the inevitable retreat of this part of her childhood to make room for the next.
Concentrate, the stories tell us, look hard, they say, see what the words tell they insist, see where the characters go. Mostly, I hope that long after the details of Fishameara or Magic Broom are forgotten, a flicker of charge remains for her, one she can coax into something powerful, some thing all her own, her own light, her own current of words.