“Tell me a story about when you were little.” I hear these words each night at bedtime. Four-year-old A. has a new obsession with discovering every little detail about my childhood. Because I have zero talent at making up fictional stories on the spot, a few months ago I started telling him stories about when I was a kid, never thinking it would be so successful. Now it’s reached the point where I dread his request because he won’t stop persisting until I’ve come up with something.
On the other hand, I’m delighted by his interest. I think it’s very important for kids to know about their parents’ lives. Not only does it help them comprehend their parents as separate and unique individuals, but it also roots them in the world. They gain knowledge of where they come from, of the family influences that have shaped who they are, and why their families are the way they are. When I think of the countless hours spent listening to my parents’ and grandmother’s stories about themselves, I have no doubt it made us much closer than if I knew little or nothing about their lives.
I’ve also discovered that it takes very little to make a story to please a four-year-old. At first, I felt obliged to come up with a plot (which was challenging because there weren’t many complex plots in my childhood), but then I realized that all A. wants is a good description, a satisfying verbal slice of my past life, that he can enjoy, retain, and digest whenever he wants. And retain he certainly does. The kid’s memory astounds me; nothing slips by him. When I dared tell the same story about attending a Santa Claus Parade while wearing a red foam Rudolph nose, he was offended: “No, you already told me that one. Something different, please.”
I can only hope this delightful curiosity about his parents will last forever, but it probably won’t. I just need to embrace for now.