The Gift of Story

The Gift of Story

As we make our lists and fill up our shopping carts, let’s not forget that stories are also great gifts to give. My children may not think of stories as being their favorite presents, but I do plan to pepper the season with stories that hopefully will become special to them as they get older just as they did for me. 

When I was young, my grandmother told me stories about her childhood living on a Georgia farm. I can still remember the sound of Granny’s voice, her laughter and the way she used her hands when she talked.  Since she was the youngest of three daughters, she wasn’t needed in the house, so she became the leader of her three brothers and cousins as they played around the farm and did a number of “tricks.”

Once when they were bored, they spent a day taking the pine needles off a pine tree that stood by itself out in the middle of a field. When my great-grandfather drove by it on his tracker, he couldn’t figure out what in the world happened.  He “fetched” his wife and family to look at the pine tree that “had shed its needles,” and they all looked at in awe. My grandmother and her brothers didn’t say a word.

There were so many stories. There was one about the time they had a water-drinking contest, and she said that almost drowned her littlest brother, James!  My favorite story is about how they took a bite out of every peach on a peach tree because they were told not to pick any of the ripe peaches.

My Granny also told me how my grandfather liked to play practical jokes. One Christmas he wrapped a huge box for my grandmother and put it under the tree in early December. He wouldn’t tell anyone what it was, so everyone had to wait a long time to find out.  All he said was that it was very practical. On Christmas morning, everyone wanted Granny to open that box first.  What was in it?  Toilet paper.

As you can see, I come from a long line of tricksters and practical jokers, and if it weren’t for these stories, I would never know that. True family stories tell children where they come from, and they teach them lessons that their elders learned the hard way. But young children love stories whether or not they are true, and I think every parent should make a point to tell stories to their children. Trust me – it doesn’t matter how bad you think your story is – you’ll have a captive audience.

When my eldest son was four, I began making up stories for him. For several years, I told him a story every night before bed, and it got to a point where he wouldn’t let me go without his story. Somehow, these stories were so much more special than reading him a book. I didn’t think I could always tell a good story, but my son loved them anyway. I would let him pick the main character – usually an animal – or I would use one of his favorite toys to be the hero. Sometimes, I could throw in a little bit of wisdom that I wanted him to learn too. These stories were more personal and pertinent to his life even if they weren’t worth writing down.

This holiday season, I hope you’ll think about starting a storytelling ritual with your children. You’ll be amazed to see that made up stories or family stories can be the best entertainment, the best way to share your values, and the most rewarding gift you can ever give your child.