Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Tales to tell children

When my children and I were younger, we lived in Fairbanks, Alaska.  One of the features of Fairbanks at that time was that there were not many activities available for children in the winter outside the house.  So I lied to them a lot.  People more inclined to blush than I call that telling stories.

We had many of the children's books that were available then, but the perennial darkness of the Alaskan night meant we also had lots of time.  Frankly, I got tired of those books*, so I began to make up stories of my own to break the monotony.  Some of them were moralizing stories exemplifying the effects of bad behavior.  Some of them were outrageous tall tales, just for the joy of them.  Some were adventure stories.  Some were a bit of all three.

Sometimes the stories were very short and interspersed into the events of daily life as opposed to just being told at story time.  Eventually, I realized that they may not always know that I was telling a story, so I had to tell them that they could always just ask, "Are you lying?" and I'd tell them if I were.  Actually, that rule still holds.

In terms of popular culture, I live under a pretty big rock, but some things inevitably make their way into my consciousness.  I'm sure that some of these stories resemble to an embarrassing degree things I've read or seen elsewhere.  I was striving for entertainment for my young children rather than for originality.  If I remember what influenced me, I'll try to credit that source.  If you see a similarity that I don't note, I'll claim that it's an homage.  Writers get away with that all the time, don't they?

I'm an engineer by training and by temperament, but according to my observations (and the painfully blunt comments of others), I'm not a standard engineer.  People on each side of that line frequently look at me and say, "What the heck are you talking about?"  So, you, Gentle Reader, won't be the only one to react that way.  Just saying.

I never believed in talking down to my kids, "treating them like children" as they say.  I like vocabulary; there's so much of it, it seems a shame to waste it.  So I always tried to use words just a bit over their heads so they'd stretch for those words and learn them.  They seemed to revel in that, and their friends did and still do ask why they use such big words.  Oddly, one of those words was "apt" - not even big; just expressive.  They've expanded their friends' vocabularies, too, so I count that as a win.

Words are the tools we use to build thoughts.  If you were building a house and only had an adjustable wrench, you couldn't do as good a job as if you had a contractor's job box.  Words give the same ease to building thoughts.  Give your kids good tools.

Some of my kids have expressed an interest in my capturing those stories so they can tell them to their kids.  I hope I do better finishing this project better than I did completing the trim in my wife's closet remodel.

I reserve the right to edit these stories as time goes on and as I remember better details.

* Except for Richard Scarry's I Am A Bunny.  Whenever I come across that book somewhere, I look for a little kid to read it to.  Not in a creepy way, though - no restraining orders to date.**

** First cultural credit: I shamelessly stole the asterisk footnote motif from 'Puter Gormogon.  Go read his stuff.  Srlsly.  But you might not want to let the kids read it.  He's salty.

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