The Art and Joy of Storytelling

It is enough
to know that she went to bed beaming
after a day of being brave
and smart
and lovely.

It is enough
to know she squeezed me tightly
happy and proud
that I was in her corner rooting for her.

It is enough
to know that the day was bright
and beautiful,
and that it etched onto our hearts
an unforgettable hour.

That is what I shared with my writing class tonight about my amazing daughter who read a story she wrote to an audience yesterday. Just yesterday. It was incredible.

There she was, sitting on a tall red chair that used to belong to my grandpa. We had pulled a quarter of her thin, fine hair into a ponytail holder.

“Mom, can I wear that?” she had asked with wide eyes of the comb with the two big red roses on it – my comb.

“Sure, Bean.”

I sectioned her hair the way my mother had done when I was a kid. The way she had shown me how: with a comb, clean lines. I used the palms of my hands to brush her hairs smooth and into one hand. Grabbing the binder I wound it round and round, then pulled it tight. Lifting the comb of roses from the bathroom stand, I gave it a shove into her hair hoping the ponytail holder would secure it. Bright red roses, my favorite.

She didn’t put up a fuss that morning, my little Bean. She let me help her into her black tights assuring me she knew exactly why they were called tights. And she loved the thrift store dress I had purchased last week: a black and white checkered skirt with a black vest accented in black sequins. The collar and sleeves were white and looked as if she were wearing a blouse beneath the vest portion, and there was a tiny sapphire blue part around her waist which looked like a belt; that tiny little belt-looking part made the whole dress. I love what a pop of color can do, don’t you? It’s small but powerful. Like my daughter.

She skipped around the house while I finished gathering the table cloths and framed pictures and napkins, plates and forks.

“Like my heels, Daddy?” she asked, flashing her almost flat shoes.

“Very nice,” her father smiled, putting a plate into the dishwasher.

Placing the last of what I felt we may need for a proper storytelling display into the tote, I grabbed the lid and snapped it on. Then I mentally ran through the checklist: Story? Check. Fruit? Check. Carrots and celery? Check. Dip? Check. Awards? Check.

I had decided at 1:23 in the morning, to create some awards: The Colored Feather Award of Hope and Belief. I wanted to present it to my daughter’s teachers for their excellence in teaching and encouragement, and to my daughter and the other writer who was going to read, for excellence in writing and public speaking. It’s not every day you have the opportunity to thank those who support and inspire your children. It’s not every day you have the opportunity to present your daughter and a talented friend with an award. I wanted to seize the chance to recognize them all publicly. The moment confirmation came from two of my daughter’s teachers that they would be coming to hear her read, I planned a trip to Walmart for official certificate paper, frames and peacock-looking feathers. I created a certificate on the computer, printed it several times with the correct name and adjustments, sealed it with a fancy gold seal and framed it. Later that morning while I walked around the house checking to see if there was anything I had forgotten, my husband sat with zip ties attaching the peacock-like feathers to pens. The pens were fun and the awards looked fancy. I was thrilled, and ready to get prepared for the event.

“Mom, you like my outfit?” my son said, appearing in the entryway to the bathroom.

I turned to see a smiling little boy with his “ta-da” arms stretched out revealing a red Christmas sweater (purchased a size big for next year) over the top of a red sweatshirt (nice color matching) paired with a pair of too small camouflage knit pants. No socks. No shoes.

“Oh, Bud, nice outfit, but Mommy put your outfit for today on the toy box.”

“What? Noooooo. I wanna wear this.”

How can you say no when he worked so hard to put his outfit together? “Well, we’ll see what Daddy says, okay?”

And off he went to search for Dad. “Camo pants, huh, Bud,” I heard as I started the shower and giggled a bit. When I got out of the shower, my son was wearing jeans, an orange plaid shirt with his penguin sweater vest and socks: the outfit from the toy box; his Christmas outfit because he, like his sister, loves penguins. For this special day, we were all dressing up a bit. Even my husband wore a red plaid button down. A change from his “mechanic-style” shirts that he loves.

I pulled over my head a teal green dress shirt and shimmied into a pair of jeans with bling on the butt. Red sweater, red socks, a pair of gray boots – it was a little more fancy than my norm.

On an everyday basis I don’t wear make-up. I used to. I loved it. I loved how mascara made my blue eyes pop and lipstick brightened up my face, but then I started having allergies to the make-up I had worn for years. I’d wash my face and find splotches or bumps. Or I’d start itching an hour after I had put it on. So I don’t wear make-up often, but for such a special day, I pulled out the little bit of make-up I have.

Foundation, powder, a bit of pink blush and some on my eyes too. Sapphire blue liner on the top lids only, and mascara in brown/black. And for this special day, my “Surrender Dorothy” red lipstick. I had purchased it during a girl adventure when I went to see Wizard of Oz in 3D.

“Yeah, Grandma. She’s putting on make-up,” I heard my daughter say, with a bit of surprise in her voice as she handed me the telephone.

“Hi, Mom. Yep. Yeah, just finishing up getting ready. Mmm hm. Yeah. We’ll be there by one. I made cinnamon muffins. Right. Yeah. Okay. Sure, if you want to get cupcakes that would be great. The kids will love them. Okay. Yep. See you there.”

Both of Destiny’s grandma’s and her grandpa were coming to hear her read. I loved that they would all be there. But of course, I was missing my dad. He was a great storyteller with a loud voice, big hand motions, a contagious laugh and excellent details like, “You should have seen the look on his rotten face when I grabbed the pans – you know those pans were thousands of dollars. I grabbed them and tossed them RIGHT over the edge of the boat! Can’t eat. After days of fishing, on no sleep – CAN’T EAT for fifteen stinkin’ minutes. Well, if you can’t eat – No need for pans!”

I loved the story of how “Stormin’ Norman” threatened to drop my father off in Russia the next time he pulled a stunt like throwing all the pans overboard. My dad would have been proud as a peacock to see his oldest granddaughter sit in front of a room full of people who love her, and read a story. I’m sure he is proud. He probably stood right next to her while she spoke (smile).

We loaded everything into the truck and drove the couple blocks to the library. My husband set up the tables and chairs, and I put on the table cloths and set out the food and beverages and items that said a little about the two readers and about storytelling. I stacked old copies of The Wizard of Oz, The Secret Garden, Tales of Uncle Remes, The Velveteen Rabbit and Heidi; cherished gifts and thrift store finds. On top of them I displayed a dirty worn out pair of blue rain boots with eyes to make them look like bugs; my son’s favorite. I remember the day he squeezed his feet into them and cried they were so tight. Still, he tried to wear them. They were the first shoes he could get on himself and he loved them. He always loved rain boots, and he always wore them – his trademark of sorts. I replaced the blue bug boots with a pair of red monster boots, which he liked, too, but I couldn’t bring myself to get rid of his favorite blue boots. They sit on the books on a bookshelf in our living room.

I also placed on the table framed pictures of my daughter using cookie cutters to tell stories, and some of my grandmother’s cookie cutters: a number two, a bunny, a reindeer and a heart. Cookie cutter stories is what I remember first. No. Actually, drawing and painting came first. Then the singing and dancing. My little Bean used to sing everything. “And then Mom said, ‘No, no, no, no, no,’” she’s belt out, and I would giggle. Then came the cookie cutter stories. So, she’s been telling stories for a long time. I think it’s inside her, in a tiny little part of her soul.

The other woman who agreed to read on this special day was Mrs. Andrea Oberg McCardle. She is an incredible mother who writes some of my favorite children’s stories. She hasn’t published them yet, but I cannot wait until she does. Each one has a wonderful lesson that leaves me with a smile on my face. On the table was a picture of her reading to two of her sons.

Grandparents and teachers came. Auntie Colleen and cousin Jessie showed up. Husbands and kids and friends filled the chairs, and as the room came alive my little girl started to get a bit nervous.

“Don’t worry, I’m right here if you need me. Or if you want me to stand by you,” Andrea assured my daughter.

I gave Andrea a wink and a smile. Sometimes it’s not your mom you want standing next to you. I don’t think that says anything bad about your mom. Moms are one of those things we take for granted. We love them. We love the things they do and that they are always there for us. But sometimes, we want to stand alone without our mom. My daughter is like that. Still, after I had given the introduction to storytelling and explained the beauty of each person telling a story a little differently in a way only they can tell it, and Andrea read her wonderful story about an amazing elf, and I introduced my beautiful Bean, I checked with her to be sure she didn’t want me to stay and stand next to her.

“I’m okay,” she whispered.

And off to the side I went. And she did it, on her own, sitting in the red chair that had belonged to my grandpa. She looked out into the crowd and began, “big bird and little bird . . .”

She turned her three-ring binder so everyone could see the pictures she had drawn, and she smiled big when she read the dedication of the book to her brother.

I took one picture. One. Of her reading. I just couldn’t bring myself to lift my camera up to my eye any more than that. I wanted to witness that moment on my own, in real time, not through a lens. It was that awesome. I’ve played it over and over in my thoughts, and I’m brought to tears with an overwhelming feeling of pride. Who ever on this earth thought I would have the blessing of being a part of creating such an enjoyable little human? I’m so thankful for the opportunity to see this world through her eyes. I’m so thankful she’s my daughter.

I went to her room tonight to tuck her in and tell her I wrote about her and shared with my class the story of her reading her story to an audience. I told my class I really thought her writing exercises at school had resonated with her; on Mondays she and her classmates write a story and draw a picture about what they did on the weekend. She looked at me and put her arms around my neck and said, “Mom, I wrote that story because I want to be like you.” And there it was. That special, loving moment you feel on the inside; that moment that makes your heart smile. My heart smiled, and another memory was etched into my being.

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