Today is Thursday, or rather Friday as it will be by the time I’ve posted this, meaning I spent the afternoon watching my favorite 18-month-old, Valentina*. She’s recently discovered storytelling, well, her version of it. Today’s story went something like this, “Park. Jamie. Slide. Fall. Ball. Five!” In case you can’t crack the code, I told the story back to her, “We went to the park and saw your friend Jamie. You both went down the slide, and Jamie fell and hit her head when she got to the bottom. Her dad brought out a super cool yellow ball and let you play with it. Before we left the park, he gave you a high-five!” Her response, “Yes! More!” as in, “Tell me the story over and over for the next half hour!” Which I did and then she told it back to me, adding details, “Park. Jamie. Slide. Fall. Head. Cool ball, yellow. Five!”
It got me thinking about my earliest memories with books. No, I can’t remember my seven-word stories before the age of two but I do remember my stacks of books. I was a very shy little girl but if you agreed to read me a story, or 12, you had to pry me from your hip by the time you were ready to leave. As soon as I learned how to read, I kept a stash under my pillow for prohibited late-night reading once my parents sent me to bed. My plan wasn’t all that fool-proof; at that time, I shared a bedroom with them. My bed was maybe 6 feet away? How do you punish a child for reading? You threaten them with blindness! My mother’s version of “You’ll shoot your eye out!” was “You’re going to go blind reading in the dark!” I really could’ve used a Kindle way back when.
I have a singular, distinct memory, around the age of seven, during which my mom asked me about my day at school. A normal question and I gave a pretty normal answer until I got around to the part about the giant ants in the bathroom that turned into fire-breating dragons after turning on the water in the sink. I’m fairly certain she was only half-listening to my tall tale because she waited a good five minutes before stopping me to ask if I was making up stories… again.
I kept the morphing insects to myself after a while and started to put my imagination on paper in second grade. Mortified by Disney’s Bambi, I revamped the story. If I wrote the story myself, I could keep the mother alive and everyone could live happily ever after. Yay! I wrote another story about Maria, the butterfly. She lived alone in the forest, probably pretty scary for a single butterfly, yes? No! Maria took karate lessons and learned how to protect herself. My story was complete with an illustration of a very pink butterfly screaming “Hi-yah!” I received an award (index card with stickers) that year from the Assistant Principal for my many stories. I told everyone that I was going to be a writer when I grew up (and no one would be able to tell me that I couldn’t read in the dark!) I continued to read and write, feverishly. I spent my weekends in the library or scouring the Scholastic Book pamphlets, begging my parents to buy me all of the books. In the seventh grade, I discovered Agatha Christie with And Then There Were None and continued to have WRITER as the ultimate goal but doubt started to find it’s way into my mind along with encouragement from teachers and advisors in high school that I should find something else… a real job. This isn’t to say that I don’t appreciate the advice to find a plan B. I do but writing was put on the back burner for about 5 years.
In my sophomore year of college, all of that changed. I nannied part-time; my charge was a little boy named Paul and he too had seven word stories to tell. As he got older, we had this running joke about the weird noises in the house – there was a dinosaur that lived on the roof. He played guitar and liked watching the trains go by. I began to jot down these musings, adding to them while he napped or on the bus ride home. As if I needed further inspiration, I then read Knuffle Bunny by Mo Willems. (If you haven’t read it, please stop whatever you’re doing and read it now. I don’t care how old you are. If you have/know a child and/or were once a child, you need to read it) I decided. I want to do this. I want to share my words.
*Names have been changed to protect the adorable.