I felt her hand on my chest. Her fingers found the soft spot she has always loved. The spot she has been caressing since her baby hands could reach it. She once told me she loves it because it’s squishy, warm and love. I love it as much as she does.
I caress her head and she cuddles in closer to me.
“Tell me about when I was born,” she coos. I have told her this story hundreds of times, but it never gets old for her. Or me. We love this story. The story of how she came into the world and I caught her myself. How I loved her little face the second I saw it. The big tub, her brother leaning over, grandma’s tears, how little she was, her ballet feet.
It’s our story.
She knows it so well that it is almost like a memory to her now.
That’s the power of storytelling.
Memory has always fascinated me. Some things I can recall crystal clear, yet others are slippery and elusive. It’s often in the telling and retelling that a story takes it’s permanent place in my memory bank. How close it is to the actual truth, I am uncertain.
I have so many stories I tell my children about themselves. Each one is selected purposefully. Stories that show how much they are loved, how strong they are and how they have overcome obstacles.
The story of how my son got stitches at age two is a favorite one. He was running to help a friend that had fallen. He hit his face on a park bench. All our friends rallied around us. Both kids love the part about how the nurse wrapped him up like a burrito and he asked for sour cream and avocado. Even in pain he made everyone laugh. I remember that he stared right into my eyes as they stitched him up. He didn’t move an inch. He was brave and in good spirits through the entire thing.
Every time they ask for a story about them, I am happy to tell it.
These are the stories they will remember and tell their children someday.
These stories are the foundation of how they think about themselves and how they fit into the world.
They are so much more than just stories.
I was reminded of this in a painful way this week.
I have a childhood friend that I love. Adore, really. Our history is long and we have lots of stories. Silly ones like swimming in the gutters and ruining our swimsuits. Sad ones like when she moved to England and I thought my heart would never recover from the break. Happy ones like when we used to squirt hoses across the street at each other.
For some reason, she keeps sharing a particular story that really doesn’t capture the “us” I remember. In this story, I am a bratty kid with a very bad attitude. Apparently, when I was about my boy’s age, I wrote her a letter in which I tell her that her mother is a bitch. Her mom kept this letter and they have brought it up several times now. They think it is funny. Maybe it is. But it doesn’t feel funny to me.
It actually hurts.
I didn’t say anything about it for awhile, because it is their story. But every time it is told, it makes my heart sink. It is embarrassing and I don’t remember writing it or feeling that emotion. I must have been really angry, upset or confused. It must have been hard for me to write such an emotionally charged word.
Memories are funny like that.
They remember me as this kid that wrote that letter. They also remember me as being mean and making fun of her for not being smart and knowing math.
I have no memory of either of those truths. I know those things happened…I just don’t remember it. Not even a tiny bit.
My image of myself at that age is a positive one. I loved school and was very good at it. The teachers loved me and I made friends easy. I have such vivid memories of being joyful, playing in the yard and riding bikes.
Maybe that is because those are the stories my mom told me about myself.
Maybe we just choose to remember the good about ourselves; because that is the truth we want to remember.
I have no idea.
What I do know is that storytelling is powerful stuff.
As a parent I need to keep that in mind. Always.
My son loves to hear and tell stories about the massive fits he used to throw. I would sit in his room with my back against the door while he raged and raged. He remembers feeling out of control. Kicking. Hitting. Sometimes even trying to bite me.
He is embarrassed now thinking about it, but I remind him that he was little and was having strong emotions he didn’t know how to express. I tell him that I loved him even in those moments, especially in those moments. That’s what parental love is.
These stories I tell and retell are helping my kids to write their own life story. It is shaping who they are and will become.
It’s an awesome responsibility and one that I don’t take lightly.
It is an honor.