Academic Leigh Speaking

A professor, four kids, and a crash course in work/life balance

The Stories We Tell December 3, 2014

Filed under: Childhood Memory,Family Life,Growing up,Just Thinking — leighj @ 10:23 am

Yesterday Gilbert came home with a triptych of the three little pigs’ houses. The straw was spaghetti noodles, the wood popsicle sticks, and the bricks red paper. He had made three little pigs out of popsicle sticks, pink paper, googly eyes, and a button nose. There was also a wolf. Gilbert reenacted the story for Porter a couple of times, complete with knocking, huffing and puffing, and more. Porter was well-entertained. He kept smiling at Gil and vocalizing his pleasure. Gilbert’s preschool is all about stories. They read a lot, have written to an author and gotten a letter back, the kids act out stories, and work on the smart board to put items in stories. Each story they read has multiple dimensions to how they explore that story. It’s pretty cool. When he gets home, he has a strong grasp of plot, and he enjoys telling us the variations. Turns out, Porter loves hearing them too.

It got me thinking about the ways we tell stories. I teach literature, and this semester, I have the American Dream, a 300-level writing and literature course. It’s a lot of fun to teach, because not only do we look to the literary stories but my students often have fascinating stories of their own about the American Dream. Many of these are family stories, told and retold. I think when we tell a story a lot, it can take on a mythic appeal. When I was pregnant with Porter, and when he was a baby, Seamus and Gilbert wanted to hear stories about themselves, their births and their very small babyhood. I like to imagine that they see us take care of Porter and have a little sense of how we used to take care of them. Seamus proudly relayed the story “I kicked a hole in my water bag” to anyone who would listen right before we had Porter.

But back the myth of the story. The older boys hold their family memories in the stories we tell them, and those that they tell themselves and others. For instance, Seamus tells stories about his grandparents at school. That leads to awkward conversations sometimes with his teacher….However, it also shows that he has a generational awareness that kids need in order to keep a memory.

Pictures help us remember, but it’s not a perfect memory. Seamus crawled into Porter’s crib the other morning to comfort him when he woke up. It worked, until I got the camera, but Seamus just gave a grin, that didn’t indicate that there was a baby crying right next to him!

This picture tells a story of harmony that is not true!

This picture tells a story of harmony that is not true!

Although, I try to help my students not get too worked up about whether a story is true. If the feeling resonates, does that work for you?

A story Seamus and Gilbert have been telling each other lately is how they’ll live together when they go to college. If I understand their whispering, they will eat all the chocolate they want, stay up late, and watch as many movies as they want. They were pretty set on their plan, until they realized that Porter would be left at home. They decided that the only reasonable option was to wait until Porter could move in with them to go to college!

Porter will be telling his own stories soon. Right now though, his little face lights up, he coos, and beckons when the older boys come home. It’s funny to see how much he wants them to give him attention too. He’s also not really able to take yet, because he keeps shoving something in his mouth, like this:

Eat your feet!

Eat your feet!


2 Responses to “The Stories We Tell”

  1. Linda St Clair Says:

    Yeah for stories! I remember that you and your siblings loved to hear stories about yourselves too. I told you lots of stories using Greek myths and Shakespeare too — look where that got you. Maybe Gil will be the next English major in the family. But that art work he did impressed me too. Maybe he’ll be an artist. And I am pretty impressed with how flexible Porter is! Any college that gets those three will be lucky even if they are overdosing on chocolate.

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