Once upon a time, there was a little girl who lived in a house in the woods. One day she went for a walk in the woods and found a beautiful flower. “Oh, I must take this flower back to my house in the woods!” she said, and plucked the flower from the ground.
“Oh, don’t pick me!” cried the flower. “I am an enchanted princess!”
“I’m so sorry!” the little girl said. “I didn’t realize. How can I help you?”
“You can take me to the grocery store.” So the little girl took the flower to the grocery store, and they bought balloons and cake and pepperoni, and had a picnic. And the enchanted princess was cured and they lived happily ever after, The End.
For a person who fancies themselves a writer, I am TERRIBLE at making up stories. But Badger clearly doesn’t realize it, because it’s basically the one thing I can do which will always command her rapt attention. I’m a bit hampered by the format — it has to be simple/short enough that I can comply with “again, again!” and meet the stringent QA standards of a child who was clearly listening to me more closely than I was. And it’s a lot to juggle in your head — not painting yourself into a narrative corner (“she went for a walk and didn’t find anything and went back home and went to sleep the end”), avoiding traditional stereotypes while still invoking familiar “storytime” tropes (the enchanted princess was not my finest stab in the dark but please remember I’m usually making these up during bath/jammies time, my very lowest ebb of the day), introducing elements to grab your particular audience (pepperoni).
But I find that I’m actually getting a bit better and I wonder how many other parents try making up stories for their children and give up because their first attempts are so egregious (and it’s like rubbing your nose in it to have to repeat the whole thing several times in a row). As I repeat the stories I refine them a little (*cough* polish the turd *cough*), and each time I trot out familiar characters (the girl, the pixie on the broken magic carpet, the chicken with the hurt foot) I find even my character-deafness recedes a little as I add a little something here and there.
Don’t get me wrong, they’re still awful. Really, really bad. But the more I do it, the better I get (or at least, the less embarrassed I am that they’re awful because Badger clearly loves them so much). And who knows — maybe The Little Girl Who Lives in the Woods will soon be having midnight release parties at a bookstore near you.
Maybe not soon.
New camera! Obligatory Baby Eating Lunch test photo: