Telling my boy owie stories where no one gets hurt
by Paige Parker
Every night, my husband and I spin bedtime stories while our son winds down. He’s a non-fiction fan, my boy. He takes his stories straight, and sometimes, it hurts.
“You go first,” my husband begged, one recent night. “I get tired of telling the story about the time I got punched in the face.”
“I’m just going to have to tell him about the time my brother broke his arm,” I replied. “You go.”
“Last night he had a specific request,” Ryan said. “He wanted a story of redemption, basically. I couldn’t come up with one.”
Every night, my son drifts off to the strains of a “bad owie” story. Call them the Frank Family’s Fairy Tales, grimmer than the Grimms’.
As children, Ryan and I both fell down a lot and suffered frequent and stunning humiliations at the hands of bigger, tougher kids. So we’ve got that going for us. Still, some nights I struggle to come up with owie stories where no one really gets hurt. Parker can’t handle our family’s worst hurts. I barely can, myself.
Parker asked me the other night for a story with a sad middle and a happy ending, and I have plenty of those. Do you think he wants to hear about how my dad fell 100 times or more on the road to sobriety, but walked tall the last 13 years of his life?
That’s the stuff I’d like to shield him from, at least for now. So I tell the story about the time I had my appendix removed, but not the one about my ruptured ectopic pregnancy. And I tell him about how my father had his nose broken, but leave out the cancer and heart attacks.
An expert in early childhood development might postulate that these stories teach Parker that kids bounce back from injuries and setbacks. And we can. We’re resilient. But is it too much to ask that he learn by example, and not from experience?
The boy may be an innocent, but he’s also a stickler for an authentic narrative arc. He wants details, and he will interview me until I deliver. Listen to him drill down on the worst bike wreck of my childhood:
“Tell me about how Grandpa poured hydrogen peroxide on your knees and you screamed.”
“And then my daddy poured hydrogen peroxide on my skinned knees, and I screamed,” I dutifully recited. “He loved me. He needed to clean the dirt out.”
“What happened to the skin?”
“What do you mean?”
“When you skinned your knees, where did the skin go?”
“Um, on the ground?”
“Who picked it up?”
“No one, honey.”
“Is it still there?”
“I think the rain washed it away.”
“Oh. Now tell me about the time you lost your brother in McDonald’s.”
He’s relentless. Most nights, I leave my son’s room wrung out from the day. He wants to hear about every little owie. I’m working my ass off to protect him from the big ones.
Tell me I’m not the only mom who sits bolt upright in bed at 3 a.m. and runs to check the locks. Who whispers prayers that God can’t possibly honor. Who asks daily for my children to live forever.
Let my son think for the time being that the worst thing that can happen in life is spraining an ankle during basketball practice.
“Tell me about when Uncle Stan kicked your butt,” I heard him demand of his dad one night.
“Again?” my husband asked.
“Yes,” the boy said. “I love that story.”