This is a guest post by my husband, Jeff. I wanted him to describe a serialized story he has been working on with the kids, letting them contribute and coming up with . . . interesting twists along the way.
"There Should Be Mermaids"
A bedtime story.
Several weeks ago, the kids and I started working on a chapter story. Who, I asked, should be in it?
"Princesses!" said Elli.
"Star wars men!" declared Nate.
"Mermaids!" This was probably Elli.
Then, both: "Pirates!"
Well, all right. So we started a story about princess, mermaids, space men, and pirates. Here is the basic plot, so far:
There is a big crash in the distance. The princesses- 12 princesses, all with names starting with the letter a- sail in their ship to investigate. On the way, they greet the mermaids, whose names start with b. It turns out the space men- 12, all "C" names- have crashed their ship.
The princesses turn out to be master mechanics and repairers of space ships, and pretty soon they have the ship ready to go. However, they still need some insulation for the main cabin. They go to ask for some from the teddy bear factory but- O no!- someone has stolen all the stuffing from the factory. This means that the big teddy bear festival might not happen!
The princesses and space men embark on a pursuit of the local pirates, just missing them at several ports. The mermaids help track the buccaneers. But when the princesses and space men finally board the ship for a battle royale . . . nobody is aboard. And there is no sign of any stuffing.
Our children inserted themselves into the story, here; Nate and Elli (who live in a palace at the top of a stairway with 3180 stairs, with snack stations along the way up) help figure out that the mermaids took the stuffing all along, because they were sad that they can never have teddy bears, living underwater and all.
Everyone except the mermaids pitches in at the teddy bear factory, and the festival goes on as planned. There is even extra stuffing to insulate the space men's ship . . . which turns out to have been stolen by the pirates by the time the space men go back to finish repairs.
The pirates are observed trying to sail the space ship like a regular ship. Nate added the detail that it would rust! By the time the princesses and space men reach the ship, it is starting to sink. The mermaids agree to help keep the ship near the surface until a larger rescue vessel can come along. In the meantime, they make an interesting discovery . . .
Spinning this yarn with two young children has been a blast, if a little confusing. Tonight at dinner, Elli wanted to include more characters in the story.
"We already have 50," I said.
"We need 100!"
Well, why not? It is our story. We can have a stairway that is over 3000 stairs long, with stations along the way that have juice boxes and healthy snacks for travelers. There can be a mermaid cove, that almost no boats can reach, and the mermaids can somehow steal tons of stuffing and hide it in a giant sculpture of a duck. A giant, brick sculpture that floats in the middle of the cove.
Princesses can use light sabers to give pirates hair cuts. The journey to the mermaids' cove can include a lollipop forest and a marsh full of chocolate milk. Mermaids can steal, and be quickly forgiven. Children can invent a type of teddy bear that can live underwater with the mermaids.
I find that our creativity sparks each other, in our story times. We fill in each others' details a lot. My swamp becomes a chocolate milk swamp, and the travelers keep falling in and having to clean up because they're sticky. One princess becomes 12. I mentioned the giant duck sculpture, right? Nate ends up dramatically cutting it open with a light saber to reveal the stuffing to the princesses, pirates, and space men.
Each of the children brings experiences and memories from the day, and they own feelings about the day. Cutting the pirates' hair was a compromise; the kids wanted to cut off their heads. I don't know how they know about light sabers, or cutting off of heads, and it bums me out that they do. But the story format is one in which we can safely negotiate those topics and my views and feelings about them as a parent. You want to cut stuff with light sabers? Cut hair. Or giant brick duck sculptures.
Story play lets us be silly, explore our values, and try on different personalities and roles. It's been a rich time, and I can't wait to find out what the mermaids discovered!