Family Matters
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Family Matters

At Bedtime, Comfort Through Stories

A nightly ritual becomes a way to stretch imaginations and impart lessons

a crib at night, with stars glowing around
Photo by Bastien Jaillot on Unsplash

Every night, we take turns telling a bedtime story: Papa, Mama, Big Sister, and Baby Sister. She’s hardly a baby now at almost four years old, but being the youngest, she will always be the baby.

I didn’t use to like telling stories. Before we made it a nighttime ritual, my stories were bland and linear. “Once upon a time, there was a princess. She got lost in the forest. She walked and walked, until finally she saw her castle again. And she lived happily ever after.” After a long and busy day, I just wanted my kids to sleep quickly.

Then the pandemic struck, and I found myself with lots of time on my hands. I started writing in my journal again and took a short online class on how to write children’s stories. I finished the class, and in a month had two story drafts.

The early drafts, I told my kids as bedtime stories, and from their questions and reactions, I revised. They always thought my stories were good (thanks, kids!). Actually after all our stories, we’d say, “Wow!” Because our stories are weird and wonderful in their own ways.

Their Papa likes to tell stories of adventure, animals, nature, sisters, and friendship. It was he who started telling the moral lesson at the end of his story, and now, it’s how we end our stories — sharing the moral, just like Aesop did centuries ago.

I like to tell stories inspired by my childhood and the funny things my children say. When I hear their random statements or questions — about the moon, the herons in our village, the clouds, the tooth fairy, really anything under the sun — I start thinking, that sounds like a good story. Some nights, my stories border on lectures when I want to emphasize a lesson, like listening to your parents. When I’m feeling unimaginative, I tell them stories about our childhood — when they were babies, or when I was younger.

Big Sister, turning seven years old soon, sometimes asks big questions, like about my late mother and if we (her mama and papa) will still be here when she and her sister are older like me. I hug her tight and tell her that as long as we can, yes, we will be here for you.

Big Sister likes to tell stories of princesses, unicorns, and sometimes cupcakes and cake. Her recent story was titled “Our Family’s Adventure at the Amazon River,” and she was so into it that the story had many twists and turns like the river itself. It featured snakes, lions, bears, an invisibility potion, and a battle of the unicorns. When finally we returned home, we were accompanied by good unicorns that stayed with us and bore two sister unicorns. “The moral,” she said, “is when you go on an adventure, maybe someone or something good will help you on the way.”

I’m often struck by the maturity and depth of her lessons. One story about an old and new cabinet had the moral of, “If you miss an old thing, you will meet a new one that is better.” Another story about a jealous cupcake and cake had this lesson: “Don’t be jealous, for other people will choose the thing that you are jealous of.” I‘m not sure where she got these lessons, but I’m happy that she has reflected on these and turned them into stories.

Baby Sister is eager to tell her stories too. They’re often about her and Big Sister, playing and getting into all sorts of fun and adventure. Once, when she asked us about our favorite part of the story (a standard question after the moral), I realized I hadn’t been paying attention, so I answered a generic “they played together.” In her soft and small voice, Baby Sister said, “But I did not say that, Mama…” My bluff had been called! We all laughed, I the hardest. I learned a new moral that night: Always listen to your children’s stories!

And now, we all listen intently, for no one wants to be wrong when asked about our favorite part.

Telling stories have become part of our bedtime ritual. It did not start out that way, for the kids really just wanted to delay sleeping, but we’ve realized that our own made-up stories can be an effective way to impart lessons and reflect on experiences, even ordinary ones such as what we did that day.

The most important thing I learned from the children’s story writing class was to share a lesson. The story will not be useful without a lesson, our teacher declared. I’ve taken it to heart, especially as I tell stories to my children.

They like to read books, they like to listen to stories, and they like to watch stories in movies and shows. But in our bedtime ritual, they are learning to tell their own stories.

As they grow older, I hope our bedtime storytelling will remind them of finding lessons not just in stories but in their experiences, and to inspire them to create their own beautiful life stories.

For that is how we find comfort in life and make meaning of it, through the stories we weave — of playing and sharing with sisters, of good unicorns triumphing over the bad, of having the courage to go far and beyond, of the kindness of strangers, and most of all, the precious bond shared by family.

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Debbie Rodolfo

Debbie Rodolfo

Writer, mother, book lover, businesswoman, traveler from the Philippines || www.bloomingpen.net