"When people told themselves their past with stories, explained their present with stories, foretold the future with stories, the best place by the fire was kept for... The Storyteller."
So, one night about a week ago, I was just about to settle down to go to sleep (in the wee small hours of the morning… Damn! Another late one) when I heard one of my girls get up to go to the bathroom… No biggie, when you gotta go, you gotta go… So I closed my eyes and attempted to sleep. Within a minute a loud sob started up and it sounded serious! I walked with some pace to the bathroom and found my youngest daughter in tears on the bathroom floor.
‘What’s wrong?’ I asked.
Well, what had been a mournful sob turned into a painful wail complete with a flood of tears and an incomprehensible explanation.
Something about people in the bathroom with her and they were yelling at her.
Hmmm very strange… ‘Please explain’
Same jumbled mess of words through wailing sobs.
‘But there’s nobody else in here.’
Always the sympathetic parent at 1.00 in the morning.
After a few unsuccessful attempts to make me understand she started holding her head and crying now in pain.
I held her close trying to calm her.
‘What’s wrong? Does your head hurt?’
‘Yeeessss!’ Came the shrill scream, ‘it hurts sooo much!’
Okay, midnight nurse shift into gear.
‘Right, lets get you back to bed and I will get you some Tylenol to ease the pain.’
I quickly ran downstairs to the kitchen, grabbed a couple of tablets and was back to her in a jiffy.
By now she was screaming and crying and howling all in one… It was amazing she hadn’t woken up the whole house.
‘Shhhh, shhh, here you go.’
I gave her the tablets to chew and then tried to hold her and hush in her ear to calm her.
Of course medicine isn’t some magical wonder pill that makes you feel instantly better so we would have to wait for the relief to kick in. In the meantime the sounds she was making were horrific.
What else could I do to help.
She was very hot, It was a pretty warm evening so I got out a face washer, ran it under cool water and put it on her head.
Still the pain surged and she filled the room with her growls and shrieks in angst.
I hoped this was nothing more than a simple headache, Jessi was always one for the dramatic but how is one to know for sure?
I didn’t know what else to do, she seemed to be getting louder and more annoyed with it all and I could do nothing but hold her, pray for her and try to give comfort.
Trying to think hard about what could actually help to settle her, without putting her in the bed with dad (as per her suggestion through tears of pain) who had to work the next day and would not be too tolerable having a screaming child next to his ear. I suddenly realised I had one trick up my sleeves that I hadn’t thought to use, my gift of storytelling.
While still carrying on and flailing her arms and body about every now and then, I tried to hold her as best I could, leaned in close and began to whisper into her ear a story.
It began with her and I, in the garden, happening upon a fairy castle hidden within a hollowed out tree… She didn’t seem to respond and it didn’t seem she was listening at all but I continued…
Knowing she is a huge animal lover, I was sure to include animals big and small that would interact and talk to her…
It didn’t seem to make any difference…
Tired myself and aching to head to my own bed, I trudged on through my story, hoping that something of her adventure would bring her some relief.
It didn’t seem to be working.
Then as she hopped up onto the back of a silvery white unicorn, headed for a ride out over the valley… the sobbing quietened and a soft little voice spoke.
‘But where are you?’ She asked with concern, ‘what happened to you mummy?’
I had kind of dropped myself from the story, placing a focus more on her.
‘Umm, well I’m there, I’m just watching you ride.’
We spoke a little more and then I asked her how she felt.
‘Better.’ She said.
‘Are you ready to go to sleep now?’
She was still hot so I ran down to the basement and brought up the fan, plugged it in and aimed it at her. As I did so we chatted about the story, she told me her favourite bits. I was surprised, she had actually been following the story the whole time.
I left her in dreamland to continue her ride on the unicorn in the moonlight.
I have since discovered the power there is in a simple story. The imagination to be cast into a world of make believe, making pains and fears dissipate is a serious weapon against the forces of darkness that plague the dreams of little ones. Just having an image of something special in her mind was enough to distract Jessi from the pain she was feeling and give it time to subside.
The story was nothing special… Believe-you-me, it had absolutely no plot and no conflict or structure to it… It simply had the right elements for Jessi… Animals, fantasy and a nice place to be. That was enough to bring comfort to her.
The funny thing is when I started writing this blog, late the other night, my youngest boy got up complaining of having had a bad dream (he’s five, had watched ghostbusters that evening and was having nightmares about evil marshmallow men or something). I let him get a drink of water and then followed him back upstairs to get him back to bed. As we walked down the hall he veered towards our room with hopes of hopping into our bed…
Hmmm…’I don’t think so, bud.’ As it is, he tends to hop into bed with us a couple of nights during the week anyway…but I don’t need to start the night with an extra body in the bed.
‘Come on back to YOUR bed.’
‘But I’m scared!’
‘Alright, I’ll tell you a story to cheer you up.’ (Now to see if this secret weapon of mine was just a fluke or the real deal).
He didn’t seem too convinced and showed it by his anti-attitude.
‘Would you like to have a superhero story?’
‘What about pirates?’
‘Something about cars?’ ‘No,’ ‘Animals?’ ‘No’ ‘Transformers? action-men? Knights?’
‘No, no, no!’
‘What do you like then?’
‘Oh-kay’ (waterfalls? Really?)
So I started a story that begun with a waterfall that had treasure at the bottom of it, he found a cave with a mermaid that gave him wishes and he wished for a life size train set… Among other things.
When I got to the end he wanted to hear more and I told him that he should close his eyes and ‘dream of the waterfall?’
‘Train set that he could ride around in?’
‘Mermaid? seahorse? cave?’
‘No, no, no.’
‘Okay then…you dream of all the treasure you filled your pockets with! Goodnight.’
And he was fine after that, didn’t hear a peep out of him all night and the next night when I put him down to bed, he wanted to hear the exact same story again.
Yessss 2 for 2!
So I now truly believe in the magic of story telling and what a serious weapon it is to have in your arsenal against the dreaded nighttime terrors or whatever else that may come along.