In the storytelling engine room...


Although I haven't done graduate work in the social sciences, I've always been fascinated to learn about the different rituals with which people were raised. I'm weird: I love hearing people's dreams--no matter how seemingly mundane--and I love hearing the bedtime stories people's parents told them (or, I suppose, didn't).

My own father had a knack for always saying goodnight right after the first or second act of his long-running bedtime series, The Raccoons. It was kind of like Watership Down meets "Dynasty"--with a bit of Hardy Boys and The Secret of Nimh thrown in. I don't remember every plot point, but I know I was always rabid (ha) for more reports from the hardscrabble world of nocturnal vermin.

In my own adventures in babysitting, the kids always responded to different characters/themes, or commanded me to improvise on a saga their parents had begun. Most of these tales involved brave animals in unlucky ecological conditions, but a few involved well-intending mosquitoes, or ostracized appliances (think The Brave Little Toaster). Patterns were obvious, but what did they mean?

When parents/proxies craft these bildungsromans, do they do so with a specific intention? This is from Lawrence Shapiro's How To Raise a Child with a High EQ (which, honestly, is always the deal breaker, right?):

In his book The Competent Child, psychologist Joseph Strayhorn, Jr. teaches parents to make up what he calls "positive modeling stories" that address their child's real-life problems or concerns. In these stories, the protagonist, who has similar traits to the child, models realistic thinking and problem solving in her thoughts, feelings and behaviors. The protagonist may or may not be externally rewarded for exhibiting particular psychological skills, but she always rewards herself for being internally motivated.

Hmm. Did I learn to see myself as a raccoon? Actually, perhaps...Other people's garbage does have a certain hold over me, but I love dogs too much. If you'd like to perform an impromptu exegesis on your own childhood parables or the ones you now spin, I'm all yours...