I have a big family, which means there is always a kid around. And while the terrible twos – and even-more-terrible thirteens- can be infuriating, there is something special about a kid’s imagination that makes it all worthwhile. Surrounded by grown-ups, I find myself mired in the inanity of work, bills, and other tedious markers of adulthood. Those dreary tasks known today as “adulting.” But when I’m near a child, I find my mind wandering and tall tales and spontaneous stories effortlessly rolling off of my tongue.
When a child is bored, without screens nearby to distract them, they often look to the nearest adult for some form of entertainment. I cannot count the number of times one of my children or grandchildren has suddenly looked at me with earnestness and anticipation and said, “Tell me a story.” And while I consider myself a writer and a spinner of yarns, the demand always strikes in me a momentary pang of stage fright and insecurity. Telling a story to a child, not knowing the next word until it comes out of your mouth…that may be the purest form of improvisation.
I’ve had failures and successes. Sometimes there appears no end in sight, so I fall back on clichés or end without concluding anything. But most of the time, the story meanders its way into a truly captivating tale. In these cases I grow more excited as the child’s eyes widen. Both of us wonder what will happen, but somehow everything gets neatly wrapped up as if it were planned. And while I have written novels and essays, in many ways those moments are the most satisfying.