Monday, April 9, 2007

Superhero Stories (the dad I want to be)

It's probably a bad habit, but I enjoy reading and listening to interviews with famous writers and filmmakers (yes, I fantasize about being on Fresh Air). Inevitably, one of the celebs will be asked about how they came up with one of their masterpieces, and they'll say, "Oh, you know, I used to tell stories to my kids at bedtime, and they just loved this one, and it sort of took on a life of its own." Or something like that, in their perfectly constructed happy lives.

And they make it sound so easy. On the sappy TV shows, the kids always drift off to sleep as the mom or dad turns the pages, but in our house, it's usually my son shaking awake his semi-narcoleptic father, "Read, dad!" I'll drift off mid-sentence, and mumble half-dreamed endings to the words floating around the page.

Once or twice, I'd make up stories at bedtime, but it's hard work. I guess I'm not that quick on the fly. I'm really good at writing on paper or on my computer, but oral storytelling is entirely different. And worse was that the kids loved them, no matter how lame or stupid the stories were. The problem with this is that then they want another one. And another. Every night. The pressure.

So that never really worked out. I'd just read Hop On Pop yet again, or Stellaluna. But I'd just have to accept that I wasn't one of those cool dads destined for future fame and fortune.

But a few weeks ago, my son got a special FM system at school to help with some auditory processing problems (it's hard for his brain to filter out background noise). He wears a little receiver on his ear, sort of like a hearing aide, and the teacher wears a microphone around her neck. This way the teacher's voice is right in his ear, and it makes class much more productive for him.

But getting a seven-year-old to buy into this isn't necessarily easy. So on the way to school, I told him a story about Super Guy, who happens to have this really cool bionic ear. He hears various crises with his high tech ear, and then rushes to save people from the evil creatures of the world. He thought this was really cool.

Of course, he wanted to hear more of the story. And more. In order to keep from having to tell Super Guy stories all day and all night, I said I would only tell the stories only on the walk to and from school. (But it's a secret as soon as we get to school, since he doesn't want anyone to know that he's a super hero.)

It's been a couple weeks now, and we still do it every day (though we had a brief interlude where I had to tell Baron Von Bombhurst stories in an outrageous Vulgarian accent, from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, only in our story, he's a nice guy). I'm not going to get rich by writing these all down into a fine children's book. My son likes a quick set up (a giant skunk smelling up the town, a giant centipede eating all the ice cream in Brookline, evil Dr. Gworkus threatening his friend Marty the Martian on Mars), and a fairly quick resolution ("And then I locked him up in a cage, right?"). Sometimes, I try to make the episodes a little more complicated, with some element of suspense and storytelling craft, but he doesn't really seem to like for his stories to have middles, not yet anyway.

Once or twice, I've started to repeat scenarios or villains, by accident, but he catches me right away and will have none of it. So I guess he's paying attention. It's not always easy to come up with new situations twice a day. Maybe he's training me for a future writing for a pressure cooker sitcom, who knows. But I look forward to our walks every day now, and when I'm telling him a story, I never have to remind him to hurry up. We're always at the school before we know it.

I'm sure it won't last, but for now, I like pretending that I'm the dad I really want to be.


katrog said...

Thanks Superhero Boy--I didn't know it was you who got rid of the giant skunk who was smelling up my side of town a couple weeks ago :)

Do you think he could do something about the monster street construction project that's starting outside my window next week?


patrick said...

I'll put in a word to my young superhero. I'm sure he'll be able to hear your cries of distress with his bionic ear. Hopefully he'll have a creative solution (it might involve lava and lasers).