“Tell me a story from when you were a little girl.”
This was one of my favorite requests for my grandmother, my Mimi, when I was a child. And unfailingly, she would oblige.
There was the time her family moved for the umpteenth time – her father worked in the oil field, so moves were frequent – and she was told to take all of her things and put them in two piles, one pile to keep and one to burn. So she did, and her older brother accidentally set fire to the wrong pile.
Or the story about when she was living on Lake Caddo as a child and had to take a boat to get to school, and on one of the trips a snake fell from an old cypress tree into the boat with them. (She had never been a fan of snakes, but I really think that snakes falling from the sky will seal the deal on a lifelong phobia.)
These stories were often told while I was sitting next to her on one of our weekly car drives to Wednesday night church, and I have the fondest memories of them. And as I grew up, so did her stories. She told me about her early married life, ways that God had provided for her when things looked bleakest, and the numerous challenges of rearing four children under the age of five (apparently that can be somewhat difficult—who knew?). She’s actually taken the time to write down much of this history, for which I am so grateful, even if her spidery script is notoriously difficult to read.
Some of the best stories start out as really awful experiences. One of my favorite stories from early in my own marriage is the one and only time my husband took me deer hunting with him. I don’t hunt; honestly, I don’t “outdoors” much if I can help it. I live in Texas – we have approximately 8 days a year when the weather is truly nice, and even those days have bugs. I’m a climate-controlled, anti-any-animal-that-has-more-than-four-legs kind of girl. But we’d only been married for a few months, and my husband suggested we go on a weekend trip to one of his favorite hunting spots a few hours away. Doe-eyed and ignorant, I agreed.
Do you know what you should always do before you drive four hours to sleep in a pop-up camper that I swear to you could not have been insulated? Check the weather. It got down to 9 degrees – yes, N-I-N-E. The water in the coffee pot froze. Heck, the water in the toilet (I’m being pretty generous with the word “toilet,” because it was basically a bucket) froze. And he didn’t even bring home a deer. But that is still one of my fondest memories from our first few months of marriage.
Storytelling is a dying art, but it’s a beautiful one, connecting generations. I want my son to know stories like this. I want to be able to pass on some of my history to him, just like my Mimi has to me. I don’t want him to have to go back and check my social media accounts to learn my history (or his). I want him to sit on my lap and hear about “that horrible camping trip” while I smile at the memory of it.
There is also value in the hard stories – the ones that aren’t so fun to tell. It’s important for our kids to know us as parents, sure, but they also need to know us as people, as human beings who have lived life and had good and bad experiences. If you want to prepare your children to weather a storm, tell them about your own. Make sure they know the legacy of overcoming struggles within their own family. It may not be fun to talk about the issues you or other family members have dealt with – addiction, depression, miscarriages, infertility, abuse, prison, whatever – but as a whole, those will be the stories that will help carry them through their own dark times. As much as I’d love to protect my son from anything that might hurt him, it’s just not possible. The hard stories may not tie themselves up in a neat little bow, they may not even have an end yet, but family secrets have a way coming to the surface, and wouldn’t you prefer your child hear it from you rather than someone else?
Speaking from experience, sharing stories can build relationships between generations like nothing else. I’m still extremely close to my Mimi, and I want to stay close to my son as he grows. I’m not saying you should throw every hard story at your five year-old, but be able to recognize when they’re old enough to handle something more than amusing anecdotes. If you want your children to eventually know you as more than “Mom,” you’ve got to be prepared to let them in on the rest of your life.