Sometimes, I want parenting to be easy. I want to be able to blame any difficulties on something outside -- school, holidays, busy grownups, too many activities -- even when the truth is that being a child means being a child. It is messy and inconvenient and gorgeous. Growing up isn't easy; why should helping someone to grow up be easy?
I feel as if I should know by now, but I forget over and over, that when things get awful feeling and hard and so very annoying I want to scream and yell, that big changes are happening. When you're travelling, and you get lost or confused, or the car breaks down, or the train is no longer stopping at the exact station you needed, it's time to sit down, shut up, and check the map. Then, look around at where you are. What is really around you? What can you see, feel, hear, touch, smell?
So right now, I'm checking my maps, my guidebooks. I'm filling the tank, picking up snacks, resting up. Lightening the load. Repacking the stuff that's gotten jumbled on the way. Remembering where I'm going, and why...
My wish for you, as this holiday season whirls towards new year's, with all the promises and resolve that are entailed, is this: that even if the road is blocked or potholed, even if you feel like you're running on fumes, that you can always find a map, a rest stop, a few snacks, and, maybe, the confidence to throw out the maps and drive by feeling, looking for the familiar landmarks that remind you we are always on a journey home, to ourselves.
... welcome the returning light
... snuggle with someone.
... light a candle.
... take what you need, so you can go on bringing hope and joy and beauty to this world. I know that's four things. But it's all one thing, really.
these are dark days, friends. It can be easy to get stuck in that darkness. Last night, I went to my mom and stepdad's house by myself, and in the quiet of that space, grief snuck up behind me and hit me with a hammer. The news brings word of awful tragedy, desperation, fear.
In your small way this week, then, gather your light, and shine it out. The weather here is gloomy and dark, and the day dawns gray and sinks too soon back into misty gray, and the stubborn snow under the slush is gray and tired.
Today, though, I listened to a woman tell how this afternoon, her teenaged kids and her husband would join her in delivering four Christmas trees and scores of presents they've bought and wrapped to families who otherwise would be facing a lean, wrenching holiday. I've heard kid laughter and seen gentle kindness in so many eyes.
Gather the light, then. Shine.
and yet sooner than that, the days will stop growing shorter. It doesn't begin to change noticeably for a while. There will be a few days there, when it seems like we're stuck in darkness land.
I'm almost done with my Christmas shopping. We trimmed the tree today, since the kiddo was home with a bad cold. We need some more ornaments, I think. This year's tree is taller than last year's, and our one box of decorations are spread thinly over the green.
Even as I try to meet this season with equanimity, anxiety creeps in. I substitute cheese and oranges and chocolate for lunch. I refresh my facebook feed over and over. I shop blindly, looking for just the right thing. I try to notice when I'm numbing the real need with stuff and sugar. Sometimes just noticing is enough. Sometimes, I can even make a shift.
As the new year approaches, I'm looking for how I can be of service through this blog and what I offer as a storyteller and teacher. Would you be willing to take part in a survey? I want to know what's coming up for you, what you need as a storyteller, a teacher, a parent, a person. Maybe there's something you're looking for here? The survey is below. I'd love to hear from you.
It's been a busy week. Kiddo has turned six, with much celebrating. I'll be at the farmer's market one more time this week, on Sunday at 1 pm. We are scurrying around, trying to get things ready for the holidays, while also trying to overcome winter colds and a deep desire to hibernate...
I'll be back with more soon!
Once, there was a boy and a cat who lived in a cottage in the woods with the boy's mama...
When our kiddo was around 3, I started telling a story one day. I wanted some way to talk about why sometimes we need to do as we're told, without lecturing or scolding. So there was a story, with a boy and a cat who could talk. They lived alone in the woods at the time. Kiddo loved it, and asked for more. But, he said, they needed a mama.
For about a year and a half, Boy and Cat were our nightly bedtime story. I even recorded stories for my partner to play for him sometimes, when I wasn't going to be home due to travel or work. Every night, the story started the same way, with the boy waking up and finding his mama at the kitchen table. Every night, the story ended with the boy and cat falling asleep. In between, they had many, many adventures.
There was a growing cast of characters, from the Queen of the Tinies, a kindly fairy regent who lived in a palace inside a huge old apple tree. There were The Girl and Phillip, the boy's two best friends. There were the parents of the three children, and the multitude of fairies and forest people. And there was Baby Dragon, who hatched from an egg in the Queen's breakfast room.
Some nights, I was tired, and the story was short and simple. Recorded stories, sent by email, were short by necessity. Other nights, the stories were long adventures, with danger and excitement and triumph. Some nights, I was so tired, I'd drift off in the middle of the story and start talking about completely unrelated things, until our kiddo prodded me back into wakefulness and back into the story.
The framework of the stories, with their stock characters and settings, made the stories easy to start. Most of the time, I had absolutely no idea where we were going in that night's installment, only that it would end with dinner and bedtime, and peaceful sleep. It didn't matter. A story always showed up, and because it was a routine, it was okay for the story sometimes to fall completely flat. Some of the stories were dull and boring. Some were masterpieces.
I have put together an mp3 of one of the stories for you. There is a slight jump in the middle, as the story got a little long to be sent by email, and I had to send it in two parts. It's no work of high art, just a simple little story from a mother to her child, to help him to sleep. The sound quality isn't great, and you can hear me sniffling and the car running in the background. I'm sending you this imperfect story on purpose, because it is real, and because we need not be afraid to tell stories in our real lives, in imperfect situations.
If you would like to hear this little Boy and Cat story, please click RIGHT HERE to be added to my mailing list, and you'll get a link to the story within the next 24 hours. Again, it's my gift to you. I only ask that you treat it with kindness and respect. Feel free to share the link with friends and family, but please don't repost it without permission.
I am working on a new audio story for you. Well, new to you. It's one I recorded for my son about a year and a half ago. It's sweet and simple, and not too long, and I hope it shows just how easy telling a story can be. I'm having a few technical difficulties, which I hope to deal with after the Advent Spiral this evening. I'll send along a little description, too, when it's ready to download. BUT there's a catch...
I'll be sending out the link on my mailing list! If you want the new story, just click the button above! You'll also get my first audio story as well!
In case you didn't know, I really, really, really like telling stories.
And sometimes, people seem to really like listening to them.
There were spectacular crowds for the stories at Heartfelt and Sebastian Joe's today, and I told four different stories. Two were traditional folk tales (Grandfather Frost, which I changed slightly because I couldn't remember it, and Cap o'Rushes) and two I made up ON THE SPOT. David Sewell McCann of Sparkle Stories talks about doing that here. I have a deep belief in just letting stories tell themselves, although it's kind of like letting a little kid lead the family hike in the woods. I ask the questions I need answered in order to keep the story from totally falling off the rails -- who is this about? Where are we going? How do we get there? What do we need?
I love telling stories in performance, but it's not my only goal here. I want to empower you to tell stories, and to make stories. Today, I told one story about a boy who saw a moose with one antler. I had asked the audience to name a favorite treat and an animal. The treat was ice cream, which was peripheral to the story that came to me. I just followed the story where it led, asking my questions, until it was done.
You can do it. Try it tonight, or tomorrow. Find a jumping-off point, and just go with it. You never know where the story will take you...
Maybe you don't know the word, or you have hazy memories of wreaths or logs stuck with candles.
Traditionally, Advent is a liturgical season comprised of the 4 Sundays immediately preceding Christmas, including Christmas Eve, should it fall on a Sunday. For me, Advent is the deepest part of the year, the time when I'm ready to get quieter, to turn inward and notice how much work it can take to sparkle and glow when everything in nature is urging me to hibernate. For these weeks leading up to the shortest days in the Northern hemisphere, I consciously create daily rituals of flame and quiet.
All around me, things are bustling. There are presents to buy, decorations to put up, trees to select. There are parties and concerts and events. My schedule is full. Calendars must be consulted for every possible conflict before any new commitments can be added. I'm breathless, worried if I can do enough, buy enough, be enough.
Into this hurried time falls a drop of peace.
In Waldorf schools, there's a tradition of a special festival of quiet and light during this season. The Light Garden or Advent Garden or Winter Spiral is at once a meditation and an activity. A candle is lit at the center of a spiral of evergreen boughs. One by one, the children follow the spiral path to the center, each carrying a candle in an apple. After lighting their candle, each child finds a spot along the path on which to set their apple, so that it will illumine the pathway for others. Once all the children have had a chance to light their candles, we pause for a moment to enjoy the loveliness of the lit spiral, and then the teachers lead them back to their classrooms or they leave with their parents.
Each of us must find a way to the light -- the light of thought, of connection, of kindness and of justice. Each of us has the opportunity to light the way for those who come after us. This is the lesson of the Light Garden. It's one I need to learn, over and over again, every winter.
As you make your own way into the heart of winter, however this season lives in you, my wish is that you may find a light lit on your path to help you along, and that you may in turn share that with others. I'll have another story for you this weekend, and I hope it might be a little mirror, reflecting a little sunlight into the cold.
I think those words are from a make-up ad or some such. I cut them out of a magazine before Thanksgiving, and added them to a vision board I was making. I have it here by my desk, and it is providing me with rich images and evocative phrases to guide my steps this winter.
I'm really excited about this mailing list, and I plan to send out an update tomorrow, with upcoming storytelling dates, some ideas for your winter celebrations, and maybe even another story. Who knows?!
Want in on the fun? Click the "send me a story" button above.
so, I'm starting a new thing around here, and there will be more details over the coming weeks and months. To begin with, though, I want to encourage you to click that little green button up there. It will ensure that you don't miss out on anything -- I'll be sending out a blog roundup every so often, so that you know what's going on in the Dreamland.
I'm also sending out a link to a story I featured on my blog a while back, a little test story as I dip my toes into the world of audio files. Want a sweet, simple fairy tale to tell to your kiddos, or perhaps a few moments of blissful peace as they listen to the audio story? This might be just the ticket.
We are already settling into Advent around here. I love the chance to reconnect with the peace and stillness of this time of year, as I strive to kindle my own inner light. I was looking at the December calendar, and it is filling up fast. Touchstones, moments of stillness, like the sound of floating snowflakes.
settle in with me?
Sara is a storyteller, writer, artist, teacher, wife, mother, and singer living in Minnesota. I write about storytelling, and about living a life with stories.