Today was my Natty Friday; that happens every other week. She is this amazing, intelligent, and beautiful little girl who also happens to be my granddaughter. Going on 4, she just started “school” yesterday.
One of the themes of her first day of school was monsters, with a story read about them, and other activities central to the monster theme.
Appropriate, I guess. Children her age are struggling with sorting out the fundamental concepts of reality…and monsters can occupy a BIG space in the mind of a small child.
We like to go to the park when she visits, but it was 90 degrees today and sweltering humid, so we stayed inside in the air conditioning. The normal things progressed…I tried to get her to eat something good for lunch. She requested chocolate pudding. I caved. But she did devour a plate of peach and apple slices along with red grapes. And then she washed it down with water.
And then the perfunctory movie–”The Incredibles” along with a snack size of popcorn. And we colored and painted, along with Bobbi, my son’s girlfriend.
Then I read her books. This visit, I grabbed a stack of Little Golden Books, Bambi and Little Red Riding Hood, a couple others, and in the stack was one I thought so appropriate, a Muppet story called “The Monster At the End Of This Book”.
After all of that was winding down, Bobbi and I were sitting in the family room and she was laying on the floor wondering and babbling (wondering out loud, I call it) while The Incredibles made background noise as it played through for the third time.
Natty looked up at me and said, “Grammy, tell me a monster story.”
Ha! I do fancy myself to be a creator of stories, and thought first of fiction. I would simply make up a story on the spot…and in those few seconds of thought, had already begun to draw guidelines for what was too scary to include, and what was allowed in the story.
Then, I backed up a bit and recalled a real monster story from my childhood. What is better than non-fiction, especially when told with embellishments? With eyebrows arched in appropriate places, and the voice, low when necessary and screeching high when needed…along with the occasional conspiratorial whisper?
“Well, first you know, monsters are in the imagination…at least when you are three. Perhaps, when you are older, we can talk about monsters again, because it is a rather philosophical concept.”
She looked at me like she often does when I go off on a quite vociferous tangent.
I continued, “But, I do have a monster story I can share with you and you will see that the monster was in my imagination. Do you know what imagination is?” I asked after seeing the puzzle on her face.
“No.” As her head shook from side to side.
“Imagination is when you make up things in your thoughts. Sometimes they seem so real…like monsters. And one time when I was a little girl, I was sure I saw a monster or a ghost, but it turned out to be my imagination.”
She was listening intently. So I began.
“When I was a little girl, just a little older than you are now, I lived on a farm. The house was in the middle of a cow pasture. We had a big yard fence all around the house to keep the cows out. And since we lived in the cow pasture, when we drove out the lane to go anywhere, we had to stop the car, open the gate, get back in the car, drive it through the gate, then get out, close the gate behind us and then get back in the car and go the rest of the way out the lane.”
“So the cows didn’t get out of the pasture, Grammie?”
I nodded yes while I thought, smart girl, and then I continued.
"My mommy worked as a nurse at the hospital, and she left really early in the morning. And when I didn’t have to go to school, in the summer, my mom would wake me up when she was ready to leave for work and I would ride out to the gate with her, get out, open the gate, and she would wave at me while she yelled goodbye, then she would drive to work. I would shut the gate and walk back down to the house.”
She was all ears and eyes as I told the story from my childhood.
“When summer was getting to an end, the days grew shorter and the sun came up later and later. It finally got to where I was riding out the lane with my mom in the dark. The sun had not come up yet. And I was “sort of” afraid of the dark."
“I am too, Grammie. I am afraid of the dark.” She confided immediately.
I added that it is okay to be afraid of the dark. “I still don’t like being in the dark.”
<lowered voice> So, this one morning, it was dark and I rode out the lane with my mom. I stepped out of the car, grabbed the gate, lowered it while she drove over it, waving goodbye as she continued on. I fastened the gate quickly while the car drove away, trying to use the fading lights of the car to find the hook of the gate. Then I stood and watched my mom disappear up over the hill.
As I turned to walk back to the house, in the light of a very, very dim predawn, I saw something white across the lane from me, a few feet up over the bank. I was scared! <eyebrows arched high> <mine and hers> I didn’t know what it was. I crouched down and decided not to move an inch, and maybe whatever it was would stay where it was and then when the sun came up and it got light, it would just vanish (like I was sure that ghosts did) or if it were a monster, I would at least be able to see what it was.
There, motionless, I waited with pounding heart, as the white thing occasionally moved, rose up a bit then settle back down. As the light came (which took an eternity) suddenly, what my mind–and my imagination had been seeing was…” <pause for dramatic effect while the weight of the moment showed on Natty’s face>
“The white part of a black and white cow!”
Nattie looked confused for a moment, then her smile mirrored my own.
“Yep, Grammie couldn’t see the black part in the darkness, just the white part. But my imagination told me it was a monster or a ghost. I didn’t know where the cows decided to sleep in the pasture. They must have been up there, close to the gate when it got dark and then they just laid down and slept right there.”
I waited for the reaction as I wondered, had I made it too scary? Should I have toned it down, fessed about the cows sooner? Was she upset, scared?
And this was the response, “Did you put the cows back in the fence?”
I smiled while I explained that the cows were always on the same side of the gate as I was. “And your silly Grammie thought that cows were monsters.”
And that was her monster story for the day.
You just have to love children…their natural inquisitiveness, their innocence, their ways of processing information…the way they make you find the child that still lives, buried in your mind–even the one that is still afraid of the dark and mistakes cows for monsters
Children, the stuff of inspiration...