Every night, Peeper’s wind-down routine is the same: Last Play with a timer. Negotiations to get another Last Play. Teeth-brushing. Stalling to get out of teeth-brushing. Jammies. Book. Song.
And recently, after the lights are turned out, she has asked for a story.
When I was growing up, my dad loved to tell us kids stories. He’d invent characters and a plot then string them along in drawn-out dramas. He told us a scary tale about a ventriloquist’s dummy that came to life and a mummy who chased a bunch of explorers—but just because he wanted a cough drop.
He’d tell us these stories in the car, mostly. The tales kept us enthralled between point A and point B—but he’d impeccably time a cliffhanger to the moment he turned off the Shempmobile, his blue Dodge Caravan. He always left us wanting more.
It’s legend, in fact, that one summer he stretched a story about Fluffito, the world’s fluffiest dog, to last a road trip spanning a dozen states. He told about Fluffito’s adventures as he made his way up from local to regional to national to finally international fluffy dog competitions. But, unbelievably, he didn’t finish by the time we returned home.
Before I could hear the end of the story, in fact, my sister ruined the punchline:
“He’s not so fluffy!”
(Yes, we waited 3,000 miles for that.)
I can’t help but think of my dad’s storytelling when Peeper curls up on my lap, waiting for the tale to begin. They’re significantly shorter than my dad’s yarns, but Peeper listens just as raptly as I used to.
Every night Peeper asks for essentially the same story. She wants to hear about how Finn lost his bark. My challenge, then, is to invent a new twist every night—how his bark froze when he was walking to the North Pole, how a crab pinched his nose at the beach and made his bark disappear, how he jumped so high on the trampoline that his bark bounced out of his throat, how a wave from the river splashed into his mouth and made his bark too wet.
Peeper enjoys them all, I think. But every so often, I spin a winner.
“Oh, that’s a good one, Mom,” she’ll say as she slides off my lap and climbs into bed.
Maybe my stories will become longer and more complicated as Peeper grows older. I doubt I’ll ever tell an epic of the same caliber as Fluffito, but you can bet I’ll continue to imagine ways for Finn to lose his bark.
Tonight, and tomorrow night, and every night she asks me, I’ll begin. “Once upon a time…”