Every night before Lulu goes to sleep, I lie down with her and tell her a story.
It used to be a Story From My Childhood. Much of the time, they weren't really stories but fragments of memory: My Dutch Girl Halloween costume in second grade; my mean kindergarten teacher, who once shrieked at me for resting my head on the desk; a Shanrgri Las' song called "Your Can Never Go Home Anymore,'' about a guilty daughter who ran off with her boyfriend, prompting her mom to die of loneliness (My sisters used to play this song all the time when I was little. Lulu now loves it--its the girl-group equivalent of "Bambi.'')
Lulu enjoyed these stories for nearly a year. But on an off night--and there were many--I'd start to repeat them. And though the stories were rich in detail and observation, they lacked plot and character development.
Lulu started asking for make-believe stories, much to my distress. Before I had kids, I used to think I had a good imagination. My bedtime stories, I assumed, would transport children to magical, faraway lands. There would be catharses and symbolic meaning. And of course, no gender-typing.
My fictional stories,however, were roman a clefs of the worst kind. Tired from a day of working or parenting, I'd seize upon something that happened that day--say Lulu had prevented Zeb from hitting his head on the playground--and recount how "Chrystal,'' --who she invariably wanted to be called, and "Dean,'' a name we almost gave to Zeb--were on the playground when Chrystal saved Dean from toppling over the edge of a cliff.
Often, the stories had a heavy-handed, moralistic tone. One night, after Lulu had a tantrum because I refused to let her eat corn chips before bed, I told her about an angry girl named Star (her choice of names again) who went to "Planet Calm'' whenever she was feeling mad. Lulu felt cheated--and justifiably.
What was with all the thinly-veiled psychobabble? Why not have Star just escape from a flood of hot lava, then attend a ball?
Because that would have taken to long to describe. It was so much easier, and more fulfilling for Lulu, to end stories with a shopping spree to Toys R Us, where the characters could buy everything they had seen on TV that day. Then, they would bring it back to their palatial mansion in Sicily with the enormous playroom. (We have no playroom in real life, and I'm always bitching to Regis about it).
My stories were starting to sound like Judith Krantz for kids. But I felt like I'd found a good formula. I was especially proud of my stab at science fiction, "Planet Bratz.''
In this, Chrystal was a space explorer who landed in a faraway galaxy. Everyone there was a Bratz doll who lived in a pink and gold glitter house and ate pink cotton candy for dinner, washed down with silver iced tea.
The Bratz dolls were scared of Chrystal at first, but when they realized she'd come in peace, they allowed her to return to Earth and bring back three best of her friends: Maria, Darby and Mandi. They had a marathon play session, and the dolls told them they could come back anytime they wanted, as long as they didn't tell the other earthling children about Planet Bratz.
Lulu LOVED this story. But when I told it to Regis, he was appalled.
"Why are you doing this?''he wanted to know. "She gets enough of that from commercials.'' He wondered why I didn't' just seek sponsorship from Mattel.
"You try telling her a new story every night,'' I said defensively. "See what YOU come up with. She loves these stories! She was sick of hearing about the cat I had in fifth grade. I can't think of anything else. I'm empty, empty!!"
Regis said he'd tell her some stories this week. But he's been working late.
I'm already working out the thematic structure for "The Island of Polly Pocket.''