A Dinosaur Story

Once upon a time, long ago, long long ago… no… long long long ago, lived two dinosaurs. They had a wonderful life to themselves, since they came after the plants but before the humans. They had a land full of plants with no humans to bug them. They had clouds and rainbows and rivers and waterfalls. And they had plants. Lots of plants.

Which was a good thing, because Bobby the Brontosaurus loved eating plants. He ate like this: “omm nom nom” and he even ate while he talked like this. (Add omm nom nom’s into your talking. If your kid laughs, your doing it right. Then again, if he laughs he won’t go to sleep, so you might not be doing it right afterall.)

Bobby the Brontosaurus didn’t have any friends because all he did all day was eat plants. He liked it that way. He said “I have all the plants I need and I love eating them.” (Mix in lots of omm nom nom’s in there.) But Ptommy the Pteradactyl didn’t agree. He thought it would be nice to have a friend. Ptommy could fly far above the valley and look at the rainbows and clouds and waterfalls and plants. He wanted to talk about them with Bobby, but all Bobby was interested in was his plants. Bobby never even looked up at Ptommy, he just kept eating and eating. But if Bobby never looked up, how would Ptommy ever get Bobby to see the wonderful things?

One day, Ptommy discovered a place where the plants grew right up to the edge of a cliff, which dropped away, and below were waterfalls and rainbows and clouds. He told Bobby he’d help him find more plants to eat. Bobby liked that plan, and so Ptommy said “eat over to the left a bit”. Then Ptommy said, “eat up ahead a bit”. Every time Ptommy gave Bobby a direction to eat, Bobby found good stuff, and Bobby started to realize having a friend wasn’t so bad afterall. But Ptommy was laughing to himself all the time, because he was leading Bobby where he wanted him to go! And finally, Ptommy said, “eat that nice bush there in front of you”. Bobby did, gladly, (omm nom nom) and then he was shocked, because now he could see out over the cliff. For the first time ever, Bobby the Brontosaurus saw clouds and rainbows and waterfalls and mountains.

He stopped eating (he’d never done that before!). He looked left and right. He looked again. He was amazed.

“Ptommy,” said Bobby, “that’s really pretty.” (no omm nom nom’s here!) “But do you think you could tell me where to find more plants?”

Prommy rolled his eyes. “Sure thing, buddy. Just eat a little bit more to your right…” said Ptommy, smiling.

This story is based loosely on On Top, by Marilyn MacGregor.

Two more stories

Here’s two stories that worked their charm on a not-very-sleepy little boy, turning him into a sleepy one.

Bep and the Giant Pumpkin: It is October, the official start of pumpkin season in our house. That means it is time to start talking about pumpkins and where we get them. So mommy, daddy, Elio and Emma got in Bep and went for a drive. They drove up up up to the top of Lausanne and then up up up to Mont sur Lausanne, then up up up more to the little self-service vegetable stand above it. Everyone went in and chose their pumpkins one by one. Emma got a little pumpkin because she needed to hold it between her feet in her maxi-cosi. Elio got a bigger pumpkin because he’s strong (Elio e forte!). Mami chose a good pumpkin for soup because she makes the best pumpkin soup. And daddy chose one to make a yummy pumpkin curry. Daddy was about to pay and go, but Elio asked, “What about Bep?” So they looked but none of the pumpkins were big enough for Bep. They went out back and found a perfect pumpkin, 1 meter across, 3.14 meters around and weighing 200 kg! They went to get Bep and asked, “can you carry it?” Bep said “beep beep vroom vroom, no problem” and drove the whole family home, each with their pumpkin on their lap (except mami, who was driving) and Bep with his pumpkin right in the middle.

The Little Red Robot: Once upon a time, there was a little red robot. (Elio was wearing his red robot pj’s.) This little red robot could do everything the master programmer taught him. He could dress himself, go poo poo, feed himself, read books, etc etc. He even knew how to initiate the food processing unit decontamination procedure (teeth brushing) and the light delumination protocol (turning off the bathroom light by head butting it). But each night, when the little red robot went into sleep mode, something magical happened. He got to do things he never did in the day. He ran programs for flying on clouds, climbing in trees, (around this point Elio interrupted and asked that the story should include a “motoschlitta”: snowmobile), and ride lunar snowmobiles across the moon through craters and over the horizon, far from the robot base. That night, the little red robot ran the snow mobile program in his processing unit all night. In the morning when he woke up, he went to Central Dispatch and found that his job that day was to go drive lunar snowmobiles for real! And so he did.

Once upon a time…

My son now needs a bedtime story, whispered in the dark, to go to sleep. My wife and I both love good story telling. She even took a course on it once, and told a story to an audience as the final project. We go to le Nuit des Contes every year here in Lausanne, and I’ve picked up some tips from watching the (literally) professionals there. A key to oral story telling, certainly for small children, is to use a structure with repeating sounds and phrases that they can get wrapped up in.

In order to have these some day to look back at, I’m going to start writing down summaries of stories I tell. If one is good enough to develop and retell, perhaps one day I’ll tell it at the Nuit des contes!

Our 1974 VW Type 2 camper van (“Bep” is his name) would be the star of every story if Elio got to choose. Instead, we offer him a choice of three characters and then go from there. The key, I find, is to start slowly, describing the character, throwing in some fun details right away. This gives you time to race ahead in your mind and choose a rough storyline. The easiest is to choose the end state first, so you know where you are trying to get to. Then, like a dot to dot painting, you need to fill in a few intermediate hops along the way. These are attempts the character makes at achieving the goal, or increasingly dire straights the character finds himself in. These stretch out the story, but more importantly, give it a verse/chorus/verse/chorus/verse structure, which is where the real magic comes from. And the rhythm necessary to put a fidgety 2-year old kid to sleep, as well, which is the point afterall!

What do I mean by verse/chorus? The chorus is the catch-phrase, the repeated element that signals another loop around. It gives the story rhythm and momentum. The verses carry the story forward, so that you get to where you are trying to go and you get that nice satisfying conclusion.

So here are several stories that I’ve told so far:

  • Bep and the Doubting Family: A story from real life, about a little camper that joined a new family and though it had been crossing the passes of Switzerland all its life, the mom and dad were worried it couldn’t do it (a family version of the Little Engine that Could). For each pass: Daddy said, “I don’t know if he can make it”, and Mommy said, “I’m afraid he can’t make it!”, and Elio said, “Go Bep, Go!”, and Bep said, “beep beep, vroom vroom, I know I can make it… I know I can make it… I knew I could make it!”.
  • Bep and the Big Campers: Big campers at a campground are making fun of Bep (“He’s only got 4 cylinders!”, “No fuel injection!”, “He doesn’t even run on diesel!”, “He’s got no toilet!”, “His exhaust stinks: che sputzza di benzina!”). Bep says he’s as good as other campers, but they demand proof. He names all the passes he’s done, and the bigger campers say, “Wait, they let you do that pass? I’m not allowed on it because I’m too big!”. The Dutch camper says, “My owners drive me all night long on the autoroute here, and go through all the tunnels to save time!”. The big-ass bus starts crying because he’ll never get to see Passo del Lucomagno because he’s too long. Bep makes him feel better by reminding him that he can drive all night from Barcelona and his owners don’t even have to go pee at the gas station. All the campers are friends after that.
  • Bunny and the Giant Carrot. A little bunny tells her mom that she loves carrots. She loves them so much she wants to grow up and be a farmer and grow carrots. She’ll sell them all around the forest. She’ll sell them by the big rock, and past the oak tree, etc, etc, etc. (This was inspired by Elio’s cousin, who told us this summer of a plan to be a farmer and sell his produce all around Switzerland in order to get out and see the country. Good plan, if you ask me!) She tells her mother the same thing every night, each night adding one more place she’ll sell her carrots, and naming all the others. One night, her mother reminds her that tomorrow is a special day, her birthday. She receives a single carrot seed, but it’s magic. The next morning, she has a regular carrot in her plot. But her mom convinces her to wait another night (and another and another, as many as it takes to make your fidgity 2 year old tired). Then it goes to seed and gives her all the seeds she’ll need to achieve her dream of being a carrot farmer.
  • Bep and the Apple. On a long trip, the daddy stops the car at a fruit stand. (Based on real life, and my fond memories of driving from San Francisco to Arnold as a child). He buys an apple for everyone (mommy, daddy, Elio and Emma). Each person crunches their apple, except Emma who coos because she knows she’ll get her apple cooked for snacktime later. Bep complains that he didn’t get an apple, and daddy explains to Bep that he can’t eat them, Bep eats gas. But daddy promises to make it up to Bep by getting him an apple anyway. Bep goes su, su, su! the pass, turning left and right and left and right and a moto goes by and goes zoom! (Repeat for as many switchbacks and/or passes as necessary until kidlet is cuddling and knodding off.) Bep is running out of gas and worried that daddy won’t fill him in time. But just when he’s sure he can’t go another kilometer, around the corner comes a giant sign with an apple on top. It’s Apple Gas, where Bep gets his gas, just as daddy promised!
  • The Lonely King. The king of a country with one citizen (the king himself) is lonely. On the plus side, all his subjects follow his orders, but having more people to play with would be nice. So he tries everything he can think of to get more citizens. He plants flowers on his castle, but the tourists just take pictures. He makes a decree that all the women of the kingdom (i.e. zero) must marry him, but that doesn’t work because there are none and because women don’t like to be told what to do like that anyway. He tries giving away cookies, but he runs out and no one moves in anyway. One day, a nice lady goes out picking mushrooms. She goes up up up the mountain until she finds herself in the kingdom. She asks the king if he’d like to look for mushrooms with her, and they laugh and have fun until sunset. She comes back for more mushrooms, day after day. After two weeks, the are in love. After two months, they are married. After two years, they have a family. And when the king and his queen had a happy family in the kingdom, other people came to join the happy kingdom and the king was no longer lonely (though he was likely exhausted from staying up late into the night telling stories to his kids).

Just Married

I’ve been away from the web for a while because I was in Olivone, Ticino, Switzerland getting married!

Thanks to friends and family who came from so far away to witness such a special day.

And thanks also to our wonderful vendors, who made the day go so well. If you are thinking of putting on a wedding in Blenio, give these guys a call:

It feels different to be married. It seems like it shouldn’t… the house is the same, we still sleep on the same sides of the bed. But it’s different. Good. And safe. And happy. And… different.

Viva gli sposi, all of them, whereever they are in the world. This is why getting married is special! Now I know!