For about the past year and a half, me and my wife have spent some of our time at the end of the day with our son Noah telling him bedtime stories. Actually, it’s been mostly me, since my wife doesn’t like making up stuff. At first, it was just about every night, with me telling Noah true stories about family, friends, former classmates and my school experiences.
I’d often put Noah in those stories, especially the ones I knew he’d laugh at. Like the science teacher who came in one day smelling like a skunk had sprayed him because a skunk actually did. Or the story about my second day of high school, where I had to fight a class hipster because he thought that I was a wimpy push-over.
With me injecting Noah into these stories — usually as the character Ben 10 turning into Big Chill or Humongousaur — I realized I had to embellish a bit, making some of my real-life encounters less like real-life. I told stories about my father where I changed almost all of the wording because the real stories involved more profanity and bigotry than a five or six-year-old should ever have to hear. I’d leave out parts of stories about how mean some of my classmates or teachers were just to make sure Noah was ready to go to sleep happy and without asking me a lot of questions about my past.
About six months ago, I started making up stories, about eighty-five percent fictional in nature. The names
and places remained the same, but the incidences and their improbable outcomes didn’t. I figured out that Noah mostly enjoyed a few choice characters: a fictionalized ’80s version of my father, a singing, wise-cracking fictional classmate, a super-smart classmate who’d get a case of the “ums” and “uhs” under duress, a friend from my elementary school days who’d fart when under pressure, and an even more tomboyish version of my Crush #1. Noah has since asked for those characters in my stories over and over again.
He’s also asked a lot of questions about my real-life classmates, teachers and family. Like, “Did you really have a classmate who sings ‘Roxanne’ all the time?” Or “Did [your friend] really fart all the time?” “Are you still friends with [super-smart boy]?” So I pulled out the MVHS Class of ’87 yearbook that I had borrowed from a former classmate when revising drafts of Boy @ The Window to show Noah pictures of them so that he could see that these weren’t the larger-than-life, made-up characters I used in my bedtime stories. Not to mention using the power of Facebook to bring home that fact as well.
This past week, Noah’s asked a few more questions. “Do you still like [Crush #1] a lot?,” Noah asked me a couple of days ago. “I still like her, but not the way I liked her when I was twelve,” I said in response, kind of shocked that he asked me that question out of the blue. I then thought for a moment, “Maybe I should keep the twelve-year-old in me to myself until he’s older.”
Then I realized. I have to tell Noah these stories. At the very least, it’ll help him not make the same mistakes I made growing up. That way, he won’t have to spend most of his time growing up without good friends, without an eleven-year gap between kisses, with mostly stories that would make most six-year-olds cry. Or, at the least, sad. He can read all about it when he’s older and Boy @ The Window’s published.