“Tell me a story from when you were a little girl.” This was one of my favorite requests for my grandmother, my Mimi, when I was a child. Unfailingly, she would oblige.
There was the time her family moved for the umpteenth time – her father worked in the oilfield, so moves were frequent – and she was told to take all of her things and put them in two piles, one pile to keep and one to burn (I still can’t wrap my mind around this concept). So she did, and her older brother accidentally set fire to the wrong pile.
Or the story about when she was a child and living on Caddo Lake and had to take a boat to get to school, and on one of the trips a snake fell from an old cypress tree into the boat with them. She'd never been a fan of snakes, but I think that snakes falling from the sky will seal the deal on a lifelong phobia.
These stories were often told to me while I was sitting in the front seat next to her on one of the weekly car trips from school to Wednesday night church, and I have the fondest memories of them. As I grew up, so did her stories. She told me about her early married life, ways that God has provided for her when things looked bleakest, and the numerous challenges of rearing four children under the age of five (apparently that can be somewhat difficult, who knew?). She’s actually taken the time to write down much of this history, for which I am so grateful, even if it's in her spidery script that's notoriously difficult to read.
Some of the best stories start out as really awful experiences. Can you imagine being eight-years-old and having every possession you wanted to keep set ablaze?
One of my favorite stories from early in my own marriage is the one and only time my husband took me deer hunting with him. I don’t hunt. Honestly, I don’t “outdoors” much if I can help it. I live in Texas – we have approximately eight days a year when the weather is truly nice, and even those days have bugs. I’m a climate-controlled, anti-any-animal-that-has-more-than-four-legs kind of girl, but we’d only been married a few months, and my husband suggested we go on a weekend trip to one of his favorite hunting spots a few hours away. Doe-eyed and ignorant, I agreed.
Do you know what you should always do before you drive for four hours to sleep in a pop-up camper that I swear to you could not have been insulated? Check the weather. It got down to nine degrees – yes, N-I-N-E. The water in the coffee pot froze. Heck, the water in the toilet froze (and I’m being pretty generous with the word “toilet,” because it was basically a bucket). He didn’t even bring home a deer, but it's still one of my fondest memories from our first few months of marriage.
Storytelling is a dying art, but it’s a beautiful one that connects generations. I want my son to know stories like this. I want to be able to pass on some of my history to him, just like my Mimi has to me. I don’t want him to have to go back and check my social media accounts to learn my history (or his). I want him to sit on my lap and hear about “that horrible camping trip” as I smile at the memory of it.
However, I also think there's value in the hard stories – the ones that aren’t so fun to tell. It’s important for our kids to know us as parents, sure, but they also need to know us as people, as human beings who have lived life and have had good and bad experiences. If you want to prepare your children to weather a storm, tell them about your own. Make sure they know the legacy they have within their own family. It may not be fun to talk about the issues you or other family members have dealt with: addiction, depression, miscarriages, infertility, abuse, prison, whatever, but as a whole, it will be those stories that will carry them through their own dark times.
As much as I’d love to protect my son from anything that might hurt him, it’s just not possible. The hard stories may not tie themselves up in neat little bows, they may not even have an end yet, but family secrets have a way coming to the surface, and wouldn’t you prefer your child hear it from you rather than someone else?
Speaking from experience, sharing stories can build relationships between generations like nothing else. I’m still extremely close to my Mimi, and I want to stay close to my son as he grows. I’m not advising to throw every hard story you know at your five-year-old, but be able to recognize when she's old enough to handle something more than amusing anecdotes. If you want your children to eventually know you as more than “Mom,” you’ve got to be prepared to let them in on the rest of your life.