Keeping the boys entertained as
we travel is full of challenge. With space at a premium
and parentally imposed weight restrictions they carry just
a few toys each in their rucksacks. Matthew's backpack currently
holds 20 green plastic soldiers, 3 matchbox cars, a tennis
ball, a colouring book, some felt tip pens, Spiderman and
Delancy dolls and, of course, Puppy The Wuppy. Cameron's
has 14 grey plastic soldiers, 2 cars, a broken CD player,
a telephone, Squeaky the duck, a scarf from a long lost
Lamby and a Snoopy who is 'not very well'.
Neither of the boys have any books.
We started off carrying them but they were never used and
anything which doesn't gets used gets dumped. It's a rule
of the road. It's not that they don't like books; they love
them. When we've stayed with other families, books are often
the first thing the boys pick up, pawing the pages and pestering
us to read to them over and over again, "Can you read me
this one Dada …. please.." or "Mummy, Want story mummy.
Want this one. Read it." But on the road they just don't
want to read that boring old book over and over again. They
want something better… for Mummy or Daddy to make up a story.
A new one every night.
It was quite easy to begin with,
making up stories about places we'd been, things we'd been
doing, people we'd met. But after a while the boys weren't
content just to listen, they wanted to shape the story themselves.
At first it was just choosing the cast; "Dada, can you tell
me a story about Puppy The Wuppy, Lamby, Spiderman and Snoopy,"
or "Mummy I want one about Lamby and Tuatara." But then
they wanted to choose the setting: "Can we have one where
Spiderman and Delancy go to the Hot Springs." Before long
came some basic plot directions: "One where Squeaky and
Lamby go swimming and get lost." And now we get interjections,
disagreements and questions about story lines, plot developments
or factual inconsistencies: "No, Dad. Delancy doesn't need
armbands," "But why does Puppy get lost?" "I think Spiderman
can swim you know."
It's amazing how quickly they pick
up the idea of story, of beginning's, middle's and end's;
of characters, settings and themes; of conflicts, problems
and resolutions, of 'once upon a time' 'and suddenly' and
'happy ever after.' It was still a surprise though when
the tables were turned one evening and the boys began to
tell us stories.
Cameron's attempts are still short
but off beat and highly imaginative, like the one about
Lamby, the elephant and the Crocodile. "Well…. Lamby goes
for a walk with an elephant one bright sunny morning and
walks along the road and the crocodile eats them and then
Mummy and Daddy come and the crocodile eats them as well.
And that's the end of the story."
Matthew's skills are more developed
involving a heady mix of experience and fantasy, sometimes
with illustrations too.
"Once upon a time, one bright sunny
morning, there was a little boy who wanted to be a luge
man when he grew big and strong. So
he went on the gondola to practice his luge"
"And with his long
arms he soon got really strong at luging. And won all his
races and one day became the best luge man in the world"
"And he won lots
of medals and lived happily ever after. And that's the end
of the story."
Stories have tremendous
power to help us express what's happening in our lives,
to express our hopes and dreams, keep memories alive, and
pass on vital lessons. Our story time is a quiet(ish) time
together, each turn to tell a tale a chance to hold the
stage, talk about the day just gone, preview what's about
to come, moralise or descend into a world of wonderful childish
nonsense. It's a precious constant in a travelling life
lacking in routine and full of new experiences.