When my children were little, my mother-in-law always greeted them by saying “hey-yo” in this cute little baby voice. As they grew up, she continued her signature greeting despite their protests that they “weren’t babies any more.” At the time I didn’t understand why my mother-in-law hung onto her baby voice whenever she said hello. But now that I’m a grandma myself, I get it. Sometimes it’s hard to let go of the rituals we enjoyed when our grandchildren were little; we want to hold on to those precious connections, as if that will help stop time.
Last fall I suddenly felt much more empathy for my mother-in-law. My older granddaughter had just started first grade and I felt like I hardly ever talked to her any more. We had a storytelling ritual that began when she was three years old. At that time, my daughter was pregnant with her second child and needed a respite in the afternoon. I would call my granddaughter and tell her a story while she listened on the phone. We both got hooked on these stories and by age four she was able to dial my phone number by herself. “I’m calling for a storah,” she’d say.
Sometimes she called three times a week, and I’d drop whatever I was doing to make up a new story for her. I wove details from her life into make-believe stories and we’d often speak for half an hour on the phone. I cherished our calls, even when I wondered where in the world I would find inspiration for a completely new one. I’d start with no idea where my story was going, and magically, a thread would start to unfold. At the end of the story I’d get my reward when she’d say, “That was a good storah, Baba!”
I knew that our ritual wouldn’t continue forever, and I treasured the opportunity even when I didn’t have the energy. I discovered that something always clicked and I actually got energized from using my creativity. I realized our bond was a special gift to me because the stories kept my creative juices flowing.
When she started kindergarten, the requests for storahs began to dwindle. She still called once a week and we developed some new characters. Her favorite and most often-requested stories were two best friends who lived next door to each other and had a Pet Rescue Service. She wanted more magic in the stories and some scary adventures for the first time.
As she got busy with play dates and ballet classes, our phone time stopped. I missed our ritual and realized that it had reached a natural end. I also knew that my storytelling had laid an important foundation for sharing real life stories in the future. I’m certain we’ll create new and different rituals to share together.
Now I’m excited to watch her creativity go in a new direction— she and her Zayde (grandpa) share an art ritual. My husband sits in the big green armchair in the living room with Juliet perched on the arm and they draw together. They play “Guess the Sketch,” where he draws the first few lines of an object and she tries to guess what he’s drawing and adds some of her own lines. I’m so happy for both of them.
I’m hoping that her younger sister will soon enjoy listening to stories (she always wants what her older sister has) and we can begin all over again.