And lately, though I hear the words every night, I thrive on them. They are as powerful and as moving as hearing the words "I love you" come from my son's lips. They are the words: "Tell me a story, Dad."
The Dad stories always happen after Alexander and I have finished reading a pile of storybooks and are both snuggled down in his big boy bed and have kissed Mom goodnight and had half a dozen family hugs. The lights are off and our eyes still haven't adjusted to the dim orange glow night light in the one corner of the room. We can make out the digital clock on his bookshelf and in the background is one of three favourite bedtime CD's playing softly.
Alexander will roll over in bed and face me just as our eyes are starting to adjust to the dark and he'll say. "Tell me a story, Dad."
I usually respond with: "What kind of story?"
"A story about me and Mister Bunny." He usually also insists the story be about some sort of fun activity here like 'playing in the backyard, going to the park, at the fair, going shopping' -- usually whatever we did that day or plan on doing the next.
Mister Bunny was a dwarf rabbit that Francine and I had for over ten years. He died just a few months before Alexander's 2nd birthday, but not before they had a chance to play together. We realize, of course, that Alexander's actual memories of Mister Bunny will not last, but he quite enjoys hearing fictional tales of The Adventures of Alexander and Mister Bunny.
There are often 3 main elements that each story contain:
- First, there's usually some sort of activity that Dad and Alex or Mom, Dad and Alex plan to do. Then, when it's decided and the family is off to start doing whatever, Mister Bunny is heard clearing his throat. (At this point in the story, only after hearing the convention once, Alexander chimed in with: "Mister Bunny!" -- the throat clearing is Mister Bunny (who used to live in our kitchen in the epicenter of all activity in the house) reminding them that HE wants to be a part of the fun too.
- Second, there's the detail about Mister Bunny getting whatever he needs to participate. One time it was trying to find all four of his rubber boots for an excursion in puddle jumping -- another time it was trying to find his tiny little toolbox so he could help Dad and Alex fix the railing on the deck.
- Third, there's usually some sort of cute little thing that Mister Bunny does either based on his confusion about what they're doing (usually some sort of word play -- example, Alexander's daycare is called "Pumpkin Patch" and on a visit there Mister Bunny mistook the trip as a trip to a real live pumpkin patch on a pumpkin farm), or his desire to go do something bunny-like in the middle of the adventure. It either gets him in trouble that Alexander has to rescue him from or it teaches the humans that there's more than one way to look at things.
- Fourth, the stories always end with the words "and they laughed and laughed and then they went home, had a fun bedtime snack and snuggled down to sleep."
I've also tried leaving cliffhanger endings from one night to the next, which Alexander is excited about. He quite enjoys them and is eager to hear the conclusion of the story -- and each time he's great at reminding me exactly where the last story left off. But I don't do that too often, as the idea is to have a solid conclusion to each tale with a happy ending and a hint that "okay, we've had some fun, now it's time to get some rest"
Of course, every night Alexander says the words that Daddies and storytellers long to hear: "Tell me ANOTHER story, please!" But I limit it to one Mister Bunny and Alexander story per night; though it is tough not to keep telling them. He usually spends a few minutes regurgitating to me the high points and details of the story, such as "Mister Bunny and I hammered nails in the deck and Mister Bunny lost his hammer in the bushes" -- the excitement in his voice is on par with just having been handed half a million dollars.
Francine insists that I start writing as many of the 40 or so tales I've told so far down so I can possibly turn one or more of them into a story book. So far, the tales exist only between my son and I (the first writing I've done anywhere close to the Mister Bunny stories is right here on this blog post) -- perhaps when Alexander is older he can help me regurgitate the best of The Adventures of Alexander and Mister Bunny and we can craft them into book format -- who knows, maybe with HIS illustrations. That would certainly be a fun father/son project to work on when he gets a bit older.
In any case, this week I'm counting how fortunate I am to have this ritual with my son, and to enjoy the captive storytelling audience that I have with him before he grows up and discovers how big a nerd I really am.