“Tell me a story,” he said.
He was looking up at me with his beautiful face, dark brown eyes, and long lashes. “What kind of story?” I asked him.
“A scary monster story.” Except when he spoke, his 3-year-old diction sounded more like “A scawwy monstuh stowee.”
“Are you sure you want me to tell you a scary story?” I posed the question to give him an out, hoping he might ask for a Superhero story instead. After all, the only scary monster stories I knew involved former bosses and ex-boyfriends (and I didn’t want to be accused of telling complicated stories to a kid who just wanted to use his young imagination while drinking a glass of milk in his Superman pajamas). But he insisted, with eager, yet nervous eyes, to be told a monster story.
My nephew Nicholas has the face of a bronzed angel, and the swagger of the coolest kid in the neighborhood. But he’s still a little boy. And on this night, he was away from home, staying in a big house, and sleeping in an unfamiliar bed. Was a monster story a good idea to tell my small house guest? Not one to disappoint, I did the best I could (in a deep, serious, story-telling voice) with the tale of a big, furry monster who had one eye that projected beams of light anytime he was looking for a little boy. This monster, who didn’t have a name, started climbing up a ravine, making his way through a thick forest of trees leading up to a tall, brick house (which pretty much described our current location) Bad idea #1.
Eventually the monster found a little boy named Simon (hey, at least I changed the kid’s name), and whisked him away through the woods, down a hill, and over a river. ( I think I wove in some inspiration from Where The Wild Things Are as the story progressed). After a turbulent adventure, the monster and Simon finally reached an open valley filled with children. Possibly bad idea #2.
Little Nicholas was listening intently to every detail. But I could see that this outcome was going to have a bad ending (meaning real-life, 3-year-old nightmares) if I didn’t take the story in a happy direction, and quickly! So I had Superman, Iron Man, happy children, and lots of fun toys join the story. I even included My Little Pony just to make the story sweeter. Bad idea #3 – no little boy who asks for a scary monster story wants a bright, pink pony to show up.
I wrapped up the monster story with a happy, scary-less ending. And shortly after, it was time for bed. As you might have guessed, not long after bedtime, there were screams and tears coming from Nicholas’ room. When I rushed to pick him up and comfort him, he told me that he was scared of the monster. To which I thought to myself, “It’s time for Aunt Andrea to stop telling bedtime stories.”
The story I told out loud became true in his mind. Not the good parts, with Superheroes and magical ponies. But the bad parts, with the scary monster. It works that way for us as adults too, doesn’t it? We have a tendency to forget the good (people who love us, air in our lungs, a roof over our head, exchanges of laughter, positive life moments), and focus on the bad (people who don’t love us, the things we can’t afford, the losses we’ve experienced, and the moments that hurt our heart). When we tell our own story, we talk about how our life storyline should’ve been, could’ve been, would’ve been, or should be. A New Year becomes a time of reflection on the past, and a new storyline for the future. It’s normal to mourn or reflect upon what’s behind us, and it’s healthy to move forward and set goals for the future. But it’s hard to tell a perfect story. Stories are filled with monsters, hills to climb, and valleys to fall into. If 2016 (or any year before it) taught us anything, it should be to appreciate our good moments. We can get so caught up in rushing through our personal checklists, that we forget to enjoy what we have while we focus on what’s missing. In 2017, set your goals and put in the work that’s needed to accomplish your dreams (this will help you write a good ending).
But while you’re living your story, don’t forget to enjoy the good parts. You know which ones they are – they’re the ones you don’t have to make up, because they already exist.