Real Pressure: Telling stories with one hand

by Mr. Sheehy

While my students berate many assignments according to their relevancy standards (movies getting the highest, though I rarely let them watch any), few receive bigger blows than writing stories. Recently I had my juniors write parables, partly because I wanted them to have some fun telling a story, partly because I like to stretch their writing skills, and partly because it was a fun way to determine how well they knew the literary terms we were studying at the time (irony, parables, and symbols), and as they began, one gal muttered, “I haven’t written a story since elementary school.” But, ah, wait! Don’t cast judgment for a few more years. You may find it to be the most relevant assignment I give this year.

Friday was a short day at school (conference compensation day), which means I was home around noon. Upon arrival, my wife informed me that she’d be going to Kadoka within the hour to pick up her aunt and she hoped to be back around four o’clock. By one, I was alone with two girls and had a clear assignment – feed them both and get them down for a nap. My first instinct when Kiersten had left was to do something dramatic and dad-like: maybe head to Armadillo‘s for a pre-lunch snack or swing by Taco Bell and then take a walk; but responsibility won out, and I strapped Ellen into her high chair and cleaned some grapes. It’s strange how lofty and special I felt to be doing this simple task that Kiersten does (and does better) every day. But even knowing how silly I was to feel tickled about it, I continued to feel that way.

The thing about lunch at our house is, you have to be creatively energized to do it well. Within 30 seconds of the moment her tray latches in, Ellen clamors for a story: “Daddy, tell a story.”

And you cannot escape. Try some easy out, like, “I’ve got to help Annie right now. Maybe later,” and she’ll come back within a minute:

“Tell a story.” You’re stuck, because she needs to eat and she can’t get to the fridge from that highchair, and if you’re going to stay with her, you’re going to tell her a story. When you find yourself in this position, Mr. Sheehy’s parable assignment makes so much more sense.

Mar 04 2007 054

“Once upon a time,” I begin, and then I launch into a fantastic tale about Mommy riding a horse when Ellen was a “tiny tiny baby” (her chosen genre for the day), almost getting bucked when a truck blows its horn, galloping to Wal*Mart while dragging Daddy by the horse’s tail (Ellen’s contribution), tying the horse to the yellow post in the parking lot, and diverting a Stock Show stampede away from the innocent people and into a safe field.

And the moral of the story is: telling these stories isn’t easy, so you might as well practice ahead of time.

Not that my story paid off. Ellen ate about six grapes for lunch and then insisted on going to her nap, and Annie ate maybe five spoonfuls of oatmeal before slamming herself repeatedly into the back of her chair – a slightly alarming scene to one who hasn’t seen it before. I kept Annie awake about an hour later than usual, hoping that making her obscenely tired would help her fall asleep faster, and it worked. She cried for less than five minutes and zonked.

The following silence left me craving for celebration, and I received the perfect audience – my bachelor brother in law. When he stopped by shortly after three, I greeted him with my arms raised in triumph: I had “fed” and put two girls down to a nap. He was impressed, and I was glad he had been the one to come; Kiersten surely would not have been so wowed by a feat she accomplishes with ease every afternoon. But then, she can do anything I can do with one hand – a level of professionalism suggesting that she found every subject in school relevant. Even PE.

Podcast version (With mistake aircheck at the beginning. Oh well.)