Talk me a Tinkerbell!" Eleanor demands from her car seat.
I ignore her for 30 seconds, trying furiously to convey the entire contents of my day to Keith as succinctly as possible.
"Talk me a Tinkerbell!" she bellows. Any hint of begging is gone now, and there's steel in her gaze. She means business.
I sigh, giving up all attempts at normal adult conversation. I turn to her and sing-song, "One morning, Eleanor woke up. And pouf! Who showed up?"
"Tinkerbell!" she cries with a huge grin on her face. And so it begins.
All parents have their own personal parenting tasks that are a little more ... challenging. Some of us are fine with reading stories at bedtime, but can't stand playing tea party. Others are happy to run around outside all day, but get twitchy at the thought of craft projects.
In my opinion, one of the most difficult yet rewarding tasks is storytelling. We have made the parenting decision to limit her exposure to electronic media as much as possible (meaning as much as we can handle) for as long as possible. She didn't watch TV until she was 2 years old. Now, at 2 and a half, she watches some Dora and Sesame Street, and an occasional Mickey Mouse clip on YouTube. On a rough week, when time (or my patience) is particularly short, she watches close to 4 hours of TV. On a better week, like when I was on Spring Break, she watches next to nothing. She doesn't play video games or see movies, except for an occasional family movie night.
I know we'll only be able to keep her away from all of this for so long, and eventually it will intrude into our lives more. But for now, I want her to have an imagination. To make up her own games and characters and interactions. To learn how to focus on one activity, instead of trying to constantly multitask as we all (myself in particular) are so guilty of doing.
And this is how I end up talking Tinkerbells. I talk Tinkerbells in the car on the 10-minute trip to the grocery store (one or two stories, max), or on the 4-hour trip to Kentucky (too many Tinkerbells to count). I talk them in the living room, in the attic playroom, and in her bedroom. I never know when the demand, "Talk a Tinkerbell!" is coming. But I can be certain that there is always one looming on the horizon.
I wish I liked it more. Maybe I need to work on my storytelling style. But for now they're repetitive. She likes to do things in the stories that we already do all the time. We go to her friends' houses, to Grandma's, to the park. She bakes cookies and plays dress-up and goes down the slide. If she has a particular plot device that she decides she likes, whether it be a phrase or activity or character, it finds its way into every Tinkerbell from that point forward, until being replaced by another favorite. She always calls it a "Tinkerbell," but sometimes Tinkerbell is there and sometimes not. Sometimes she brings her fairy friends that Eleanor made up: Ningamell, Ninkamell, and Pinkapell. Sometimes the star is Belle or Grandma or a friend, and sometimes it's all about Eleanor! (But isn't everything though, really?)
I find it very difficult to come up with these stories. Under normal circumstances, I consider myself a creative person. I love to write! But to try and find new and exciting twists to the same story, already told countless times; it's a special challenge. At the end of a long day, when my brain just wants to shut off and watch the TV that I'm working so hard to keep her away from, talking a Tinkerbell is usually the last thing I want to do.
But it's important to me. I was pleasantly surprised on our most recent trip down to Kentucky. We did talk many, many, many Tinkerbells. But it didn't feel like as much work, because Eleanor did a lot more of the talking. She told me who was there and what they were doing and what people/fairies said. It gave me hope that talking so many Tinkerbells really is helping her build her imagination. I look forward to the day when I demand that she "Talk me a Tinkerbell!" and I can just kick back and listen.