Day 185: do not read this out loud

I want to tell you about a game my kids really like but I need it to preface this post by saying that no matter what we are doing, with the possible exceptions of swimming or eating ice cream, my kids would always rather be glued to a screen. I need to say this upfront because this game is so deeply wholesome and lo-tech that to say, “My children adore this game!” could come across as saying something like, “My darlings can’t abide screens! No, they have simpler tastes. Just give them a hand-crafted jigsaw puzzle or perhaps some fresh wildflowers to press, and they’re happy as lambs!”

This game is known in our household as the story game. I recommend it especially for an inter-generational-dinner-party type situation. La Bonavita introduced the game to us. He apparently played it with some patients in some kind of group therapy setting, but don’t let that put that off. It doesn’t involve lying on a couch or talking about your mother.

Here’s how you play. Give each player (I’d say you need at least three people and more is better) a piece of paper and a pen or pencil. Set a timer for one and a half minutes. When the timer starts each person starts writing a story. When the alarm goes off, all the players stop writing and fold their piece of paper away from themselves so that all but the last line of what they’ve written is hidden. Then each player hands their paper to the person on their left. The timer is re-set for another ninety seconds and each person has to continue the story as best they can from the line they have in front of them. And then you repeat the process as many times as you like, but at least as many times as there are players. Whenever you decide to stop, each person unfolds the piece of paper and reads out the story, which is, inevitably, surreal. It should look something like this:

story game 1

The great thing about this game is that it’s one of the few things—like Ghostbusters or pesto—that we all agree is good. I was worried that the younger would be too inept at both reading or writing to really enjoy it, but, to my surprise, she is the game’s biggest fan: she just doesn’t write very much and tends to need some help with the reading part.

story game 2

A few nights ago, the younger was very twitchy. I was reading Charlotte’s Web to her in bed, but she wasn’t getting sleepy.

“Let’s just snuggle and we can talk about all the fun things we’re going to do while we’re on Iona,” I suggested.

I started us off, and soon we were whispering about sandcastles and millionaire’s shortbread and cowrie shells and Iona stones and treasure hunts.

Then the younger had an idea.

“We can teach Elo [my mother] the story game!”

“Ooh, yes, I think she’ll really like it!”

“She’ll probably use a lot of really English words like, you know, rummy, and bum, and, and … fiddle, and, and … tit …”

She trailed off.

“Tit?” I repeated.

“ …le …. tittle,” she continued.

“Tittle” I repeated. “Sure.”

“Wait is tittle even a real word?” she asks.

“Yes, tittle’s a real world, you know, like in tittle-tattle, like if you tell on someone you’re a tittle-tattle.”

“A tittle-tattle?” she repeated, frowning.

“Yeah, isn’t that what you say?”

We say a tattle-tale.”

“Oh. Huh.”

As often in this kind of situation, I felt suddenly unsure. Was tittle an English word? Perhaps, like titivate or enervated, it’s a real word but one that only seems to be actually used by Mum and me. Or maybe it’s a Tindal family word, like chittery-bite? Or maybe it’s just a phantom of the Kareemian imagination?

“Well, I think we say tittle-tattle,” I said finally. “But I might have made that up. I guess we’ll have to wait and see if Elo uses it.”

I’ll keep you posted.



Day 120: Oh! Fern!

“I know what happens at the end,” the younger announced, knowingly.

She paused for effect. “The spider dies,” she declared.

“What! How do you know that?” I demanded. We had only read the first five chapters of Charlotte’s Web.

“You told me,” she said. “You told me about reading it and crying.”

“Oh,” I said. “Yeah, well, that’s true; I might cry when we get to that part.”

“You don’t have to read that bit,” the younger assured me consolingly.

“Oh, it’s OK; sometimes being sad is also good.”

“Yeah, like when Liam [a former preschool classmate] left? I was sad …. but he was always coming up to me and saying, ‘—, can you play with me,’ over and over, and I needed a break from him, so it was actually good that he left.”

“Right,” I said, uncertainly.

We were walking to preschool. The younger walked into someone’s front yard and ran her fingers through the soft, feathery leaves of a fern that was growing out of a tree.

“Oh!” I said, experiencing what is, for me, a rare phenomenon: botanical recognition, “this is a fern: that’s what the girl in the book is named after!”

“What?!” asked the younger, scrunching up her face in a mixture of incredulity and excitement.

“Yes!” I said, equally excited.

The younger widened her eyes.

“Maybe,” she said, “they were walking around trying to think of a name that was also a plant and then they saw this and they thought, ‘Oh! Fern!’”

I was unsure whether by “they” she meant Mr. and Mrs. Arable or E.B. White, and also unsure as to whether she imagined that they or he had seen this here particular fern … but no matter: I was quite enchanted by this account of perambulatory inspiration.

“Maybe!” I said, laughing.

I think I may now use “Oh! Fern!” whenever inspiration strikes.

Oh! Fern!