Thursday, November 13, 2008

once upon a time

Clare has started telling stories. It's cute. But now that she's learned that there is such a thing as narrative, everything must be processed through it. This makes for long bedtime routines wherein we recap everything Clare did that day. Her signal for needing this is to beg: "once upon a time, Mama, once upon a tiiiiiiiiiime?" Whereupon I sigh, and begin: Once upon a time, there was a good brave smart funny cute little girl named Clare, and she..." did whatever she did. It's an unlooked-for reminder to me how important narrative is for all of us in the construction of our personal realities, Clare's insistent need for narrative and the re-telling of her own life to herself. Usually she still prompts me to do this for her, but she has started telling her own stories. They usually involve teachers at school (Miss Melissa is a star protagonist) and sometimes friends from school. A couple days ago on the way home she told me this story: "Once upon a time, Clare go to school, and Emma bite you. Playing in the kitchen, pink plate, blue, yellow. I want yellow. Emma's. Emma bite my finger. Clare say I sorry Emma." She's been telling versions of this story for two days now, and I'm still unsure exactly what went down. Someone bit someone's finger, and that finger was probably Clare's, but it's Clare who says I'm sorry to somewhere something seems to not fit. And herein lies the delicate necessity of parental investigation of fault in an unwitnessed conflict. But I am also too aware of how influential my narrative structures become on Clare's unformed stories: once I articulate a version, it becomes the official if my interpretation is wrong, it changes how Clare constructs her narrative reality as a result. What really happened, and who bit who, will forever be a mystery. But never fear: the story ends well. When asked if Clare and Emma are still friends, Clare's answer is yes. Will they play together in the kitchen today? Yes. Will Clare forgive Emma for biting Clare's finger? "I forgive you Emma" says Clare to the empty air--thus constructing a fictional scene of reconciliation which nonetheless becomes her reality, as we drive to school.

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