Our Family Fairytale of Unconditional Love
Establishing traditions through story telling
When our children were young, our nightly ritual concluded with the sharing of a story just before they crawled into bed.
Katie hurried about the room attempting to cram playtime into each second before the announcement, “It’s time to settle down.” She reminded me of the timer in a Hot Potato Game that got louder and faster just before the abrupt buzzer signaled the end. Like the player who held the plastic potato, she recognized defeat but since she knew what was coming next, she welcomed it with a huge smile.
Her older sister, already nestled on the bed, patiently waited for the tale. Whereas Kat created the stories of life and played the main character, Kari consumed them and lived vicariously. Sometimes we read a classic such as Cinderella; other nights we enjoyed the sing-song lyrics of Dr. Seuss’s Green Eggs and Ham or a tried and true story like Are You My Mother?
However, the girls’ eyes sparkled at the retelling of the family favorite, a story that grew from my imagination many years ago and somehow became a regular.
. . . So, the beautiful princess left the palace intent on gathering blackberries while her younger sister trailed behind. She walked a distance beyond the gates to reach the berry patch and filled half a basket as she enjoyed the birds singing and the warmth of the sun on her back — being careful to keep an attentive eye on her little sister who sang to ladybugs and collected rocks. When she heard a noise in the bushes, the child jumped causing her to stumble, trip and fall. The older girl paused, craned her neck curiously looking for the cause of the noise, unaware of danger. From behind the bushes, pounced an immense, emerald dragon.
As the familiar story unfolded, Kari lay motionless, captivated by anticipation as she assumed the role of the princess.
Even though the memorized story held no surprises, it fascinated her as she ran through possible scenarios and alternative endings. Katie rode a plastic rocking horse while listening to the story as she galloped and jumped from the bedroom to the castle and over the blackberry bushes.
. . . The littlest princess, caught off guard, laid motionless as she stared up at the beast. Her sibling, unnoticed, stood at a safe distance; her legs seized as if the dirt had transformed into quicksand, all movements, all thoughts frozen.
Before her mind commanded her limbs to spring into action, the fierce beast seized the child and carried her to his cave. Courageously, the princess raced home to alert the king and queen of their first born’s fate. The report alarmed their parents, but the princess became determined to rescue her sister.
During a pause while I attempted to remember the the next line, Kari would remind us, “I am the princess and Katie is the little sister.”
“Yes, dear,” I replied. Just as the story developed into a family tradition, her announcement became part of the story.
“Mommy, will Sissy rescue me from the mean dwagon?” Katie asked, and it appeared she was truly riding to save a life.
"Of course. Now, you two let me finish."
. . . Meanwhile at the dragon’s lair, the little girl’s terror evaporated as she realized there was nothing to fear. The dragon sensed her gentleness and responded with equal kindness. Captivated by her sincere love and beauty, their roles changed, and she seized control. They played; she talked and sang; he stood guard. The realization that the dragon looked for friendship, that his actions were provoked by loneliness, melted the innocent child's heart. A friendship grew.
Midway through the story, I paused in the telling to pick up Katie who finally slowed and showed more interest in the Strawberry Shortcake pillow and less in the horse. Once situated on the bed, her signs of fatigue made it apparent that the bedtime story was having the intended effect. Kari cuddled the a teddy bear with her head pressed against my lap.
. . . Back at the castle, the royal couple was frightened for the safety of their kidnapped daughter. The intelligent, brave king planned a rescue. The queen offered encouragement. The determined princess explained where to find her sister. As a family, they developed a plan to find and free the baby. With big eyes, little hands, and the courage of a knight, Kari led the search party.
At some point Kari always remembered to remind us, “Mommy, you can be the queen and Daddy can be the king.” I smiled knowingly as that image graced my imagination as the tale unfolded.
. . . Carefully following the plan, the royal family gathered in front of the cave only to discover fear unnecessary because when the princess saw them, she ran out beaming and unafraid. Once the dragon witnessed the family together, he understood their genuine love. He could not refuse his prisoner's wish for happiness; thus, he allowed them to reunite. The princess had captured the dragon’s heart. The royal family lived happily ever after.
As a natural conclusion to an already happy ending, I often heard, “I love our family, Mommy.”
A soft, “Wov you” echoed the emotion.
Never surprised, I always looked up to see my handsome king standing in the the doorway. Our family became complete as he watched over us protectively.
The evening ended with prayers and someone always added, “And God bless Papa Ray because we miss him.” Followed by a child's voice, “Omen.”
With the girls tucked in bed and feeling like a queen, I turned to my husband and breathed, “I love our family.”
Throughout our married life of 40 years, many large, green, ugly dragons have disrupted peaceful evening in our kingdom. Sometimes they kidnapped a family member, but they always found the way home. Other times they hovered in the air threatening destruction. The dragons surfaced in our castle in the form of boyfriends, drugs, illness, and teenage rebellion. Thankfully, unconditional love confronted, slayed and overwhelmed all the challenges, no matter how enormous or horrible.
One of my most touching memories occurred when I walked in unexpectedly to a bedroom at my daughter's house. As Kari tucked in her children at the end of a day, she recited the family story from years ago. Emotion overwhelmed me as I listened to the familiar retelling of our family fairy tale. As she pulled the blankets up and kissed her two girls, I flashed back to years ago, thankful for traditions that make memories.