“Most people want to wake up in the morning with a general at the foot of their bed saying ‘Go do this.’ The problem is there’s somebody at the foot of their bed saying, ‘Once upon a time. . .’”
“Mama, I want addle dooce!”
I bolted upright in bedeven if it was pitch black outside and the clock said 5 a.m.every time a little general named Kevin stood at the footboard bellowing his rise-and-shine command. The way I saw it, if a kid can’t pronounce “juice,” you sure don’t let him pour it.
For years on end, my dayslike those of parents everywherestarted like this. I still can’t even say for positive whether I enlisted in the mommy service or got drafted for active dutyonly that once it started, the kids called the shots.
After fifteen-hour days of diapers and drama, bananas and baths, tantrums and tears, I told bedtime stories to an army of little generalsthree of them, to be exact. Unfortunately, by the time the sun went down on my toddlers, I didn’t have an ounce of creativity left in me.
I wasn’t like the inimitable Peter Falk in The Princess Bride, who regaled his ailing grandson with illustrious personal interpretations of his nocturnal storybook-of-choice. I may have begun well with a mysterious-sounding “Once Upon a Time,” and may have occasionally ended with an overly-enthusiastic “And They Lived Happily Ever After,” but in between?
In between, I struggled to focus my sleepy eyes on the words, to form my tired lips around the syllables, to keep from yawning my way through entire one-sentence picture pages.
Sometimes, I cheated.
I’d skip a phrase that seemed unimportant to the sketchy plotline, maybe a description of the king’s fur-trimmed robe or a few of his horse’s longwinded snorts. The little generals, upon whose commands my entire life revolved, caught me every time.
“That’s not the way it goes, Mom,” Scott would say. The kid couldn’t read, but he sure could memorize. “Start the page over.”
“Mommy, do the voices!” Carrie insisted. And so from somewhere deep inside my exhausted self, I brought forth the theatrical voices of “Burp” and Ernie and Kermit the Frog once more.
When little generals move on to their next command post in lifeas they always doit’s hard to take orders from only yourself. The transition from having your days filled with demands to having more time to “once upon” is startling and stark.
“What time is it?” I groan, as the alarm raises its scratchy morning voice. If I roll toward the windows, I’m blinded by the dawn’s light just long enough to imagine a little general standing at the footboard.
“You don’t have to get up yet,” Doug says. “Rest a minute.”
I always panic a little then, because the generals are grown and gone. The life of automatically responding to demands and commands has softened around the edges, and in the center, too.
And once upon a timeso familiar in the seconds before sleepis a scary way to start the day. I’m nearly paralyzed with the fullness of its possibilities, almost breathless with its fresh potential. It’s a comfort to me, then, that the other, more-familiar words follow on once-upon-a-time’s heels: “Go do this.”
So I sigh and stretch, pour a cup of coffee, and begin again, once upon a time, to go write the rest of my story.
Posted by Katy on 12/05/04 at 08:04 PMFallible Comments...
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