As a child, I tended to be a bit of a Chatty Kathy. I was an only child until that fateful day when I was 6 years old and my brother made his loud and annoying debut. (I've since made peace with his rude insertion into my world, but those first few years were a rough go.)
During those first blissful six years of alone time with my parents, I was relentless in trying to hold their attention. I always had a story to tell. If you're a parent, you know exactly what my poor mom and dad dealt with. The incessant chatter of mostly pure nonsense, the same, "Mommy, look!" or "Daddy, look!" that all parents experience over and over and over. (P.S., why do they always need us to look at something?)
In what I'm sure was the last straw before some horrible display of parenting that surely would have included a string of four-letter words that would have scarred my tender mind, one of my parents -- I'm not sure which -- had a brilliant idea: "Krissy, why don't you write me a story?"
Not only was I just getting a handle of my clunky fine motor skills, but writing a story seemed so... quiet. I wasn't on board with this idea. I needed attention! My voice needed to be heard!
But it turns out that it was more of a mandate and less of a suggestion.
"Write me a story about why a frog says, 'ribbit,'" one of The Parents said, as they handed me a Big Chief tablet and a chunky pencil. "And draw a picture to go with it," was added, in a now very obvious attempt to extend the duration of my busywork.
I sat down to write my story, annoyed at how silent the house was without my voice filling it up. But I couldn't concentrate on writing my story if I was yacking about, so I plodded through. After I put the final touches on my story and the accompanying picture, I ran to show it to The Parents.
They loved it! They loved my story! They goo-goo'd and ga-ga'd all over it, slathered on the compliments, and said nothing about the made-up spelling or the backward letters.
Then they gave me another topic. I think it was, "Why a Gorilla Scratches His Armpits." Then there was another one, and another one.
And what happened next is where it gets really good.
Writing these silly little stories got me out of my parents' hair, that's for sure. And that was definitely the expectation (and the goal, let's be honest). The short-term benefit to me was that my typical 6-year-old attention-seeking was satisfied after all.
But the long-term benefits this practice gave me are those that I'm not sure my parents would have expected. Not only did it instill a love of writing, which makes sense, but it did a few other amazing things, too:
1. It created a bond between me and my mom and dad. Of course, we already had a bond -- they're my parents! But it created an opportunity for me to connect with them in a different way than I had before. Instead of just seeking attention, it gave me a platform to share my thoughts with them in a way that I felt (in 6-year-old terms, of course) brought something of real value to the table.
2. My dad saying things like, "That is so smart! I never would have thought about that being the reason ladybugs have spots (or what-have-you). I bet that's the real reason they do!" helped create a confidence in me that I might not have had otherwise.
3. The very best part is, just like almost any other parenting tactic, this practice has carried down to me as a mom. My oldest son, a sophomore in high school, used to absolutely hate writing (which broke my heart!) I don't remember now how many of these types of exercises I gave him, but I do know that I worked really hard to foster in him a love for writing.
I'm thrilled to say that he now loves it, and finds it almost medicinal to write his thoughts when he struggles putting them into words verbally.
My youngest son, a first grader, is the same age I was when my mom and dad first tasked me with a writing "assignment." My house is filled with his endless chatter and his rapid-fire requests for us to "look!" The silence in my walls is like a vacuum when he leaves for school.
I've got my work cut out for me with this one.
He hates writing and he's like a ping pong ball in my house, so getting him to sit still to write me a story isn't an easy feat. But I'm working on it every single day.
If he can someday experience the confidence, the bond, the catharsis of being able to share his thoughts through his writing -- not to mention the academic benefits! -- then I will feel like he's been given one of the most greatest gifts.
A gift from his grandparents. And one that, hopefully, he will pass down to his children.