May 22, 2007

“Lifetime Stories”

“Can you tell us a ‘lifetime story’?”

Such has become my daughters’ eager request each night at dinnertime: to hear at least one story about my husband’s or my childhood.

Jeff’s tales tumble out. He’s a natural storyteller. And, having grown up with his parents and three siblings near the city dump in a hilly Wisconsin town … Well! He has plenty of memories to share. The girls delight in hearing of his mishaps on those hills or how he stood on old washing machines in the dump pretending to be Moses.

But then it’s my turn…and I have to rack my brain for something to tell.

It’s not that I don’t have stories, and I’m word-smart so I can spin a yarn with the best of ‘em. But I’m an incest survivor and had a difficult relationship with my mother. Many of my memories are laced with fear and sorrow. So, of course, it’s not appropriate to share that reality with the girls at this point in their lives—they’re only five and six.

When the girls started asking for these stories, I would have preferred to let Jeff fill their minds with a whole array of Hollenbeck history—and leave it at that. My parents have both died; the girls never met them. I didn’t want them to intrude on my life now. Yet I realized how important it was for Rachel and Abigail to have a sense of history about me, too.

So I found some stories. Many involve my wonderful brother, Tom…or Bandit and Smokey, my dogs…and the 30 farm cats I somehow wrangled through my teen years. I mention my parents when necessary, but they are bit-players.

Of course, eventually the girls will need to know the full story. Because secrets will keep my family in generational bondage, but truth sets us free. So I pray all the time for wisdom: for the right timing, the right words…

If you are in a similar situation, don’t avoid the truth. Sure, for now milk every word as you lament how your brother whipped your Barbie camper over the backyard cliff. :^) But also seriously consider when and how to share harder stuff. Most of the time—at the right time—it’s right to share a complete lifetime story.


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