On stubbornness and storytelling

This little angel and I are embroiled in a battle of the wills right now. And I fear she is both more patient and more stubborn than I am.

She spent most of the night last night fighting to stay awake. Not crying, just yelling, relishing the sound of her own voice, crying out “Aaaaa Aaaaa Aaaaa. Aaaaa Aaaaa Aaaaa. AAAAA. AAAAA. AAAAA” with a kind of fierce joy in our bedroom until the echos of her vocal gymnastics quite literally rang in our ears.

That started at 11pm. It is now 8.30am and we haven’t found resolution yet. I pray she will go to sleep. Madeleine is exhausted and I am destroyed, but she is absolutely determined not to sleep today. Not if she can help it. Instead, she has a story she wants the world to hear, and she is telling it as loudly as she can.

Madeleine is a talker. She tries to join in on other people’s conversations. When we read to her, she mimmicks us as best she can (generally with a stirring rendition of “Aaaaa Aaaaa Aaaaa.”) When the nurse at mother’s group is giving a talk, Madeleine attempts to drown her out with her very best “AAAAA. AAAAA. AAAAA.”

Having a little baby has taught me that some things I had always thought were learned behaviour are actually hard-wired into us. Like putting out the bottom lip when upset, something Madeleine does gloriously well, and which she did for the first time approximately 30 seconds after being born. Same goes for rubbing the eyes with fists when tired (there has been a lot of that going on this morning, by both of us).

The need to communicate is another. Even before she found her ‘talking’ voice, Madeleine tried desperately to communicate with me; with a chin-thrust, with a gummy smile, with a wail of displeasure. This kid is four months old and I swear she is already up to Chapter 17 of her memoirs.

I believe that story telling, in any format, is fundamental to the human experience. Our need to recap, reframe, and even reinvent our stories for others to hear goes to the core of what it means to be human, and to exist as part of a community. And the stories we tell ourselves are just as important as those we tell to others.

If I think about it, I guess this is the philosophy behind why I became a writer. It is certainly the philosophy that underpins the plot and characters in my book Airmail.

It is also the philosophy behind a summit called The Future of Storytelling, that was held in New York earlier this month. The organisers believe that “stories—in the broadest sense of the word—shape the meaning and momentum of everyday life. Stories will never die, but the ways we tell them are changing.”

They commissioned a short film on collaborative storytelling for the summit. It is about how sharing stories can help connect thousands, but also speak just from one person to another. I watched it this morning, and Madeleine joined her voice with these New York voices and, together without knowing it, we celebrated shared stories. And through my exhaustion, I found a kind of solidarity, even beauty, in this knowledge.

Every story that belongs to us, each and every one, shapes who we are and who we will become. This story of my tug-of-war with my daughter through the long, dark hours of the night will lodge itself in my bones now, and in hers. It is part of her and part of me and, by reading it, it has become part of you, too.

Madeleine just started yelling again. I’m back on duty. If you have a moment to spare, friend, make yourself a cup of tea and watch this little video. I hope it inspires you, like it inspired me. And if you want to share a story with me, leave one in the comments or send me an email. It makes my day to hear from you.

story(us) from Already Alive on Vimeo.

(ps. Do you subscribe to this blog? If you do and you haven’t redeemed your free copy of Airmail, click here to go for it and I’ll post a book out to you. There are no strings, it’s just a little gift from me to you to say thanks for your support.)

3 comments

  • Deb @ Bright and Precious

    I’m really interested in the Future of Storytelling – will look at it now. As for Madeleine, I think you’ve hit the nail on the head: every human – no matter how small – has a story AND wants to be heard. The best thing we can do is acknowledge it and hear it. For this reason when I got frustrated with my babies doing this, I never thought about it as battle of wills, just a conflict of agendas. :) (Battles/adversarial relationship with my children only makes it more exhausting – seeing myself as their guide made more sense.They really do need all my help and understanding to get them through a frustrating phase in their lives). I hope you both find some rest today. xx

    • Naomi Bulger

      Lol yes let’s not call it a battle, but two strongly held and differing opinions on Madeleine’s (and my) need for sleep.

  • Deb @ Bright and Precious

    I hear you, Naomi! Sleep is so important! :)

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