What the Children Want to Know

They ask: ‘Will you tell us a story? Instead of reading one to us. Will you make one up?’

I answer: ‘I don’t know. I like reading stories. I love stories.’

They ask: ‘Please tell us a story of your own. Please.’

I answer; ‘I’d rather read someone else’s story than make up my own.’

They ask: ‘Please, will you? Please? We love those stories! Please make one up!’

I answer: ‘What about?’

They ask: ‘Could you tell us a story about what you did when you were a boy?’

I answer: ‘No. It wouldn’t be a story. It would be just a load of disconnected memories. I’d tell you about my dog, or mackerel fishing, or climbing on to the roof of the water tower. Or breaking into an abandoned house to find a set of false teeth in a jam jar. Those teeth were the most frightening thing I ever saw.’

They ask: ‘You broke into a house?’

I answer: ‘Well, not really. It was abandoned. The people had left. It was falling apart. The windows were all smashed. The doors were left open. We just walked in.’

They ask: ‘Why were they so frightening? Those teeth? What’s frightening about teeth in a jar? We’d find that funny. Wouldn’t we?’

I answer: ‘I don’t think I want to talk about that now. It’s time to go to sleep.’

They ask: ‘Will you teach us something then? Teach us something useful. Teach us something so we don’t have to learn it ourselves.’

I answer: ‘Maybe. Close your eyes. Settle down. Let me think.’

They ask: ‘Will this take long?’

I answer: ‘No, just give me a few seconds.’

They ask: ‘Are you hoping we go to sleep so you don’t have to tell us a story?’

I answer: ‘No, I’m really thinking.’

They ask: ‘Will you hurry up?’

I answer: ‘Ok. I’ll teach you about the way the world is wide open, how the future is all yours. Your lives could take you anywhere. You are at the bottom of a great tree and any one of those branches, twigs, leaves, could be yours. There is so much wonder. And look through the leaves and you’ll see the sky. And at night, the stars. Breathe in the air, it’s so beautiful. Listen to the tiny creatures scurrying to their hiding places. Wait for the dawn. Hear the birdsong, feel the first rays of morning sun on your face.’

They ask: ‘Is that something you’ve learnt?’

‘I suppose so,’ I answer.

‘What was that all about?’ they ask. ‘We don’t understand.’

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