Storytelling and sightseeing have a lot in common …

The time will come when you’re stuck with your child without a book, a magazine, toys or anything electronic with games on it for diversions. I know that seems unlikely. Maybe you’re in a car travelling for hours.  Maybe you have multiple children, let’s say three. And they’re lined up in the back seat hitting each other, name-calling, or looking for other ways to irritate each other out of boredom.

This is the time for storytelling. Growing up in our family, this is the time for mom’s announcement that it’s time for the “liar’s club.”

Dad is driving. Mom is in the navigator seat, optimistic that she can capture the attention of the three of us.  The ground rules are, make up a story, telling the biggest lies you can come up with. This is story telling at its best since there are no rules. We’re usually driving between Toledo and Cleveland, Ohio – a few hours to play the liar’s club.

It’s my turn. I’m telling stories about bears, dragons or other large animals ─ the bigger the better because  invariably these large animals are going to have to defecate all over the forest or castle or other location of choice on their way to and from important missions. The more defecating throughout the story, of course, the better for the amusement of me and my siblings.

Today I cannot remember the stories of my siblings ─ only the rapture of my stories. And mom advising us that this is getting out of hand ─ “wrap it up.”

Years later mom and I are driving from Eugene to Winston, Oregon, to take Noah at six years old to Wildlife Safari. It’s a drive-through animal park situated within a picturesque valley surrounded by verdant hills. I’m driving the car slowly through the park so we can look out the window to spot animals among what looks like open plains ─ but really are carefully separated, fenced sections of the park that host a range of wild cats, antelopes, giraffe, rhinos, monkeys, birds, and elephants. After we’ve driven through the park, we decide to head to the bathroom, restaurant, and gift shop. And then see some animal shows. It’s a hot afternoon, in the 90s.

There’s a sign ahead for elephant rides. Noah runs for the landing strip – a raised stairway to climb on board one of the very tall elephants offering rides around a small dusty ring.  There’s a padded chair/seat on top of the elephant. A park guide dressed in safari brown shirt and shorts leads the elephants around the ring for the five-minute ride.  Noah climbs on board and they start the lumbering walk around the ring.  I’m taking pictures and see through the viewfinder that Noah is craning his face around, looking like he’s going to fall out of the chair off this very tall elephant. We can’t hear his voice but know he’s protesting something about the ride. We don’t know if he’s fearful being up so high, so we’re shouting out, “you’re fine, stay in the chair!  He continues to crane his head around, leaning crazily to the side of the chair.

Thankfully the ride is over. Noah is upset when he jumps off the elephant to the stairway landing.  “What’s the matter?” we say.  “Were you afraid to be up so high?”  He has already quickly positioned himself at the edge of the platform to watch one of the elephants carrying another child on its back.  “Look,” he exclaims. One of the elephants is peeing a magnificent, lengthy stream of liquid, creating a huge puddle in the ground. Dirt is impressively flying and flies are fluttering in the firehose of fluids. Another elephant is bombing the ground with impressive turds nearby. This is chiefly Noah’s interest in the elephant rides, it turns out, and he’s upset he missed so much of the action during his own ride.

I took this to heart, this parental lesson.  Learn what your children are most interested in. Then plan your storytelling (especially reading sessions) and sightseeing accordingly.

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