It’s 7:34 p.m., and I’m tired. My day is nearing the 14-hour mark. There are still dishes to be done, checkbooks to be balanced, and shirts to be folded.
But first, I need to brush my oldest’s teeth.
The pediatric dentist has told us that while kids can technically manage their own oral hygiene by age six, he sometimes recommends that parents continue to brush for them up until age 10. This is not good for my life expectancy, because trying to polish the pearly whites of my wriggling, giggling, jaw-clenching offspring tends to push my systolic pressure to stratospheric heights. The dental assistant recommends that we “sit on them if you have to, because you do not want them to need root canals.” Which apparently is an actual risk even when one’s age is in the single digits. But I fear such a strategy might prompt a police investigation into the cause of the outraged howling emanating from my house.
(As an aside, there really should be a parental support group for this sort of thing.)
So, it’s now 7:35 p.m., my kid is trying to crush the toothbrush’s head into powder with his molars, and I’m fresh out of ideas.
“Please open your mouth,” I say.
Did you know it’s possible to grin widely while masticating a rigid piece of bristle-trimmed plastic?
“Come one, kid, open up and I’ll … I’ll …” What in the world can I offer? “I’ll tell you a story.”
He immediately imitates a hungry whale.
“Oh. Okay. Well, once upon a time there was a boy who was getting his teeth brushed. And … uh …”
The mouth slowly starts to close.
“And he wanted to get his mommy the Best Gift Ever. But he didn’t know what that could be. So he lay awake one night thinking. And then he heard a tiny voice say, ‘I think I can help you.’ It was a mouse. A talking mouse.”
“Whut wuz da mousth’s nahme?” It’s hard to talk when one’s mouth is full of toothpaste.
“Mister Squeaks.” Yeah, that sounds about right.
“Whut did hee do?”
“You’ll have to find out tomorrow. Go spit and rinse.”
He would have to find out tomorrow—and so would I. My single most successful toothbrushing strategy required quick and regular narrative thinking. So in nightly sixty-second compositional bursts, the tale of “Mister Squeaks and the Best Gift Ever” slowly unfolded, a tale that eventually included continent-hopping adventures, trackless jungles, dancing snakes, subterranean ruins, speeding gyrocopters, Lovecraftian horrors, and a most dastardly villain dubbed the Very Ordinary Man.
Yeah, the thing didn’t make a lot of sense in the end. But it sure was fun.
Of course, that’s the whole point, isn’t it? As we age, we get caught up in the secondary stuff of storytelling. We debate about whether tales should recreate the optimistic sweep of the history of redemption or if they merely reflect the age in which they were composed or if they necessarily fall apart like narrative trick knots due to human frailty. I’m not saying it’s bad to engage in such intellectual wrangling. Goodness knows I have. But it misses the main thing. In An Experiment in Criticism, C.S. Lewis wrote, “Every good book [and story!] should be entertaining. A good book will be more; it must not be less. Entertainment … is like a qualifying examination.” True enough. By his grace, God gives us richly all things to enjoy, such as good food and good drink, physical beauty in all its forms, the ordered grace of mathematics, the elegant design obviously inherent in the sciences—and stories of every stripe.
I don’t know what story I’m going to tell tonight. We finished the adventures of Mister Squeaks some time ago, and our current toothbrush tale seems to be becoming a mish mash of Mark Twain’s A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court and Michael Crichton’s Timeline. One thing’s for sure, though: We’re going to have a ton of fun in the telling.
(Picture: CC 2010 by shane doucette)