Why Lemony?
(the “About Me” page)

February 07, 2004

Bedtime Stories (Guest Author: Billy)

Bahiyyih asked that I write down tonight's bedtime story that I told to Georgia. I usually tell her a story each night to help her go to sleep. Here's our usual pattern:

  1. Somebody decides it's time for bed. Usually a parent, but sometimes a child. Tonight, both Georgia and Maya started telling us that it was bedtime around 8 pm, which is earlier than usual. I think they were both
    1. tired out from the trip, and
    2. happy to be back home to their familiar beds.
  2. Pajamas are donned, teeth are brushed, potty is gone, last-minute snacks are eaten, teeth are re-brushed.
  3. Maya: lie down with Mommy and nurse to sleep. Usually it takes two tries.
    Georgia: lie down in bed, have a prayer, and have a story that lasts until Daddy can hear snoring or is snoring himself.

So tonight's story was part of a long continuing story about a Prince. His princehood is more of a magical, faery-related princehood than anything related to other people, but he's a Prince nonetheless, someday to be King. The story started with a frog, maybe a month ago, that was under a curse. It broke the curse when it protected a squirrel that was stuck in a tree that fell into its pond, and the frog turned back into its natural self: a castle. The Prince's castle. (Georgia had requested a story about a King and Queen.)

The goal of the story is for the Prince to get married and become a King. His wife, of course, would be the new Queen. What they are king and queen of is less important. The castle -- the Prince's ancestral home (his parents, the current King and Queen, are off travelling) -- is situated in a small woods that is touched somehow by some small magic. There is a Witch -- the one who cursed the castle -- who is only slightly antagonistic, but who also provides counsel to the Prince from time to time. There is a squirrel Princess who was briefly changed into a human accidentally when the castle's curse was lifted, and who chose to return to squirreldom rather than become the new Queen. But that's about all we've seen of the magical woods. Most of the story has taken place in towns and countryside and cities as the Prince has gone out to seek matrimony and establish a livelihood.

As you can imagine, it's a wandering story with many curlicues. Many influences pull it and stretch it like some fractal taffy:

  • Georgia's interests
  • My interests, imagination, and level of alertness
  • Whatever moral seems important at the time
  • Fitting a chapter into an evening's story time
  • The characters take on lives of their own

This is getting pretty long. Click below to see the whole thing.

The character we're following at the moment is Emily. Emily is 17. She grew up on a farm but always wanted to leave it. So when she was 13 or so she went into town and asked the local mason (who shared a shop with the local well-digger) if she could become his apprentice. Enter the theme of the equality of men and women. The mason is our Prince, by the way -- when he was looking for a livelihood, he noticed that there was no mason in the town near his castle, and since he'd been repairing and maintaining the darn thing (the castle) his whole life, and since it was made of stone, he set up shop as a mason.

I think Emily came from the movie Mulan. The main character is a young Chinese woman who runs away from home to take her father's place in the army. She has to conceal the fact that she is a woman, since only men are allowed in the army. Her family is required to supply one man to help defend China, but her father has a lame leg (he's an old war hero -- must be an old injury), and Mulan is an only child. Georgia had watched the movie, and I think I wanted to help her make sense of it, since it is kind of a large story for a four-year-old, touching on all sorts of topics: ethical, moral, familial, historical. So we get Emily.

When Emily asked to be his apprentice, our Prince, who had been thinking that it was about time to take an apprentice, noted that she was a little older than usual (I think -- I'm not sure, historically) and that she was a girl, and that boys were usually apprentices. Oops! I realized that I had to explain historical differences to Georgia. Probably a good idea, with Mulan and all. So one of our curlicues was about historical changes in the status of women.

Mr. Prince (he still doesn't have a regular name) asked Emily's parents whether that was all right with them, and eventually they assented, due mostly to his gentle and considerate nature. Another moral! Being loving and considerate towards people helps make a better world! Ha! Now if only I could internalize that moral some more :)

I guess I'd better add another influence on these stories:

Often, the stories will contain some grownups in the background going over some moral lesson that I'd been thinking about during that day. In this case, the Prince changing the hearts of Emily's parents, who are initially skeptical. Hey, it's a lot easier in a story than in real life! I think it helps me practice for when a real situation comes up that requires real use of the lesson.

To continue our story:

Emily, who started out as an apprentice at 13, has worked hard and learned masonry from the Prince, and is now 17. She is searching for a journeyman project or, as Georgia prefers, a journeygirl project. She has travelled to another town, called McCloud ("It's okay, Daddy -- if you forget the name of the town, you can just make up a new one"), and is about to leave to continue her search, having found no suitable project here. She wanted to rebuild a two-room schoolhouse that had burned down, but the school principal is reluctant for reasons that have not become clear yet (I think they probably will become clear eventually).

She has met a friend named Faroe, who has shown her around the town, in search of a project. He's a teenager too, a son of the merchant class. In tonight's episode (we finally get to it -- see there, was a lot of explaining to do), Emily and Faroe are saying goodbye. They've known each other for about two and a half days, which has been, I think, three bedtime stories. They go check on Emily's horse, who has been in a stable for two days without getting to run around much, and who is getting antsy.

Faroe convinces Emily not to just leave, but to go horse-riding together first. Faroe has been learning how to ride a horse, and Emily has been riding horses all her life, starting on her family's farm, but entirely out of utility, rather than recreation. The curlicues of tonights story took up most of the time:

  • The different gaits of a horse (and of people, too).
  • What's a Lord in medieval England? Note: this is what actually put Georgia to sleep.

Anyway, Faroe leads Emily for a ride to one of his favorite places: a small waterfall on the land of a Lord that his family does accounting for. And that's where tonight's episode ends (I heard snoring during the explanation of what a Lord is).

Tomorrow, or the next time Georgia wants to hear more of the Prince story (also called the King and Queen story and the Master Mason story), we'll continue from there. I'll do my best to remember the names of the characters (Faroe's horse is named ... argh, trying to remember ... Roan! and Emily's hometown is Lancastershire (pronounced LANcashur) ... Emily's horse doesn't have a name). Georgia will reassure me that the names aren't really that important, and will listen attentively and eventually fall asleep.

Bahiyyih has pointed out that these stories will provide a bond between Georgia and me for our whole lives. "Even if she's not speaking to you" when she's a teenager for a while. I will be interested to know what she remembers about them, and what was important. It will probably not be the subtleties of medieval Lordship. (But "Lord" is a vocabulary word from a prayer that we often say before bed ...)

Thank you, Bahiyyih. This has been fun!

Posted by Billy at February 7, 2004 10:12 PM

Well, Mr. Bill, I think you and Bahiyyih can go into the business of writing books any old time. I love the rationale you use for the daily path the stories will take. Be sure to record one or two for Georgia's older age. I love the stories I hear Bahiyyih telling Georgia, too. What a rich legacy you are building for your daughters. Beautiful. Makes a Nana tearful.

Posted by: Nana at February 8, 2004 07:21 PM

The power of story is amazing. Reading this in the semi-dark with only the light of the computer, I became a wide-eyed, 4-year-old version of myself, wondering what would come next. I can't tell you what a joy that is when you're, well, considerably more than 4. I am thoroughly enchanted with this webbling stuff and so grateful to your whole family for sharing it with us all. with love

Posted by: Amy Eades at February 8, 2004 11:12 PM


When you are all finished, can you tell me how it goes?

Posted by: lizzy at February 15, 2004 09:55 AM