“Poppy!” Maile says, trying to keep her voice light. “It’s time to brush your hair!”
Poppy is nearly three, with long, light-brown locks, and she doesn’t like keeping it up, so it’s almost always a snarly mess. Brushing it brings tears rushing to the surface. But recently, when Maile calls for Poppy to come have her hair brushed, Poppy has a new response.
“I want Daddy to brush it,” she says, pouting, her big brown eyes full as two moons.
And there is a reason for this. It’s not that I am able to brush her hair without inflicting pain, and it’s not that I’m particularly good at the brushing (though I did have three sisters to practice on). The reason Poppy calls for me is because, recently, I’ve started telling her stories while I brush.
* * * * *
“Where did you find the dragon this time?” I ask Poppy, taking a rope’s width of hair and running the brush through it.
“At Mimi and Papa’s,” she says, referring to her grandparents’ house.
“Oh, interesting,” I say, moving the brush through the tangles, taking another handful. “And where exactly did you see it at their house? Was it under the deck again?”
“Yes,” she says, and there is mischief in her voice, and curiosity.
“And was the dragon hungry, or did it already have food?”
“It was hungry,” she says, lifting her shoulder to ward off the brush when it sticks in a knot. But I pull it back and start in a different spot.
“What kind of food did you decide to give it?” We are halfway.
“Ice cream,” she says, and I can hear the grin in her voice.
“Oh, that’s yummy. Did the dragon share with Leo or keep it all to himself?”
“He shared,” she says, matter-of-fact, and now I’m brushing the area right behind her ears, where it always seems to hurt the most.
“After the dragon ate the ice cream, he came out, and he was feeling so much happier, because you shared with him, and then he shared with Leo. Isn’t that amazing? So he took you both on a flight around the neighborhood, and dropped you back at Mimi and Papa’s, and then he flew away.”
She turns to look at me, her eyes sparkling.
“All finished,” I say, holding up the brush, as if it was magic, and I had nothing to do with it.
* * * * *
I recently read an article about Neil Gaiman’s 96-year-old cousin who, during the Holocaust, hid a copy of Gone With the Wind behind a brick. She would stay up late every night reading it, and then the next morning she’d tell her friends what had happened. This way, the days passed, and they got through one of the most difficult times in history.
Neil Gamain went on to say, “Helen’s story – this story – made me realise that what I do is not trivial. If you make up stuff for a living, which is basically what I do, you can feel kind of trivial sometimes but this made me realise that fiction is not just escapism, it can actually be escape, and it’s worth dying for.”
Stories are good for us, for so many reasons. Sometimes they help us see the world differently. Sometimes they give us something to live for. And sometimes, every so often, they even help to make the hair-brushing a little less painful.
* * * * *
What have stories done for you?
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