Gray Day…Everything is Gray. I watch. But nothing moves today. – My Many Colored Days by Dr. Seuss
I used to use this book quite a lot when the kids were little to decipher how they were feeling when it was hard for them to articulate it in words. Close your eyes, what colour do you see right now? What colour do you feel like? What animal are you moving like right now? Do you feel like roaring? Do you feel like soaring?
The kids would see their feelings and moods like colours, sounds, and animals, seeing them more clearly that way than through abstract words like “happy,” “angry,” and my favourite “melancholy”; this was when hiding in our “shell” and the colours blue and grey ruled our days.
Some children felt “happy pink” every minute of the day. Some longed to be a hippo staying in water and not moving unless absolutely necessary. Some wanted to growl like a tiger at all the other animals in the
housejungle. I found myself deciphering my own feelings: What colour represented exhaustion with a tinge of resentment? Aubergine. Definitely. Bitterness with a hint of self-pity? Chartreuse, yes! Dangerously and naively optimistic? Coffee, of course. What else could it be?
Today is a grey day in our house. A busy Saturday always leads to this type of Sunday. People are slow to get going. The weather is grey. Kids are sprawled on the floor. One of them looks like they’re writhing in pain. Any movement takes a bit of effort. An occasional moan and grunt is uttered…mostly by me. An intervention is needed because grey inevitably will turn to black and then the tears (again mostly from me) will flow.
How can I stop the bleeding? How can I stop this spread of “grey” throughout the land? How can I take them out of this funk?
(Cue the silent and violent stares from all.)
Or we could resume hill running since we haven’t had a free Sunday morning in awhile?
That perked them up. Storytelling it is.
We used to be a part of a fantastic storytelling homeschooling group. We would get together and just tell stories. Each family would prepare a story to tell to the group – an original or a re-telling of a familiar one. In the beginning, I told the story on behalf of the kids. When they started to find their voices, they wanted parts to tell on their own and eventually some became comfortable telling the entire story on their own. Sometimes we would do a story round and the whole group would tell a story collectively.
Although we no longer attend a storytelling group, we have continued the storytelling circles at home. We have kept all of the stories and props we used to tell at our group and re-tell them at home. We come up with new twists and new stories. When the stories start to flow, the people forget that they were just in an Eeyore-state-of-mind. Silly stories with gross bodily sound effects have become popular as of late. Wonderful.
Before our circle degenerated into a symphonic collaboration of burps and farts, we pulled out one of our favourite books: A House for a Hermit Crab by Eric Carle.
I pulled out our old storytelling folder which contained a complete puppet and scene rendition of the story that we had made together a few years ago. I reference Hermit Crab all the time but especially when we hold on too tight to things (or people) and how letting go can mean receiving more than you know. It’s a family favourite. We created the puppets and settings Eric Carle-style: our creation is on the right…
The scene is set. Now time for a story…
The kids mixed paint colours that matched all the colours found in the story. Then they painted whole sheets of paper with each colour. Sometimes they splattered other colours on top of the base colour or scratched textures in it.
We cut out the shapes of the puppets and scene details out of the paper and created collage-y textured pictures out of it. At the time, the kids were little so they did all the painting and #1, #2 and I did most of the cutting and drawing.
Here are some samples of what we made. The book illustration is on the left and our creation is on the right:
One of my favourites…the lantern fish with chalk smudges on them swimming on black construction paper among seaweed in the dark:
#3 read from the book while #4 and #5 acted it out with the puppets and scenery:
And we also found these masks in the storytelling folder:
These masks were made to help tell a Filipino creation myth called How The World Was Made during one storytelling meet-up. Each of the children were a character or two and we used these masks to reflect the different gods. Today we revisited the story and also made up a new story with Greek gods and the four elements. Meet Zeus:
And now they’re rolling along. The energy in our house has shifted to one of creation and more importantly, silliness and boisterous noise. Musical instruments are being pulled out for story music. Puppets are being made for new stories like a new take on Little Owl Lost which we had made puppets for originally:
But now the kids, led by #5, want to do “Little Monkey Lost” where the little monkey meets other creatures in the jungle that help him reunite with his mama. They also made a parrot, boa constrictor, and baby tiger:
Our tree pillows come in handy for puppet show backdrops:
I step back and let the creating unfold. I ask about their colours now:
#5 is blue. ”I’m like a blue heron!” And he flies around the room. Whining has come to an end for him. Phew.
#4 is pink…”like cotton candy! I have the giggles!” No more attitude. Phew.
#3 is red as she jumps around and is excited to go to house league volleyball soon. Not surprising.
#2 is green. “I don’t feel crazy like my cotton candy sister.” She’s calm and cool. Again, not surprising.
#1 is green too. After a crazy volleyball tournament yesterday 45 minutes away, she is content to be home to just chill out.
The kids try to guess at our colours…they say, “Dad must be ‘happy pink’ because we see those ‘happy wrinkles’ around his eyes.” Dad says he is orange. For me, they guess black, blue, green, pink, or red. Apparently I am difficult to read. Here is what they say about it:
“Sometimes you’re quiet and then you get really silly. But other times you’re quiet and then get mad. And sometimes you’re just quiet.”
I tell them honestly, “It started out to be a stormy grey for me. Now it’s orange too. As Dr. Seuss says, Then all of a sudden I’m a circus seal! On my Orange Days that’s how I feel.”
Some days they move freely and play is natural. But there are other days…days like this one when there is a pervading feeling of tired – tired of going out, tired of doing, tired of themselves, tired of each other. I am better at seeing the signs and instead of hiding in the corner with a coffee and bracing myself for the onslaught, I face my own lethargy and lead the charge to changing the colour of our day through stories.
Try it. Tell your child a story when they are in a whiny mood. Make up one or read a book. I can’t tell you how quickly they forget about themselves and switch gears. Ask them about it. Get them to change the ending. Draw about it. I remember telling a 5 minute made-up superhero story to #5 when he was 2 over an over again until his meltdown abated. The trick? You have to SELL that story. Get on the floor. Change your voice. Act it out. Watch their colour change. As they get older, they love to hear stories about you and especially about the trouble you got into. I use these stories with the big ones when they make a mistake and feel bad about it.
How have your days been coloured?
(If your days have been peppered with 50 shades of grey lately, tell a story. A tip: add a burping or farting woodland creature and it’s a guaranteed colour-changer.)