Wednesday, October 5, 2011

On whales, trains, and stories

One night, after the children were in bed, I went into Hans' study and started spewing information about pregnant humpback whales, the growth spurt of baby humpbacks (100 pounds a day), and how they nurse (40 times a day, yielding about 130 gallons of milk, 50% milkfat). Fascinating stuff, right?

I stopped when I saw a huge grin on Hans' face. "What is so funny?" I demanded. "You are talking about breastfeeding whales," he responded.

OK, fine. I can see how that can be perceived as a little weird.
I blame this on motherhood. Emeth gave me his sea-creature-fever and I didn't even know it.

Mommy cow scolded baby cow for standing on the train tracks.

The train was, of course, carrying an octopus and a shark.

These are familiar sights around our home. This is Emeth's world. And it has become our world. Colliding stories. They make perfect sense in the mind of their creator, "Mommy, let me tell you a story. One day..."

Emeth lives in stories; and Emeth lives out stories.

During dinner one night, he was licking rice off the his plate. When I reprimanded him, he answered: "Emeth is not a cow?" Ah, thank you for the explanation. I am never sure where we are during our walks anymore, "Emeth, are we a school of fish in the coral reef (the bushes) or are we trains on the tracks (the sidewalk)?" I need to pay more attention.

I am well aware that one of the biggest advantages I have over all the other voices in his life is that I get to tell him his first stories. Stories make his world. Stories draw boundaries between light and darkness, day and night, sea and sky, right and wrong, good and bad. Stories give him people and things to love.

Mr.Squash meeting the wild animals at the zoo.

Hans found it slightly disturbing when I became fascinated with North Korea. I was digging around the web for articles, videos, pictures, anything really. And as always, after the children were in bed, I sat in Hans' study and spewed information.

How do they bear the weight of their fear? How do they endure the silence and the emptiness of their streets? How did they become so deceived?


The same can be said for the concentration camps during World War II. Or how people captured other human beings and make them slaves. Or how pimps deceive young girls into prostitution. They each began with a story -- very, very bad ones.

We expect to be entertained when we walk into the cinema. As we drive down the highway, we are bombarded by streams of billboards. Movies, dramas, video clips, reality shows, commercials, books, the news. We think we are above them. We think they are harmless. In fact, we don't think very much of them at all.

Kim Jong Il, the dictator of North Korea, thinks very much of these things. He knows the power of storytelling. Some call it propaganda. Actors and actresses in North Korea are handpicked by Kim Jong Il, and they are counted among the most privileged of the country. They live and perform to give joy to their "Dear Leader."

In Pyongyang, there is a shrine dedicated to the "Dear Leader." Well, actually he has many shrines, but this particularly one is a museum of cinematography, in which he is the star. Of all things, the people revere him as a genius of the cinema, the theater, and the circus. Prime ministers and presidents of other nations do not receive such praise in these fields. But it seems that his strategy works, the level of control Kim Jong Il has on his subjects is astounding.

When I spewed information about North Korea on my sister Catherine (my poor family), she thoughtfully responded: "I wonder whether I am living in a delusion?"

Yes, of course we are. Like children, we live in stories, and we live out stories. But unlike children, we don't think very much of them. In fact, we don't think very much at all.


The Opera Diva said...

OK! Happy emeth posts suddenly became so serious and dark...
What strikes me about these "stories" that we don't think much of is the fact that they happen in repeats. They happen in repeats because we don't think much of them.
Emeth's stories change. He's thinking of them constantly.

Seda said...

So true! Emeth's stories do change constantly because he is learning and incorporating new things into his stories all the time. I think you discovered something important there.

The Opera Diva said...

Love you Jie! I thought about you guys today.
Miss you and the boys :) very much!

Seda said...

We miss and love you too. =)
Emeth saw someone wearing a ring at the library the other day, and he said, "You are wearing a ring just like uncle Alec!!!!!" He said this several times. *sigh*

Jenni said...

Irene, this was SO helpful for me! I am so quickly tired of the endless imagination of my daughter. Thank you for helping me to see this in a new perspective!


Seda said...

Jenni, I wrote this with Kara at the forefront of my mind. =)
Because Emeth is the kind of child who wants to know the reason for EVERYTHING, it is much easier to explain things to him in stories.
e.g. I could say, "Emeth, you need to take off your shoes in the nursery" or I could say, "Thomas the train needs to obey signs. This sign says that we need to take off our shoes." Usually, the latter approach would yield quicker result, because he is very fond of asking "Why?" =)