When most toddlers have been asleep for hours, my youngest daughter insists, “I’m not tired. See, my eyes are open. Can you tell me a story?” If it’s a typical night in our household, we’ve already read a couple of books at bedtime. I won’t grab another one from the shelf. Instead, in an effort to keep the lights turned off, I resort to giving her the next installment of The Adventures of Little Z in Room 3, a set of stories I make up on the spot.
The cast of characters is always the same–a fictional version of my daughter, Z., her best friends, Chloe and Theo, a new friend, Frederica (“Freddy”), and her rival, Olive (“Ollie”)–while the challenge they face is different in each story.* The favorite hangout spot in their daycare classroom is an elaborate wooden train set, which becomes a source of discord when Ollie grabs Thomas the Tank Engine right out of Z.’s hands. There are only four trains–Thomas, Percy, Rosie, and Edward–and all five children want to play with them. No one wants to be Sir Topham Hatt (“He’s not a train!”).
On another day at school (a fictional one), Ollie wears a winter hat with black pom poms on it that reminds Z. of a very similar hat she has at home. Thinking it is her hat, Z. chases Ollie into the cubby room, yelling, “Give me my meatballs!”
In the stories that feature a conflict between Z. and Ollie, the girls have to work through it. They learn to share, or they find other ways of restoring the peace in Room 3.
Interestingly, my daughter sees Ollie as a worthy adversary for the fictional Z., and she enjoys hearing about all the fun the two have once they have resolved their disagreement. When we discussed the possibility of Ollie moving away, the real-life Z. insisted that Ollie stay. For now, new children may enter room 3, but they are not allowed to leave!
When the story is done for the night, Z. often treats me to one of her own.** It’s usually a ghost story, full of good advice like, “Don’t pet any ghosts.” Over the last year, going from 24 to 36 months old, Z. has transformed from someone who just listened to stories, sometimes adding a detail here and there, to someone who actually tells them.
In honor of her third birthday, which is today, I’m sharing one of her early stories from a few months ago (the only one we’ve managed to record so far). She told us this story while we were hanging out in one of the conference rooms at my husband’s office.
For those who watch it: Whatever you do, don’t laugh at the end. My daughter won’t like it if you do. 😉
*Z.’s real-life best friend is named Chloe, and Theo is the name of a real child in her class, which is actually Room 3. Freddy and Ollie are entirely fictional. The conflict is never between Z. and Chloe/Theo.
**None of this helps Z. fall asleep, but she’s a night owl like her parents. There’s no use in fighting it.