Cheetah is hot and he can’t swim.

 

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Once upon a time, there was a boy who was turning five. He is a boy who loves stories about cheetahs. Everyone knew this about him… there were eight cheetahs in the cards he received from the other children (even though one was hiding behind a tree on one card!). Today was his birthday event at mat time. He hadn’t been to the centre for three weeks because he’d been in and out of hospital with a foot injury. Today he was distressed (unusual for him) that his mother left. Very. But he managed to get back from that terribly seductive edge. I had planned to tell a story for, with or by him… and was very relieved that he recovered his equanimity in time for us to quickly make decisions. Yes, a cheetah story… I could make it up. Could he tell me though, please, just three things that the cheetah was good at? Yes, running, jumping on other animals and climbing trees.  And one thing that troubled Cheetah?…one thing he couldn’t do, and would like to be able to do? it turned out to be swimming. So I had all I needed.. a character and a challenge/obstacle/ problem.

In less than five minutes, I had fashioned a quick cheetah on one of the wooden bases I sometimes bring with me. And I remembered that the very first time, half a year ago, I had brought them, that very birthday boy had wanted to make a wolf. He/we made a wolf, and he produced a book at the centre, which clearly indicated the shape and colour of a wolf’s eyes.  And he let the puppet stay at the centre, as a centre resource. It was still there!

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Ceremonies over, I began the tale….on  one of my storytelling mats, purchased by the centre.  I did not know how it was going to go… I had the river, I had height – a tall wooden block…(for the visibility and mana of Cheetah!) and a tree.  And so off I went…. “Once upon a time, there was a Cheetah who was turning five. It was his special day, and there were so many things he was good at. He loved to run (demonstration circuit on the mat), he could jump on other animals ( casts around for ‘prey’, finds Moana’s ‘flax’ skirt/ piu piu and mistake it for a spider! (black and white hairy legs variety!) and he could also climb trees.(Does so ).

But there was one thing that Cheetah could not do, and he wanted to do it, because he was hot! Very hot! And he didn’t know what to do. He couldn’t swim because he was a cat. And cats don’t swim.

(Casts around quickly to spot someone who could maybe help…. Spies Moana, lying skirtless but definitely a potential problem solver). “Tane! What can I do? i can’t swim, but I am so hot!!”

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Tane answers, through the voice of a child…. (I have asked for ideas and help) “You should drink lots of cold water”.

Cheetah replied “That’s a good idea and I tried it, but  it just made me feel like I was going to pop!”

Tane said, “Then you should ask my brother, Tawhirimatea. He might be able to help cool you down”. ( I had noticed the puppets from the Creation story as I walked into the story room).

(Leaps up and retrieves Tawhirimatea from a top shelf. Spots and retrieves the boy’s wolf while in that corner).

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Cheetah, “Tawhirimatea, I am so hot, and I can’t swim, because I am a cat, and cats don’t swim”.

“I could blow on you to cool you down”, offered Tawhirimatea. “Yes, please” said Cheetah.

Tawhirimatea huffs and puffs but it doesn’t help. Tawhirimatea suggests talking to cheetah’s friend Wolf.

At this point I have no idea how the story will resolve itself, and I increasingly become aware (as I write this up)  of various adages that I have learned and grown to appreciate (and clearly integrate)  from Improv classes. “First jump out of your plane, and then find your parachute”….. we are now at the door step of the crux point… the third person to be asked is likely to have something worthwhile to offer, but I have no idea what it is. “Everything you need in a scene is right in front of you”. And even more powerful, “The only security is that there is no security”.

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So jump in at the deep end, and bring Wolf onto the ‘stage’, and Cheetah’s (my) immediate response is “Goodness, you have even more fur than I do!! Aren’t you terribly hot? How on earth do you manage to keep so cool?” (Cos you are one cool looking wolf!….missed that joke opportunity!) (so many questions are buying me time!)

Yet another basic rule of every good story…. any story you can name… is “always reincorporate significant earlier events or characters”. Wolf replies,” Why, I swim of course!” (I am grateful to you, Wolf, for your eminent common sense!)

This still doesn’t quite solve Cheetah’s overheating problem! But Wolf is not dismayed. He is channelling He Who Made Him, as well as the energy of Cheetah, who is nothing if not fearless!

“I’ll teach you how to swim!” cries the jocular and confident wolf! And down they go to the water.

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“First you go in up to your ankles” instructs wolf. Cheetah does so… “Oh that feels so good!”. And now you have to go in up to your belly button” continues Wolf….”Ooh, that’s quite cold. Oh, that feels very good. I like this.” (in retrospect, I love the way these instructions perfectly take into account what every small child knows about entering water)

“And now” urges Wolf,” you can go right up to your nose, but don’t get your ears wet”… (something could happen, but I forget what now) and so Cheetah did, and before he knew it, he was swimming.

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And so I moved them down the blue river, with Cheetah in the front. And they had a race.

“And Cheetah won!” cried out the birthday boy from the sideline! Yes, of course!

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And that was the story of Cheetah who could not (he thought) swim.

I loved the simplicity and format of this story so much that I quickly whipped off during lunch, and took photos of the key characters.

Springtime, the forgetful old woman and the grapevine.

I returned to work in a kindergarten where I had not been since autumn. When I was there in April I had created, in a tall vase,  a display of vibrant red autumnal leaves from an ornamental grape vine. When I returned  in August, with spring in the air, I was disappointed to find the dried grape vine leaves just where I had left them. I was stewing crabbily and judgmentally on my disappointment when I noticed something green among the dusty leaves. I was stunned to see a burst of new life, a fat green bud with tiny grape-looking flowers in its centre.

 

It seemed such a salutary life lesson in some way for myself that I was moved to create a story about a crabby old woman and the change of seasons. So I did. I started by creating the verses which give a story a structure and a rhythm and repetition. They changed as the days passed but finally stabilised. This is the story…

And these are some of the principles that I took notice of when I was creating it. I wanted to include rhythmical memorable lines that I could repeat each day. This way the children would be able to look forward to the accurately repeated  lines each day, and I would not have to learn the entire story word for word.

I incorporated animals and events that were real and alive for me. I chose a pattern of three for the times in which the old woman intended to cut down the tree, and included three animals all of which are familiar to the children, I referred to seasonal changes with which the children are familiar. I tried to use interesting verbs and adjectives to give the story life, and I also tried to include some words which the children don’t hear often.

What else did I do? I recorded myself telling it to see how long it took to tell. I told it out loud to myself in the bath in the morning in the days leading up to the telling. I attempted to keep the pace slow and old woman-ish and slightly dreamy. During the telling I used my hands and body to demonstrate the physicality of the cat and the dog and the ants… When the cat was purring in the old lady’s lap, I stroked the imaginary circular shape of the sleeping, purring cat. When the dog leapt over the fence, I used my arm to indicate how he leapt. When the ants bit the old lady’s leg, I pretended my hand was scurrying around the back of my shin before the old woman slapped her own leg, etc, etc.

I thought about the temperaments... the phlegmatic sleepy, snug cat, the choleric Digalot the dog digging and chasing and refusing to come when called. I appealed to the empathy of the listeners when Suzy, the old dog, died in  her sleep, and again, as they heard each animal respond  to the threat of the axe chopping down the tree, and the urgency with which they knew they needed to act to save the grapevine. And the sanguines love all the adjectives and descriptive words which are in the verses and in the descriptions of the behaviour of the animals…the cholerics also got a moment of adrenaline when the  captain or grandfather of the ants  called on the swiftest, most agile and most courageous of the ants to go into action and fight for the life of the grapevine.

I included references to the senses... the taste of grape jelly, and the sweet raisins,… the smell of …no I did not include smell…  the feel of Greysmoke’s warm fur, the cold winter chill of a winter’s day, the warm relaxation induced by the sun’s rays,  the sound of purring like a miniature well-oiled  tractor, the sound of the old woman trying to whistle, the scuffing sound of Digalot digging For the sense of sight,… the juicy purple grapes, the green bud unfurling, the daffodil bulb that looked  like an onion,… so I did include the senses but not deliberately. If I had thought of them, I might have consciously included a few more… like the texture and taste and smell of well chewed old slippers!… or the texture, smell and feel of the sun-warmed corrugated iron, and so on….

I like the fact that I spoke openly about the fact that pets die and that it is very sad. It felt good to name it, and also soften it with the acquisition of the puppy. One other detail I liked was to include a compassionate view of the new young puppy who never sat when asked to sit, never came when whistled for, etc etc. We have a new child in the class who is intensely like Digalot in this regard, and it felt good to say that the puppy was young and that he was learning and that he did not mean to be naughty. It was simply that he was indeed a young puppy. And to hold the child in my consciousness and even, occasionally, in my gaze, while I described Digalot’s behaviour.

Whatever I did, it certainly held the attention of the children for four days in a row, and one child  even asked ‘Is this story about you?” ( The cat was once mine, the dog that died belonged to a friend of mine…. and my mother was forgetful but never that bad!) I made a felted house for the children to play with and which I used to introduce the story and occasionally I referred to it, tracing the journey Greysmoke took to get to the roof, and the place where Digalot hid the old woman’s slippers so that he could chew them in peace! and so on and so forth. The hanging was left out for  the children to play with and populated with other puppets who were available..I did not have a dog but the kangaroo looked very doggy like or foxy ( as one child commented) if you ignored the joey in her pouch! so we made do!!

It felt like a very healing thing to do to tell a story that somehow made bigger sense of my smaller, rather petty response to the continued presence of the  grapevine. And it was a pleasure each day to reach the point in the story when the old woman sees the wonder of returning spring. Each day it felt alive and powerful and special. On the very first day, no one else in the room had spotted this little miracle so they were all delighted to run over and see it for themselves when the story ended and also to experience the wonderful miracle of the seasons…. and fancy the old woman forgetting all about the cycle of the seasons, and isn’t it wonderful that indeed the seasonal wheel is turning back towards the warmth of summer and fresh growth.

And then I made another house in a toadstool,  with more windows and space! i have embroidered it a little, and added a  door knocker and ‘apples’. I like this one a lot too! And will happily make something similar for you, and you could give me the specifications that you would  like!

 

 

 

 

 

The complexities of Christmas, Halloween and growing up.

This is the conversation  between two boys, one four and one four and a half. I sat outside their arena of play and wrote like crazy because they barely paused for a second. It felt like being at the theatre as the script and the plot unravelled as fast as i could write! Once again, it makes  me appreciate the beauty and complexities of creating and adjusting one’s working theories, not to mention their incredible mental agility and flexibility when it came to accepting ‘offers’ and rolling with them. Here is the whole exchange as well as I could manage it. .There are not many photos as I really did not want to intrude on their play. Their props were absolutely minimal.. just the two jars and some wooden blocks and a plastic dinosaur and elephant. The next day, when I glued the words into their portfolios, the opportunity arose to read it to them. They clearly were surprised but delighted and nodded in agreement at specific points as they listened with great interest. E suggested a replay of the game and I proposed that maybe they could swap roles this time. This they then proceeded to do. I played the role of mother, taking notes under the guise of also writing a shopping list! This time is was G who could (just!) reach the high shelf, and E who asked if he could eat the apple. G gave immediate permission and I howled in protest, ‘Noooooo!’ which delighted them both and E proceeded to ‘gobble’ it down and then asked me to write ‘one million apples’ on my shopping list!