When my friend’s son, Tanner, was about four years old, I started telling him bedtime stories. I don’t remember how this little tradition came to be, it just did. Tanner would burrow down deep into his blankets and watch me with silent, shining eyes; he’d anxiously wait to find out what adventures we’d find ourselves embarking upon, as the shadows in the room danced about us like a kaleidoscope.
There would nearly always be two or three adventures each evening. Sometimes these escapades were spooky, and at other times they were funny. In fact, They included just about everything you could possibly imagine…even a magical bus (yes, shamefully carjacked from Ms. Frizzle) which would take Tanner and his family on the most wonderful adventures where they were attacked by licorice wolves, fell into time vortexes, were offered up as sacrifices to the volcano gods by the pig people, and were even once taken hostage by an old man who lived atop the Mashed-Potato Mountain who planned on turning them all into gravy.
I looked forward to telling these tales every time I went to visit, because I’d never know what was going to happen next in the story; that was for Tanner to control. Periodically I’d stop and ask, “So, Tanner, what happens next?” It was at this point that Tanner would think for a second, and then add the next twist to the plot, meaning the story might take a completely different turn altogether. We both loved these stories, the stories we wrote together.
It was always a lot of fun.
Over the years on subsequent visits, Tanner just couldn’t seem to wait until bedtime so that I would tell him another trove of endless chronicles; one storyline melding into the other, turning them into one continuous saga spanning over the years all the way back to when he was just four years old.
What can I say? Stories can be captivating.
This year, Tanner turned eleven. It’s now been seven years since that first night I started to tell him bedtime stories; and this past week, I found myself driving up to their house for a weekend visit. Tanner and his brothers were excited that I had come to visit and I went along to watch them at football practice, cheered them on while fishing at the reservoir, took part as we shot rifles out in the desert, motorcycled across the landscape of the Transcontinental Railroad, and sat outside watching the Perseid—meteors blazing across a blackened ocean with fiery trails igniting the nighttime sky.
I won’t lie. This past weekend I started to wonder just what would happen to bedtime stories now with Tanner beginning intermediate school. Like I said before, he’s growing up…and I didn’t know what to expect the first night I was there.
The boys were told to get ready for bed. As they headed downstairs to brush teeth and climb into pajamas, Tanner cried out, “But I still haven’t had bedtime stories yet!”
My heart just about melted.
That night, the downstairs glowed with the power of imagination as we embarked on yet another journey to the far-reaches of outer space—this time joined by Tanner’s little brother, Braden, for the first time.
After nearly thirty minutes of adventures, I bid the boys goodnight and turned off the lights. I stood by the door for a second or two in thought. I wondered just how much longer Tanner would want me to tell him these bedtime stories. Would it be another few months? A year? Three years?
Time would undoubtedly tell.
My mind careened reminiscently over the span of moments thus far. I could only wonder just what fate had in store. It was then that the question I’ve been diligently asking for the past seven years came to mind—and I realized that from this point on, it would be entirely up to Tanner. However, even when the bedtime stories do end—which they undoubtedly one day will—we will continue to write different adventures together and the journey will continue
I now find myself posing the selfsame question: “So, Tanner, what happens next?”
BTW, I am posting over today over at Four Perspectives with An Open Letter.