Stories Are My Superpower

…and why I want all kids to have it too.

In the Spring of 2003, I was sitting in a movie theater with my then 4 year old son, Sam, waiting for the new Pixar movie, Finding Nemo, to start. I thought it was supposed to be a sweet story about some fish. Yeah...right.

Back then I was a young Mom wrestling with the idea of sending my little bundle of love and incessant energy to kindergarten the following Fall. It's all I could think about. Would he be okay? What if something bad happened, and I wasn’t there to save him? How could I know for sure which school would be best?

About mid-movie, the sweet story about fish turned on me. Was this a parenting class? I didn't sign up for this! But there it was. Nemo was about to teach me a lesson I'd never forget, as the little fish on the big screen seemed to start talking directly to me.

Nemo's Dad, Marlin, was trapped in the belly of a whale and had given up all hope of finding his son. He told his friend, Dory, "I promised him (Nemo) I'd never let anything happen to him." And Dory replies, "Well, that's a funny thing to promise. You can't never let anything happen to him, then nothing would ever happen to him. Not much fun for little Harpo" (because she could never remember Nemo's name).

My heart was suddenly in my throat. I caught my breath. I may or may not have promised something similar to Sam once or twenty-five times.

Back on the big screen, Marlin and Dory were hanging on for dear life trying to decide whether or not to let go and fall to the back of the whale's throat. Dory started speaking "whale" and translating to Marlin, but I didn't need a translator. What I did need was a box of tissues:

Marlin: What is going on?

Dory: I’ll check *starts speaking "whale"*

Marlin: Stop it! You can’t speak whale!

Dory: Yes I can!

Marlin: No you can’t! You think you can do these things but you can’t Nemo!!

*Marlin freezes, and realizes what he’s just said.*

Dory: He says it’s time to let go! It’s gonna be all right.

Marlin: How do you know?! How do you know something bad isn’t gonna happen?!

Dory: I don’t!!

No tissues. Nope, not even a napkin. Couldn't even see the fish on the screen through my big ugly-cry tears. In less than 10 minutes, the master storytellers at Pixar had bared the raw truth that every parent in that theater felt to their core. It is HARD to let go.

I think about Nemo every time I have to summon my strength and remind myself that I "can't never let anything happen" to my children. I thought about it a lot when I dropped Sam off in New York City for college this past August. Fourteen years later, it was time to really let go.

Sam has ADHD. How do I know for sure that he will be okay? That he will remember to turn in his assignments, manage his time, focus enough during lectures, keep up with his keys and I.D. card? How do I know something bad isn’t gonna happen? I don’t. But I do know that I'm not alone...and so did Pixar.

Story is our universal experience. It reminds us that we are not alone. With this blog we hope to share our stories and insights as professionals and as parents. We created our program, Story Stage, to help students with learning differences find their voice and be able to share their stories. All sorts of children struggle with verbal and/or written expression, and they all need to be heard and understood. Story Stage is a creative, collaborative place where we work on building narrative language for social skills and for academics. But, this blog is a place for you...the parents, and teachers, and therapists, and all who support and advocate for our children who learn a little differently.

We have so much to share with you, we can hardly wait! Here's what you can expect in the weeks ahead:

  1. Straight talk about therapy and tutoring. We hope to address confusion in terminology and professions, and share our insights and opinions about all. Leigh and I have 20 + years of experience, professional and personal. Between us, we have 3 children who learn differently. We've done our homework and research, we promise.

  2. Review games, books, movies and other products that you can use at home to build your child's language and literacy skills. We will also give you ideas on how to intentionally use these products with your children.

  3. Share research articles and reports in everyday language, so that we can start a conversation about the work that's being done to help our students.

  4. Link you to other great blogs and websites geared toward helping our students with learning differences.

So why are stories my superpower? First of all, they help me find "my people," know, the ones who understand my journey and are willing to walk it with me. And second of all, they helped me do well in school. Stories are important across the curriculum. Think about it: math story problems, historical stories of World War 2, Macbeth, stories of climate change and space exploration. The list goes on and on.

The fancy term for this is narrative language skills, and there's lots of research to support it but we'll get to that later. For now, know that I think it's one of the most important skills we can purposely build in our children. There's not a skill set in the books that will get you more bang for your buck. Narrative skills help you make friends, advocate for your cause, write essays, and figure out what numbers to manipulate to solve your math problem.

So, if I could give your kids a superpower, what would it be? Story Power.

Stay tuned. We will explore lots of ways to build narrative skills both to make friends and make grades. Thanks for joining our conversation.