My eldest daughter is eight and growing up. She has her own mobile phone (only for the games, so far) and an MP3 Player filled with her favorite songs, from “I Gotta Feeling” by The Black Eyed Peas to “Dancing Queen” by ABBA and the catchy DJ mix “Papa Americano.” She grooves to her songs in the car, at the dinner table and in her bed, looking the true teenager in this digital age, only not yet with the laptop and the capacity to race off 100 text messages in an hour.
She still has a wild imagination. She chases fairy dust and sees monsters, and asks for me to tell her stories from my imagination, all of them filled with adventures of three children fighting dinosaurs, giants and monsters. The three children – her and her younger brother and sister, ages five and two – are the hunters and the hunted in the tales that sometimes get me, the storyteller, kind of freaked out about what could happen, and racing to find a happy ending as the goblin puts the three children in a boiling cauldron. How can they escape?
The eldest loves these tales – and asks for more.
Then this week, something changed. She came home with a new and not very wild tale about Room 19, a classroom at her school with lore for being haunted and where once a bodiless hand took off the heads of three brave boys who ventured in, not heeding the warnings of their classmates. Now a ghost is keeping kids away – and causing lights to flicker and toilets to flush randomly. But today the tale wasn’t gory or wild. My daughter related to us as we sat round the dinner table that she’d gone to ask the principal if all the gruesome tales about Room 19 were really true. The principal chuckled and said, “No, it’s just stuff the older boys make up. It’s just stories.”
Just stories. The idea reverberated through my head and hit hard. My daughter is growing up and discovering that not all those fabulous stories that make the imagination fly may be true. They may just be stories like those that Dad makes up at night. Just stories.
I looked at my daughter and said, rather anxiously, “So what do you think?”
“I think,” she said slowly, pondering her response, “I think that the stories about Room 19 are true. They’re true.”
Yesssss, I thought. Let the monsters live on. You’re only eight and there’s still plenty of time to grow up.