How to Tell a Story with Children Present

February 13, 2021

A good friend of mine got engaged recently. 

“So it was Friday evening, and she had just got home from work,” I told Peter, settling in to tell the story. We were sitting around the dinner table. The kids had their food, their drinks, their silverware and it seemed there might be a moment to talk to my husband.

“I have to poop,” said Cora.

“Go ahead,” I said, gesturing at the bathroom. Cora is capable of pulling down her pullups and sitting down on her little potty without any help. I turned back to Peter. “And she was very tired, because it had been-”

“I HAVE TO POOP,” Cora clarified.

“Ok, go ahead, the bathroom is right over there,” I said. I helped her down from her seat and pointed to the bathroom, which was only a few feet away, since we were eating by the fire in the living room. She trotted obediently into the bathroom by herself.

“And she was really tired, because she’d had a long day at work, and-”

“I’M POOPING,” said Cora.

“…and he said to her-”

“I’M POOPING!” said Cora again, worried that I would successfully complete a sentence.

“Ok, great,” I said. “And he said to her, ‘Let’s watch Lord of the Rings!’ and-”

“I’M POOPING,” Cora repeated.

“I know. Are you done?” I asked.

“YES,” said Cora.

Peter leaped to his feet and started to walk to the bathroom. When he was right by the bathroom door she shrieked, “No! No! I’m not done yet!” He came and sat back down.

“And so he asked her to watch Lord of the Rings,” I said, speaking more quickly, “And she was tired so-”

“I HAD A POOP,” said Cora.

“Are you all finished?” Peter asked.

“I HAD A POOP,” Cora repeated.

Peter stood up and tried to walk to the bathroom again.

“No! No! I’m not done! I’m privacy!” she shouted as he approached the door. He turned away again and walked back to me.

“SHUT DA DOA!” Cora bellowed. He turned around and shut the door.

I took a breath and tried again. “She was so tired so she wasn’t really interested in watching, and she said that but he really wanted to watch it and so eventually she agreed and they started to watch and-”

“I HAD A POOP! I’M ALL DONE!” Cora shouted.

Peter got up a third time and approached the bathroom, wearily.

“No! Mommy! I want Mommy to wipe me!”

“Mommy is eating dinner,” Peter explained. There was some whining and some scuffling noises from the bathroom. Five or ten minutes later, they both emerged.

I didn’t hesitate. “So they were watching Lord of the Rings, the first-”

“Mommy, I had a poop!” Cora cried, triumphantly.

“Good job!” I said. “Good job, sweetie! And so it was the first movie, and they got-”

“I got a sticker,” said Cora. “It is a triangle sticker. See, Mommy?”

“Yes, sweetie, good job. Very nice sticker. So they got to the bit where Sam is-”

“I had a poop, Annie!” Cora announced proudly.

“Good job, Cora!” said Annie appreciatively. And then Annie felt she had been quiet enough, and began to sing “I’ve been working on the railroad” at the top of her lungs.

“Girls, your mother is trying to tell me a story. Can you be quiet please?” Peter asked.

Cora, who loves “I’ve been working on the railroad”, joined in singing. “I’ve been birking on the bail-boad, all the biv bong bay,” Cora sang. This is the height of humor, to Cora.

I shifted closer to Peter, to try to talk over the singing. “So- so they were watching the movie… I can’t remember what I was saying,” I said.

“BUM ONE’S BIN THE BITCHIN BITH BINAH,” Annie and Cora bellowed together, and then Annie laughed and Cora cackled.

“You’re goofballs!” I said.

“I’m not a goofball. I’m a cheese ball!” said Cora, and then cackled again.

“Um,” I said, turning back to Peter. “Um. So they were… they were watching the movie…”

“ALL THE BIV BONG BAY,” Cora shouted, and both girls shrieked with laughter.

“And they got to the bit where Sam said ‘I’ve never gone farther than this before’, you know the bit, at the edge of the Shire, and then he shut off the movie, oh and I forgot they were in matching Lord of the Rings sweatshirts, and-”

“Knock knock!” said Annie.

“Who’s they-a?” cried Cora.


“Olive who?” asked Cora, smiling because she knew what was coming.

“Olive YOU!” Annie cried. “Mommy, knock knock!”

“Just a minute, I’m trying to tell this story about my friend and how her boyfriend proposed to her.”

“What’s ‘proposed’ mean?”

“It means he asked her to marry him.”

“Oh!” Annie considered this for a moment.

I seized the opportunity. “So he said… oh, I can’t remember, something like, ‘wouldn’t it be nice if all this was real? If the characters were all here in the room?’ And she said, ‘No! That would be awful!’”

“Annie, let’s take off our clothes and run around and say ‘nah nah na boo boo!’” Cora suggested excitedly.

“Ok!” said Annie, immediately stripping off her dress and leggings. Cora attempted to do the same but struggled with her shirt. Annie went over to help her, like a good big sister. Within seconds they were both naked. We did nothing to stop them.

“NAH NAH NA BOO BOO!” they shrieked, running back and forth from the kitchen to the sunroom, their bare feet thudding loudly on the wooden floors. “NAH NAH NA BOO BOO! NAH NAH NA BOO BOO!”

“You guys are nuts!” I said as they ran.

“I’m not a nut! I’m a cashew nut!” Cora said, pausing for a moment to clarify before running off again.

“Anyway… anyway,” I said, turning back to Peter. “So anyway, they were… they were acting out some bits of Lord of the Rings, and they got to the bit where the ring is in an envelope on the mantle, you know, where Frodo – I mean Bilbo, where Bilbo leaves it-”

There was a louder thud and a wail. “I GOT A BOO BOO!” we heard.

I spoke more quickly, urgently. “And she looked up, and there was an envelope on the mantle, just like in the story, and inside was a ring!”

“MOMMY, I GOT A BOO BOO! I GOT A BOO BOO, MOMMY!” A wailing child flung herself into my lap; a tiny hand was thrust into my face for the requisite kiss.

Seconds later, miraculously healed by the power of a kiss, she was rocketing around the room again, shouting “NAH NAH NA BOO BOO! NAH NAH NA BOO BOO!”