"Daddy, will you tell me a story?"
The big blue eyes looked up at me, while the ketchup-stained lips continued to smack away at their chicken fingers. Stories had recently become a part of meal time, and with Oodgie out of the room I was on the spot.
Oodgie usually deals with this by telling inane stories that sound remarkably like snippets of daily life. "Once upon a time there was a little girl named Cheeky who went to Grandma's house and played with puzzles. Then she had some mac and cheese and chased the cats, then she came home. The end." It works--Cheeky's into it--but our lives are so collectively boring that for me reliving them in a abridged toddler-speak is makes me dream of placing a shotgun between my teeth.
Faced with the prospect of fulfilling my darling daughter's request for entertainment--but unwilling to take the quicker, easier, more seductive route outlined above--I immediately rifled through the poorly organized cards in my mental rolodex looking for some nursery rhyme or fairy tale still loitering around from childhood.
To my dismay, though, I found that despite a clear recollection of once knowing the Grimm cannon and other random folklore I could in no way compile a narrative thread that held any of them together. I could name principle characters, and generally remembered the horrific things that happen to them (grandparents eaten by wolf, children locked in rooms, talking animals, etc.) but a story about giants or severed body parts would at best confuse Cheeky, and at worst send her running into the den to watch Dora and punish us with another hour of her incessant yelling. (Dora's, not Cheeky's)
So I improvised.
"Once upon a time there was a cop named John McClane, who flew in a big airplane to see his wife in LA. But when he got to Nakatomi Plaza he discovered the building was being robbed by a bad man named Hans, who tried very hard to stop Officer McClane. But Officer McClaine was very resourceful, and after walking across glass and jumping off the roof, he eventually stopped Hans and save everybody. Hooray! The end!"
"What on earth are you doing in there?" piped Oodgie from another room. "That's not a good story!"
"First of all, it IS a good story, and second it's what I know! I can't just make up a story as good as that one! Did you like the story, Cheeky?"
"Sure!" She reached down to get another chicken finger.
An audible sigh can be heard through the wall. I relaxed, knowing that once again I had overcome adversity and mastered a crucial talent of parenting...in my own way.
"Can you tell me another story, Daddy?"
"Of course, sweety. Once upon a time a soldier named Dutch took his team of elite commandos into the jungle to extract an informant, but little did they know that there was an alien hunter in the treetops waiting to pick them off, one by one...."