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  • Writer's pictureKathy


Updated: Jul 4, 2021

In the back seat of my battered Toyota pickup, five-year-old Klairah dutifully struggled with fastening her seatbelt. Finally, I heard it click into place.

“All set?” I shifted into R and, waiting for her confirmation, slowly started to back out of our parking space.

It's Wednesday, my favorite day of the week. On Wednesdays, I pick up Klairah early from school and drive 30 minutes to her gymnastics lesson.

“Granny,” said Klairah, munching juicily on a cantaloupe cube, “We got our eyes checked today.”

“You did? How was it?”

“Oh, it was great,” she said, leaning as far forward as the belted restraint would allow. “We looked into this box and there was a monkey in there.”

“A monkey?” I'm thinking, maybe a new way of checking vision? I guess it's not too surprising since everything in the world seems to be switching to some sort of emoji. And anyway, maybe a picture of a monkey IS more reliable for kindergarteners who might not be able to reliably identify backwards letters from forward ones – could be confusing.

“Yeah, but I couldn't see the whole monkey, just his eyes and his feet.”

Hmmm, I wonder what THAT means. Will her mom be getting a notice in the mail that Klairah can only see a few parts of the monkey? Oh dear.

“And after we were done, the eye person opened the box and the monkey came out.”

“What? The monkey was real?” Well, last week the veterinarian came, so...maybe...Okay, a monkey in the classroom. “Did you get to pet it? Was it soft?”

“GOTCHA!” Klairah yells and doubles over laughing. “I gotcha so good that time!”

“Wha...? Oh you! You DID get me with that one.”

“You really believed me that time, didn't you?”

“I totally believed you. You're getting too good at this game.”

It's the Gotcha Game. Klairah and I play it every week, but with this story and her subtle way of presenting it to me, there's no doubting she's inherited the storyteller's gene.

While Klairah moved on to her next wild tale – an adventure with vivid details about her class swimming with the seals at the zoo and then riding the giraffe – I thought about the game.

Klairah started it more than a year ago when she wove for me a tale of mistreatment at the hands of her older sister who, reportedly, stuffed her into the toy box and closed the lid. Eventually, after many other diabolical and dire moments at the hands of her increasingly evil sister, Klairah revealed that the story was made up. It was quite an elaborate story and I couldn't help being impressed with my granddaughter's imagination and thrilled with her willingness to share it.

“I believed that story!” I said, hoping to encourage more imaginative thinking. “You got me.”

The Gotcha game was born.

Later, of course, I worried about what I had done. Could I be coaching a beloved child toward a life as a very convincing liar?

These kinds of stories coming from young children often originate from some sort of factual event, that inspires an emotion, that triggers additional, colorful details to put the teller in a more heroic light. In almost any public venue you can hear a parent or two admonishing a story-telling youngster to “stop telling lies.” Now here I was in the middle of that same concern. No one wants to encourage a child into lying but stories, while made up, aren't lies. Every fiction writer knows the difference. So do most five-year-olds.(1)

Still, for my own piece of mind, I often ask Klairah to tell me which details in her stories really happened and which ones were just for fun. She has no trouble telling the difference.

As if to prove my point, Klairah pipes up from the back seat, “It's just a story, Granny. It's not real.”

I add mind reading to the growing list of her talents.

“It's a very good story,” I replied, thrilled as always to have been GOTCHA-ed.

Michigan State University, Storytelling, Fibs, Stretching the Truth or Telling a Lie? Teach Your Children the Difference,

Sidebar:Want more ideas for teaching and encouraging children in the art of storytelling? Try:

Why Children Should Be Given the Opportunity To Tell Stories,

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