Saved by Mermaids or Why I Believe in Stories.
Sometimes I am asked if telling a story is really any different to sharing a book with a child. I have many tried and true responses to such a question but none of them quite capture what I know to be true: stories are magical. A whole new way of seeing things opens up when you surrender to a story. I also know that the right story always has a way of finding you, just when you need it most.
When we moved our life down to the bay, the transition wasn’t easy. New house. New school. New community. New friends. My mum had been recently diagnosed with cancer and was fighting for her life. And she was slowly losing the battle. All of a sudden, it felt as if we were living on very shaky ground.
Each day we’d drop Molly off at school and Neve and I would head down to the beach track. I would walk and she would scooter along in front, practising her arabesques and singing to herself. So we nearly went right past the first present the mermaids left us. There on the low cement wall that separated the walking path from the sand, were two abalone shells crafted together with strands of seaweed, compete with seaweed straps. Neve held it up, “Look Mum, it’s a mermaid’s top,” she said draping it dramatically over her chest. She thought about this for a while and then said quite seriously, “I think the mermaids have given it to us because Nana is sick.” It didn’t feel like a fair trade to me but Neve was already pointing to a large rock, jutting out of the shallows close to shore, “I think they live there!”
I was entrusted to look after the treasure while she scootered ahead looking for more clues. What had been a simple walk, was now a full scale adventure. Stories are like that; they really do have an energy all of their own. The mermaids left us many presents after that day – an abandoned sandcastle, a baby’s sock, a faded spade, a magic tennis ball (that had been cleverly used to tame sharks) and little collections of shells, flowers and rocks, laid out carefully on the ledge for us to find. And each day, we would take turns adding to the story, bringing to life, ‘The Adventures of Mermaid Rock’. Storytelling may be an ancient art but it’s as infectious as chicken pox. Soon visiting Mermaid Rock became a regular weekend outing for our family.
Then mum died. The monkey of grief that settled on my back was hard to shake off so I checked out of life for a while. But one rainy morning, Neve begged to go scootering again. She was tired of staying at home and she had an answer for every one of my excuses. I finally admitted defeat and coated up. We drove through wispy fog to the beach. The wind roared in our ears as we tried to make our way along the path. And then in the distance, we saw something bobbing around in the water just beyond Mermaid Rock. We parked the scooter, jumped over the ledge and ran across the sand to the water’s edge. Coming towards us, on a crisp white wave, was a brand new Bob the Builder ball. Neve waded in and retrieved it from the shallows. I looked along the beach – it had to belong to someone but except for us, the beach was totally deserted. “They heard about Nana,” Neve said knowingly. “They must have been waiting for us all this time,” she laughed. I can still remember the look on her face. She was totally gobsmacked. The scooter was handed over to me while she marched proudly behind, holding the new ball tightly in both hands. In that moment, I couldn’t have been more grateful to those mermaids.
During a rather grim time in our lives, they had given us the chance to live in an underwater world where adventures reigned supreme and happy endings were always possible. It wasn’t long after that morning at the beach, we discovered that Edward had moved in. Edward was the huntsman spider that lived in the family room of our previous house. Somehow, he had made it all the way across town and was now resting quietly in the hallway. Boy were we glad to see his familiar face!
And that’s the other thing I love about telling stories, it doesn’t matter where you are, there is always one floating by, waiting patiently for you to fire up your imagination and work your magic.