by Aza Donnelly
Last year, my kids had been in a bit of a social drought. They had a couple of friends they spent time with, but were pretty content to stay home. But the teen years call, and even introverted children begin to dabble with the idea of trying on an extrovert lifestyle. About this time, I started on the MHA board, and we started convention planning. Our first planning session was at Fantasy Flight game center in Roseville, where one of the members kids was leading a dungeons and dragons campaign. My kids were hooked. My kids love stories, all kinds of stories. My kids are also autistic, so socializing doesn’t just happen for them. But if someone is telling a story, they are captivated.
This is how my 12 year old became social again. After some time shunning all new people, this D and D group led to a social calendar that I have a hard time keeping up with, and a group of friends that are just a groupchat away. A few months later we began spending time in the park with a LARP group (Live Action Role Play), again, storytelling. This is where my very introverted 10 year old found a group of friends who love stories as much as she does. While the older kids in the LARP group are off finding dragons and slaying warlocks, there is a small group of younger kids who run through the forest together, making up stories about cats, dogs, and various woodland creatures. Every so often one of the kids would run back to us parents and give us an update on their characters, or tell us about a new one, or ask our opinion about names.
Then November came, and the world began to chatter about NaNoWriMo.
I have attempted NaNoWrimo. We’ll just leave it at that. However, one mom, Kelley, had a plan. Four of the girls already had a story going about some very adventurous cats — what if we could get them to write it out? Kelley set up an account on NaNoWriMo’s young writers website for the girls. Via text, Kelley, another adventurous mom, Tara, and I passed it from girl to girl, with a word goal of 4,000 words. The girls wrote it in a round-robin style, with each girl leaving the cats in a perilous state, (mysterious caves, the doorway of an interdimensional portal, dangling over a pit of grape juice) and the next girl picking it up and moving the kitties through the next adventure. Each time my kiddo wrote her section she waited and watched her computer for the next segment of story to arrive, being ecstatic about each of her friends contributions.
And they finished!
We were the lucky recipients of the trumpet sounding when we hit 100% of our goal. (Truth be told, it scared me half to death!) I was super excited about the goal, but my kid was bummed. There is so much more story to tell! So the girls agreed to wrap it up with a cliffhanger, and have pronounced it book one in a series of five books.
All of this is to say, there is a huge amount of social value in story telling for our kids — Whether it’s a tabletop role playing game, LARP, theater, book clubs, or writing a communal story. For those of our kids that experience socializing as stressful — and even anxiety-making — stories create a bridge to each other, and in time creates a community.