Special Moments and Creating Alongside – The birth of The Silly Flamingo

By Sonja Otto

My husband is a novelist. It was his dream to be a writer from when he was around seven years old and wrote a series of stories titled The Detective Known as Brad (hardly surprising with a childhood of reading The Famous Five and The Three Investigators). His stories (and titles) have come a long way since then, but writing is still his great love. The building of a character—their personality and backstory; creating a world that entertains and enriches; and crafting a story that captures the imagination and makes the reader laugh, sigh, and open their hearts to all the grand possibilities of life as explored through fiction; he wanted to share it all with our kids. So he set aside a couple of hours in the afternoon every so often (this started during lockdowns, so there wasn’t a whole lot else going on), to write a book with our eldest.

Eirielle was only six at the time, and as we all know, six-year-olds tend to have a vivid imagination and many ideas, but not the capacity to communicate them, so Daddy figured out a way for them to create a world and story together that combined the best of them both. She brought the ideas and illustrations, and he brought the research, typing skills and general logic. And so The Silly Flamingo was born.

They started with research. I’m not sure why they picked a flamingo, I suspect it was pretty random, but they dove into the world of flamingos. What did they eat? How and when did they sleep? Did they have some kind of social hierarchy? Did their shade of pink mean anything? (Apparently it does!)

Every good story needs a heinously villainous villain, so Eirielle picked the prettiest bird she could think of to be the Big Bad—a PARROT. So they researched parrots. They discovered that parrots are often deathly afraid of balloons, so that clearly needed a prominent place in the story, and on they went. They would sit together on the upstairs balcony, which is my husband’s preferred writing spot. Eirielle would chatter away while drawing the illustrations, Daddy would type. They’d pause to talk about the best wording for what they wanted to convey, and then they’d be off again. There was lots of giggling. Mostly from Eirielle.

Writing time with Daddy is special. It’s special for a number of reasons: Eirielle gets to be in Daddy’s ‘office’ space (which is very rare); she often gets a special treat (Soft drink! Very exciting in our house.); she gets to make up a story that is anything she wants it to be, without having to take the whole workload herself; but most of all, she gets to have one-on-one bonding time with Daddy. No little brother butting in. No Mummy coming to take Daddy’s attention away. And it just makes her absolutely glow.

Something that I have had to train out of myself is the concept that kids have to do everything themselves, as they learn. I don’t know about you, but a repeated theme in my childhood when I asked for help with something was, ‘I’m not going to just tell you/do it for you, you need to figure it out/do it yourself’. If a child is perfectly capable of something and just needs to actually try, to prove to themselves that they can, then it can be good to give them the push to help them step up. But sometimes, and for some kids, trying to figure something out for themselves or doing something entirely on their own, isn’t the most helpful way for them to learn. The patient repetition of a parent or teacher in showing them how to do something again, or in doing part of a task for them, so they can focus on a different aspect, can make the difference between a child jumping to the conclusion that they can’t do something and never will be able to, and them slowly becoming confident enough to take ownership of a task or skill, secure in the knowledge that they know it thoroughly.

At barely six years old, Eirielle would never be able to create a world full of individual characters, type up pages and pages of story, have it all fit together, be readable and logical, and do the illustrations, all by herself. Her story would have never come to life as she sees it in her imagination. But by taking on the aspects that she can’t yet manage on her own, and leaving her to create within a helpful framework, my husband allowed her to adore writing a book that she is incredibly proud of, while learning a great deal, and left her wanting to do it again. Actually, they did do it again. After we finish sharing The Silly Flamingo with you (we’ll have to break it up over issues, it’s pretty long!), we’ll share Detective Flamingo 2: The Bunny Flamingo.

I guess the other thing I’d like you to take from my rambling is this. What’s something that means a lot to you, personally, that you could occasionally share with your kids? Are you into motors? Songwriting? Woodworking? Video games? Knitting? Golf? Hiking? I firmly believe that if we share the things that we are passionate about with our children, it both helps them learn to find their own things to be passionate about, and builds our relationship with them in a very special way. And if you can’t think of anything that you do, just for you, can I suggest that you make time to find and do something? I believe your life is not meant to be just about your kids. It’s healthy for kids to know that your world doesn’t always revolve around them—it helps them not grow up to be narcissists. And it’s healthy for you! For me it’s called ‘staying sane’. And when it comes down to it, if you don’t model it for them—taking care of yourself by having your own interests—who will?

You can find the first chapter of The Silly Flamingo in the Home Ed Kids section in the Otherways 176 issue.

Otherways 176 May 2023

Last updated on
Share via
Copy link
Powered by Social Snap