THAT is me back from a nice break away, where we had little internet or mobile phone reception.

Back to the realities of day-to-day life, deadlines and all that, and, of course, storytelling.

So this week, as I was picking up the treads of stories I had planned to use, it was helpful when my oldest daughter offered to take our four-year-old to the play park.

She wanted some quality sisterly time with her, away from the chaos and distractions of our house. And anyway, being nearly five, Manja loves the swings!

I watched them walk off, hand-in-hand and my mind turned to the tale I would tell this week. I remembered I said I would try to tell you when I was on my honeymoon who the Jacobite was in my tale about the mysterious lodger three weeks ago.

Well, I have to confess that I had had other things on my mind then, and so I thought it would be a good idea to tell the sequel to that story. But just as I was assembling my thoughts on this, my oldest daughter returned with her wee sister.

I could immediately tell something was wrong. My oldest was raging. What should have been a carefree fun time had instead been a stressful lesson in human behaviour.

She explained the reason for her anger when she got home: “There were three swings, and this family arrived and basically ran to them. Then they stayed on the swings for well over half an hour! They could see that other children were waiting for a turn, but they just ignored everyone.

“Manja waited patiently and after more than 30 minutes there was a actually a queue, and even one wee one started crying and had to be taken away by his mum.

“It was unbelievable how selfish this family were. Their parents were there and said nothing. I gave them a pleading look, then an angry one, but they didn’t care.

“Eventually, we realised that they just weren’t going to allow any other children to use the swings so we tried the baby swings instead, but she got her foot stuck, so we gave up on that.

“Eventually they moved over to another part of the play park and did the same thing there.

“They were like an occupying army excluding everyone else, and you could feel the tension of some of the other parents.” I could feel the power of my daughter’s emotion, it wasn’t for herself, but for her wee sister.

She has always had a strong sense of social justice, even when she was wee. But this unchecked jungle-like behaviour in the play park shocked her, I think.

It wasn’t the actions of the children, for they are learning social skills and ways of being, but of the parents in allowing, maybe even encouraging, this way of being.

Of course I immediately recognised the situation, as will many parents, and it’s a tricky issue. You teach your children the importance of sharing and allowing others to take a turn, then suddenly you’re faced with parents who haven’t done them same.

But then you have to be careful not to go too far the other way. Some parents watch like hovering hawks and intervene immediately, not allowing their child to stand up for themselves and develop their own ways of dealing with their peer group.

And I know there’s nothing more annoying than other parents telling you your parenting is wrong, so its dangerous even to write about the issue!

Wee Manja had been disappointed by the inaccessibility of the swings, but there had been a positive out of it all. While waiting fruitlessly for her turn on the swings, she eventually decided to try out the flying fox.

She had always been a bit scared of it but now it seemed the only option, and the other children using it gave her a turn. So she swallowed her fear and tried it out, and discovered she loved it.

“It was like two worlds,” said my oldest.

“The swing area was occupied by this greedy, selfish family, while the flying fox was being run like a co-operative by the childen, all somehow taking turns and helping each other without any parent sorting it.” That night, at story bedtime, Manja said she had a “story from her head” she wanted to tell me. And so I listened and, after she’d told me the story, I realised this was the tale I wanted to share with you this week: “There was once a princess. She lived in a big castle, which was all pink because that was her favourite colour.

She had a really big garden with lots of toys and swings in it. The thing she liked to do most was swing really high.

One day another wee girl came to visit.

‘Can I have a shot of your swing?’ she asked.

The princess said ‘no, it’s mine’, so the wee girl looked a wee bit sad and then went away.” Of course, I knew exactly where this tale had come from, and wondered what to say, but she stopped me speaking: “I’m not finished yet, dad,” she said. “The wee girl went away because she felt sorry for the princess.” I couldn’t resist asking why, so I broke my own rule and interrupted the tale.

“Why did she feel sorry for her?” I asked.

Manja looked at me as if the answer was obvious.

“Because the wee girl thought the princess was sad, that’s why,” she said.

I was confused. “But,” I said, “I thought you said it was the wee girl who was sad because she wasn’t allowed on the swing by the princess?” Once again, that look of disdain. “No, dad, the wee girl wasn’t sad, she just looked a wee bit sad because she thought the princess was really sad.” I was now regretting my interruption, I was just confusing the flow of the narrative! So I said unconvincingly: “Oh, I see. Then what happened?” “Well, the wee girl had a cat, and so she went to find it,” Manja continued. “And then she brought the cat along to the pink castle. The princess was still on the swing, swinging really high all by herself.

“But when the princess saw the wee girl’s cat she stopped swinging and asked could she hold it.

“It’s my cat,” said the wee girl, “but you can hold her if you like. She likes being stroked on the back this way.

“The princess stroked the cat and then got back on the swing. And that’s the end of the story.” I was kind of unsure what to say at first. Maybe this was just a jumbled collection of thoughts about the day’s events, put into a tale, or was it a story with a deeper meaning?

“So did the princess learn to share after the wee girl shared her cat with her?” I asked.

“No,” said Manja.

“Oh, that’s a shame,” I said, “so it’s a sad story about someone not sharing?” “Suppose so,” she replied, “the princess is maybe still sad.” “So they were both sad, then?” I asked.

“No, dad, the wee girl was sad looking but the princess was really sad,” she said, once again with that disdainful look.

Then she explained.

“The wee girl looked sad because she felt sorry for the princess because she didn’t know how to share. That’s why she wanted to share her cat, to make her more happy. But the princess didn’t learn even after that, so the wee girl went away and didn’t play with the princess ever again.” “So it wasn’t sad for the wee girl, then?” I said, nervously.

Manja looked at me with screwed up eyes and was clearly exasperated at my failure to grasp the meaning of her tale.

“No, dad, she wasn’t really sad because she had a swing at home, and a dog as well as a cat, and a goldfish and friends that shared, and the princess had none of that, cause she didn’t share. So the wee girl wasn’t sad, the princess was. Night night.” I turned off the light and came downstairs to write my tale. I began to type my planned historical tale but then I thought to myself, this can wait. Instead it seemed the obvious story to share was the one I’d just been told by my four-year-old.

It made me think about the way children observe and understand things. I think the lesson she learned from that trip was that selfishness is ultimately self-defeating, and that sharing is part of the fun of enjoying things. It is such a simple but fundamental truth that we so often forget as we grow up!

And it was by telling a story that she communicated her understanding of this lesson. It’s a great idea to use bedtime storytelling to go over the day, and make a wee tale about some of the incidents. Usually it’s just remembering a fun time, like swimming or walking the dog, but occassionaly, like last night, a real gem of wisdom bowls you over and makes your day!

I love being a storyteller!