Sunday, May 19, 2013

Idea Garage Sale: Accidental Kid

I am 50. The person I took to the Zoo yesterday is nine. Therefore, I am zonked today. (But hand-feeding lories is awesome and I have no regrets.)

As we pulled into the parking slot at her father's apartment complex I said: "Let's go see if your dad's apartment is still there." Which is the kind of thing I say when I'm tired and will give you an inkling into why I never had children. This is a conscious choice on my part and one of my smarter ones, if I do say so. I'm a tolerable aunt when the occasion calls for it but I live too much inside my head for a full-time gig and anyway, given the appalling overpopulation of the world today, I think the only people who should be breeding are the ones to whom their children are The Most Important Thing in the World.

But, what if I, or someone like me, were the only person a kid had left? What if the apartment had not, in fact, been there when we arrived?

In this particular child's case, we would have gone to her mother's; plus she has extended family in another city, so it would have to be a pretty dire implosion of the poor kid's life to result in her having nobody but Damon and me to rely on - and us with no legal right to her, too. "Nightmare" doesn't cover it, and the horror would be a good deal worse for her than for me, dealing with a major trauma with someone no more prepared to cope even with normal childhood incidents than I am to help her through it.

But good books grow from nightmarish situations, so - there's one.

The child thrown into the care of the should-be-incompetent caregiver is a standard trope. The literary world is populated by orphans, and there's at least as many who bond with and make a profound difference to their caregivers (Heidi, Anne Shirley, that kid in Silas Marner; my personal favorite is the collective entity of the 24 woodies Snufkin has to look after in Moominsummer Madness) as there are maltreated ones who have to strike out on their own. But it's standard for a reason, and the thing to do is to build strong and sympathetic characters, put them through the wringer suggested by your own taste and circumstances, and see what you get. It'll fit into any genre - domestic fantasy, high fantasy, realism, dystopian, science fiction, whatever - which in this case would be dictated by the circumstances I dreamed up to account for my being the person left in charge of K. Ideally, as with Heidi and Anne Shirley, the reader who identifies most readily with a character of one age will also be led to understand the behavior and interior workings of the character of the other age; which is no light task, especially if you want to avoid both the Scylla of sentimentality and the Charybdis of didacticism.

At the moment, I am a great deal too tired.

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