Ivan and I were at our parent-teacher conference yesterday with Camilla’s second grade teacher. You’ll be pleased to know that Camilla reads 151 words per minute, way above grade level!
Sadly, though, she does not ride her bike around the neighborhood alone.
We got to talking about this in the conference because the three of us had cruised over to school together on our bikes and CJ’s teacher reminisced about riding “everywhere” when she was a kid. Ivan did too, in Quito, Ecuador, no less. Riding equaled independence, they agreed.
So I’m writing a novel for National Novel Writing Month that I’ve decided must center on a child. Augusta is my character’s name.
I knew I was modeling the character in some ways on my daughter but it was two weeks into NaNoWriMo that I remembered: my daughter’s birthday is in August. Maybe the name Augusta isn’t as opaque a cloak as I thought it was.
The thing is, the real Augusta is not allowed to ride her bike all around town, or even around the neighborhood, by herself. We have a really nice park just down the street from us, too, but we don’t let her go there without one of us or another trusted adult. I’m blushing a little at my protectiveness as I write this, but then, I don’t know any parents in my peer group who allow their seven-year-old the same amount of freedom they themselves may have had back in the 1970s or 80s, or the freedom their parents likely had in the 1950s and 60s.
So, how do I bestow enough freedom and independence on my child hero that her story is interesting and authentic, but not so authentic that she says stuff like, “I brushed the Goldfish crumbs off my car seat and hopped in”?
The story, a road trip adventure-slash-missing person mystery, takes place in the present.
But these days, by law, kids under 4 feet 9 inches tall still have to ride in a car booster seat. I’m not even sure my grandma was 4 foot 9. California’s Office of Traffic Safety guidelines recommend that children should sit in the back seat “until they are ready to drive.”
I just finished reading Polly Horvath’s novels My One Hundred Adventures and Northward to the Moon. In My One Hundred Adventures, the young protagonist, Jane, while nominally in the care of her pastor, Nellie, somehow winds up in a hot air balloon dropping Bibles. A calculating mom down on terra firma, after hearing the story, claims that Jane maimed her baby with one of the Bibles and coerces Jane into babysitting her five horrid children for the entire summer.
Some of Jane’s one hundred adventures (actually only 13) occur while she’s babysitting, all the while keeping her blackmailed state a secret from her mother. Near the end of the book, Jane’s mom starts to ask her something, saying, “Honey, I know you’ve been busy lately, but…”
Laughing over that line, I startled my son and nearly made him pee his flame-retardant pajama pants. Busy?!
I am haunted by memories of Meg Murray and Charles Wallace tesseracting (tessering?) around the universe to save their dad whilst mom is off in her stone-hewn laboratory cooking up casseroles over a Bunsen burner. Sidebar: really nice review of A Wrinkle in Time on the occasion of its 50th, here.
Childhood independence, in the form of Billy Coleman packing up his salt pork and walking alone to Tahlequah to pick up his very own coonhounds Old Dan and Little Ann. Another one of my favorites.
Back to Polly Horvath. Tell me if this image from Northward to the Moon resonates with you:
We are riding in the last row of seats in the back of the station wagon, facing backward, as if we are perpetually waving goodbye.
The circumstances of my plot don’t allow me to set the story in the past, as my friend Lara suggested to me the other day. So I have a challenge on my hands…but what am I doing blogging about it? Back to the story room.