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Do any of your characters have a favorite toy from their childhood? Do you?
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The characters in my books are responding to crisis and are often too busy trying not to die instead of reflecting on their childhood favorites. Maiel seeks to save her family as the Earth is brought into a new age, Claire is survives a kidnapping, and Emily laments a gray future in which she only assumes misery and boredom. Out of any of them, Claire is the one who has a binky of sorts. It’s her lipstick. That one item of luxury is something she clings to in the midst of bombs dropping and her father’s malicious acts. It’s a symbol of feminism and comfort.
You can imagine, as each of my characters navigate precarious futures, they might look back fondly on memories of their youth. However, those years are literally thousands of years ago for the Captain, and figuratively so for the others. Their focus on the now consumes them. They don’t have time for toys or looking back.
The ability to focus on the moment is something I’ve struggled with in my personal life. I’ve always planned ahead for everything. And, I look back only as a matter of proving to myself why it is necessary. The comfort of the childhood my mother and father provided never precluded the fears of poverty and failure, because I was part of a family that rose from the trauma of poverty. My mother went without Christmas toys on multiple occasions and did not have enough to eat. That part of my family was always in sight, and they wowed me with their resiliency. I learned to plan and take care. The struggle could come for me no matter what I did, but at least I did everything in my power to prevent it! That was foremost.
Because my mother made sure that I had the childhood she deserved, I was able to have a number of things she was not able to enjoy. One of those things was a toy dollhouse. My uncle crafted it. My parents furnished it. That thing was so amazing! It was the same color as my home, had a central stair case, and fantastic attic space. I played with this toy a lot. Then, one day, dad threw all the furniture out, because he was angry about something. Unfortunately, this meant the doll house went into the basement and became dis-repaired, and lost to time. It would have been nice to hand that down to my daughter, but that wasn’t meant to be. Still, it is a warm memory, despite the ending to the story.
As I think about it, I can still feel the light wood of the beds and cool porcelain of the Victorian toilet. Much like my characters in books, I’m too busy planning ahead to look back too much. Of late, that is a blessing. Looking back can be an impetus to depression, and I don’t want to careen down that hill. My anxiety, depression, and PTSD don’t need a torch and gasoline to get raging. Planning, as you may now, is definitely part of the three musketeers and how I navigate a world in which I try to avoid them. Being busy is part of my selfcare.
My other favorite items from childhood are an anteater toy and my toy kitchen set. Anteater survived, but the kitchen set went out the door like the dollhouse items. Anteater was bright orange with green spots, made of hard plastic. He had a handle with a squeeze piece at the top, which used air to blow out his Velcro ended tongue. It would pick up one of three blue fabric ants that I could toss out in the room to chase down. Anteater was mostly just adorable. When you think about it, the toy was pretty boring. Still, I made fun with it–either with imagination or just getting exercise running after stuffed ants.
Outside of that, I preferred to be outside, especially with the dog and my bike. Alone, walking through the woods to get fresh air appealed to me the most. I would take a blanket out front and lay in the grass for hours at a time. Reading and art were also high on my list. Coloring books filled a lot of my days.
These childhood pastimes are trivial to the characters in my books. You may think they take that for granted, as they ignore selfcare and the joys in life to survive their traumas. However, I’d say that it really shows how little we can pay attention to what matters or used to matter in the midst of crisis in the frame of memories of better times.
I don’t wish to neglect, though, that perhaps, in the case of Emily, her mother packed up and got rid of any childhood items left over. Mrs. Conrad is that type of person. She’s grooming Emily to be a good Christian wife of an upper middle class variety. The austerity and seriousness of this role would be foremost to her. The opportunity for frivolity was unlikely for Emily–even though playing with your children is regarded as important to their development today. In addition, Mrs. Conrad comes from money and views these things as throw-away. Emily would be expected to purchase her nursery items from her budget later. Then again, they could just be in the attic, packed up for another time. I honestly can’t imagine that Emily had much to play with on the farm.
As for Maiel, her childhood was so long before you meet her in the books, that it is likely she gave all those things away to other children. Perhaps they’ve been disbursed to her children, not so young themselves. We later find her apartment at the moon order still furnished with all the things she had when she had prior to marrying Dominic. There, readers find a spray of peacock feathers in the small armory, a gift from the General of her the armies: Mikhael. It’s not a toy, but it is something that mattered a great deal to her–both a sign of her importance and standing at the order.
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