Before The Kingdom of Childhood
by Rebecca Coleman, author of THE KINGDOM OF CHILDHOOD
It's difficult to pinpoint the moment when the story that would become The Kingdom of Childhood first kindled itself in my mind. Perhaps it began at the candlelight carol singing I attended at a Waldorf school when I was 14-- the first time I had ever seen such a place-- when the sensory beauty of the environment and my great fear of all the fire surrounding me came together in a story about both. Or it might have been on the playground of another Waldorf school 11 years later, as I watched my young son play joyfully with his classmates and realized that his teacher-- this embodiment of quiet peace and thoughtful nurturing-- had it in for him, because her perceptions of my wonderful son were so much at odds with mine. I lost a little of my idealism then, and even as I continued to love the Waldorf way, I never quite forgave that teacher's ill judgment of my son.
But these impressions remained rootless until the morning when, as I folded laundry in front of the TV news, I saw an item about a teacher arrested for an affair with a young male student and decided that was a story I wanted to tell. Raise the stakes, goes the sage advice about writing fiction-- always make the stakes for your characters as high as they can be. And so it didn't take long for the notion to strike me that a Waldorf teacher would be the best-- or worst-- to cast in that role, because there is no other philosophy that places such a high value on the purity, even the sacredness, of childhood. The crime Judy commits in The Kingdom of Childhood is not only taboo; in her community, it's nothing short of anathema.
What intrigued me in equal measure, though, was what it would be like to be the teenage boy playing opposite such a teacher. I knew what I didn't want him to be-- mature for his age, superficial in his thinking, experienced with girls or squabbling with his parents. All of those things would make his motivations too simple, and the joy of writing teenagers is that they are some of the most complex people in the world: so much bravado and pride, so much desire to be perceived as mature, and yet so thoroughly naive. On the news, we hear the names of the teachers involved in these scandals; we learn about their families, their awards, their reputations. Yet the boys remain a mystery, always. We tend to assume their motives are obvious: driven by their hormones, they are unfettered, willing victims. But when are human beings ever so simple?
Somewhere inside all of that complexity I found the story I wanted to tell: one about the collision of naivete and wisdom, comfort and fear. Life is lived in the contrasts, after all-- but the stakes are never higher than when the line between those contrasts draws paper-thin.
I should have affirmed that it was. I knew the full litany of what he did not want to do, and this was where it began. If there had remained any possibility that life could throw a cup of cold water in my face and reverse the course of things, it would have been that moment, that question.Instead, I climbed into the back of the car.
*Head over to The Pen & Muse on October 28th for the next installment from THE KINGDOM OF CHILDHOOD*