Today my kid had a writing prompt. The prompt was to compare the climaxes of two different stories about hiking. I told her I’d write an essay about it too, to better feel her pain. I admit that I am not entirely feeling her pain because the poor kid has to write long-hand on special essay paper, whereas I get to type. This means that I can go back and revise much more easily. (I think schools should teach kids to type and write simultaneously — isn’t typing a more necessary skill than writing, nowadays?)
One of the stories was about a little boy who decided to hike through his small town to explore a bee farm; the other was about a little girl who went on a hike with her big brother. The one about the little boy was clearly about urban exploration. It was the type of adventuring that happens when you invade private property in a city, with all the usual details including encountering trash and concrete barriers, a bit of parkour, entering someone else’s property illegally, and meeting something scary that turns out to be an interesting twist on the mundane.
The story about the little girl was…ok, honestly, it was boring. The little girl went hiking but got tired, and due to the support and encouragement of the man in her life (her big brother) (who also kind of insulted her for being “little” when he reminded her that she was already ten), she was able to move on and overcome her fatigue.
I grew up either outside or in a book. When I was outside, I was down a literal hole (or over hot lava), and when I was inside, I was in another land. Later, I evolved from a rural adventurer into an urban adventurer, so I admit that I resonated more with the story about the boy.
I guess because I grew up outside, I immediately found holes in the little girl’s story. First, the little girl put on her hiking boots at home before she went on the two-hour car ride to the hike. In real life, you wear your clean rubber sandals in the car (well, in Hawaii), and stick your dirty hiking boots in the trunk. The first thing you do when you reach the trail is put on your socks and boots. Second, the little girl is only able to push through her trail fatigue after words from her brother, who says, “You’re ten, you can do it.” The story also says that the little girl believed him, because her brother “never lied.” Hmmmm. I admit to being skeptical about the limited perception of the narrator. In fact, the ten-year-old girl was written as much younger than my own ten-year-old girl tends to be. Was she infantilized? Am I just used to stronger heroines?
The little boy, on the other hand, only screamed “a little” when he saw the beekeeper in the bee suit. After his understanding shifted and the alien turned out to be a human in a bee suit, he allowed this person to teach him about bees. Interesting side point — my daughter also felt more affinity for this story, because once upon a time she got to visit her aunt’s bee farm and wear the bee suit (there she is, above).
Dave, who also wrote with us, said that he was pretty insulted by the difference in agency between the two protagonists. I can see his point. The boy was definitely the ruler of his own fate, despite his fear. The girl needed assistance from a man to push through her own internal battle. I’d love to see these stories genderswapped to figure out where the actual fault might lie. Oh, the story about the little boy was much longer and more detailed than the one about the little girl. That bothered me too.
In the concluding words encouraged by Monkey’s teacher: SO THERE YOU HAVE IT. My essay about an essay about essays.