The idea behind my upcoming novel, The Fiend in the Fog, took root many years ago. It was the summer before I entered teacher training, and I was working in a day care centre in Tucson, Arizona. It wasn’t a posh daycare — one of my fellow teachers had an ankle bracelet, courtesy of Arizona law enforcement. A few others had tattoos, which, at the time weren’t something that one showed off if one wanted a job working with the public. But the teachers loved the kids and were good at their jobs.
I hadn’t spent a lot of time around small children. It was a learning curve. But I really enjoyed the work. It was a revelation to me, how much of our personalities are present, right there from birth. And every class that I’ve ever taught, from that room full of 18-month-olds to a bilingual class for elderly Russian immigrants studying for the citizenship exam, has had the same archetypes — the loud, usually male leader who pathologically challenges everything the teacher says until some tipping point (such as the teacher arguing back to him in his own language, and better); the usually female gigglers at the back of the class, the teacher’s pet who always sits in the front row, and so on.
But the most important lesson those 18-month-olds taught me was that a lot of monsters appear for a reason. They have a job to do. And if you find that job and assign it, not only does the monster not need to be monstrous anymore, but the teacher ends up with one less job to do herself.
D was a handsome, forceful kid with a will of iron. He had the winningest smile, but the foulest temper. His monster loved to announce its presence by pushing the littler kids down. And this would result in lectures and timeouts, which would make the monster even angrier.
The monster itself, I believe, arose as a response to home disruption. D’s family was going through divorce and upheaval, and he probably felt pushed around himself, and lacking control.
The next time it happened, the monster had its timeout. But rather than releasing D back onto the playground, I took him aside and asked if he would like to help me with the little kids. It became his job to help me push the babies on the swings, gently and carefully. He became so protective of the little ones, and was so proud to have a job to do. I never saw him push another kid again, unless he was at my side and they were in the swings.
There are several monsters in The Fiend in the Fog. Each has a message and a job to do. And this is often the case with our own monsters. If we listen to them, rather than punishing or attempting to banish them, we may learn something. And if we find out the job they’ve arrived to fill and assign it, then the monster can be an asset, rather than a liability.