When I first picked up Kevin Wilson’s new book, Nothing to See Here, I thought the cover was metaphorical—a mid-twentieth century looking comic book illustration of a young child fully engulfed in flames from the waist up. It looks like the top of a child’s body is a firecracker.
I don’t usually read fiction. Nonfiction books about psychology and education are more my speed. But, when I saw that the book was about parenthood I thought it would be interesting. At the very least the author might offer some new perspective on parenting. However, I never imagined the kids in the story would actually catch fire. I don’t mean they are involved in a house fire. They literally have flames come out of their bodies. Sometimes when they get anxious, upset, or surprised their skin becomes red and hot to the touch. If they can’t cool off they burst into flames and ignite any combustibles in their path. Fortunately their parents are wealthy and can afford to pay for around-the-clock care. Unfortunately, the only person they can find is Lillian.
Lillian is a hot mess. Wrongfully expelled from high school and living in her mother’s hot attic, she feels her life is going nowhere quickly. She’s never been a mom and never wanted to be, nor did she think she would be any good at it. Lillian is approached by Madison, an old acquaintance from high school, one of the people involved in her expulsion, to watch over her soon-to-be secretary of state candidate husband’s children from a previous marriage. Madison fears the issues that might arise in her husband’s political career if something too public happened with the fire children.
Clearly it is not Lillian’s skillset they are after. They are counting on her ability to keep a secret and counting on her dependence on their wealth. Reading Nothing to See Here is like reading Lillian’s journal. Every honest thought she has is thoroughly and bluntly communicated. Every doubt and fear is expressed in its most extreme ways.
Lillian is nervous about the experience but as you might imagine starts to grow close to the children. She argues with them and defends them. She resents the way she’s treated and still allows it. She feeds them copious amounts of sugar and hangs out with them in the pool all day. She knows she is not qualified to care for them and yet doesn’t see anyone else in their lives more qualified to do so. The children become attached to her too. She seems to be the only person who will be honest with them. Who would’ve thought children might build trust with an adult who is honest, no matter how much of a wreck they are?
Nothing to See Here helped me reflect on the ways I am just like Lillian and for that I’m thankful. Like Lillian, I often feel resentment toward my children and some of my circumstances in life. I express unsavory ideas about my surroundings and I too struggle to feel adequate as a caretaker. But Lillian also tries to convey the world honestly to the kids. She works to protect them from people who only see them as an inconvenience. This trait, in my experience, is something kids are looking for more than almost anything else. They simply want to be seen and accounted for. I think Lillian discovers something we could learn from: Children come with risks but that doesn’t mean they are a liability. Sometimes that’s how we treat them, like they are just a ticking time bomb. I often wonder if the more we treat them like that the more they actually become it. It certainly doesn’t seem to be helping.
This article was written by Philip Mott. Learn more about him on his website.