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Has That Always Been There? · FiM Short Story ·
Organised by RogerDodger
Word limit 2000–8000
Petunia and the Coelacanth
Petunia Paleo was a small blue filly who lived with her parents in a medium-sized house at the end of a side street in Ponyville. She didn’t have wings to lift her up, but she had a giant smile that tended to lift others up around her. She didn’t have a horn to help her make magic, but she had dreams big enough to seem like magic.

She also had a great big skull-and-bones cutie mark on her flank. Now that one made her parents nervous sometimes, because they were the quiet sort of grown-ups who expected life to go a certain way, and for that way to be unremarkable, well-organized, and sensible, which a skull-and-bones cutie mark definitely was not. But they’d been reassured by ponies they trusted that there wasn’t anything to worry about, because Petunia’s mark meant that she loved paleontology, which was the study of the bones of old dead things, which was kind of weird and icky in their estimation, but not bad or wrong. And so they told themselves not to worry as Petunia went on digs around town anywhere she could get ponies to let her dig, which usually meant she dug mostly in her backyard, but it was amazing what she could find even there!

Petunia’s parents told themselves not to worry pretty frequently, in fact. But Petunia didn’t worry about that too much. Instead, she had her dreams, and her digs around town, and the books on paleontology she checked out from the library sometimes, and the nature magazines the mailmare brought once a month.

One day, Petunia’s favorite magazine said something that made her smile even bigger than usual: Something very special had been discovered off the coast of Zebrica. It was more than just a fish; It was a Coelacanth. The article called it a “living fossil,” something that had somehow survived since the time of dinosaurs, millions of years before.

And it was alive. There and then.

Or, well, it was half a world away, in Zebrica.

But that was just a detail in Petunia’s mind as she bounded off her bed and trotted down the stairs as quickly as her short legs could trot, clutching the magazine in her mouth. She leapt over a basket of laundry to be folded and skidded to a halt in front of the kitchen table, where her parents sat drinking coffee and reading halves of the morning paper.

“‘Om!’Ad!” she said, removing the magazine only as an afterthought. “Did you see this? There’s a Coelacanth! A living fossil!”

Her parents looked up from their papers and met each other's eyes. Identical looks of concern crossed their features. “That’s… amazing, honey,” her mother said, not in any way convincing her that the sentiment was genuine. “A… living fossil, you say?”

“Yes! And we have to go see it!

“Heh, heh,” her dad non-laughed. “Well, sport, that sounds… pretty interesting…”

“I know, right?!” she beamed. “The thing is that we need to go visit the pod that’s been discovered off the coast of Zebrica before we lose the chance! Who knows, maybe there’s only a few of them left, or they could be endangered… or I didn’t really finish reading the whole article, but that’s not the point!”

Her parents looked at each other again. The look they shared wasn’t just a look; it was a look. And when they looked at her again, that too was a look.

“Here’s the thing,” her dad began.

“Honey, your dad and I…” her mom added.

“Really, both of us…”

“Well…”

“See, going on a trip to… Zebrica, of all places…”

“It’s going to cost a lot…”

“A lot...”

“Of money.”

Both her parents nodded once, the gesture making it clear that their answer was final.

Petunia’s smile cracked only a little. “Okay,” she said, nodding slowly. “So what you’re saying is that if I could come up with the money, we could go?”

The two looked at each other again, nervous tension dancing across their faces.

“...Maybe?” her mom said, turning back to her.

“It would take a lot of money, though,” her dad reiterated.

“Don’t you worry!” Petunia leapt up and bounded toward the door. “I know just who I can talk to about getting lots of money!”





Filthy Rich sat back in his chair in the Rich family’s atrium, chuckling slightly. “Well, I must say, young Petunia, that is truly an ambitious dream.”

“I know, right?!” Petunia’s grin intensified. She turned to share it with her fairly new friend Diamond Tiara, who sat in a nearby chair, keeping her expression even. “And just think, it would be a chance for you to see some of the beautiful plants you have here growing in their natural habitat, as well! That’s a Zebrican lily, isn’t it? Oh! And that one’s a goat’s-foot!”

Filthy nodded. “You know, it’s rare to meet a youngster who has such a deep appreciation for the natural world.”

Petunia shifted in her chair, showing off part of her flank. “Well, Mr. Rich, sir, the natural world is what I’m all about! Normally I focus on the dead stuff, but suddenly the dead stuff is alive again!” She paused, running back over the words in her head. “Or, it was here all along. Whatever! The point is, we can go see it! All we need is money.”

His smile turned a bit sad. “I’m afraid that isn’t all we’d need for such an expedition. See, a find like that is going to draw attention from the local authorities, and conservation officials, and scientists from the world over, all coming to study just what you are.”

She nodded. “...And…?”

He sighed. “Well, Petunia, what I’m saying is that money by itself isn’t going to get us through all that. We’d need… connections. Somepony on the inside of that feeding frenzy of explorers and discoverers who could get us in, too.”

Petunia’s smile quirked down just a bit, though it held firm in the end. “But… I thought money was the only thing my parents needed?”

Filthy shrugged. “And I’m sorry too, Petunia. It’s a very big dream, but without the right connections, all the money in the world wouldn’t help us here.”

She looked away, brow furrowing. Then her eyes brightened. “So what you’re saying is that if I could find somepony with the right connections, we could go?”

Diamond Tiara and Filthy Rich looked at each other, then both shrugged.

“...Maybe?” Filthy said, turning back to her. “I don’t know who might know somepony in that kind of community, though.”

“Oh, don’t worry!” Petunia jumped up so quickly that the chair clattered over behind her. “I know just about the best-connected pony in the whole wide world!”




It was the Cutie Mark Crusaders who made Petunia’s introduction at the Friendship Castle, and who led her down its central corridor toward the Map Room, where the Princess Twilight Sparkle sat in conference with her fellow Element-Bearers of Harmony. Petunia pranced in place and tried to keep her breathing steady as she waited outside its large doors for their meeting to be over. The Cutie Mark Crusaders tried to engage her in chit-chat to help pass the time, but it just bounced off Petunia’s bubbly but single-minded soul.

At last, the doors swung open, and five of the Element Bearers filed out with determined looks upon their faces. Twilight trailed behind them somewhat, and paused when she saw the four fillies flagging her down.

“Girls?”

“Hey Princess Twilight!” said Petunia, pushing forward past the Cutie Mark Crusaders. “Did you hear about the coelacanth that was discovered off the coast of Zebrica?”

Twilight smiled. “Actually, yes, Petunia! It’s so exciting to think a living piece of history is out there swimming in the oceans of today!”

“YES!” Petunia shouted, throwing back her head with glee. “FINALLY somepony else who really understands!”

“It’s really special having someone to share exciting news with, isn’t it? But what brings you here today?”

Petunia held up a hoof and started rattling things off: “Well, I really want to go see the Coelacanth, but I asked my parents, and they said that we’d need money. So I went to see Filthy Rich, and it sounds like he could help with the money, but he doesn’t have the right connections. So I figured you probably have all the connections in the world!” Her smile grew deeper, and she nearly vibrated with the effort of containing it.

But Princess Twilight frowned. “Oh… yes, I suppose I do have connections here and there in the scientific community… and I probably could pull some strings with the Zebrican and Equestrian authorities to get us in if I needed to…”

“Really? Really really really?!

“Well, yes, I could, except the only problem is that I don’t know when I’d have time to make the trip. My friends and I are off to save the world right now, and we end up having to do that so often, I’d hate to be away for how long it would take to get to Zebrica and back!”

Petunia’s smile faltered. “But… surely if we have the money and the right connections…”

Twilight frowned. “And I’m sorry too, Petunia. It’s a very big dream, but without the time to take you on the trip, my connections might not accept you.”

Petunia stood motionless, but then her lip began to quiver. “Well, I know my parents don’t have time to take me… they both have to work. And Filthy Rich has got his business to run…”

“I’m very, very sorry,” Princess Twilight said. “I can maybe say something to one of my friends, but I don’t know how to make this work right now.”

“It’s okay,” Petunia said. Only, her voice quavered and her nose sniffed in a way that told all those around her that it was very much not okay.

Both Twilight and the Cutie Mark Crusaders offered to walk her home, but she waved them away, preferring to trudge back slowly, and all by herself.

And so she came home to find her parents sitting in a different room, and reading different things, but still not any different than she had left them.

“How’d it go, sweetie?” her mother asked.

Petunia didn’t answer. Or at least not with words. She let loose all the tears that she had bottled-up on her walk home, and wailed so loud the neighbors surely heard her. She turned away, and climbed the stairs, and slammed her bedroom door, and locked it, and threw herself upon her bed, and she was still crying, and she felt as though the crying would never, ever stop.

And for a long time, it didn’t. Because deep down, Petunia knew that it’s worth crying when a dream dies. And an extra-big dream deserves an extra-big cry if it comes to that.




Petunia had long since cried herself quiet and passed-out facedown on her bed, when three loud raps on the front door awoke her, soon followed by the faint sound of the door opening.

“I hear your daugher has been seeking to leave home,” a muffled voice said. “She seeks the land called Zebrica, from where I roam.”

Petunia pushed herself up on her elbows as she strained to hear the rest of what was said, but it seemed the grownups were speaking in their quiet voices, so she didn’t catch much. But soon she heard the sound of hooves on the stairs. She sat up in bed, feeling curious. Then she trotted over and unlocked her door.

No sooner had she unlocked it than the knob turned, and it opened, and she saw a stripy figure standing there, smiling, and flanked by her parents, who once again had a look on their faces that said they were telling themselves not to worry.

“Greetings, young Petunia Paleo,” Zecora said. “I’ve come to show you where your dreams can go.”

Petunia’s smile made a tentative return. “Does that mean… you can take me to Zebrica?”

"Not exactly as you mean, but something downstairs should be seen!"




Petunia crinkled her nose at the smell of the pouch on Zecora’s hip, which only grew stronger as the zebra gradually transferred its contents to her mom’s largest cookpot set up on the stove.

“Many dreams seem impossible,” Zecora said. “Many waits seem forever. But time can be an ally, child, and you never should say never.”

Petunia shuffled closer to the pot. “What… is that stuff?” she managed.

Zecora smiled; first at Petunia, then at her parents, who watched from the safe shelter of the hall. “What matters isn’t what it be, but what this brew will help you see.

“And… that is?”

“Take a look inside, and it will seem that yours is really not too big a dream.”

Petunia pulled over a small step stool. “All right,” she said, looking into the pungent, bubbling green contents. “But I don’t see what I--”




Petunia Paleo was a strong and pretty mare who closed her eyes and grinned into the stinging salt-air that was kicked up by the powered boat. Ponies milled to and fro around her, readying equipment, or handling the myriad things necessary to keep the boat clean and in good working order. She listened to their bustle, and allowed herself to forget all about her high-strung parents, and the medium-sized house she had grown up in, and the dream she never thought would become real.

Because it was real, now.

She’d waited years; worked harder than she thought she could; studied for long hours; and earned not only a degree, but a research grant, to continue the study of her first love: the living fossil.

Well, her second, after fossils in general.

She felt a nudge on her shoulder, and opened her eyes to see a handsome black-coated stallion--her assistant--pointing off the starboard bow. “Doctor Paleo, there they are. We found them!”

Petunia followed his hoof with her gaze, and smiled, and dashed up to the railing at the edge of the boat. There, not ten meters away and maybe just one meter down, was the pod. They were ugly, to be sure, with big eyes and gills and clammy faces; and they were shorter than she thought they’d look, considering that they should be almost leg-length on an average-sized pony.

Yet they were beautiful, for they were coelacanths, and seeing them in-person put a smile on her face that couldn’t be contained by smiling alone. Instead, she whooped, and leapt, and hollered, scaring half the crew away in the process.

“Doctor Paleo!” her assistant shouted. “Please, we need to start taking measurements!”

Instead of listening, she hugged him, then took his hooves in hers, and whirled him around in a mad dance. “Don’t you understand?! We’re here! We found them!!”

“Yes, but doctor…”

“I’m taking a swim,” she declared. Then she alit upon the railing, looking back at him for just a moment… and then she smiled, and jumped.

And as she landed in the middle of the pod, they scattered; and the ponies on the boat began to shout “Mare Overboard!” and scurried to and fro to “save” her; but she knew she didn’t need saving. Not in the bigger sense, at least.

Instead, she swam, and laughed when she had breath for it, and treaded water, knowing that while her crew did what they did best, she had at last made it to Zebrica, and to the coelacanths, and to her dream.




Petunia’s parents furrowed their brows as they took the small, sleeping filly from Zecora’s hooves. “Are you sure she’s quite all right?” her dad asked. “She just fainted all of a sudden…”

Zecora shook her head and smiled. “She’s better than all right, if I may boldly say. She’s learned her dreams are not impossible today.”

“We didn’t want her to think they were impossible,” Petunia’s mom said, looking guilty.

“But finding every reason why they will not fly, is just as good as telling her she should not try.”

“We’re very sorry,” her dad said.

“I didn’t come to make you feel sad,” Zecora said. “I came so she could start to feel glad. Your child has a gift, strange as it may seem; a massive smile, and even bigger dreams.”

“We’ll go tuck her in now,” Petunia’s mom said. “She must’ve had a big day.”

Zecora winked. “Not yet, she hasn’t; but she will, someday.”
« Prev   13   Next »
#1 · 1
· · >>Baal Bunny >>CoffeeMinion
when Filthy Rich mentioned "connections" I honestly expected Daring Do to appear in the next scene. (maybe I'm reading too much Carl Barks)

I liked the character and the story concept here, but the solution to the problem didn't seem very satisfying. While I did enjoy Zecora and the boat scene, I'm not sure what the friendship lesson was, or who it was aimed at. It took a second reading to catch on that the coelacanths might be endangered, so time is running out... maybe? Even Petunia wasn't sure on that.

The adults feel more like party-poopers than sources of conflict. I think that's distracting from the theme of optimism vs pessimism. Don't worry, the events of the story work very well, but they just need the right tone to build up a stronger emotional impact.
#2 · 1
· · >>Feris >>CoffeeMinion
This story starts out with a great tone, which it carries all the way through. I haven't read Biscuit's piece, so I can't compare it to that, but this holds up on it's own well enough.

I'm not sure how I feel about all the emphasis you use. For whatever reason, bold in fiction bugs me, and I'm not sure it's useful enough here to justify it's existence.

This has a clear act structure, which is nice in some ways. The thing is, unless I misunderstand the term, it basically ends deus ex; an unrelated character shows up and deftly solves the problem (by explaining that it's not really a problem in the first place, which annoyed me slightly) and then everything's good because.... reasons? I dunno. Although I liked the tone, and I feel like the childishness almost carries the piece through, the ending really felt fairly dissatisfying, and any attempts I make to draw a lesson from it end up being hamstrung by author fiat messing with causality. (If you're a child with big dreams, adults will drug you to stop you bothering people!) If it had even been her parents who called Zecora, I think I'd have liked it a lot better.
#3 · 2
· · >>CoffeeMinion
Put me down:

With >>Haze as someone who was expecting Daring Do to show up. You could easily add her as the final obstacle, actually--Dash gets in touch with her just before the Mane 6 leave, and she shows up, all excited to go on this journey till she realizes they're going after a fish instead of a treasure.

Put me down also as someone left unsatisfied by the tone of the ending. The story has a very fairy tale "Once upon a time..." feel to it, and Zecora doesn't quite fit in with that. All the talk of Petunia's dreams, though, made me think of Princess Luna, and I'd recommed her as the one who comes in at the end to show Petunia the vision. Maybe do it "Christmas Carol" style with Luna and young Petunia watching the older Petunia, too: that way, you can have young Petunia and Luna talking about what's happening and get the story's "good things come to those who wait" moral more clearly stated at the end. Fun stuff here, though!

Mike
#4 · 3
· · >>Zaid Val'Roa >>CoffeeMinion
I liked this a lot. It felt like a fable. Short, simple, and to the point. We thought the lesson was for Petunia, but the real lesson was for the adults.

As an aside, I was half expecting the Twilight scene to end with:

“So what you’re saying is that if I could come up with the time, we could go?”

“...Maybe?”


Cue Petunia going to Doctor Whooves / Starlight Glimmer for a time machine.

But perhaps that's too silly for what is a very sweet story.

I think >>Not_A_Hat is right about the emphasis. Bold text is powerful and seems excessive where used here.
#5 · 1
· · >>CoffeeMinion
The title made me afraid this was going to be a story-length Hitchhiker's Guide reference, but evidently not.

I liked this story. I really enjoyed the ending; Petunia's joy at the ship was especially well-described and heartwarming.
#6 · 2
· · >>CoffeeMinion
I ended up enjoying this far more than I thought I would.

Events happened perhaps a bit too quickly, though that added to the fable-esque charm the story has. However, this could benefit from ironing out those scenes a little bit. Most of the criticisms I had have already been addressing, so I won't go into detail

The bold text became distracting after using it so much. Perhaps italics could've worked better? An the resolution came out of left field. Since Zebrica was mentioned early on, I figured Zecora would appear eventually, though perhaps a better build up to that could've helped.

Still, this was a very entertaining read and it left me with a smile on my face.

>>Feris
It's funny, my mind also went to time travel. "If what you need is time, then I'll make time!"

Cue Petunia building a time machine and going back in time to hang out with Coelacanths back in the Devonian Period.
#7 · 1
·
Genre: Children's story

Thoughts: As others have noted, the casting here is a little bit suspect. Twilight comes across as wooden, and the CMCs are mentioned enough to be problematic given that they don't have any lines... and yeah, this is basically a Deus Ex Machina as-written right now (with probably unintentional unfortunate implications about the purported virtues of drugging your children). Honestly I wonder if Rainbow Dash and Luna would've made better choices for the third and fourth encounters, as they would tie to Daring Do and would let the end sequence happen while avoiding the whole drugging issue.

Still, I think this does far more right than not. It's a complete story, it puts forward a consistent structure that lends itself to a children's book format, and it has some good messages about dreams and hard work and being careful not to discourage the young. Also, bonus points for starring a woefully underutilized canon character.

Tier: Strong
#8 · 1
· · >>CoffeeMinion
This was the cutest damn thing I've ever read. Weak in some areas, to be sure, but the protagonist is adorable and precocious, and her journey from start to finish is brimming with enough childish exuberance to make a mundane series of conversations seem like an epic journey of self-discovery.

I'll go ahead and second/third/fourth the criticisms that the buncha jokers above me have already mentioned, but I'm gonna break ranks with them and offer a different solution to the deus ex machina problem. Have Petunia seek out Zecora in the Everfree Forest instead of going home and crying. The conflict isn't resolved by anything the protagonist does, after all. It's a string that Twilight pulls offscreen.

So how about this: Twilight says that her friend, Zecora, who lives in the Everfree Forest, might be able to help her, and Petunia goes after her. She meets Zecora, asks her to take her to Zebrica, and Zecora says she can't. Petunia cries because her dream is dead, until Zecora calms her by telling her "do not cry, Petunia dear, for I can bring Zebrica here." Then she drugs Petunia.

Or... maybe the potion doesn't make her fall unconscious?


On a final note, I thought that Zecora's rhymes were pretty weak. I get that it's difficult to convincingly write dialogue for a whimsical rhyming zebra, and it's far from the most important thing in the story, but it should be something that you address in future revisions. It's unfortunately dragging down your score to a mere 8/10.
#9 · 2
· · >>CoffeeMinion
This was super cute, and the others have gone on about how the ending kinda feels rushed. What I'd really like is for Petunia to flat out go 'No Twilight we will MAKE TIME' and have her be the one to involve Zecora, somehow.
#10 · 2
· · >>CoffeeMinion
I really enjoyed this one. I do think there are some unfortunate tonal shifts, though. In the first few scenes I thought she was going to rope in half the ponies in town until, possibly by accident, she winds up achieving her dream or something equally good. It has that sort of children’s story aesthetic. I’m not saying her getting tripped up by genuine reality is a bad thing, it was just a bit of a jolt, something you could probably soften a bit for for the reader.

I’ve got two minor issues with Zecora’s appearance. First, her presence is unexplained. Her saying that so-and-so told her about Petunia's dream would suffice. Second, I don’t buy her chastisement of Petunia’s parents. They gave a non-committal answer for one single reason; the other reasons came from other ponies. They just don’t factor into the story enough to be on the receiving end of a moral lesson. Why not end in Petunia’s perspective? She’s the one who, as Zecora said, learned something pivotal. That also would let you return to the child-like, anything-is-possible tone from the beginning.
#11 · 1
· · >>Posh >>BlazzingInferno
Looks like it's time Enough for...

Petunia and the Retrospective


Thank you to these awesome peoples for the feedbacks: >>Haze >>Not_A_Hat >>Baal Bunny >>Feris >>JudgeDeadd >>Zaid Val'Roa >>Posh >>Morning Sun >>BlazzingInferno

Yep yep, this was a children's story intended for children; specifically for my oldest. A couple months ago, Oldest learned about Coelacanths--"the living fossil"--and asked me to write a story about them. I agreed, but I blanked on what exactly I should write. I wanted to make good on my promise but I couldn't think of a story. I'd actually realized Petunia Paleo offered a way to write a story about them in Equestria before Petunia's giant coprolite story dropped (ha, ha), but seeing that story get so big (ha, ha) gave me confidence that her character could win an audience. I mean, it's stupid to think that she couldn't; any character can if written well. But I dunno.

The rest of it was just working out the structure. It's funny how so many people went with the overall structure, even if half the story could be gutted and replaced with different encounters with different ponies. I'm amazed the Deus Ex Machina managed to come off as well as it did, too. Because to provide some background... I had very little time to write this, and basically zero time to revise it. My usual fall-back time to write is in the middle of the night when kids are asleep, but during the weekend writing period for this Writeoff we were fighting sleep disturbances and illness that had people up at all hours... so yeah, this came out pretty raw. There was a point where I realized I'd probably made a mistake by not invoking Daring Do, and another point where I realized I was writing a bald-faced Deus Ex Machina with overtones of drugging children, and due to time constraints, the only thing I could do was double-down on it.

With that said, I'm amazed it did as well as it did! :heart:

>>Not_A_Hat
The emphasis was 100% (probably unjustified) paranoia about giving myself away as the author. I hate and never use bold, so I figured that would help throw people off my trail. (And... it was a weird weekend, I wasn't thinking 100% clearly, etc.) Oh and the Zecora thing originated in the thought that Petunia would go to Zecora's house and look into her cauldron and have the dream... but it turned out backwards when I actually went to write it.

>>Baal Bunny
Ah, yes. Luna. :facehoof:

I appreciate your pointing it out, and I died a little on the inside when I realized Luna would have been the more natural choice to guide Petunia through a plot-pivotal dream sequence.

>>Feris
>>Zaid Val'Roa
>>Morning Sun
I didn't expect to see recommendations for Petunia to fight the time limitation. But, considering we have Doctor Whooves and Starlight Glimmer hanging around Ponyville, this makes way more sense than I would've expected. I'm torn if I want to go down this road, as it could lead in some pretty cracky directions. OTOH, I could swap GlimGlam in for Twilight without changing a whole lot, if Filthy's objection was more about taking time away from running his empire instead of not having contacts.

Fun fact, though: It was originally going to be Rainbow Dash instead of Twilight, and Petunia was going to ask about getting in touch with Daring Do. But I dunno, then I sat down to write it and it came out being Twilight and I didn't have time to reassess the situation.

>>Posh
Additional fun fact: Zecora's dialogue was the last thing I wrote. It was murder. I was juggling kids at ungodly-AM and trying to work out pairs of lines with identical numbers of syllables. 0/10, would not Rhyme-Zeebra again.

>>BlazzingInferno
I might change it to Petunia at the end. Right now it's written as an admonishment to myself and other parents as much as anything. It's so easy to dismiss the silly-seeming dreams of kids, especially when they're young and the dreams seem to change with the weather. But the lesson here is not to do that.




Okay, so what did the intended audience think of this? After writing it, I asked Oldest if there was still interest in hearing it. And after I read it and asked for Oldest's opinion, here is what Oldest replied, with the most serious facial expression you could possibly imagine:

"It was awkward. Daddy, you're wrong; the coelacanths are bigger than you."


...And that's why I haven't quit my day job to write children's stories! :-P
#12 · 1
·
>>CoffeeMinion
Looks like it's time Enough for...


You must be stopped.

Somehow, the revelation that you wrote this for your kid just makes it all the more adorable.

Okay, so what did the intended audience think of this? After writing it, I asked Oldest if there was still interest in hearing it. And after I read it and asked for Oldest's opinion, here is what Oldest replied, with the most serious facial expression you could possibly imagine:

"It was awkward. Daddy, you're wrong; the coelacanths are bigger than you."


Oh, come on, I'm sure they're not that biOH HOLY HORSE JESUS HORSE MARY AND HORSE JOSEPH
#13 · 1
·
>>CoffeeMinion
...And that's why I haven't quit my day job to write children's stories! :-P

Take it from Twilight Velvet, it's a brutal market ;)

If you want to keep the ding on Petunia's parents, maybe they could be a little more dismissive-sounding than "we probably can't afford to do that"?
Have you read Ada Twist, Scientist? That's what comes to mind for me. Her parents aren't meanspirited or unreasonable, but they are facing down a unique and trying challenge from their very unique kid.