Mom always acts extra sweet before she tells me big news. One Saturday last summer, I woke up to find her offering to make me anything I wanted for breakfast. This is weird, I thought, it’s not my birthday. Still, I accepted her offer. “I know it’s August, but can I have oatmeal?” I asked.
I love the goopy, heavy taste of oatmeal. Plus, my Grandpa once said, “You never know what a day’s going to bring, so you’d better meet it with a full stomach. Oatmeal does the trick.”
After breakfast, I was clearing the table when Mom said, “That’s okay, Jessie. You don’t need to help.” Normally she would’ve said, “When you’re finished with the dishes, could you go clean up your room?” which isn’t really a question. It’s an order. This time Mom didn’t ask or order. I had no idea what was coming, but I knew it was big. Three long hours passed until I found out what it was.
I was sketching a cat with kittens when Mom appeared at my door. “Jessie, Dad and I have something to tell you. Let’s go in the kitchen.”
The last time Mom brought me to the kitchen, it was to let me know Grandpa had died. The time before that, we went to the kitchen so Mom could announce she was having twins.
This time I suspected that what they were going to tell me was not only big, but bad—more of a Grandpa dying-type of news than the twins coming-type. So on my way, I stopped at my favorite place in our apartment—the Big Window. With no time to look at the action on the street or to peep into the apartment across the way, I reached out to give the Big Window a quick touch, for good luck.
Dad was sitting at the table, staring into space. I sat across from him. Mom poured herself a glass of ice water and sat next to me. She pulled a tissue from her pocket and wiped her forehead. She nodded to Dad. He cleared his throat. “Uh, we have some news—about Mom.”
Mom squeezed the tissue in her fist. She took a deep breath. “I have to report to Fort Bragg in two weeks, for training. I’ve been called up to serve in the war in Iraq.” She reached for her water and took a big gulp.
“She won’t actually be fighting,” Dad said quickly. He covered my hand with his. “She’ll be a translator, like she is here. They need her Arabic language skills to help our soldiers communicate with the Iraqis.”
He smiled like the twins did when they were babies still learning how: kind of a lop-sided half-smile. Mom put her elbows on the table and rubbed her eyes with her palms.
I pulled my hand out from under Dad’s to wipe it on my shorts. Since my thighs were sticking to the chair, I put both hands underneath them. I took my parents’ lead and pretended I could handle this.
“For how long?” I asked, as if they’d told me Mom was going to visit Grandma.
“Hopefully no longer than a year,” Mom answered.
I gasped. It felt like someone had kicked a soccer ball into my stomach. I calculated in my head. Mom would miss my whole sixth grade year, my twelfth birthday, the beginning of seventh grade and everything in-between.
“A year? That’s so long,” I whispered.
No one answered. I heard the sounds of the city outside: someone whistling for a cab, a far-off siren.
“Why, Mom? Why do they have to bring you all the way from New York to help people talk to each other? Don’t they have translators in Iraq?”
“What about the twins?” I continued. “Who’ll wash their hair? What about Sky? A parakeet doesn’t understand. And what about me?” My voice cracked. So much for the good luck touch. I wanted to break that Big Window in a million pieces.
“Jessie, let me explain. You know I’ve been in the Army Reserves. I didn’t think it would happen, but I made a commitment to serve if our country ever went to war. With 9/11 and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq…. Well, Dad and I knew I could be deployed, but we hoped–” She swallowed. Then she whispered, “You never think it’ll be you.” Mom dropped her head. Her tissue lay shredded on the table.
This needs some editing but it's not a mess by any means.
I'd do it.
I'd probably take this entire manuscript and copy edit it and hand carry it around to every editor in town cause I think kids need this book.
This is why I think that: 1200 kids have lost a parent in Iraq/Afghanistan ...so far
One of the great things about being in publishing is you can help get books into print that people really really need. Not just prescriptive books, but stories that help you sort out how you feel and make you understand why you feel that way.
I can't end the war in Iraq. I can't do much to help kids who have lost a parent, particularly their mom, in that war. I could do this though. And I think just about any agent in town would feel the same way.