Saturday, May 21, 2011

Notes in a Bottle

This is a piece I wrote some time ago, and I am ready to take it public for some feedback. In my classroom I like to use books kids can connect to. I was looking for a good story that dealt with divorce and couldn't find one. So, I decided to write one. So, understand this is written as an idea for a children's book.( It would be more like the style of Patricia Polacco or Eve Bunting length and style for older adolescence.) PLEASE give me some feedback. Thanks in advance!

Life brings change. Katie and her mother were in the midst of another one of those changes. Katie was whirling with thoughts, like a lightning bug in a jar right before its light goes out. Katie and her mother were driving down the long country road. So much had recently happened, so much had changed. At age eleven her life had already seemed so full of emotions and confusion, continually she was trying to figure out why things happen the way they do. Katie’s grandmother was packing up the contents of her home…moving in with them.  Katie’s mom had made the decision based on the life-interruptions that had recently occurred. Only months ago Katie’s dad had moved out of their home and into an apartment in town. Then a short time later, they received the phone call saying that her grandma had fallen when she was alone. So it was decided… Grandma and mom would journey through these times together, in Katie’s home.
Katie wasn’t sure how she felt about it, how she felt about anything right now. Disorder seemed to take residence in her mind. She couldn’t figure out how what she thought was such a happy home, had become such a miserable place for her parents. So miserable in fact, that they had decided to live separate.
At her Grandmother’s home they started sorting, packing, deciding where all her “treasures” would be sent. A pile for Goodwill, a pile for the local thrift store and though we didn’t talk too much about it in front of Grandma, but a pile for the dump. All her memories were held in the contents of this house, and little could be brought with her to our home. Katie wondered how hard this was for her grandmother. Her grandmother had lived in this home since Katie’s mother was just a small girl.  To Katie it seemed they were all letting go of things they thought would be with them forever.
“Katie?” Mom stirred her from her questions. “Want to come help me sort some things in my room?”
Katie found it strange that after all these years her mother still called that bedroom ‘my room’. It hadn’t been her mother’s room in over twenty years.
“Sure…” she looked up into her mother’s eyes, seeing beyond her mother’s smile she knew that mom had a few questions of her own swarming around in her mind. Her look had changed the day Katie’s Dad had carried the first suitcase full of his belongings out of their home. Katie continued to wish her mother’s look would return to what it had been; Katie wished everything would return to what it was.
“Mom, you were a weird kid,” she chuckled as she glanced around ‘her’ bedroom. It was a history lesson of her mom’s teenage life. Grandma had left it virtually untouched.
“Not weird Katie, in fact very much like you!”
“I can’t see how you can compare Mom! Are you ready to bury these things?”
There were posters on the wall, shoeboxes of old letters and pictures under the bed and in the closet, and in the drawers were hidden remnants of her strange taste in clothes. Nowhere did Katie see anything that resembled her.
As they began to gather and pack Katie could tell Mom would get lost in her memories. Katie would call her back into reality holding things up laughing or questioning, “What in the world is this?”
It was when her mom pulled a bottle off a shelf when Katie saw a cloud pass over her mother’s face, a storm brewing. Her mother brought it down, looking from Katie to the bottle…wondering.
“What’s that? A secret love note?” Rolled up inside the bottle was a yellowed piece of paper.
“No…it was a school assignment, I was about your age.”
“You saved a school assignment in a bottle Mom? You are an odd one!”
“No, that was a part of the assignment.”
“Okay, you have my curiosity, why would your teacher assign that?”
“We had read a story about a message in a bottle. Then we wrote our own. Most of the kids actually released theirs, but I saved mine.”
“So, it is a secret love note?”  Imagining her mom with a high school sweetheart really made her laugh.
            “No, the teacher asked us to write a note telling something we might not want to say aloud, to an audience who we knew may never see it.”
            “So, did anyone ever read it?”
            “Only me, I pulled it out once in a while. In fact, there are two letters in there. You might be interested in reading them.”
By the grip she had on the bottle Katie knew she was still deciding if she wanted her, or anyone to read it.
“That’s okay Mom, you can keep your secret,” Katie assured her.
“No, I think it might help…us. I wrote this letter when my parents broke up.”
Katie had always known her grandparents had divorced long before she was born. But suddenly, she realized Mom had gone through this. Katie wasn’t sure she wanted to read that letter. Katie and her mother were very close; she had always easily shared secrets with her mother. But it didn’t feel right that she would now be the first to read this letter, a letter her mother kept protected in a bottle, from everyone.
            Her mom placed the bottle in Katie’s lap. “I’m going to make us lunch.” She left the room, leaving Katie permission to be the first to read her letter.
            It took Katie a few minutes to decide to twist the cap off. Even with permission she felt like she was invading her mother’s privacy. Inside she found two rolled up letters- one obviously older than the other. Katie decided to read the oldest letter first. She slowly read her mother’s words,

“Dear Mom and Dad,
It has been two weeks since Daddy pulled
me into his lap and with tears in his eyes had told me he is moving out. The pain of that moment still stings the deepest part of my heart. But today it isn’t pain I am writing about-it’s confusion.”

She stopped reading at that point and laid the letter in her lap. Tears clouded her vision. Katie was reading her mother’s words; and realizing at the same time that her mom knew the pain and confusion too. She couldn’t believe she was reading her mother’s heart, and it read just like her own heart. It took longer this time to want to go on, to read more. But she did.

“How could this happen? How are you so unhappy in the home I find so happy? Don’t you remember the camping trips, the holidays, even our dinners around the table? Why does this have to end, why can’t you make this work?
                                                                                    Your unhappy daughter”

Those lines Katie read over and over. She let them roll around her mind, into her heart, sometimes sinking in her stomach.  Each time realizing these were her very same questions …her same pain. Katie’s mind was bombarded, “How could my mother feel the same thing? And worse yet, how did she allow this to happen to me, knowing how much it hurts?”
Katie twisted the papers together and returned them to the bottle. She didn’t know what the second letter was about, and didn’t care. The bottle lay next to her as she lay down on the pillow. Katie’s tears fell as she released all that had been bottled up inside.
Mom came in to get her for lunch. At first sight of Katie, her mother knew her words, that had been hidden for so long, had now been read, but they didn’t talk about it that day. They didn’t for a while. It was not the time. But one day they would. When Katie was ready to talk, to move beyond this. Right now Katie felt stuck here. The lightning bug at the bottom of the jar, light out.
As time passed by, Katie spent a lot of time with her Dad, and her mother as well. They took turns over the holidays and summer vacations, both spending time with Katie. Things were different, but Katie adjusted to the change. As the days and months moved on, the hurt and confusion cleared some. Katie and her Mom began to talk. Katie’s mother asked questions, and so did Katie. Some could be answered; others were never answered. They carried on through many of life’s twists and turns, experiencing them both together and separately. The hurt changed too. It never left completely. The confusion gave way to acceptance.
On the day Katie was moving out, about nine years later, her mom came into her room to help pack. Over time Katie’s mom had found out that Katie had never read the second letter. Katie saw the bottle in her mother’s hand when she came in.
“Before you go, there’s something I want you to do for me.”
Katie knew what it was before her mother ever said it. She knew her mother wanted her to read the second letter. Though, this time her mother stayed there with her, this time her mother read the letter to her,

“Dear Mom and Dad,
It’s been many years since I wrote that first letter. I made it through. Today I am headed out on my own with many memories, and I just want to thank you. Thank you for the camping trips, the holidays, and the dinners around the family table. I will cherish them always.
                                    Your daughter

Katie hugged her and whispered into her ear, “Thank you, too!”
With Katie’s arms around her mother’s neck They now knew how much alike they were; both aware that change will happen- life-interruptions, but their memories remain protected, locked away like notes in the bottle, ready for them to visit and revisit whenever they needed them.


  1. Since Katie is eleven I'll assume the story is intended for children of similar age.

    First of all, this would be a great story for an adult audience but for 10 year old, I'm not so sure.

    Perhaps it could work for the girls but some of the language might be too flowery/abstract for the boys. Their attention starts to wander when that happens.

  2. Amanda,
    Thanks for your comment, I really appreciate it. As a teacher I do have to tell you, you would be so surprised how they react to this type of writing, even the boys. We use this kind of writing all the time to teach both reading and writing. I did add something to explain that yes it would be for older students. I did think that needed to be explained.

  3. Thanks for not taking offense.

    It's so embarrassing to finally muster up the courage for a critique, only to find out I completely missed the mark.

    I'm sorry about that. For older adolescents it should be just fine.

    My only experience on the matter is with 10-11 year olds who struggle with their reading. In another language.


I would love to have some feedback. Let me know what you love...and let me know what you don't.