I open the Acknowledgements of my newest middle grade novel, Maid for It, with these words:
“I wrote this book in my bathroom with the door shut while sitting in an empty bathtub with a
pillow in my lap. I think my foot might still be asleep. The pandemic had just begun. My
children were home. My husband was home. We were all suddenly so close, in each other’s
spaces and the world felt big and frightening. This book helped me both distract myself from and also process the fear and uncertainty I felt outside that tiled room. It gave me so much. I hope it can give others a feeling of safety and bravery when they need it. Or distraction. Distraction is good too.”
The last few years have felt scary for all of us. We did not know if the safety we once felt would ever return – if we could ever take things for granted again.
If you’re a kid living with a parent or guardian who is an addict, this is nothing new. This is life all the time. The uncertainty is the only certainty.
You take on so much when the home environment is unstable. You learn to parent
the parent. You begin to look five steps ahead and plan for all contingencies and you get really good at it. But then what happens when the parent recovers? How do you begin to let go and find your way back to being a kid? How do you release some of that anxiety when it is what held the family together for so long?
That is the heart of the story that I wanted to explore in Maid for It.
As the book opens, Franny learns that her mother, a former addict, has been injured in a car
accident and has been prescribed narcotics. She panics, because of course she does. This prompts her mother’s sponsor, Mimi to tell her: “You hear me now. We have a saying in AA—‘one day at a time’— and that’s all we’ve got, Frances Bishop, this day and this time…Let tomorrow worry about itself, my girl.” Franny thinks to herself: “She says it like it’s easy—like I want to get myself all in a tangle about this. No one chooses to worry. Worry just is.”
Franny is so right. Sometimes worry just…is. And Franny has to practice trust again, against all odds.
I have read books for kids that feature adults dealing with addiction. Most of them read like the old VH1 “Behind the Music” stories – the rise and epic fall with very little attention to what
happens after. I wanted to tell the after. If you have ever watched someone you love battle drug or alcohol addiction, you know that the real fight happens once recovery begins. It is the start of the long, slow process of re-building trust. At first that trust is a fragile, flimsy bridge over dangerous waters. A missed phone call, a late pick up from school, a pantry growing empty – anything could crumble it. But hopefully, as time passes, life becomes more secure and the bridge gets stronger.
This book is for all the kids re-learning to be kids. It’s for the ones who have had their trust
broken over and over again and need to hear that there is hope and that it’s okay to forget to
brush your teeth once in a while and to laugh when slime makes that fart sound and to let
someone else pack your lunch. It’s also for those adults who have struggled with addiction and
wonder if a family can ever right itself again. It can. It really can. There is an after and it can be beautiful and silly and safe – like farting slime.
Jamie Sumner is the author of Roll with It, Time to Roll, Tune It Out, One Kid's Trash, The Summer of June, and Maid for It. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post, and other publications. She loves stories that celebrate the grit and beauty in all kids. She is also the mother of a son with cerebral palsy and has written extensively about parenting a child with special needs. She and her family live in Nashville, Tennessee. Visit her at Jamie-Sumner.com.
ABOUT MAID FOR IT:
Now that Franny and her newly sober mom have moved to a cozy apartment above a laundromat, Franny's looking forward to a life where her biggest excitement is getting top grades in math class. But when Franny's mom gets injured in a car accident, their fragile life begins to crumble. There's no way her mom can keep her job cleaning houses, which means she can't pay the bills. Franny can't forget what happened the last time her mom was hurt: the pills that were supposed to help became an addiction, until rehab brought them to Mimi's laundromat and the support group she hosts.
Franny will not let addiction win again, even if she has to blackmail a school rival to help her clean houses. She'll make the money and keep her mom sober--there's no other choice. But what happens if this is one problem she can't solve on her own?