When Geri Timperley heard a child at day care had teased her granddaughter, she sprang into action. The boy had said 3-year-old Kylee didn’t have a dad because no one had ever seen him. Kylee said she did, too, have a dad but he was away at drill and would be gone for a very long time.
Timperley’s son, Adam, a member of the Minnesota National Guard, was deployed Thanksgiving weekend of 2003. He trained first in Tacoma, Wash., then in the California desert before leaving for Iraq. His assignment was to guard Irish Road, which leads from Baghdad to the airport.
When Adam first learned he would be deployed, Timperley looked for a book to explain the concepts of distance and time to her granddaughter, but found nothing. She and her daughter, Adam’s sister, Nikki Arro, had always talked about writing a book, but had no idea it would be Adam’s deployment and Kylee’s teasing classmate that would give them the inspiration.
Both educators, they often shopped together for books for their classrooms. “We could do that,” they said, as they browsed the children’s sections. But it remained just talk until Kylee gave them the impetus they needed and their title – A Very Long Time.
“Educators use books to let children know they are not alone in any situation,” Timperley says. “That they are not the only child who has experienced whatever they are going through.” She wanted to write the book so her granddaughter would also understand what she was feeling with her daddy gone so long – and be able to put a name to her emotions. “You can see and feel the loneliness,” Timperley said. “How long is 18 months to a child? How do you explain it?”
The authors enlisted one of Arro’s 1st-grade students for the artwork. Arro read each page to Marlaina Kopietz, and Marlaina drew whatever she thought was best for the words. “We wanted a child’s perspective,” Arro explained. “We never gave Marlaina any instructions or led her in any direction.”
Timperley and Arro decided to self-publish their book, now in its second printing. That means they also have to promote it themselves. Journeying as far as Houston to sign and sell their books, they agree the best part is meeting military families who have stories just like theirs.
According to Gail Mossman, Minnesota National Guard youth coordinator, 12,000 children in our state have a parent who is in the National Guard, and more than 11,000 Minnesota service members have been deployed in Afghanistand and Iraq. She praises the generosity of Timperley and Arro who have donated copies of the book to Minnesota children with a deployed parent.
Adam Timperley returned home early because of injuries he sustained when the Humvee he was driving was hit by bomb. But, because Timperly and Arro wrote the book for all children, they wanted the story to end on a positive note – as they hope it will for every soldier’s child – with Kylee rushing into her father’s arms at the airport.
“It’s what should have happened. For the most part, they come home safe,” Geri Timperley said. All 150 soldiers in Adam’s unit came home, 148 were not injured.
Timperley, mother of three adult children, has worked for 22 years in the Robbinsdale Area School District as a counselor. Arro has taught 1st grade for 12 years, also in the Robbinsdale area. The mother of two young children, Arro says the book wasn’t written just for her niece, but for all children who have a parent in the military and for all children who have no idea what “a very long time” means. Children like Arro’s daughter who prefers a sandwich for lunch because macaroni and cheese takes “a very long time” and she doesn’t want to wait.
“No matter what your feelings are about the war,” said Cheri Ford, project director at the Minnesotans’ Military Appreciation Fund, “it is so important that we recognize our soldiers who have served…. What I’ve learned is it’s just as hard on those who wait.”
Andrea Langworthy is a Roseville writer. To purchase the book, go to AVeryLongtime.com or call 1-866-630-9505. A portion of proceeds go to the Minnesotans’ Military Appreciation Fund.