This article was posted in The Everett Herald, a local paper, yesterday. The story’s focus is on my cousin Jessica’s daughter, Mishala, but the broader story is about parents serving in Iraq while their children are left with their grandparent, or other family, here in the States.
If you search for the actual article on The Everett Herald website you will find a few pictures of Mishala.
Published: Monday, November 12, 2007
Little girl half a world away from parents serving in Iraq
Mishala Alcaide, 4, can make a sandwich and say ABCs. But her parents can't be here to see it.
GRANITE FALLS -- It could be several years before Mishala Alcaide can truly appreciate the meaning of Veterans Day.
She is just 4 years old and doesn't read headlines or fixate on the TV news.
She has only a vague notion of why she is not in her preschool classroom today.
Perhaps someday her parents, Nolan and Jessica Alcaide, will explain why the nation takes a day to honor its military veterans and why they chose to serve their country.
But for now, Mishala will have to settle for studying their picture in her grandparents' kitchen, hearing Mom's voice over the telephone a couple times a month and seeing Dad's image over a webcam.
Mom and Dad are in the U.S. Army, stationed in Iraq for more than a year. Jessica, a medical supplier, is stationed north of Baghdad; Nolan, a mechanic, is east of the capital city.
At home in Granite Falls, the message to Mishala is consistent: Mom and Dad are at work and probably won't be coming home for a long time. The danger of their work is not mentioned.
"We want her to know as little as possible, so we just leave it at that," said her grandmother, Deah Savage.
The separation is one of the hardships of war.
"Sometimes, I get sad and cry for Mommy and Daddy," said Mishala, her big brown eyes conveying that sadness for a moment.
Her parents missed her first day of school in September and getting to escort Mishala for Halloween trick-or-treating in her green Tinkerbell costume in October. They won't be able to be with her for her fifth birthday later this month and will probably miss her sixth birthday as well.
And there are the day-to-day milestones, too, such as how skillfully she can use a butter knife to make peanut butter and strawberry jam sandwiches for herself and her baby brother, Aiden.
Mishala is already taking it upon herself to help him learn while her mom and dad are away.
"I want to teach Aiden how to say the alphabet like I do," she said.
To Savage, veterans should be recognized not only for what they contribute on the front lines, but for what they miss back home.
"It is a big sacrifice," Savage said.
Jessica, 26, celebrated her 18th birthday at boot camp a few weeks after graduating from Mariner High School in 1999. At the time, Savage would get frequent calls from her daughter, who wanted out of the Army. But Jessica Alcaide stuck it out, and today is on her third tour of duty in Iraq. She will come home in June for two weeks and then is scheduled to return to Iraq until December 2008.
Aiden will know his mother's voice when she comes home but likely will not recognize her face, Savage said.
At Monte Cristo Elementary School, where Mishala attends preschool, a team of teachers and educational assistants is determined to make sure her parents don't miss too much.
Mishala is frequently videotaped so both parents can see her progress. Photos are also being taken and collected. And each Friday, Vikki Boyd, the school district's preschool program coordinator, sends an e-mail to Iraq, several paragraphs long, recounting Mishala's week.
E-mail responses make their way back and forth between Iraq and Granite Falls over the next week.
"It has been heartwarming and bittersweet," Boyd said. "As a parent, I don't see how they can be managing it. It is so difficult."
Boyd's reports to Mishala's parents document how a girl who was at first very shy has become an active, engaging preschool student who is meticulous in her schoolwork.
"She is very thorough," Boyd said. "She just takes a lot of pride in her work."
Had they been in Mishala's classroom Thursday, they would have seen that their daughter was the first with her hand up to lead the class through their ABCs. They would have watched her dancing joyfully, singing sweetly and using her hands to say "butterfly" and "bird" in sign language. They would have seen her building with blocks, piecing together puzzles and poring over a book, scanning each page to find a missing mouse.
Their service and those of other military veterans, now and in the past, is not lost on Boyd and others at Monte Cristo Elementary School. A Veterans Day assembly will be part of the videotapes headed to Iraq, as will care packages.
"They are sacrificing so much to do all this and miss so much," Boyd said.
The Everett Herald