The Read Local committee is pleased to announce Elizabeth Uppman has won Johnson County Library’s #IHeartU Essay contest with her entry Lucia's War. Uppman's essay was chosen for its response to the theme of love, and the juxtaposition of "war" in the title with Lucia's ultimate triumph. We also love the evolution of Lucia's attack, how her "storming the beaches of Normandy" approach slowly transitions to a blunt and irrefutable request.
Elizabeth Uppman is a freelance writer whose personal essays have appeared in Good Housekeeping, Tango magazine, salon.com, Brain, Child magazine, and others. Her poems have appeared in the Kansas City Star and Potpourri. She has written a memoir, "The Spoon Game," and several computer manuals.
She lives in Overland Park with her husband and two daughters.
Tell us what you love about Lucia's War in the comments!
Lucia made her first assault on a quiet Saturday afternoon. “Is our backyard big, Mommy?”
“Yeah,” I said, chopping an onion. “It’s pretty big.”
“Big enough for a pony?”
My knife paused in mid-chop.
I heard my husband Chucho from the next room: “That would be one way to keep the grass short.”
I hurried into the family room. “What Papi means is, no, our yard is not big enough for a pony.”
Chucho sat up and cleared his throat. “Ponies eat a lot. And you have to build them their own little pony-houses called stables—”
“We have a shed,” Lucia offered.
“Ponies do not live in sheds,” I said.
“And they eat a lot and they make lots of poops,” Chucho said.
“Big poops,” I said.
Chucho took Lucia’s hand. “We can’t have a pony, Lucia. Ponies don’t belong in the city.”
“Maybe someday we can have a pony,” she said, and she pulled that cheap trick where her eyes go all pathetic.
“No,” I said. “We can never have a pony.”
For the entirety of her 6 years, Lucia has been an animal lover. I can’t understand where she gets it. Chucho and I resolved early on not to bring animals into our lives, not so much because of the problems—the dander, the paw prints, the biting of neighbors’ children—but because we are simply not animal people. It’s not our thing.
But it is definitely Lucia’s thing. And she doesn’t let go of things.
Petting a neighbor’s Schnauzer one day, she said, “Maybe we could—”
“Sorry, you’re allergic.” This came out so automatically, it surprised me.
“It means dogs make you sneeze.”
“Just watch. You’re going to sneeze any minute now.”
She held perfectly still. Nothing.
“Well, time to go,” I said.
“But I didn’t sneeze, Mommy.”
“I think there’s some cookies. You want to go see how many are left?”
Next up: cats. Lucia mounted her attack during a cat-food commercial. “See that gray kitty? I like that gray kitty, Mommy.”
“You don’t want a cat. Remember Dexter?” Dexter was my sister’s cat, who had stayed with us once. “Remember how we tried to pet him and he ran away? And remember that box Aunt Susie brought for him to poop in, and I had to clean out the box and it was super-gross?”
“And he bit you, Mommy.”
“Yes,” I said triumphantly. I had forgotten that part. “He bit me and it hurt.” I nodded at her solemnly and she slunk away.
Some weeks later we saw a birdcage at a garage sale. “Mommy,” Lucia said, “sometimes people have birds they keep in cages like that. Kiley has a bird. His name is Chip.”
“Lucia, did I ever tell you about Carl the chicken?” She shook her head. We sat on the curb and I told her the story. Years ago, my older daughter Julia’s preschool went on a field trip to a hatchery. Every child came home with a Chinese take-out box containing a fluffy yellow chick. Horrified, I went straight to the teacher. “What am I supposed to do with this?”
“Don’t worry,” the teacher said, “they always die.”
We put Carl the chick in a green plastic tub on our patio and waited. He pecked at his birdseed, cheeping in what I had to admit was a darling way. He did not die. His pinfeathers were just coming in when I went to the doctor with a persistent stuffy nose and an infernal itching in my eyelids. “Is there anything new at home?” the doctor asked. “New carpet? A new pet, maybe?”
“No,” I said. “Well, except for the chicken.”
So Carl went to live with some friends in the country, and I got a medical exemption from feathered pets.
Lucia liked the story about Carl, but it did not change her resolve. A few nights later, at supper, she counterattacked. “Turtles are nice.”
“Turtles,” I said. “Well, turtles are happiest when they can roam free and snuggle down in the mud.”
“Some people have turtle pets.”
“Yes, but would you want your turtle to be unhappy all by himself boxed up in an aquarium in your room, or outside with his turtle friends?”
Chucho added, “Don’t forget about the poop!”
“Turtles don’t poop,” Lucia said.
“But turtles just make itty bitty little poops.”
“Poop is poop.”
It surprised me that she didn’t try to counter this. I wondered if we might have finally won this war. Then a friend of mine gave Lucia a book about a hamster that has a series of adventures when he figures out how to unlock his cage.
The assault came at dinner. “Mom,” she said, “can I get a hamster?”
Evidently she had grown tired of covert action.
“Hamsters are nocturnal. Do you know what that means?”
“They get awake at night.”
“And rustle around and run on their wheels and make noise. You wouldn’t be able to sleep if you got a hamster.”
She considered. “Well, maybe we could keep him in the family room.”
“Do hamsters belong in the family room?” I asked this in that heavy-handed, slightly accusatory manner that I’ve cultivated over the years. This was of course a gross misuse of motherly power, but it worked.
Until the afternoon a week later when, on the ride home from school, Lucia mused from the back seat. “You know, Mom,” she said, “the thing about hamsters is, it’s not about the poop. It’s about the love.”
Two days and $57 later, Hermione the hamster moved into our family room. Lucia spends hours by the cage, doing play-by-play. “Mom! She’s climbing up into her spaceship! Mom, she’s drinking! She’s looking at me! Mom! Mom, come see!”
I pull myself away from whatever I’m doing and peer into the cage. Only I’m not really looking at the hamster. I’m looking across at Lucia, at those wide, wide eyes.