A Cat Named Monkey

For All the Moms (Who Need to Let Go)

by Marianna Fiani

Separation Anxiety
In a blink of an eye, she changed from a baby clinging to my leg to a young adult leaving home for college. She was happy and excited, and I was dying inside. How could I ever let go of her hand? How could I watch her walk away? Wasn’t she going to need me if she got sick? Wasn’t she going to miss home and want me to make her feel safe? But she did let go of my hand and she did walk away.

And I was the one who got sick. I was the one who no longer felt safe without her.

In Kristen’s junior year of high school, I began sitting alone in the dark, wondering what would happen when she wouldn’t walk through the door every night. I tried not to let her know. We went shopping for the dorm room, new clothes, whatever she was going to need. Smile, I kept telling myself, she needs to go. Smile. But the moment we came home, I would go in my room and silently scream. I was becoming a Dr. Jekyll and Mrs. Hyde.

All the way to work and all the way home, I cried, but while I was in school, I forgot about everything but the kids in my class. You see, I am a kindergarten teacher, and I couldn’t let what was happening to me affect my students. I found comfort in some of the stories I read to them and began to think, “I could do that.” I always wanted to write a children’s book, and I needed a way to let Kristen know how much I loved her, so A Cat Named Monkey was born.

Although the story is disguised as a children’s book, it is really meant for all the moms (and dads) with broken hearts as their children leave home for college. Just as BooBeeps (Kristen) comes back in the spring, so will their sons and daughters. The two other characters, Harold and Monkey, represent my husband and me. They frantically search for BooBeeps until they find a clue to her whereabouts. Once they know their friend is safe and will come back soon, they can rest and dream of spring—dream of her return, just as parents dream of that time when the semester is over, the truck is packed, and their child is headed home.

For me, writing the story, creating the characters, and drawing my own illustrations was a form of therapy. All the characters have spiked hair (just like mine), and Monkey, the cat, looks just like our Maine Coon, our baby. After the book was published, I realized that I wanted to write more, that it would be the first in a series. Soon, I began a second story that involved the same characters. The title of my first book is A Cat Named Monkey. It is available through and Barnes and Noble. My second book will be called A Cat Named Monkey: Family Reunion and will be available in 2011.

To date, I’ve been asked to do several readings of A Cat Named Monkey in schools, and the younger children seem to love the characters and the story of their friendship. In fact, I’ll be traveling to Old Bridge, NJ, soon, to read the story to several primary classes and discuss the process of writing with the older students.

The lessons I’ve learned during this process are many: The bond between a mother and her child is stronger than the distance between them. Nothing can ever take your child’s love away from you. A Cat Named Monkey saved me. It taught me that the “nest” may be empty for a while, but the heart is full forever.

Marianna Fiani is a kindergarten teacher in Lakewood, NJ. Her daughter, Kristen, now a college graduate and a consultant for government projects, lives near Washington, DC. Still very close despite the distance between them, they get together as often as possible (and talk even more). A Cat Named Monkey is Marianna’s first book. When not writing or teaching kindergarten, she likes to relax by sitting in the sun and working on sudoku puzzles.

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