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Saturday, October 10, 2015

Unannounced Visit

Just as the last preschooler pushed back from the big, round wooden table, I heard the crunch of tires on the gravel next to the house. The drip, drip of the bathroom faucet registered behind me. “Turn the water on more, Jeffy*. You won’t get the soap off your hands with so little water.”. A car door slammed to my right.

Glancing out the window, my heart sank. Martha*, the social worker, had come for a surprise visit. Standing at the dining table full of the remnants of lunch, I counted the plates. Good, there're only eight plates today, I thought while grabbing up the gallon jug of milk. Thank you, God, she didn’t come yesterday. Thirteen might have been a bit much. No other babies but Susie* today.

I listened as Martha chatted with the youngsters playing in the backyard. While torn between rushing to clean up the table or going outside to welcome the social worker, my heart pounded out an accelerating rhythm. Martha’s “Hello there!” solved my indecision.

Hi, Martha! Come in. Come in,” I said, drying my hands on a towel as I welcomed her through the screen door. “Have you had lunch? The kids might have left you a crumb or two.”

“I had lunch earlier but thanks. I just wanted to stop by to see how things are going. You’ve got quite a crowd out there today.”

Aware my spontaneous chuckle sounded like nervous laughter, I pressed on, trying to use conversation to calm myself. “The girls just love to have friends over. Some of the working Mom’s need help now and then, so it’s a good fit for all of us.”

The lady in authority took a seat in the direction of my extended arm but never smiled when she spoke. “Does that work for Jamie*? When there are so many children, she doesn’t need to talk. Our real concern for the two-year-old is that she cannot talk. Do you have that many children here every day?”

“No. It varies,” I said not elaborating further on the numbers. “On weekends we’re alone. No extra kids. I want to reassure you about Jamie. She can talk. Too much sometimes. I have to tell her to stop talking and eat, or at night to stop talking and go to sleep.”

“I’ve never heard that child say a single word. None of us have. Please, call the girls in so I can speak with them.”

Four-year-old Deni* stood ramrod straight, her arm around the shoulders of her diminutive sister. Jamie twisted the fingers of her clenched little hands, shifting from one foot to the other.  Martha noticed. Patting the cushion, she asked them to sit down on the sofa next to her.

Deni looked at me, back at the social worker, and responded with a calm voice. “Jamie scared o’ you. We sit on the bench.”

“That’s okay, girls,” I said, watching them scoot up on the piano bench—the farthest point from Martha. “Ms. Martha has just come to visit us. Jamie? Would you like to tell Ms. Martha what you had for lunch today?” Jamie stopped swinging her legs and stared at me. “We had your favorite meal, didn’t we?” Nothing, not even a nod of agreement.

While I shot telegram prayers Heavenward, Deni broke the tense silence. “Her scared o’ you, Lady. I told you. Her not gonna talk to you.”

“Can Jamie talk?” The question had been addressed to Deni. “I haven’t ever heard her talk. I don’t think Jamie can talk.”

My respiration rate sped up, trying to keep up with my galloping heart. The lunch I’d just consumed soured in my stomach. Gritting my teeth behind closed lips, I fought to stay silent. Martha had  warned me on previous visits that she wanted to hear from the children. I must not answer for them.

I smiled and nodded at Deni when she looked at me. “Jamie talks good. Her can, too, talk. Her talks when her wants to talk. She don’t want to talk to you. Jamie don’t like you.”

“Jamie, do you know something? Ms. Martha is the lady who asked the judge to let you girls come live with me. If it wasn’t for Ms. Martha helping us, you couldn’t live here now. She’s our friend.” Jamie stayed silent.

Before anyone could say anything more, Danny* burst into the living room, flanked by Jeffy and Sherry*. The trio just stood without speaking.

The social worker’s attention drawn to the interrupters, she noticed the diaper dangling from the arm of Jamie’s blue youth chair. Since Danny stood nearest the chair, Martha addressed her scolding to him. “You children must not use the baby’s diaper as something to play with. This looks like a good diaper, not a rag.”

Hearing Martha’s comments, my speeding heart came to a dead stop. Oh no! Not the diaper! I screamed inside my head. Before I came to myself enough to utter a word, the trio filled the tense void.

“No, Lady! That’s not baby’s diaper!” Three kids erupted with laughter at the error made by the adult. “That’s what we use to tie Jamie up when we eat!”

Martha’s mouth dropped. Her brows furrowed. “Oh, rea-ea-eally,” she said, stretching out the word for about ten seconds. After a quick look at her watch, Martha stood. “Okay, I’ll be going now.”

Rushing the children back outside, I followed Martha to the kitchen.

As the social worker reached for the handle on the screen door, I lightly pressed my fingers into her forearm. “Please, it’s not what you’re thinking. It’s for Jamie’s own good.”

“So, it’s true then? You do tie Jamie up while the other children are eating?”

“It’s not like that. Jamie asked me to tie her hand. You see, Jamie can’t remember to eat with only one hand at a time. She shoveled her food in with both hands, fearing that someone would eat the food on her plate if she didn’t eat it as fast as she could. She wouldn’t believe me that no one would do that because the adults in her life always did.”

Martha turned to face me, so I continued. “Jamie tried to remember to slow down when she ate, but she couldn’t break the habit of shoving her food into her mouth with both hands. When my parents brought her the youth chair, I asked Jamie what I could do to help her remember.”

“And, you’re telling me that this two-year-old suggested you tie her arm to the chair?”

“Well, not exactly. Deni thought of it, and Jamie jumped up and down at Deni’s suggestion. Jamie loves the attention tying her left arm to the chair gives her each meal. The kids take turns and make a big deal of it. The diaper is soft and loosely secured. The moment Jamie decides that she doesn’t want it anymore, it’s back in the diaper bag. It’s up to Jamie.”

The social worker shook her head, a frown still in place. “I’ll think about it. Doesn’t sound good on a report, you know.”

I never heard another word about Jamie being tied up at mealtimes, so I assume our friend, Martha, just left that part out of the written report of her surprise visit. Whew.

Soon, Jamie’s blue youth chair served an entirely new purpose--one that included all of the children.

*Names changed.

Story began with the following link: With Just One Phone Call