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Saturday, July 25, 2015

Close of Traumatic Beginning

The children’s fatigue of moments earlier evaporated. The girls burst through the back door, running through the kitchen into the living room. “We’re gonna sleep here,” Deni* said into Jamie’s* ear. Two-year-old Jamie looked around at the furniture but said nothing.

Overhearing the whispered words, I crossed the threshold into the large room, six-month-old Susie* already asleep in my arms. I motioned with a tip of my head towards the bedrooms, and the little girls followed me.

“Deni and Jamie, this is your room,” I said from the middle of the small bedroom. The silent children cross the threshold, coming to stand in front of me.

“In the top drawer of this dresser, there are clothes that should fit you, Deni. The second drawer has clothing for Jamie.” Shifting Susie to the opposite hip, I pulled out the first drawer and took out a pair of summer pajamas. “Try these on, Deni. I think they should fit you.”

Opening the second drawer, I lifted up clothing until I found the pajamas for Jamie. “Here’s yours, Jamie. Do you need help to try them on?”

“Her can do it. I help her,” said Deni, one hand already pulling on her pj bottoms and the other reaching for Jamie’s sleepwear.

“Okay, thanks, Deni. Girls, you take off the tee shirt and shorts you’re wearing now and put them right here,” I said and patted the top of the dresser. “You only wear the pajamas to bed; don’t put them over your daytime clothes, okay?”

“But we just put these on,” said Deni. “They not dirty.” Both freshly-shampooed heads looked down at their clothing.

“Hmm? You’ve got a point there, Deni,” I said. “Well, these are daytime clothes you’re wearing and the ones I just gave you are for nighttime.”

Frankly, watching the two tugging the clean tee shirt off, I understood their confusion. I’d just asked the children to take off a pair of shorts and tee shirt, in favor of putting on—you guessed it—a pair of shorts and a tee shirt. The lighter weight of the fabric and the design of sleeping teddy bears didn’t register as different to them.

I moved over to the baby changing table next to the door. Remembering Carroll’s admonition, I kept one hand on the reclining Susie while I reached around under the table for a footed sleeper.

Once they’d finished, Susie’s sisters came to watch her being dressed in the baby sleepwear. I felt my face flush with a warm embarrassed glow as I struggled to get her legs into the bottom half. “Deni, can you look in that second compartment for another pajama for Susie? This one seems like it’s too small for her.”

Unfortunately, the other lightweight one had the same number on the size label. I couldn’t put Susie in the thick winter sleeper in July.

“Let’s try to use this one. It has a lot of stretch to it; it might work for one night,” I said to the watching girls.

Susie sleeps on the bottom bed, and me and Jamie sleeps on the top bed?” I turned to see Deni looking up at the top bunk.

Actually, Deni, you and Jamie each have your own bed. Susie has her bed in my room.” I said, nearly bowled over by the two as they ran passed me. I followed her older sisters, planning to lay Susie down in the crib. 

“See Jamie? A real baby bed hers got.”

Back in their room, I demonstrated how Deni could climb the ladder at the foot of the bed. I’d bought the bunks for two older boys and now wondered if a four-year-old would be safe on the top bunk. Observing Deni scamper up that ladder, an enormous smile gracing the freckled face, I knew it was already too late to take back my offer.

“Okay, girls, get under the covers and we can say our bedtime prayers. We’ll thank God for helping us today and pray for God to watch over all of us as we sleep.”

 Following the goodnight hugs and kisses, I switched off the light and left the room.

Hearing Susie stir as I pulled out my nightgown, I picked her up. I’d give Susie a bottle and rock myself into calm. Holding the bottle in place with my chin, I pulled at the legs of the sleeper. I knew the nighttime cold made it necessary for her to wear something, but the stretchy fabric pulled at Susie’s legs. It made her tiny toes curl. Would it hurt the baby to sleep one night in a sleeper too small for her?

Early the following morning, I had the shocking answer to the question that’d rob me of much of the night’s sleep. I faced another problem I should have expected but never anticipated.

*Name changed.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Next Step in the Traumatic Beginning

Standing on the porch, six-month-old Susie* clinging to my neck and her two- and four-year-old sisters pressing into my legs, I raised my hand to knock on Carroll’s door. Before my fist connected, the door flew open.

“Come in! Come in!” said the beautiful blond rescuer. “We’re so glad you’re here.”

Carroll stepped back to let the tight cluster of four bodies pass. Shannon and Stacie huddled together in the kitchen, silently anticipating the okay from Mom to respond to the new arrivals.

“Hi! Uh, what do I do now, Carroll?”

I’d babysat kids since the age of eleven, but they’d always been bathed and in pajamas when I arrived. Carroll’s laughter instantly relaxed me.

“I’ll show you how to bathe the baby in the sink over there. The two sisters can use the bathtub down this hallway. Stacie just finished filling the tub. Okay, girls, come greet our guests,” Carroll said, turning to her waiting daughters.

Stacie stepped right over, smiling at the visitors. “Hi, I’m Stacie. What’s your name?”

Again Jamie* said nothing but Deni* answered. “I’m Deni. Her’s Jamie. Her don’t talk. The lady has Susie,” she said pointing at me.

 “You can go with Stacie,” I said. “I’ll be with Carroll and we’ll wash Susie in the sink over there.” The little faces turned towards Carroll, who had begun setting things up at the sink.

Though normally shier than her older sister, Shannon moved in to take Jamie’s hand. “C’mon, little girl. I’ll show you.”

I peeked in to be sure the girls would let Stacie help them. Seeing all was well, I smiled and waved my Okay before walking back into the kitchen.

Carroll had begun rubbing shampoo into the baby’s hair. Susie sat rigidly, watching Carroll’s every move.

“Kind of a shock, isn’t it? Getting three kids all at once?” Carroll held on to Susie but turned to look at me.

“It shows, huh? Carroll, I feel like I’ve been swept up in a whirlwind. Am I really ready for this?”

“Seems like the Lord thinks you are,” Carroll said with a chuckle. “Time for a little stretching?”

“More than a little, I’d say. I’ve never bathed a baby, never.”

From that point, Carroll instructed me step-by-step through the process, answering questions without making me feel like the dunce I believed myself to be at that moment.

When my mothering-mentor reached Susie’s legs, Carroll looked over at me. “Can you see how rigidly she’s holding her knees? Usually, babies are kicking, because rubbing soap behind their knees tickles them. I’m not sure if she’s just resisting my touch, or if her legs are stiff for some other reason.”

“She never pulled her knees up to block my embrace when I first lifted her out of the swing, but I didn’t notice that she never bent them.”

Suddenly, I heard the splashing play coming from the bathtub and realized I’d not brought anything in for the kids to wear after their bath. “I’ll run out to bring in some clean clothes for the kids. Their stuff’s all in the backseat.”

“I can use one of Chip’s diapers for Susie until you see what you’ve got there. She’s ready to get out of the sink now.”

Hurriedly, I rifled through the little stacks of clothing, finding shirts and shorts for the older kids amongst the array of mismatched, worn clothing. I spotted a tee shirt in the baby’s little pile and rushed back to the house.

Tossing the shirt over to Carroll, I headed for the bathroom. I smiled at the two girls waiting, large towels wrapped around them. “You ladies smell so good,” I said sniffing the air.

They giggled as Deni said, “You’s the lady; we’s just kids.”

Thumping the open palm of my right hand against my chest, I feigned shock and said, “No! Well, then, you kids smell good.” Everyone laughed as Deni reached for the clothing I held out. Jamie didn’t move.

I thanked Stacie and Shannon for helping, and made my way back to the kitchen. Only then did I realize the savory scent of supper. Had it been coming from the oven all the while?

After a delicious dinner around the family table, we walked out to the car. As I opened the car door, Carroll gave me a one-armed hug, followed by tapping Susie’s leg. “It’ll be okay; don’t worry. God knows what He’s doing here. I’m only a phone call away, you know?”

I acknowledged her generous offer of help. As I backed up, I wondered if God had actually asked me to do this or if I’d just been swept along in the stress of the emergency. No time to fret over the question now; I heard all the yawning and knew I had to get the kids to bed.

Bringing the car to a stop by the back door, I took a deep breath but didn’t move. Oh, God, I need your help, and I need it right now, please.

“When do we get out?” said Deni. Her words broke into my stunned silence, and I laughed.

“Oh, well, right now is good for me. How about for you girls?” I looked back to see Jamie’s eyelids drooping as she nodded. Deni had already opened the car door.

I stood with the key in the lock, aware that this big, old house would never again contain the silence of one solitary inhabitant. Turning the key, I remembered that the Lord had moved me from the duplex for just such a time as this. Here we go, God. C’mon in.

*Name changed.

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Traumatic Beginning

Slamming my car door, I heard the screams and cries of children pouring out of the open motel room door. I sprinted from the parking lot to the room. What I saw inside stopped me cold.  

Straight ahead, a grungy six-month-old baby, clad only in her soiled diaper, dangled from the motionless doorway swing between the sink and beds. Her bottle rested just out of reach on the thinly carpeted floor. The flat affect of her face in the midst of the screams and cries suggested that this might not be her first exposure to such unsettling scenes.

To my right, a sobbing four-year-old sat on the edge of one rumpled bedspread. I noticed she wore the same food-spotted cotton shift I’d seen when she’d told me their names two days earlier.

Deni* tugged on the uniform shirtsleeve, pleading with the Sheriff to let go of her little sister’s arm. The bright-red hair also needed washing, but when the frightened girl turned her tear-streaked, freckled face towards me, my heart moved my paralyzed feet.

Approaching the narrow space between the beds, two images immediately registered. The squatting sheriff had his gun holstered on his hip, and both large hands gripped the fragile black arm of the two-year-old girl.

Jamie* screamed like a banshee, while maintaining her position under the bed. The pull on her arm must have caused her pain. Even so, she continued her struggle to keep from exposing more of her tiny body.

“Please, Sheriff, let go of her,” I said, raising my voice above the shrieks. His tenacious hold on the child’s forearm scared me, too. “Let me speak to her, please.”

“I’m not lettin’ go of this kid. She’ll high-tail it right back against that wall, and I’ll have a he—heck—of a time getting’ her back out.” He looked over his shoulder at me. “You go ahead and talk with her all you want, but I’m not movin’.”

“Her’s just scared,” said Deni, sobbing. I wrapped my arm around the little shoulders and grabbed for a tissue to wipe Deni’s wet cheeks.

“It’s okay, Deni. The Sheriff isn’t used to little girls; he doesn’t want to hurt Jamie.”

“Why’s he pullin’ on ‘er like that then?”

I reached out with my free arm and touched the officer, my pleading eyes boring into his. “I’ll crawl under and get her if she shrinks back against the wall. Please.” He released Jamie and stepped back, making room for me on the floor.

“Hi, Jamie. Please come over so I can talk to you,” I said, my face staring under the bed at the petite body a few feet away. “You girls are going to come stay at my house today. Did your mother tell you?” Both little heads nodded. “Did she leave with the deputy?” Again, the nods, silent tears falling all three faces now. I retrieved another tissue, blowing my nose before continuing.

“I’m gonna take the baby out of the swing, but I’ll need you and Deni to help me find your things. Can you come out and help us, Jamie?” The lovely, sorrow-filled, ebony face whipped over to check with Deni, who smiled her approval.

I backed up, and the rail-thin child scampered out from under the bed. “Thanks, Jamie. Okay, you girls make a pile on this bed right here,” I said patting the smoother surface of the second bed. “I’ll get the baby out of the swing and give her the bottle she dropped.”

“Hers Susie*,” Deni said by way of reminder.

“Okay, thanks, Deni. I’ll take Susie out of the swing while you girls find everything.”

The girls leapt into action, searching under furniture and in every corner space of the small room. I heard the pulling and slamming of drawers behind me as I made my way over to the baby.

I’d expected Susie’s little legs to recoil against me in protest, but she didn’t move at all while I lifted her out. I wondered how many hours she’d hung there as I shook off the well-worn canvas sling, sending the lightweight chains against the doorframe. I bent down to grab the bottle.

“Here you are, Susie,” I said. She reached for the plastic bottle, but a warning thought popped into my head. “Oh, let me see if the milk’s still good.” Twisting the cap off, the sour stench from the countertop assailed my nostrils. “Oh! Sorry Susie,” I said, “This milk will make you sick. “ Thick, pungent clods of curdled milk dropped out as I emptied the bottle.

Deni heard me and came running. As she lifted a clean, but empty bottle up to me, she said, “Hers got more bottles, lady.”

“Let’s get goin ’ here,” said the Sheriff from the doorway. “I don’t got all day for this, ya know?”

The Sheriff behaved as though he found this situation as uncomfortable as I did. Normally a likable man, the officer of the law growled like a wounded bear in front of the kids. The stress completely masked his tender side. I knew I needed to hurry.

 Filling the clean bottle with water, I feared another scene. “Okay, Sheriff, we’re about finished here, aren’t we girls?”

“Yeah, All the stuff’s right over there,” said Deni. “We don’t got nothin’ to put it in.“

“That’s okay,” I said, cutting off the Sheriff’s reply. I nearly laughed as I saw him close his mouth. “Let’s just ask the Sheriff to help us carry the piles out to my car. I’ll take Susie, and you girls grab whatever your arms can hold. Okay, Sheriff?”

Red-faced from restraining his anger or due to embarrassment, I didn’t know; I didn’t care. The sad little entourage of females left the motel room for my car. The Sheriff followed, both arms full of the belongings of three young sisters, now safe from the risk of being left somewhere along the highway.

As I rolled out of the parking lot, silence reigned inside my shiny red sports car. Each of us had unspoken questions.

At the end of the first block, Deni took the lead. “Are we going to your house? Or do you gotta take us to jail first?”

“All of you will spend the night at my house. I have two beds for you and Jamie, plus a crib for Susie. First, we’ll go to my friend Carroll’s house.”

“You got any kids?” Deni said.

“No, but Carroll has a baby boy and two girls. Stacey will be like a big sister to you ‘cuz she’s already been in school a couple of years. Shannon is three years old, so it’ll be fun for you to play with her, won’t it?”

“Why do we go there now?” Deni said, the wheels of her mind never still.

“Carroll is going to help me. We’ll have dinner with her family this evening. She’s a terrific cook, so you’ll be glad we came here first.”

When I heard the gravel of Carroll’s driveway crunching under the tires, I breathed a huge sigh of relief. I’d made it this far.

While I gathered up little Susie in my arms, the other girls left the car and rushed to my side.

The four of us approached the door in a tight cluster. Just as I raised my hand to knock, the door flew open.

*Name changed.

Saturday, July 4, 2015

With Just One Phone call

Reaching to answer the ringing, the derailment of the remainder of my work day began. Good thing I’d planned on a paper day at the office.

“Slow down, Jeanette. I can’t understand what you’re saying,” I said to my friend and part-time employee.

“You’ve got to call Martha* right away. She’s going to dump them on the highway somewhere, for sure.”

“Oh my, Jeanette. Who’s going to dump whom? What are you talking about?” My mind ran through a few possibilities as the Activity Director for the hospital/nursing home facility struggled to pull herself together.

“Mary*! I’m talking about Mary and the children. She’s planning to take off with a trucker. When he gets tired of the little girls, I’m sure she’ll just leave the kids somewhere,” the frantic woman said. “You need to call Martha to make her stop.”

Finally, I peeled back the layers to the story’s beginning. The three girls-- six months, two years, and four years—all had different fathers. Their mother was believed to be in the business, so to speak. She’d left her latest man and had moved with the children to a motel room in town.

Mary met a trucker in the bar who offered to take her along with him for awhile. She told Jeanette and John that she’d not made plans for the kids but would keep them with her in the truck for as long as the man would allow. No Plan B when he wanted only Mary.

“Can you call Martha, please?”

“Do you think it’s an emergency? I know the Social Worker is going to ask me,” I said wondering in which town of the county I might even locate Martha on such short notice.

“Yes! Yes! She’s packing her things now because the trucker wants to leave in a few hours. You’ve got to hurry. Oh, those poor little kids.” I heard Jeanette crying.

“Okay, I’ll try to find Martha and get back to you,” I said and hung up as soon as I heard her muffled admonition to try hard.

“I’m here in Miles,” Martha said after listening to my story. “Your friends think it’s an emergency to get the children away today?”

“Yes, they said their mother is planning to take up with the trucker in a few hours. Can you help them?”

“Well, it’s good I’m here and not elsewhere in the county. I know a judge I can call to present the case, but he’s going to want to know where I can place the girls.”

“Do you have a foster family able to take them on such short notice?”

I heard Martha groan before she answered. “I can always find a place for the baby with a moment’s notice, but placing the other two girls isn’t as easy. I think I know one family who’ll take the two-year-old, but I haven’t any ideas for the four-year-old. I’ll need to check with a friend in the next county. Maybe she—“

“No, Martha! You can’t split them up,” I said, trying to keep my voice calm while my anxiety shot off the charts. “The only security these little kids have known is being together. It’d be so cruel to separate them from each other at the same time they lose their mother.”

“I know it’s a heartbreaking situation, but what else can I do? It’s Friday, so my hands are tied to even try to do anything before Monday, really.”

“That’ll be too late for the little girls. I can ask the couple who alerted me if they can take all three of them today. They often interact with the kids, and I think they’ve even babysat a time or two. Can you ask the judge if they can take the kids? I’ll call the couple while you call the judge.”

“You’ve got to be kidding. You think the judge is going to turn three children over to a couple even I’ve never met? Not to mention we have not a single page of paperwork on them? They’ve not indicated a desire to apply as foster parents, have they? Give me something I can work with here.”

“Oh, Martha, they’re good people and they do love those kids.” I said while flipping possible scenarios over in my mind as fast as my thoughts could process them.

“Look; there’s only one possibility I can even present to the judge, but I’ve no guarantee he’ll agree with me on this short notice.”

“Great, Martha! What do you propose? I’ll do whatever I can to keep the children together.”

Martha began speaking in a slow and deliberate fashion. “The only even remote possibility to keep the three girls together would be for you to take them.” Martha must have heard my choked gasp. “Yeah, I know; it’s a lot all at once for a single gal, but I know you and we have your application on file.”

“But, that was to take the two brothers. What’ll happen to them, if I take these three girls?”

“It’s possible that we’ll never get the court’s permission to place them. If we do, we’ll look for another home. It’s also possible that the issues for this mother will be resolved, and your home’ll be open to receive the boys when that time does come. What do you think? Could you take three small children today?”

“Oh, Martha. I just don’t know. I have a full-time job. The two boys are a bit older, so I figured I’d work my hospital schedule around their kindergarten and grade school hours.  I know we can work something out to keep the three little sisters together for right now. Maybe the couple will help me care for them.”

“If I’m going to reach the judge, I need to call him now. You call the couple and see if they can help you. I’ll tell him I have the possibility of one home to receive all the children today, and we’ll go from there. If he agrees, you can have them for the weekend. If your friends can’t babysit for you during the week, I’ll check my files to find places for the older two.”

Still holding the receiver against my ear, I pressed for the dial tone. John answered the phone, eagerly offering to help with the kids. “I don’t even need to ask Jeanette first,” John said. “She’s been dying to do something to help those kids for months now. Just let us know what you need and we’ll be there.”

Needless to say, the remainder of my afternoon was a total loss as far as any productive work at my desk. I jumped every time the phone rang, barking my Hello before the second ring.

Nearing five o’clock, the call I’d been waiting for came. “The judge agreed that you can have temporary custody of all three children. Will your friends help you, or should I pick up the phone to find other homes for Monday?” Dear Martha sounded so tired.

“Oh thank you so much! No, Martha. They’re going to help me. What do I do now?”

“You go right now to the motel. The Sheriff will meet you there. He’ll help you, if there’s any trouble. You take them home and I’ll call you on Monday.”

I hung up the phone, but made one more call before leaving my office. “Carroll! I’m about to be the mother of three kids! What do I do?”

I heard a burst of laughter coming from my friend, the mother of three children. “You go get those kids. The first thing you do is bring them over here. I’ll show you what to do. Now, git.”

Turning down the road to the motel, the sign came in view. My heart raced like I’d never experienced. What in the world had I done?

I pulled up next to the Sheriff’s car. As I approached the motel room, I heard screams and crying blasting through the open door.

What I found inside let me know that all of our lives were about to take a drastic turn.

*Name changed