“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.