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Saturday, August 29, 2015

Day Two: Revelation and Resolution

As soon as six-month-old Susie* finished eating, I put her in the playpen. I swung the colorful mobile around where the baby could touch the bouncing figures. Then, I focused my attention on her older sisters’ wake-up call.

Reaching up to the nearby stereo, I pushed the play button and adjusted the volume. Soon joyful praises rang out inside our house. I rightfully assumed Susie’s sisters would leave their beds as the music woke them.

“Where are you Mama Dar?” said the sleepy, shouting voice of four-year-old Deni* from the bedroom.

“I’m in the kitchen girls.”

Before I could turn around, my hands laden with breakfast fixings, two tiny hands pulled on my leg. “Good morning, my little princess,” I said, turning to look at the two-year-old African-American.

“We eat?”Jamie* smiled as she spoke. The shock of hearing the sweet voice for the first time nearly toppled my load.

“Yes, Sweetie. It’s called breakfast.”

“Susie eat breakfast?” said Jamie as though we’d always had a regular conversation.

“Yup. Susie just finished eating. Now it’s your turn.”

“Deni in duh batroom. I go tell her we eat breakfast.”

“Thank you, Jamie. Please, ask her to help you wash your hands. Then, both of you come sit at the table.”

The Princess sprinted out of the kitchen while I lifted my head to the Lord in thanks. What a marvelous way to start the new day. Jamie not only could talk, but she felt safe enough with me to carry on a conversation.

Our breakfast rang with the excited chatter of the pre-school variety. I laughed as I caught my own sentence structure following their four- or five-word pattern. Talking made Jamie eat more slowly; a piece of toast protruded out of each fist. Jamie’s sentences flowed like a rushing river. What a vocabulary this little girl had hidden.

I slipped into the girls’ bedroom to set out their clothing while they finished eating. Taking advantage of the situation, I lifted Jamie’s pillow. The bread hadn’t been touched during the night.

I brushed off the crumbs from the sheet and pillow and set the slice of bread on the dresser. Quickly making both bunks, I prayed for God to help me address this sensitive issue.

Back out at the table, I noticed the children take the final swallow of milk as I approached. “Did you get enough to eat?”

Both grinning heads nodded. Suddenly their smiles dropped, replaced by the narrowed brows and a thin line of little lips pressed together. The kids had seen the bread in my hand.

Jamie jumped off the pillows boosting her up in the chair. As her bare feet whipped the pajama-clad youngster around to run, I swept her up in my arms. I nestled my face against her soft curls and made loud kissing noises. “Oooh, Mama Dar loves Jamie to bits!” I said, followed by a kiss on her head. Deni laughed and so did I. Jamie sat frozen.

Sitting back down in my chair, I gently positioned Jamie on my lap. I signaled for Deni to come, swinging my free arm around her narrow shoulders.

“Listen, kids. This is your house for as long as you can live with me. I promise you will always eat breakfast, lunch, and dinner—every day. But, I know adults sometimes make promises they don’t keep.

“Jamie, if you feel better having a piece of bread with you for the night, that’s just fine with me. May I put it in a sandwich bag, so it doesn’t get dirty?” Jamie smiled and nodded, so I continued. “Deni, are you okay or do you need a piece of bread for your pillow?”

“No, I sleep. I eat breakfast when I wake up, right?”

Uncertain if the preschooler wanted reinforcement for choosing the correct word, or reassurance that she would be offered breakfast, I responded, “Exactly right! Breakfast is the name of the first meal. You will eat breakfast every morning.” I exaggerated the nod of my head. Both girls laughed.

“Now, it’s time to dress for church. Jamie, I put your clothes on your bed; Deni, your clothes are on the top of the dresser. When you’re ready for the socks and shoes, come back here and I’ll help you tie the laces on your shoes.”

The phone rang just as I finished clearing the table. “Oh, what a surprise! Hi, Mom!”

“Daddy’s on the extension, Honey,” Mom said.

Hi, Daddy! We just finished breakfast, and the girls are changing into their church clothes. I’m about to put my dress on. I remembered Mom said to leave the baby for last. What’s up with you two?”

“Oh, Honey, Daddy and I won’t keep you. I know how hectic things are on a Sunday morning, trying to get three kids ready for church. We just finished eating, too. Daddy and I want to come for lunch on Wednesday. Is that okay with you? We’ll bring lunch with us.”

“Of course it’s okay, Mom! Daddy, do you have more than just Wednesday off this week?”

“No, I still have the same work schedule. We’ll not be spending the night, but Mom and I want to meet the girls.”

“Are you kidding me? It’s 192 miles—one way!” I laughed and pictured my loving parents driving nearly four hundred miles to have lunch with the new little foster family. I heard them laugh.

“Oh, we know, dear, but we just can’t wait. Can we bring you anything?” The excitement in my mother’s voice warmed my heart.

“All I can think of off the top of my head is Glenda’s little blue youth chair. Do you still have that after all these years? Jamie is teetering atop a couple of couch pillows to reach the dining table now. Glenda’s chair would be perfect if you could bring that with you.”

“Daddy wants to drive his pick-up, so we’ll have plenty of room. You need to run, Dar. We’ll talk again. You can be thinking if there’s anything you’d like to have. See you and those precious little girls soon,” Mom said.

My thoughts raced as I dressed and moved to baby Susie. Unsure how my proper mother might react if Jamie plunged both hands into mashed potatoes, I prayed God would direct her to bring something easily eaten with little fingers. At least, they’re not spending the night, so Mom’ll never see the bread under Jamie’s pillow.

Throughout the following two days, I vacillated between joyous excitement over my parents’ upcoming visit and anxiety at what might happen during that first visit. Little did I know that God had planned an important revelation for the new single Mom.

*Name changed.

Story thread begins with the following link: With Just One Phone Call

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Talent and Fear

While I prepared dinner in the kitchen, I heard four-year-old Deni* spontaneously craft a story to match the colorful pages she turned. Sounds like a more exciting story than the one written in that book, I thought.

Two-year-old Jamie* listened intently to her sister. Jamie’s thin body lay sprawled out prone, both forearms raised with her chin resting on tiny palms. The sight resurrected a long past memory when my older sister read to me.

Freckle-faced Deni, her back against the sofa with the storybook in her lap, sat with Jamie on her left and their six-month-old sister in the playpen on her right. Susie* gurgled and laughed about half a beat after her sisters as the extemporaneous tale progressed. The Pre-school reader had an incredible imagination.

I succeeded in not interrupting the story as I set the plates on the table. When the steaming hot dish entered the living room, however, two little heads swiveled as one.

Red-headed Deni rushed over to the round wooden table near the kitchen doorway. “We eating--again?”

I smiled at the question. Before I could answer I caught sight of Jamie’s kinky jet-black curls peeking from behind her older sister’s back. “This meal is called dinner. Remember this morning I told you we eat breakfast, lunch and dinner in our house?”

Every day?” Deni said, turning to look at Jamie, who had moved to her side.

“Yup! Every day, and every person in this house gets to eat,” I said, echoing my answer to Deni’s question earlier that day. “Sometimes, we call this meal ‘supper,’ but whatever it’s called, we all get to eat it.”

I witnessed Jamie open her mouth as if to speak, but she closed her lips and said nothing. Would I ever hear her sweet voice? Time would tell.

Seated around the table, I reached for Jamie’s spoon as soon as the “amen” had been spoken. “Here’s your spoon, Jamie. Please, use your spoon to eat your food instead of your hands.”

“Like me, Jamie,” said her older sister, demonstrating the proper use of a spoon.

Jamie hesitated a few moments, looking down at the spoon. Without a single word, the youngster started eating, her right fist clenching the spoon.  After two bites, not looking over at me, she lifted her left hand and plunged it into her food. The hand easily shoveled in more bites than the spoon-toting hand.

Deni noticed my gaze at her sister and said, “Hers only got one spoon, you know.” The explanation should be obvious to anyone, right?

Deni’s comment seemed like the final word on that issue. She resumed eating, and so did I. I knew Susie would want to be fed soon; I needed to finish my plate. Jamie’s table manners could wait for another meal. At least, she no longer hovered over the plate, trying to protect it. I reckoned, in time, she’d see I wouldn’t eat her food if she didn’t eat fast enough.

I found it incredible how much food the youngsters put away in one sitting. “We’ll have more food tomorrow, kids. You only need to eat enough to not be hungry now.”

I saw both heads nod. The continuous action of small jaws didn’t allow for a verbal response.

Following dinner clean-up and baths, the girls gathered at my side on the sofa. I selected another illustrated book and read the story to the kids. I loved putting actions and varying my voice to portray each character.

Deni offered to read the next book, so I could rock Susie before bedtime. The creak of the rocker, plus the happy sucking sounds of Susie with her bottle, accompanied the delightfully dramatic sound effects Deni put into the tale. She tried to give different voices to a couple of the characters, though didn’t always remember the assigned voice. Wonderful bedtime fun.

Susie dropped off to sleep about one minute after the bottle had been downed. Hearing the sisters yawn, I whispered instructions. “I’ll put Susie in her crib. You girls use the bathroom and head for bed. I’ll be in to say prayers and tuck you in soon.”

The pajama-clad children untangled their crossed legs, making no protests as they dragged weary bodies out of the living room. The kids veered to the left while I turned to the right.

Carefully I laid Susie in her crib. My forehead kiss and “Good night little precious,” never woke the sleeping infant.

I moved into the girls’ bedroom. Reaching up, I tucked Deni into the upper bunk. Bending down, I pulled the covers up to Jamie’s chest and let her rest both arms atop the bedcover. “Okay, girls, reach out a hand so I can take hold of it for our bedtime prayer,” I said as I stretched my right arm up to Deni. I lightly grasped Jamie’s right hand.

As soon as I’d finished praying, I squeezed the small hand in each of mine. My heart leapt when I felt the light pressure of their response.

Straightening up, I leaned over and gave Deni a light peck on her cheek, “Good night, Deni. Have a good sleep and remember, I love you.”

I bent down to repeat my departing gesture for Jamie. To keep from falling on her, I braced my left hand just under the pillow. What I touched took me aback. I felt the two-year-old stiffen.

“Good night, Jamie,” I said kissing her cheek. “Mama Dar loves you so much.” I patted her shoulder and stood.

“Have a good sleep and I’ll see you girls in the morning,” I said backing towards the open door. “We’ll go to church, so you can wear your new clothes tomorrow.”

“Me ‘n’ Jamie says ‘Night-Night’,” said Deni with a yawn.

I walked back into the living room; my first full day as the single mother of three kids had come to a close. Lifting my Bible off the end table, I clutched the worn volume to my chest. The tears I’d struggled to restrain fell freely. “Oh, my precious Father God, help Jamie know she’s safe in this house. Only You really know her heart and what will remove that gripping fear. Teach me how to help them all.”

I rocked gently enough to avoid the squeak as I read my Bible. “Oh, one more thing, please God,” I whispered. “Would you please help Jamie to get over hiding a piece of bread under her pillow by the end of the month? We’ll spend the weekend with my parents; my mother would freak. Thanks.”

I had no idea just how much earlier my Mom and Dad would actually meet the kids. Neither did I anticipate the joy that arrived in the morning.

*Name changed.

Story thread begins with the following post: With Just OnePhone Call

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Working Through Issues

Snapping up the ringing phone, I flipped the volume wheel to minimal. I listened for the baby crying, as I said, “Hello?” The noise hadn’t seemed to bother napping Susie*, whew. Hearing Jeanette’s greeting, I stretched the extra-long coiled cord of the wall phone and moved to the backyard window.

“Yes, thanks for calling. Everything’s going just fine…uh…considering yesterday’s trauma to us all,” I said and chuckled. “The girls are in the backyard, throwing a stick for Nahum to retrieve. Susie’s sleeping.”

“John and I can come to sit with the kids next week, but in all the excitement of the crisis, we forgot to ask what time you need to be at the hospital Monday morning. Do you need any help before then?”

“Oh, thank you so much, Jeanette. The kids love you two, so it’ll be a fun week for them. I’m normally at the office by eight o’clock, but I planned to let them know I’ll not be in until nine Monday. I think I’m okay for the weekend. Carroll’s helping me get oriented to motherhood,” I said and heard Jeanette’s laughter.

Actually, Jeanette, I do have a question for you. In your experience, I wondered if you could answer a question I’m sure will come up today. What should I tell the kids to call me? So far, Deni’s* the only one talking and she calls me “Lady.” Should I have her call me by my first name? It seems too formal otherwise. Since she has a real mother, I don’t feel right for them to call me ‘Mom.' What do you think?”

“They need to see you as a mother-figure. When I had to be in a foster home, I called the lady Mama Sue*. She didn’t tell me to call her that, but I needed a mama taking care of me. They’re so young; I’m sure they need the same. Tell them to call you ‘Mama Dar.’”

“Okay, thanks; Mama Dar it is then,” I said. Noticing the cautious way Deni put Jamie’s* hand on Nahum’s head as she helped her stroke it, I smiled.  “Uh, what was that, Jeanette? Sorry, I missed what you just said.”

Agreeing that we both had work to get back to, I signed off and returned the receiver to the cradle.

By the time I’d finished the breakfast clean-up, the girls had come to ask for a drink of water. While handing each one a plastic cup, I noticed they, too, needed a bit of washing up.

“Come over here, please. I want to wash off your morning play with the dog. Susie is about to wake from her nap. When we’re all ready, we’ll go to the store to buy a new pair of tennis shoes and a new outfit for each of you. Won’t that be fun?”

“Every kid get new shoes?” Deni said, grabbing on to Jamie’s* hand.

I smiled and clapped my hands in glee. “Yup! You both get new shoes. Susie will get baby shoes that are soft on the bottom. Your flip-flops can have the rest it looks like they need.”

Their spontaneous dancing, jumping, and high-pitched squeals brought tears to my eyes. A sudden shriek from the crib dissolved the mood, fear springing to two little faces.

“Hey, Susie’s awake. Let’s go get her ready for shopping, shall we?” I clapped and giggled. The mood resurrected, and the jumping resumed.

Leaving the store an hour later, the young ladies fixed their gazes on the brand-new tennis shoes with each step back to the car. Deni helped carry the sack of bright-red and white outfits.

At the car, the three of us turned to thank the dear store clerk who’d assisted me with more than the selection of sizes. How did I ever think I could go clothes shopping alone with a six-month-old in my arms and help her two- and four-year-old sisters try on clothes? I lifted Baby Susie’s arm to wave her thank you.

Back at home, the girls bolted from the open car doors, trying to run while staring down. I found the sight hilarious but also saw an accident in the making. “Hey, girls, stop! Come back here and help me. Deni, please carry the clothes bag. Jamie, you take this one, and I’ll take the baby. Put both sacks on my bed, please.”

Immediately, the charge of this responsibility slowed their steps to careful, deliberate paces--even more so up the back steps.

“Okay, girls,” I said as I changed Susie’s diaper. “You can go back outside to play stick with Nahum for a few minutes if you’d like. I’ll make lunch and call you when it’s ready.”

“But--” Deni began, stopping when Jamie pulled on her arm. Shaking off the little hand, Deni continued, “We already ate today.” I saw Jamie’s frown before her head dropped to look at the floor.

“Let me put Susie in the playpen, and we can talk a few minutes. Come with me, kids.”

I marched out to the living room, trying to get my emotions under control before speaking again. My mother bear anger over what these kids had endured threatened to spill over.

“Okay, Susie’s fine playing with the stuffed doggie. Now, come sit next to me on the couch, please,” I said, patting the space on either side of me. I wondered if timid Jamie would respond or just sit on the floor at my feet.

Instead of sitting next to me, Jamie crawled up into my lap. With both arms around the kids, I gave them a gentle squeeze. To my delight, they both squeezed me back, and we all laughed.

“Listen to me, kids,” I said. “In this house, we will eat three meals each day. Breakfast, lunch, and dinner.”

Everyone get to eat?” Deni said, looking straight at Jamie when she spoke.

“ Yes! Everyone gets to eat. If you are hungry when it’s not the time to eat, you come tell me. I’ll give you something to eat.” The lack of response likely indicated that the youngsters were still working on digesting the everyone gets to eat, so more information would just muddy the waters. They’d learn about snacks later.

“Can I tell you a question?”

“Yes, Deni. You may ask me anything you like.”

“What’s your name?”

I gave her a squeeze and said, “My first name is Darlene, but my friends call me Dar. You are more than my friends, so you may call me Mama Dar if you’d like.”

I listened as the little lips whispered the new name. Having tried it out a few times, Deni looked over at Jamie and said, “Jamie, Her’s our Mama Dar. Can you say that?”

Jamie said nothing but nodded she could. I’d not heard a single word from the two-year-old—ever. I figured if it was a matter of choice, Jamie’s tongue would loosen up in time.

“Do you girls like tuna fish sandwiches? I thought we could have one for lunch. Does that sound good to you or would you prefer something else?” I stood as I spoke.

“We eat anything, don’t we Jamie?”

The smiling ebony face nodded several times as the children jumped off the sofa.

Whipping a bit of mayo into the tuna and minced dill pickle, I listened to the joyful chatter coming from Deni. Nahum barked his understanding, but still no word from Jamie.

“Okay, girls, lunch’s ready,” I called, holding open the screen door.

Having learned my lessons from breakfast, I made sure my own sandwich could be seen, and Jamie’s sandwich had been cut in strips for reasonable bites. “Before we eat our lunch, we’ll thank God for providing for us; just like we did before breakfast, remember?” Nodding, and with their small hands clasped before them, they bowed their heads.

My own prayers continued silently as I watched the children eat their lunch. Deni continued the slow, vigilant pace while Jamie ate as fast as she could--a piece of sandwich in each hand. At least, the upper half of her tiny body hadn’t been stretched across the plate to protect her food. Some progress had been made.

Before laying my head down for the night, I’d see that Jamie’s food-trust issue had farther to go than I’d first imagined.

*Name changed

Saturday, August 8, 2015

Breakfast Lesson from a Preschooler

Cradling six-month-old Susie* in the crook of my left elbow, I encouraged her to try holding the bottle herself. Deni* had assured me Susie could, but the baby showed no interest in taking an active part in breakfast this first morning. Susie just patted the bottle I held for her, while kicking her legs faster than she swallowed.

I looked over at four-year-old Deni. Once again she’d stopped eating, staring at her baby sister’s legs. Hearing me clear my throat as I prepared to speak, the cute little red-head said, “Her really likes to move her legs now. Me and Jamie* was scared that her knees had stuck like that cuz her hung in the swing too long.”

“I’m glad, too. It makes us all happy to see she can kick her legs again,” I said, setting the bottle on the table and positioning Susie for a burp. “Do you like scrambled eggs and toast?”

Deni nodded and looked over to her two-year-old sister. “Her likes it, too.”

I’d been stealing brief glances over at Jamie while feeding Susie. The ultra-thin African-American two-year-old shoveled the food into her mouth as fast as her two hands could. I worried she’d not be able to keep her swallowing in sync with the amount stuffed in. “Jamie, you can slow down. There’s plenty of time for you to eat your breakfast.”

Jamie interrupted her left hand’s return to the plate, her right fist—eggs squeezing out of the tight hold--froze just above the diminishing yellow mound. Without turning her head, she riveted her dark-brown eyes on mine. The suspension lasted about two seconds, before the frantic feeding resumed. She said nothing.

Once again, I sought counsel from a preschooler. “Deni, does Jamie usually eat like that? I’m afraid she’ll choke on her food.” I pushed my chair back slightly, turning to the side to provide more space for the now-sleeping Susie.

“Yeah. Jamie coughs sometimes when her eats.”

“Do you know why she thinks she has to eat so fast?”

Deni shrugged her narrow shoulders, giving me that It-should-be-obvious look as she answered. “If her doesn’t eat fast, someone takes her food to eat.” Deni stared at the empty spot in front of where I sat.

Oh, Jamie! I’d never take food off your plate. Never,” I said, horrified at the thought.

“Growed people do it. So, where’s your food?” said Deni, no doubt speaking for the frowning but still shoveling Jamie.

“Uh, it’s still in the kitchen. I wanted to be sure you had enough to eat first. I didn’t know how much food to prepare, so I thought I’d eat after you girls had finished. If you want more, you can have more. It’s in the kitchen.”

Deni said nothing, but it looked to me like her wheels were trying to sift out truth. Jamie, having finished the eggs, was about to stuff half a piece of toast in her mouth. I knew disaster loomed if I didn’t act.

I gently put my hand around the slender arm, lowering it to the table. Keeping a firm hold on the resisting arm, I smiled and said, “I forgot to cut your toast, Jamie. You hold on to it in your plate, and I’ll cut it into strips for you.” I loosened my hold, reaching for the breadknife.

Slicing the bread into strips, I turned to the eldest of this precious trio. “Deni, are you eating so slowly because you think I might eat some of Jamie’s food and you want to have some to share with her?”  I looked up to see her freckled face redden, but Deni said nothing. “Oh, Honey. I’m so sorry that adults did that to you girls. We have plenty of food for everyone in this house.”

I saw in both weary faces that I’d need to prove my promises. In the meantime, I had to make a point of putting a plate of food for myself on the table every meal. Only then would Deni feel free to eat the food on her plate.

Getting Jamie to slow down and stop eating with both hands may be a harder sell. Obviously, someone had taken food off her plate, leaving Jamie hungry.

By the close of that first day, I discovered yet another of Jamie’s resourceful ways to fill her empty tummy. I’d need to break some of my own mother’s House Rules to help this little girl learn she could trust me.

*Name changed

Saturday, August 1, 2015

First Morning Surprises

What a night! Groggily I slipped out of my bed, attempting to dress without making a sound. I didn’t want to wake the six-month-old sleeping in the crib near my bedroom door. Would this be the first of many sleepless nights as the new mother of three young girls? The thought triggered an involuntary groan.

Returning from the bathroom, I glanced at Baby Susie* and smiled. Even at first light, the sight of the precious little princess warmed my heart. The remembrance that I’d dressed her in a sleeper that curled her tiny toes brought back the relentless anxiety of the night. I’d buy one that fit today.

As I watched, Susie started pushing against the sleeper’s feet. Oh, no. If she’s waking up, she’ll need a diaper change. Ugh. I had the crib in my room, but the changing table with all the diapers rested in the girls’ room. Can I slip in, retrieve a diaper and not wake either of the sisters?

The flash-bang events of the previous day had completely derailed my obsession for planning. I’d gone to work, expecting to plow into a stack of paperwork accumulating on my desk, but then the phone rang, affecting a major redirect. I’d begun the day as a single hospital administrator; I’d dropped into bed as the foster mother of three young children.

A sharp cry interrupted my stunned recollecting. Quickly moving to lift the baby out of the crib, I said, “Mornin’ little Precious. Shhhh. You don’t want to wake up your sisters, do you?”

Susie stopped crying. The way she looked into my eyes worried me a bit. Her expression flattened so quickly. I felt her stiffen as I brought her small body close for a cuddle. “It’s okay, Susie. I’m not going to hurt you. Your sisters are in the other bedroom. Let’s go take a peek, shall we?”

After crossing the threshold, I paused to let the baby glance around the bedroom. Deni* continued sleeping, but where had Jamie* gone? Her lower bunk hadn’t been slept in. Oh, my! Had I remembered to lock the doors? Could she have run off? Would she have run off? Fear gripped my heart. I had to change Susie and then I’d go in search of two-year-old Jamie.

Gently, I laid Susie on the changing table. The baby followed my eyes but made no attempt to speak or move. I continued smiling at Susie while my anxious thoughts raced in all directions.

Slowly, I unsnapped the sleeper and cautiously slipped it off Susie’s thin legs. To my utter astonishment, the baby’s legs began to pump the air. “I ain’t seen her legs move in a long time. What did ya do, Lady?”

One hand still holding onto Susie, I looked over towards the top bunk. The oldest sister had moved to a sitting position. “Good morning, Deni! Well,” I said with a nervous laugh, “I didn’t do anything—except put Susie in this too-small sleeper. I guess the slight pressure on her knees all night helped them remember how to bend.”

Deni crawled over to the foot of the bunk and looked down at the ladder. “You can come down if you want to, Deni. Do you need my—” The four-year-old’s bare feet hit the floor before I finished offering my assistance.

“Did you sleep well, Sweetie?” I said, with a quick glance down at the small red-head standing next to me. She nodded, continuing to watch as I finished dressing Susie in a summer outfit. “You can put on the shirt and shorts you wore after your bath last night.”

Suddenly remembering the missing sister, I said, “Hey, Deni, where’d Jamie go? Did you see her leave the bedroom? Do you think she’s hiding somewhere in the house, or could she have opened a locked door?”

The preschooler's eyes narrowed, followed by a slight tilt of her head. “Her’s not anywhere, Lady,” Deni said, giggling and shrugging her narrow shoulders. “Her’s right here like always.”

I moved Susie to my left hip and reached around to untangle the hem of the tee shirt twisted in the waistband at the back of Deni’s shorts. “Hmm? It doesn’t look like Jamie slept in her bed.”

“Her never does that. Her sleeps under the bed all the time.” I looked over at the bunk, beginning to move to the edge until I heard Deni’s warning.”Don’t go get her out. She’ll scream real loud, ‘member at the motel yesterday?”

“Yes, I do remember. Poor Jamie was so scared. What should I do now?” I couldn’t believe I was asking a four-year-old what to do. Boy, was I ever going to make a good mother—not.

“You go. I helps Jamie put her clothes on. Where does me ‘n’ her go then?”

Oh, good, that question I can answer myself. “Come on out to that big round table near the kitchen. Did you see it when you came in last night?” Deni nodded. “That’s where we’ll have breakfast. I’ll go get it ready while you help Jamie, okay?”

“We gonna eat already?” the surprise registered on Deni’s face; then she smiled.”Jamie gonna like that.”

I laughed and turned to make my way to the kitchen. I walked more slowly than necessary so that I could eavesdrop on Deni’s monolog with Jamie.

“Jamie! Come out quick! You’ll never guess what I saw. Susie. Her can move her legs again. You gotta get dressed right now. We’s gonna eat breakfast out there with that lady. Hurry.”

Before I’d finished setting the table, two smiling faces peeked around the wooden chairs at me. Susie soundlessly kicked her legs from inside the highchair’s restraining tray.

I grabbed up a couple of throw pillows to lift Jamie’s short body high enough to reach the plate. Deni pulled back her own chair as I settled Jamie in hers. Both girls stared at the glass of milk in front of them. “Go ahead and have a drink, if you’d like one? Can Jamie handle the small glass by herself, or should I help her?”

Deni had already begun drinking the milk. Jamie didn’t seem to have any difficulty holding the plastic cup. Both girls gulped the milk as fast as they could swallow. “Whoa, girls! We’ve got plenty of milk. Slow down so you don’t choke.”

When I set each plate of food before the girls, my heart broke just watching them. How painful their young lives must have been.

 *Name changed.