“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.