“Okay, kids, time to get in the car. Did everyone go to the bathroom?” Choruses of affirmation spewed from the mouths of the little bodies rushing by me.
Deni reached for her baby sister, followed by my reach across the duo to envelop them in the same bucket seat safety belt. Over on the driver’s side, little bodies squeezed behind the seat to secure a spot on the backseat.
“Hey, wait up, kids! I can flip that seat back to give you more room to get inside.” I spoke as I rounded the rear of the car, but found no child still outside the vehicle. “Or, you can just get in there yourselves,” I said with a laugh and shake of my head.
Along the highway, the raucous chatter of seven youngsters didn’t keep Susie from dropping off to sleep in her sister’s arms. If only the rest of the bunch responded to the motion of the wheels rolling over the asphalt. Not a chance.
“I gonna get fwies,” said two-year-old Jamie.
A chorus of “Me, too,” roared from the backseat, accompanied by a couple of jumpers cheering.
“When do we get to eat?” I’d rehearsed this scenario over and over before leaving the house, so I hoped the excitement didn’t wipe their memories clean.
“When you’re done at the hospital,” said Sally, a precocious three-year-old.
“After you finished the meeting,” said Danny.
Deni finished his recitation. “But we gotta stay in the car, or we don’t get to eat at the café, right?”
“Yes, that’s right. I’m only going to be in the meeting for fifteen minutes. I already told the chairman that you kids would be with me. Are you going to be good and not fight with each other when I’m in the hospital?” We’d rehearsed this question the most.
Loud replies of “We be good!” And, “No fighting!” filled the car. All of us laughed like the whole exercise had been a game to entertain them. I prayed the result wouldn’t be lost when the game stopped, and the challenge began.
An hour later, I pulled into the hospital parking lot. I discovered a slot on the side, near the employee entrance—and the restrooms. Opening the driver’s door, I flipped the seat forward. “Okay, everyone out. Stretch your legs right around the car; don’t go walking away.”
Moving over to the opposite side of the car, I freed Deni and Susie from the passenger’s seatbelt. I lifted the baby off her four-year-old sister’s lap and giggled a few terms of endearment to the infant nestling into my neck. “Thanks so much for helping me, Honey,” I said to Deni with a sideways, one-arm hug. She turned and squeezed me with both arms.
Soon each of the lively gang had made a trip to the restroom and executed a twenty-yard run to the fence and back. Though I had my suspicions that a couple of the girls had only gone to check out what the hospital’s restroom looked like, I prayed that none of the kids would need a potty break while I spoke with the committee. Susie’s diapers had been changed, too, so we should be all set.
“Okay, now comes the hard part. Everyone back in the car. All of the windows are open, but I need you to stay in the car.” Little bodies rushed to find their places. “I’ve noticed what time it is now. I’ll be back in exactly fifteen minutes,” I said, tapping my watch.”If everyone is still being good and no one is fighting, then we’ll all go for hamburgers and fries. Got that?”
Heads bobbed, and verbal acclamations of agreement filled the car.
“Now, what do you need to do?” I said, making eye-contact with each preschooler.
Each of the kids lifted a hand to their lips and demonstrated a turning lock. Since this hadn’t been a part of our rehearsal, I’d been taken by surprise. I nearly burst out laughing but restrained. I nodded, locking my lips, too. Fortunately, Susie didn’t cry when I passed her to the seated Deni and walked over to the hospital.
As I entered the conference room, Dr. Holloway stopped mid-sentence. Looking up, he said, “C’mon in. Take a seat. We’re about to your part of the agenda now.”
“With all due respect, Gentlemen, I’m afraid you’ll have to skip right to my part on the agenda. I have eight kids all-but-one under the age of four out in my car. They expect to wait fifteen minutes for my return. If I’m not back, they’ll come looking for me.”
“How will they know where to look?” said one businessman.
The men had begun laughing until I spoke. “I told the four-year-old which room I’d be in in case of emergency, of course. Shall we get started?”
“As I indicated over the phone,” said Dr. Holloway, “we have a grant to construct a convalescence facility just outside of town. Well, uh, our timetable hasn’t gone as we’d hoped and we’re in danger of losing the grant. We need the facility up and running no later than July 1.”
“And, where are you in the construction now?” I said, feeling my project-loving genes begin to kick in.
I listened to murmurs and grumbles around the table, but no one voiced a reply. I began to chuckle. “Oh, c’mon boys. Someone knows, don’t you?”
“We had the groundbreaking ceremony last July, I think it was,” said one man dressed in semi-fancy cowboy attire.
“Okay. It’s November now. How much of the building is up?”
One man started to shift the layers of blueprints in my direction. I took a look, alert to the specifics he pointed out.
“That’s the problem; none of it has been constructed yet. We, finally, agreed on the architect. We have someone in the next county’s hospital who can help us get the equipment and furnishings ordered.”
“Wow, you’ve got a lot to get done in those next eight months,” I said, stating the obvious. “I’m flattered that you called me, Dr. Holloway, “but I really don’t think I can help you. It’s a challenging proposition, but I’ve got kids I’m caring for right now. I’m not really free to dive into this project with the number of hours you’d need me to commit.”
“Just think about it. If you don’t help us, we’ll lose the chance to have the facility.”
“I’m sorry; I truly am, Gentlemen. You need to keep looking.”
“Think about it. If you change your mind, call me,” the persistent physician said.
Glancing at my watch, I stood to leave. “Thank you for asking me. I don’t think anything will change in time to help you, but if something does, I’ll let you know.”
I shook each hand, smiled, and rushed out to the car.
Just in time; Deni had already opened the car door. “I’m here, Sweetie. Let me take Susie. It’s only a couple minutes drive to the café,” I said lifting Susie out of her arms. “Ready to eat, kids?”
The minions cheered all the way to the little diner. Once there, finding a table for eight plus a high chair proved a bit of a challenge.
The kids began helping the waitress pull back chairs, as she slid two tables together. I found their gentle touch as they moved the chairs impressive. No one pushed or shoved the chair into place. Soon everyone had been seated, and I lifted the baby into the high chair next to me.
Before long, the children dived into their hamburgers and fries with the gusto of a hungry team of wranglers. Each one exercised proper table manners, being courteous and never spilling a drop of milk.
Susie liked to gnaw on the fries, but when hungry, she preferred to be fed from the spoon. I’d brought the baby food grinder with me, so I had no trouble providing Susie with lunch. As I lifted Susie’s tiny spoon to her lips, I glimpsed the waitress standing off to my left. I let the baby empty the spoon before I spoke.
“Is everything okay?” I said, quickly surveying my chomping minions to be sure nothing had been broken.
“Yes. Yes, of course. Everything’s okay. I wanted to know if I could ask you something. We, er, well all of us, actually, have been wondering—“
Looking away from the uniformed server, I swept my gaze over the now-silent room of diners. Every pair of eyes had focused on our table.
“Sure. What do you—all—want to know?”
“Are all of these kids yours?”
I began to laugh. “They are for today,” I said. “Actually, three of them are foster children that live with me, but the others are with us during the week when their own mothers have to work.”
“Oh, good. It’s just that they’re all so small and yet they’re so well-behaved. None of us have ever seen so many kids with one adult at a table and not seen food flying and kids screaming or crying. You know what I mean?”
“Yes, I do. I understand why you all wondered,” I said, smiling around at the other diners. “I just never thought about how we must look to other people. We eat together every weekday. They’ve learned to behave well at the table. I think the only conflict that arises from time to time has to do with whose turn it is to offer the prayer of blessing over the food before we eat.”
“Well, that’s just wonderful. Unbelievable, really. You and your kids can come back anytime. It’ll be a privilege to serve you.”
Driving home, little bodies folded over each other in sleep, I thanked the Lord for this special day trip with the children. I hadn’t noticed the comportment of the little ones, but others certainly had. What a blessing!
As I passed the hour, the silence of the mini-tribe gave rise to my thoughts of the enormous challenge I’d been offered back at the hospital. I had no idea just how the Lord intended to answer my prayer that He find someone to help them get the facility up and running before time ran out. Sometimes, it’s best not to know, right?
*All names have been changed.
Note: Thread of the foster children’s story begins with this link: With Just One Phone Call