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Saturday, January 9, 2016

Mistake

Fastening the inner leg snaps on the warm baby overalls, I smiled at Susie*. “There you go, little lady. Clean diaper; you smell a lot better now.” She giggled as though she understood. “I’ll roll up the cuffs of those long sleeves, and you’ll be good to go.”

I slung Susie around to rest on my hip and headed for the living room. Deni* hadn’t stopped crying.

On the floor near her older sister, Jamie* had pulled her socks on, but the lump of cotton on top of her foot indicated she’d not found the right spot for her heel. Her little tennis shoes sat in tight formation near the two-year-old’s leg. Jamie looked up as I approached.

“Wow! Look what you did, Jamie. You put your socks on for me. I’m so proud of you.” I slowly lowered Susie into the nearby playpen and returned to sit on the floor next to Jamie. “I’ll help you with your shoes.”

The petite African-American smiled and raised her leg towards my waiting hand. Deni’s crying made my heart ache, but first things first; Jamie needed her shoes. I distracted Jamie with chatter as I twisted each sock around, slipped on the shoe, and tied the laces. “Sweetie, would you please use the bathroom before we leave? I’ll talk to Deni a minute, and then we’ll get our coats on.”

Without protest, the youngster stood and ran to the bathroom. I moved to sit next to the sobbing four-year-old and took her in my arms.

“Thank you for getting dressed, Honey. You even have your shoes on,” I said while stroking her beautiful red curls. “I love you. You know that, don’t you?” I felt her head nod under my hand. “I’m sorry that you’re so sad this morning. I wish we didn’t have to go out until you felt better, but we have an appointment. That means that we need to be at the hotel at a certain time. Do you understand?” Again, the nod, this time against my shoulder.

“But, me don’t want to go. Me stay here.”

Deni hadn’t made that particular grammatical error for months now, so I knew she felt stressed. I didn’t see any way to give her what she wanted.

“You’re almost five, but that’s still too young to stay alone, Sweetheart. You need to--”

“You call Sheila,” said Deni with a sniffle. “Me stay there. I not need to go.”

“Okay, I’ll see if you can stay with Sheila this morning. If she’s not going to be home, you’ll need to go with us.”

Deni’s sobbing began again as I moved to the phone.

Fortunately for Deni, Sheila welcomed her. I had no idea I’d made a huge mistake, but I felt a lot better as I drove away from Sheila’s.

Pushing open the door to the hotel lobby, I smiled at Mary*. She looked at her watch and frowned.

I glanced up at the wall clock. “Oh, I’m sorry. I didn’t realize we were late. I had to--”

“Where’s my daughter?” Mary interrupted with a growl.

“Well, that’s why we’re late, actually. Deni just wouldn’t come. She cried through breakfast, refusing to eat anything. She cried as I urged her to get dressed, but it looked like I’d have to manhandle her to get her dressed. I left Deni in her bed to help Jamie find her clothes, and then Susie woke up and--”

“Shut up! I don’t care about your excuses. What have you done with my daughter? I demand you bring her here.”

“I tried, but she just refused to come this time,” I said, feeling Jamie cling to my leg. “I took her to a friend’s, so I could get the other two over here before I missed the appointment altogether. I’m sorry. I really am. Maybe next time Deni--” Susie squirmed to be let down, so I lowered her to the floor as Mary interrupted me a second time.

“I don’t want to hear your excuses! You’re trying to take my kids away from me, and you’re not going to get them. They’re mine. I’m going to report you,” Mary said, lifting Susie onto her lap.

“Mary, that’s not true. I’m doing my best to take care of your kids. It’s just that Deni wouldn’t stop crying and--”

“So what did you do to make her cry? Huh? Did you hit her?”

Now, I wanted to cry. “Oh, Mary, I would never hit her. No, she just felt sad today or something. I don’t know why she didn’t want to come today. I’m sorry. I didn’t know what to do.”

“Yeah, I bet. Well, you dumb ____, you did the wrong thing, and you’re gonna pay for it.”

The ball of fear dug deeply into my heart. Swallowing hard several times, I regained control of my emotions. Smiling down at Jamie, I said, “It's okay, Jamie. Mary is letting me know that I should have brought Deni instead of taking her to visit Sheila this morning. Everything’s okay, really it is. I just made a mistake.” I gave Jamie’s trembling shoulder a squeeze before continuing. “How about showing your mother the drawings you made for her? I think Mommy would like that, wouldn’t you, Mary?”

I fought to smile at her instead of dissolving into tears. The bitterness in her face lessened only slightly as she reached out her hand.

“There you go, Jamie,” I said, gently removing her arm from my leg and pushing her towards Mary. “Show Mommy the pretty drawings.”

Jamie inched towards her mother, papers held out as far as her outstretched arm could reach. At least, her trembling had stopped.

The tense visit proved to be a brief one. I figured Mary left to phone the authorities as soon as the hotel door closed.

Jamie said nothing as we walked to the car. My thoughts captured my attention so completely that I stopped walking only when Jamie shouted I’d missed our parking spot. Mary’s words choked me over and over. What would she do now?

*Name changed

 Note: Thread of the foster children’s story begins with this link: With Just One Phone Call


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