Responding to the unexpected knock at the screen door, I pushed it open. I smiled as Martha* grabbed the door and crossed the threshold. “Come in. It’s a nice surprise to see you today.” Well, at least, part of that statement is true, I thought. Hopefully, the social worker wouldn’t sense my unease.
Martha returned my smile but said nothing as we moved into the living room. I pulled out a chair for the well-dressed woman at the big, wooden round table.
Taking my seat across from Martha, I watched her lift her briefcase onto the table. My heart began to race as she removed a file. “I’d like to speak with Deni*. Please call her.”
“Should I ask Jamie*, too? Susie’*s in the crib, napping. Would you like to have a peek at her, or would you like me to wake her?” My words came out way too fast. Get a grip! I shouted at myself.
“Maybe later. Not right now. I’d like to see Deni first,” Martha said, finally looking up from the open file.
I knew all of the kids would follow me down if I went to fetch Deni from the upstairs playroom, so I called to her from the bottom of the stairway. Hearing the “Coming!” from the rumbling kiddies’ chatter, I returned to my seat at the table.
Martha said nothing, so I remained silent as we waited for the footfalls to leave the stairway. I tried to slow my respirations, knowing that would slow my heart rate. Would that lighten the growing glow I felt on my neck and face?
“Whatcha want, Mama Dar?” Deni said, pressing up next to me. Her gaze stayed on Martha, as I stretched my arm around her narrow shoulders.
“Mrs. Martha would like to talk to you, Sweetheart. I didn’t tell you this morning because I didn’t know either.”
Deni looked at the social worker and waited for her to speak.
“Please, come over here, Deni,” Martha said, indicating a spot near her. She scooted the chair away from the table and twisted her body to look straight at Deni.
The cute little redhead smiled and held her arms straight out, away from her sides. “Here’s Deni!” I laughed, grateful that her introduction had lightened the mood.
“Can you twirl around for me?” Martha said smiling.
“Like a dancer?” The lady’s nod set my almost-five-year-old to singing and dancing around the room.
“Do you like to dance?”
I burst into laughter at Martha’s question. Deni responded with a dramatic drop to the floor, enjoying our applause.
“Come sit here,” Martha said, pulling out the chair next to her. “I want to ask you why you didn’t go with your sisters to visit your mother.”
“Didn’t wanna go,” Deni said, hanging her head. I longed to rush over and hold her on my lap.
“Were you hurt somewhere and didn’t want your mother to see your owie?”
My eyebrows shot to the ceiling, and every muscle in my body stiffened. Why in the world would Martha ask such a question? Would the little girl understand what Martha’s question implied?
Forcing my eyebrows to relax, I took a few slow breaths as silently as possible. The room remained quiet.
“Honey, you’re not in trouble,” I said in a whisper. “Mrs. Martha just wants to know why you didn’t go to visit Mommy last time. That’s all. You’re not in trouble.”
Deni locked eyes with me. Looking back at Martha, Deni said, “Deni not wanna go. Me not have no owies.”
“Do you like living here?” Deni’s head bobbed rapidly, but she looked at the table, not at Martha. “Does Mama Dar ever hit you when she’s mad?”
I’d anticipated this question so didn’t react at all. Deni, on the other hand, flipped her head up and fired an angry flare at the adult. “Her don’t get mad! Her nice to us. Her not hit me. You don’t say that!”
I reached over to stroke Deni’s freckled little forearm. “Honey, it’s okay. Mrs. Martha had to ask you that question. It doesn’t mean that she’s saying she thinks I hit you. Sweetie, it’s her job to ask the questions. She just wants to be sure you and your sisters are okay because she brought you here. Do you understand?”
Deni refused to look at me, keeping her head bowed. When a tear trickled down her cheek, I looked over at Martha. I said nothing but I hoped my imploring stare got my message across.
Martha finished scribbling her notes, slipped the paper back into the folder and closed it. “Deni, look at me, please,” she said. The social worker said nothing more until Deni responded. “I know that Mama Dar loves you girls—all three of you girls. I know she’s nice to you and takes good care of you.”
“Why’d ya say she hit me then? Her never hits me.”
“It’s a question I had to ask you. Sometimes, kids are afraid to tell the truth. Do you understand?”
“Me telled you the truth. Me and Jamie and Susie likes it here. We eats every day here—more ‘n once even.” Deni continued without taking a breath, “We takes a bath and puts on clean stuff. Mama Dar teached us songs and reads to us. Her good to us every day. Nobody hurts us here.”
“Okay, Deni. That’s good to know. I’m glad you like living here. You can go on back to play with the kids now. Mama Dar and I’ll talk a few more minutes.”
Once the child had gone far enough not to overhear our conversation, Martha turned to me. “Should I have told her not to miss another scheduled visit with her mother?”
I smiled my relief before responding. “I’ll tell you something, Martha. Deni’s one sharp little girl. There’s no doubt in my mind that she knows her absence at that visit brought on your presence today. I’m certain she’ll never want to miss another visit again. Did Mary* report me, officially?”
“Yes, she did. I know the kids are in a much better home than they have ever known, but the law demands that I file an unscheduled home visit report to respond to her complaint. You understand, don’t you?”
“I do. I’m sorry. I just didn’t know all of the kids had to go, crying their heads off or not. I had no idea I was doing something wrong when I took her over to Sheila’s house. I’ll never do it again; you can be sure of that, Martha.”
Sometimes, the Lord uses unexpected circumstances to prepare us for what’s ahead. This turned out to be one of those times.
Story thread began with the following link: With Just One Phone Call