Sipping the steaming coffee in the early morning chill, I pondered the previous day’s crisis. How grateful I was that none of the children had been hurt and gave thanks for friends who’d come to my rescue.
“How’s the arm?” Doug asked, pulling a chair from the table. “Kids still sleeping?”
“Yeah, they had a hard time settling down last night. New place and all. I reckon they’ll come up when they hear us stirring,” I said, repositioning my arm in the sling. “My arm’s more of a hassle than a pain, really. The bulky burn bandage will take some getting used to. I took a pain pill when I tucked the girls in again around midnight; it hasn’t worn off yet.”
“I can check your place on my way to work if you like. It sounded like there’s a mess of coal dust to clean up where the furnace pipe disconnected in the kitchen, but if we can secure the pipe, I think the furnace should be okay.”
“Do you think it’ll be safe to light the coal? Or, is there some time we should wait for the fumes that blew the pipe? I can’t remember if I shut the furnace door after I put out the flames melting my arm.”
“Don’t know. I’ll check with George at the garage. He’ll probably know someone who can answer that. For now, just rest that arm.”
When Doug returned two hours later, the news that brought him home from his law office mid-morning brushed all thought of the furnace out of my mind. I had not seen this coming.
“I tried to tell Martha* that you’re a better Mom with one arm than Mary* ever was with two. I said I had complete confidence in your ability to care for the three kids while your arm is healing.”
I said nothing. My friend, a man whose hair and beard I’d trimmed in my dorm room when he and Cathy were just dating, must have noticed the trickle of tears moistening my cheeks. He added, “I’m so sorry. I tried to make her understand that the accident made no difference. I urged her to reconsider, recommending my opinion as the County Attorney, not just your friend.”
“When’s she coming? My voice sounded as strangled as my shattered heart felt. “I’ll need to tell the kids. And, their things. I need to gather their things. Do you think this’s permanent, so I should give them their Christmas presents now, or should I wait to see if they’ll be back? I’ve already wrapped them. Mom helped me over Thanksgiving.”
“I don’t know what to tell you. If they’re new things, Mary— “
“Yeah. I thought of that. The girls might not get them anyway. Guess I’ll wait. I’ll pray they’re back by Christmas. Mom and Dad are expecting us.”
I forced myself to take deep breaths, restraining the massive pressure to wail away the pain of my sudden grief.
“The social worker’ll be here later this afternoon.”
“Today! What’s the rush? It’s not like they’re in any danger because I burned my arm. Today?”
Talk about a shock. The news ripped apart the pieces of my crumbling heart. Had I not been responsible for taking care of the kids right then, I’d have thrown myself on the bed and cried for a few days. That would have to wait.
Deni* and Jamie* finished eating their lunch while I rocked Susie*. I watched her, holding her own bottle and smiling up at me with the nipple still between her lips. “You better keep your lips closed, little lady, or you’ll be wearing that milk.”
Before long, Susie fell asleep. The usual routine was to lay her down at this point. Not today. I didn’t want to let her go. I remained in the rocking chair, watching the girls at the nearby dinner table.
I slowly rocked, feeling the warmth of her small body against mine. My thoughts dropped back to the first bottle I’d handed her long months ago—picked up off the floor in the motel room. Fortunately, I’d opened and smelled it before trying to comfort her with curdled milk.
That day, the Sheriff had let me coaxed Jamie from under the bed, while Deni sat opposite her, tears streaming down her freckled face. With one phone call, our lives had been knitted together; mine changed forever.
That day, I knew the small children left that motel room for a warm, stable home. They’d have plenty to eat, and the preschooler could stop struggling to care for her younger siblings.
But, this day? They’d be leaving as unexpectedly as they’d come. What would their lives be after today? My heart refused to let me think about it.
When Deni began taking plates to the kitchen, I laid Susie in the playpen to finish her nap.
“Read to us, Mama Dar,” Deni said, handing me the last plate. “I can hold the book.”
“Okay, but just one story today. I need to talk to you, girls.” My voice cracked, as I silently asked the Lord to strengthen me.
Closing the book and laying it on the end table, I stood. “Okay, girls, let’s rock.”
Little giggles erupted from Deni and Jamie as they leapt from the sofa and ran to the wooden chair. I sat down, holding out both arms.
“Who first?” Almost-three-year-old Jamie said, bouncing from one leg to the other.
“Both of you are first,” I said grabbing almost-five-year-old Deni to sit on my right leg. “Here you go,” I said to Jamie while patting my left knee.
The children laughed as the three of us snuggled, holding on to one another. “You know that Mama Dar loves you, don’t you?” Little heads nodded, followed by squeezes and affirmations of feelings being mutual. Well, Doug told me today that your mother wants you to come live with her.” I felt the little bodies tense and then relax under my arms.
“How long?” I couldn’t be sure if Deni meant how long until Mary came to take them, or how long they would stay with her.
“I don’t know. Mrs. Martha will come today to drive you to your mother’s house. I’m asking Jesus to bring you back as soon as He can, but I don’t know how long that is.”
Jamie patted my bandaged arm, which hurt like crazy with the pressure of a child’s body against it. “Cuz you hurt your arm?”
“Yes. I don’t want you to leave. I’m sure we could still do okay until my arm is all better, but Mrs. Martha said she can’t be sure I could do it alone. Your mother wants you to come live with her, so Mrs. Martha said this is a good time to take you back to her. I’m sad to see you go, but it’ll be nice to see your mother again, won’t it? I’ll be praying for you.”
“We pway for you, too, Mama Dar,” Jamie said, adding a squeeze around my neck.
“Me ‘n’ Jamie’ll pray for you every day,” Deni said. “Mama don’t know nothin’ about prayin’, but we do it.”
“Remember to pray for your mother, too. Maybe she’ll learn how from you girls. Let’s pray together now, before Mrs. Martha gets here, okay?”
Tears rolled down my cheeks as I prayed for each of the kids. Jamie gently wiped away each tear as it dropped from my eye. I heard her one-word prayer that God always heard and answered, “Jesus. Jesus. Jesus.”
After Deni had said her “Amen,” she put her head on my shoulder. “Mama Dar, don’t worry about us. Jesus’ll take care of us. I know He will.”
Seconds later, I heard the crunch of tires on the snow-packed driveway. “Okay, girls, Mrs. Martha is here. One more squeeze and we’ll answer the door.” The three of us pressed into one another, finishing with a little groan that caused a simultaneous giggle.
I stood, staring out the glass door long after the departure of my little family. The pain in my heart numbed my body. I never felt the sub-zero cold hitting the glass so near my tear-soaked face. I sobbed, remembering only their waving arms and gentle smiles. Deni’s words echoed in my ears, soothing my heart. “Mama Dar, don’t worry about us. Jesus’ll take care of us. I know He will.”
Many times throughout that night and the days and nights that followed, I replayed Deni’s confident words, usually adding something like, “I know He will, Punkin, but what’ll Mama Dar do without you?”
Story thread begins with this link: With Just One Phone Call