|Baby-eye view of a Christmas tree|
A cold steady rain had finally lifted the fog, but Cherry Hill was still swaddled in a gray cocoon of winter. I could only hope that the waterlogged flowerbeds wouldn’t drown my mother’s iris. The painstaking digging I had done at her home place after her passing would have been in vain if it did. Maybe the rain would help them grow fat and healthy to bloom forth in all their deep purple glory next spring. I hoped so.
Though the gray weather muted the Christmas lights on the other houses, inside my home, life bloomed, giggling and wiggling, on the sofa. I had successfully settled Cherie’s five smaller children—all seven or younger—in a line like museum statues. If the statues were alive, and all the children were. And loud. Now why had I volunteered to babysit this crew? On the surface it was to allow Cherie to Christmas shop in peace, but I knew that wasn’t the reason I had agreed. No. I was doing it to have more time with Samantha. The girl had rooted into my heart and I had to be with her. Even if it meant dealing with diapers. Cherie had assured me that it wouldn’t be a problem. Samantha would to the dirty work. We’d see. So far, no untoward odors had clashed with the cinnamon pine cones on the mantle.
Peals of laughter rang off the vaulted ceiling as Jo-Jo, Cherie’s four year old, removed his finger from his nose and contemplated it cross-eyed. Samantha drew herself up, hands on hips. “Jo-Jo, that’s gross. Get a tissue.” The girl had her foster mother’s tone and stance down perfectly.
The boy just grinned as plunged the offending booger into his mouth.
“Eew!” Samantha squealed. “Don’t eat boogers!”
I had to grin. I’d seen worse in high school classrooms, but Samantha’s reaction was priceless.
Terry and Jamie joined Jo-Jo on the booger hunt, causing Samantha to sputter.
Time to stop this. I placed the tissue box on Jamie’s lap and raised an eyebrow. He obediently pulled a tissue out and wiped his finger then passed the box down the line of offending little boys.
Mia and Raina, the two-year-old twins, pulled a tissue for each hand and began to toss them, landing one on Jo-Jo’s head. He brushed it off and began to tickle his nearest little sister.
“Enough of that.” I collected the tissues as Samantha smirked at the little boys.
“Miss Cherie said we had to be careful not to mess up Miss Laura Grace’s clean house.”
Terry grinned. “Is that why the sofa is covered?” He grabbed a handful of the afghan covering the seat. “To keep the leaky girls from soaking it?”
The twins just grinned back with their tiny baby teeth and dimples. Cherie had dressed them in matching tops. Their black hair was drawn up in two identical curly puffs. I had to grin back. Diapers or not, the girls were too cute to resist and as sweet as the tiny angels on my Christmas tree.
“No, I keep the sofa covered to keep Sunshine from scratching it when he jumps up.”
Terry looked around the room. “What’s a sunshine?”
“He’s my little boy.”
“I didn’t think you had any kids.” Wariness deepened Samantha’s eyes to navy.
“I don’t. No grandkids either. Sunshine is my fat old cat. He doesn’t jump much anymore—just sort of scrambles up. His back claws would scratch the leather if I didn’t cover it.”
Jamie’s eyes were round. “Where is he?”
I knew where Sunshine was. “He’s hiding because he doesn’t like to meet strangers.”
Raina’s squeal of “kitty, kitty” ricocheted off the ceiling and Mia joined in.
“Not today. Let’s let him hide. He’ll get used to you and come out later. Anyway, it’s movie time.” I hit play on the remote and Disney’s latest began to play.
The kids settled in to watch and I nodded. That took care of the next ninety minutes or so.
“Samantha, would you like to help me with the popcorn?”
She followed me around the breakfast bar into the kitchen where it was relatively calm. I could see the little ones on the sofa as the warm, saturated colors of the cartoon glowed from the TV. That had settled them down.
“Get us some bowls.” I pointed to the cabinet. “While I start the microwave.”
Samantha’s bright blue eyes followed me as she handed me the bowls. “Why don’t you have kids? Don’t you like them?” The wariness had entered her voice now.
I closed my eyes for a moment. How many students had asked me that question over the years? I didn’t want to know. The answer hadn’t changed though. Honesty was required here just as it had been all those other times I had answered the question. I looked into her eyes. “God doesn’t always give you what you want, but He does always give you what you need.” My mouth tightened around my self-consciousness. “Tom and I wanted children and we got a lot of them by teaching—hundreds of them.”
Her eyes widened. “Didn’t you need kids?”
I looked at the timer as the homey, mouth-watering smell scented the air. “I thought so, but it didn’t happen. I guess I wouldn’t have been a good mother.”
“Oh, no! You would have been a great mother!”
“Some of my students thought so too and even called me ‘Momma Chandler’” I smiled, thankful Kerry Jones had reminded me of that sweet memory. “Let’s go share out the popcorn.”
As much as I loved hearing Paul Newman’s voice—hearing it come out of a cartoon car just wasn’t the same. But I couldn’t show “Cool Hand Luke” or Butch Cassidy to little kids.
Though for a couple of hours of relative quiet, I could stand it. Of course it helped if your definition of ‘relative quiet’ could stretch to include a stinky diaper, a little boy kneading his crotch because he needed to pee, two squirming toddlers, and a spilled bowl of popcorn. The children for the most part had been giggling and engrossed in the story with their hands traveling to the popcorn bowls on remote control.
Only Samantha wasn’t watching the movie. Tension thrummed through her as she sat at my feet trying to catch every falling kernel before it hit the floor.
I laid my hand on her shoulder. “Don’t worry, Samantha.”
Fear shadowed her blue eyes.
“I’ll vacuum later. It’s not a problem.”
She sat back, but the tension didn’t go completely. The child was still reacting to everything, trying to decide how she was supposed to act.