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Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Another wonderful and beneficial Sunday service! Aaaahhhh. There is nothing like the presence of God to put the trials of life in their proper perspectives.

After making our way through the after-service crowd in the church atrium, Bob, Anna, TJ, and I head for the parking lot. Bob and I stand beside our cars discussing the trip home and our afternoon
plans. Relieved that there is no need to go to the store or get gas, we each turn toward our respective cars anticipating an easy 30 minute ride home and lunch. As I begin buckling TJ in her carseat I hear Anna shouting "I need to stop at the store!". As I turn to acknowledge her, she puts her hand to the side of her face so no one can see her mouth the words, "I need pads."

I latch the final carseat buckle and can hear Bob's truck leaving the parking lot. I kiss TJ on her forehead, shut her door, and call for Anna. As I open the driver's door I call out for her again and slide into the front seat. No Anna.

"She did not just do this to me! No she didn't!" With frustration dripping from every syllable, I slammed the palm of my hand in to the steering wheel, picked up the phone with my other hand and speed dialed Bob.

Not knowing the righteous indignation waiting for him on the other end of his phone, he answers quite calmly, "Hello."

"Is Anna with you?"

He knows the tone. "What's going on and yes she is here."

"She's with you!?! UNBELIEVABLE! She wants me to stop at the store, get out of my car with TJ in this 98 degree heat and get her things while she just pops in the truck with you and goes on her merry way! Well I'm not doing it!"

Bob pulls the phone away from his mouth and talks briefly with Anna. He gets back to me with the decision that we will all meet up in the drugstore parking lot. He will leave her with me, she can purchase her items and ride home with me. 'Fine' I say to myself, but wonder why isn't he waiting in the parking lot and why am I not the one who gets to go home.

At 15 Anna does not like to do any public thing by herself including shopping. There must be someone with her at all times, because, as is obvious to only her - and every other 15 year old girl - everyone stares at her.

"TJ, do want to go shopping with me?"

"No."

"I'll get you a drink."

"No."

"I'll buy you some candy." Anna is pleading with TJ to accompany her into the drugstore for her small purchase, but is clear that TJ would like to remain cool in the car.

"Anna," I say, "You will just have to do this on your own." She gives a heavy sigh, an audible groan, and shuts the door.

Suddenly, from the back seat an outburst! "I wanted to go with her! Why didn't you let me go!" In my calmest voice I reminded her that it was she who said 'no' and not I. "I did not!" she screams.

"Christina. You need to calm down or you will go to your room a soon as we get home," I say firmly.

"NO I WON'T! I WON'T GO TO MY ROOM!" and with that she begins her loudest scream and kicking the back of the seat in front of her.

I am angry. You don't yell, scream, or defy this Momma! In my anger I fumble to get out of the driver's seat, stomp around the back of the car to the passenger side of the back seat, swing open the back door in a fury, fumble again to get her out of the winding maze of buckles and latches, pull her out of the door and stand her on the pavement looking at me. Defiant, arms locked in front of her,eyes glaring. I square her shoulders toward me and in no uncertain terms say, "You can scream all you want out here! I will not have you screaming in my car!" With that I stomp back to the passenger side, throw open the door and fling myself into the seat.

In the right side mirror I see TJ untangle her arms, wipe her tears away on her fore arm, her nose on the sleeve of her dress and then entwine her arms again. She is going to remain defiant, but quiet.  Keeping my eye on her I watch her peer into the car to see if I was looking and then turn back around again. Soon she drops her arms and begins picking at her fingers, looking around the parking lot and waiting for Anna to leave the drugstore.

I take a deep breath, get out of the car and walk slowly over to her. "TJ. Screaming at me is very disrespectful. You don't always get to do what you want. What if Anna did that every time she didn't get her way?" She giggles at the thought.

"I'm sorry, Momma."

We hug. I buckle her back into her seat and by the time I finish Anna rejoins us.

"What's going on?" Anna asks.

"Just life," and I force a smile.

Another wonderful and beneficial Sunday service! There's nothing like the presence of God to put the trials of life in their proper perspectives

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Holy Moley!

TJ and Anna were giving themselves the final inspection before they headed out the door for their first day of school. They parted their lips and studied their teeth for breakfast remnants. TJ wetted her hair to make it straight while Anna added a little more grease to hers. Anna moved into the mirror for an examination of the new, bright red pimple on her nose and TJ did the same.

"Momma."

"What is it TJ?"

"What's this?" She pointed to two tiny brown dots on her neck.

"Those are moles, TJ. Everyone gets those. See. I have some here and here and here."

"Momma, am I turning black?"

Anna was unable to control her laughter and I tried desperately not to embarrass TJ by giggling at her innocent question. Anna could not contain the urge to goad her sister. "Yeah, TJ. I had a mole once. Then I got another, and another and another. Just look at me now!"

"Really?" TJ asked incredulously.

"Really! I looked just like you when I was five."

"Really?" TJ furrowed her brow in deep thought. "No. I don't think so. I think you were born that way and I was born this way. I'm not turning black . . . am I Mom?"

We all grinned and giggled and then the sisters picked up their respective book bags, sashayed out of the house babbling and began their new school year.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Distressed

I read the number of the incoming call - Children's Social Services. Dread.

"Ms. Lillis?"
"Yes"
"This is Miranda at CSS. How are you this evening?"
Irritating niceties. "I'm good, Miranda. What's going on?"

"We have several children that have just come into our custody and we need to find placements for them. There are two sibling groups. One group is a five year old boy, his four year old brother and an 18 month old sister. The five year old tested positive for drugs. The others are two sisters. The older is two and the younger is four months old, in a full body cast in the hospital. She won't be out for a while." She paused. I wanted to vomit. What kind of savage does this to his babies? "Can you help?"

My thoughts were tripping over each other. Will TJ be kind? Where will we put them? How many can we take? Can I handle more children?
"Ms. Lillis," Miranda interrupted my racing thoughts,"You know you don't have to take the whole group . . . if you could help with just one of them . . . ." her voice trailing off, expectations fading.

Our county has only five licensed foster homes. Three - no four of them are full. If Miranda cannot find a home placement the children will probably all be split up and sent to different group homes around the state. Other counties haven't enough homes for their children either and the group homes are full. Emergency shelters are set up to keep children for no longer than a month. As if the eminent separation of the brothers and sisters is not enough, the staff at the homes have instructions NOT to hold or touch the children unnecessarily to keep them from bonding to closely with the staff. Bonding complicates the next transition making it all the more emotionally difficult on the children.

"I'm sorry, Miranda. Bob and I just added our 12 and 24 month granddaughters to our family for an indefinite period of time and we have TJ and Anna. I am so sorry."

Miranda will keep calling til morning if she must, hoping against hope that there is a family that will take one or more of these children.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Blonde-headed, Green-eyed Monster

Without a thought, TJ places the heal of her Sunday sandal over 4 year old Connor's exposed toes, bears down and grinds. He lets out a high pitched screech.

"TJ!" Anna yells, "Don't do that!" TJ flashes her a defying look, but in a voice sweet as honey replies, "I didn't mean to."

 "Don't be mean to Connor. He is your nephew and you don't be mean to nephews!" Anna's attention drifts back to her vampire tale until she is sharply interrupted by Connor's screaming. Her eyes flash up in time to see TJ's heel still twisting on Connor's toes. "CHRISTINA!" Anna roars.

As if she had been the one hurt, TJ whines, "It was an accident."

"No it wasn't! You did that on purpose!"

Considering herself reprimanded and fearful that Anna will tell Bob or me, she takes a remorseful air, looking down to the floor, softly she responds, "I'm sorry. I won't do that again."

Hours later, sitting at the dinner table, Connor begins his winding tale of what transpired during Sunday School. In the midst of his list of Jesus's attributes he divulges, "and her punched me in the stomach" to which TJ retorts, "That boy hit me in the head!"

"Who hit who first?" I asked, expecting an honest answer.

"That girl hit me in the head then I punched her in the stomach."

Bob and I pass confounded looks between ourselves. What has happened to our sweet TJ? She has been abducted and a blonde-headed, green-eyed monster has consumed her.

Connor has caught the brunt of TJ's antagonism. Under the dinner table he has endured constant kicking and pinching. While playing he has had his arm twisted until he cries out, toys have been hidden in the vacuum cleaner, between TJ's bed and wall, under piles of dirty clothes, and she squirrels away his few toys that she wants as her own.

Not only has she withheld her toys and space, but resolutely she will not share Bob or me. Holding Connor on my lap signals TJ's green alarm catapulting her into a quiet subversive mode. She gently pries him from my grip in the same manner a starfish opens an oyster - slowly, methodically sliding her fingers, then hand, arm followed by shoulder and upper body. Before he knows what has happened, Connor finds himself replacing TJ on the floor and she is resting comfortably on my chest.

Connor will be leaving soon and we will get our sweet TJ back. Bob and I, however, are at a loss on how to handle her jealousy. The next time Jordan, Micah, or Jeremiah come over for a visit her green eyes will flare again. Bob and I wonder, is it possible to love the monster out of her?