It was supposed to be a lazy day.
Two days after Christmas 2012, there was hambone soup made from the HoneyBaked Ham that we had gotten for our Christmas dinners. It was cold outside – a cold winter for Louisiana – but Mark has a wood stove in his farmhouse. We had books and coffee and time.
He likes to say that we were supposed to relax those few days. It was supposed to be “us” time.
This was our fourth Christmas together. The first year we had only been dating a few months at Christmas. He gave me a new coffeemaker. It maybe wasn’t as romantic as I wanted but it told me that he noticed what I needed.
The second Christmas, there were several gifts, but the main gift was a pair of leather Justin work boots. Expensive and practical because our relationship was cementing over projects on his 10 rural acres in St. Francisville. I was known for dragging the biggest limbs from the farthest away.
The third Christmas the gifts were still practical but took a different turn. He gave me a jewelry armoire and a set of pearls – necklace, bracelet, earrings and a ring – and the promise that there would be more jewelry over the years.
This fourth Christmas he made good on that promise with a pair of white sapphire earrings.
I was sitting there on my second cup of coffee wearing these earrings when my phone rang. It was my home development social worker. This was the first call I had gotten from her since August when she had licensed my little Ogden Park apartment as a foster home for the state of Louisiana. I was licensed for one child, two if they were siblings, from 0-5 years old.
“We are looking for home for 5-year-old twins, a boy and girl, Caucasian.” She told me their names, which I will withhold out of respect for their privacy, although neither meets a stranger. I will call them Thing One and Thing Two. Thing One, she said, had “behavior problems — temper tantrums,” but was very attached to Thing Two, who, she said was “more gentle.”
Even though I was walking around in circles like a dog, I remembered from my training classes to ask questions.
There was a 10-year-old sibling who was being placed with another family intentionally because she had been caring for the twins and needed to be given individual attention and care. The children had come into foster care on December 22. There were relatives who had taken the children when they were taken – or “tooken” as the twins liked to say – mainly because it was Christmas. They were not able to provide a permanent home for the children.
I remembered that I could also ask for time to think. My first answer had been that I could definitely take Thing Two, the girl. I wanted a little girl. The desire was almost pathological, according to Janice, my best friend. I wasn’t sure about two children. And even though I had dreamt about a 5-year-old boy coming to me, I was scared of mothering a boy, behavior problems or not. And for a writer, I often get tangled in logistics. I had only one full-sized bed in my little spare room that had been cleaned spotless and made ready for a child months ago. This is the kind of thing that derails me in the heat of a moment.
“Can I call you back? Give me 30 minutes.”
When I told Mark, he said, “I can’t believe you even hesitated.”
The bed, I said.
He looked at me like I was crazy, “Baby, we can get beds. But are you ready for it?”
I don’t remember my answer, but December 27, 2012 is the day that the babies came. And ruined everything, Mark likes to say.
When they brought the pair to me, Big Sister was in tow. They wanted her to see where her babies would be staying so she would not worry. They were all thin and pale with big circles under their eyes. They had fresh haircuts and new toys. Big Sister carried Thing Two, whose leg hurt from the flu shots they had all gotten. All had big blue eyes. Big Sister and Thing Two looked more alike than the twins with matching brown short pageboys. Thing One surprised me with red hair, a huge smile and a cheerful greeting.
Although they were clean, some Mama-instinct in me said, “Bathe them.”
And so I gave my new babies their baths. I inexpertly washed their too-short hair and wrapped them in towels before putting them in pajamas. It was the right thing. Three years later, Thing One is long able to run his own bath, wash his own hair, while I call out directions; Thing Two now lives with Big Sister and her new family. Our two households have formed a connection that grows and changes as the children grow. But when the two children recall their first night with me, they talk about the details of that bath.
“Wrap the towel around me like the first night,” Thing One sometimes says when he needs Mama attention.
I don’t remember when Thing One had his first tantrum, but they were epic. There were days where there were tantrums all day long with a break here and there.
“I hate it when he does that,” Thing Two would sigh.
As difficult as the tantrums are to manage, that’s not what stands out about those early months of middle-aged motherhood. There was the business of keeping them warm. There was the business of keeping them fed. Then there was the totally odd business that Thing One constantly asked about the world ending.
Keeping them warm was the easy one even though it was a colder-than-normal winter for Louisiana. It meant layering and caps, which Thing Two was happy to wear because she loved hats and looking cute. Thing One liked to ask to wear my best hats and either throw them out the moving car or lose them at school. But we made it. Nobody froze to death and spring came quickly enough.
Keeping them fed was harder. Though they were 5 years old, they had limited exposure to different varieties of foods. They liked bananas, apples, peanut butter sandwiches, Happy Meals, milk and sugar. Oh, and corn dogs. Add in the fact that they are twins and each had food quirks that the other one did not made it extra hard. Thing One would melt down over a broken banana or a hamburger cut in half. Thing Two would help me choose food in the grocery store and then refuse to eat it. I got tired of making fish sticks. I remember complaining to one of my 12th grade students that they would only eat sandwiches and corn dogs, and I wanted to be able to cook real meals. She said, “Ms. Kimbrell, start small. If they will eat sandwiches and hamburgers, then try fixing them chili burgers. IF they like corn dogs, then try hot dogs.” It was simple and it opened the door for me to understand how to meet them where they were. Now, Thing One eats like a grown man, and from what I can see, Thing Two has a healthy appetite, too.
Understanding why a 5-year-old would be preoccupied with Armageddon was harder. Neither spoke clearly; each had speech impediments. But at times, Thing One would ask about what would happen when the world blows up. Would we all go to outer space? Would we just be nothing? I would tell him that I didn’t think that the world was going to end, but he was insistent that it was ending in 2012. I pointed out that it was already 2013, but that didn’t convince him.
I brought up the issue with their case worker. She didn’t look as worried as I had expected. She had the answer. She said that I had to understand that for one thing, in their home, the television was always on. Always. I knew that already. And their mother was obsessed television shows about ancient prophecies. The Mayan prophecies, for instance. And the children watched everything she watched. The Mayan prophecy that the world was coming to an end in December 2012, specifically.
Ah. It was clear as the white sapphires. For a minute.
I saw that the Mayans were right. The world did come to an end in December 2012. For Thing One, it was the end of the world as he knew it. And for me and for Mark. And for Thing Two, for Big Sister and their new family. For the children’s biological parents and family, too, for that matter.
The world ended.
And a new world began.