I got two girls for my birthday.
Those of you who pay close attention know that I really wanted girls when I was pregnant with Everett and Truman. Once I got used to the idea of boys, I fell head over heels in love with them, and even have been known to utter the phrase "I'd be ok with three or four boys!" to my husband when he tells me that he's sorry he hasn't "gotten me a girl yet." He's so cute.
So, for my birthday, we got girls. They're probably not much like the girls that we would make were we to get together and reproduce them, but they're girls nonetheless. They wear pink with no associated social stigma; their hair requires daily brushing. And my life is in utter chaos.
Let me explain. There's this guy, who evidently was in our high school class with us, although we didn't know him at the time. He's one of Jonathan's sister's projects. You know what I mean, right?
Since his sister lives only a few blocks away, we see her and her various projects a lot. About four weeks ago, this particular one suddenly announced he had an ex-girlfriend, who lived in another state. She had four children. And he was going to pick her up. Tomorrow.
Despite the shock and awe from Jonathan and Erin, P. (for Project) went to pick up the girlfriend. We learned that there were not just four kids but four dads, none of them P. We learned that they were all moving back with no place to stay (P.'s dad, with whom he lived, wasn't having any of said ex-girlfriend). Later we learned that E.G. had a sister nearby, but when they drove into town with all four kids (including a three-month-old baby!), there was nothing but the car.
Jonathan came home a few days later. "Can you get me some books for the girls?" he asked me. "They're about 10. They don't have anything. They were really excited when I gave them an old tennis ball to play with. They're just sitting in the car all day." This was three days after the beginning of school.
I'm sure you can understand why, four days later, on my birthday, C. and C. moved in with us. (The birthday part was just a coincidence, but it was a cute one.) (And, I may eventually use their real names, but for now I'll call them C. the elder and C. the younger, just in case there's a reason they left their home in that other state so suddenly.)
But I'll just tell you this: when Jonathan asked me for the books, I walked up to Everett's bookcase, where all our children's books are stored. Even the ones that are clearly more girl-centric, but I started collecting years before Everett was conceived. I'm crazy about books, and as I ran my fingers over the spines of Betsy-Tacy and Tib and Heidi, and Five Children & It, and (Oh my lord.) The Great Brain, my heart leaped back to when I was a girl, the instant I first jumped feet-first into the world of each of these characters. I had no idea who these girls were or even what were their names, but that moment I had to have them.
"We have to take those girls," I told my husband, and he looked at me, shocked. "Really?" he said. "I was just planning how I'd ask you if they could move in with us."
The way it worked: Jonathan offered up our house, P. and E.G. fell all over themselves to say "yes" (even offering us money, which has since turned into an assortment of government-sponsored foodstuffs, but oh well). I thought it might be entertaining to take you through the way I've reacted to this whole-cloth life change.
day one in which the girls arrive a few minutes before Jonathan and I are to go celebrate and I think, I should really be home, instead of out imbibing delectable alcoholic drinks and generally enjoying my birthday. What kind of 'foster mom' am I?
day two in which I tell my friends brightly, This is surprisingly easy!
day three in which the girls go to school for the first time and I wonder perhaps I'll learn to be on time tomorrow? and also, I'm sure they're reading about on grade level ... right? and also realize oh my lord I've never done anything harder than this
day four in which I tell C. the younger to spend 30 minutes reading (as my take-home sheet instructs) and learn to ask myself the question, just how is it that you teach someone to read who has to sound out 'this'?
day five in which the girls take Everett off to a birthday party at Chucky Cheese, and I wonder, what will I do when P. and E.G. call me to say they've lost him? and finally realize how glad I am that the girls are "home" when they arrive
day six in which I introduce the girls to my family, and they are so, so happy
day seven in which I, guiltily, skip church on the grounds that I can't possibly take four children by myself!
day eight in which I realize, I can't possibly work with four children at home.
It's been quite a wild ride. I'm not in love with the girls yet. I do appreciate how good it makes me feel that they're not anywhere else. But at the same time I'm watching Everett fall utterly apart and feeling terribly, terribly guilty for not tending to my own home fires sufficiently. I wish simultaneously for the ability to focus just on my own wonderful children and for some assurance that the girls would never, again, go live with a parent who clearly couldn't find the bandwidth to sit down with them and read a book.
And so, what I do, is I put away my work, I ignore the pressing emails, I don't finish that letter for Cafe au Play. Instead, I get a book out of the shelf, and I sit down with the children, in ones and twos and in the rare circumstance, all four together, and we read, and read, and read. That's the only answer I know.
[Oh, yes, and people ask me, "what do you need?" The answer is mostly, 'housecleaning' but we'll be Bins-shopping for bikes for the girls -- they're around 4'6" give or take -- and we need one more twin mattress, if you have one hanging around.]