I called Mrs. Thornton on Monday and she agreed to let us come to the house the following Saturday so we could speak with her children. Brandon and I had suggested this particular time because we felt it would be best to do it after work on a Saturday, since we only worked until noon and wouldn’t have to rush. We would be able to take all the time we needed to discuss this with her children, because Dad, Pop, Dion, and Trey had agreed to cover for us until we got home.
It also meant we would have the rest of the week to think about this and decide what we wanted to ask the children. We didn’t want it to be a hostile confrontation and merely hoped to find out how they felt about the idea of coming to live with us. We wanted them to be supportive of the idea and not feel as if they were being forced into it, so we’d approach this meeting as tactfully as we could.
Each night when we were at home, the others attempted to distract the boys and keep them occupied, because they could tell we were consumed with this situation. We were thankful they were being so considerate and doing this for us, but we didn’t completely avoid the boys. We still interacted with them and I checked their homework every night, and we also tucked them in and said goodnight. We tried to keep things as normal as possible, because we didn’t want to alarm them, but we also needed some time to plan our strategy, and we couldn’t do that at work.
We were both nervous as we left for work on Saturday morning, and I kept thinking about what I was going to say to the children the entire time. I was certain Brandon was probably doing something similar, and we asked our staffs to lock up after we’d treated our final patients of the day. We now had a chance to discuss this with each other as we drove to the Thornton’s house.
“I found it difficult to completely focus on my job this morning because I couldn’t stop thinking about meeting the kids,” I confessed.
“Same here. Even though we already know them, this isn’t the same as treating them as patients. We’re going to have to ask them how they feel about coming to live with us.”
“And what makes it even more difficult is that their mother is still alive. How will they feel about being separated from her before she passes away?”
“I have no idea, and I’m not sure who this meeting is going to be more difficult for – them or us.”
“I guess we’ll soon find out,” I responded, and less than a minute later we were pulling into their driveway.
After walking up to the house, I rang the doorbell, and a few seconds later the door opened. A young lady was standing there looking at us, and I recognized her from when I’d last seen her in my office, but she was a few years older now than the last time I’d dealt with her.
“Dr. Currie and Dr. O’Hara, please come in. My mom told us that you were coming to visit.”
We entered the house and she directed us to the living room. “Mom says we’ll talk in there.”
Mrs. Thornton was in her wheelchair and the twins were sitting on the floor beside her. Holly told us we could sit on the sofa, and she quickly took a seat in the chair closest to her mother.
“Thank you… for coming,” Mrs. Thornton began. “I’ve told… my children… a little bit… but will you… please fill… them in on… what we discussed… last Saturday? It’s easier… for you to… do that… then it is… for me.”
I was totally flabbergasted by her request. Was she asking me to tell her children that she’d ask if we’d let them come live with us? How much had she told them and what was I going to say? I glanced over at Brandon and he looked just as shocked as I was. Slowly, I gathered myself and began to speak.
“I think the three of you realize your mom is sick and the situation is getting worse,” I began, and the kids were nodding their heads in agreement with my observation. “Your mom explained to us that she can no longer take care of herself, let alone the three of you. She also told us her doctor has recommended that she should move into a residential care facility or a nursing home very soon.”
I could see the shocked expressions on their faces as they all looked at their mother. “He’s right… and I will… need to do… that in a… month or two.”
After saying this, she looked over and let me know that I should continue, so I did. “She is worried about the three of you, because she won’t be here to take care of you any longer, so she asked if you could come live with us.”
“No, I can take care of my brothers,” Holly immediately protested. “I’ve been helping to do that already and I’ll continue taking care of them even if Mom isn’t here.”
“Where will… you live? I’ll have… to sell… the house… to pay for… getting… the help… I need. Besides… you have… to go to… college… and you can’t… take them… with you.”
“Then I won’t go.”
“You can’t… give up… your life… to take care… of your… brothers. I want you… to follow… your dreams… and they will… take care of… the twins.”
“Holly, where are you planning to go to college?” Brandon asked, trying to calm her down.
“I’ve been accepted to attend Pennsylvania Highlands Community College. My mom put aside enough money for me to go there, and she’s arranged for me to live with a friend of hers in Johnstown until I graduate.”
“What do you plan on majoring in?”
“Early Childhood Education. I’ll get a two-year degree there and then I will transfer to a four-year college to finish up. I’ll just have to get a job in between so I can save up enough money to do that.”
“You know, we might have a way to help you,” I stated after having a flash of insight. “We have a childcare facility at the health center and you can work there over the next couple of summers. Then, when you get your two-year degree we will hire you to be in charge of the three and four-year-olds, and that way you can save up to attend a four-year college.”
“You’d do that for me?”
“And since you’d be staying with us, you could ride back and forth to work with us too,” Brandon added, and we suddenly saw her opposition to the idea of moving in with us starting to melt away.
“What about us?” one of the twins asked, but I wasn’t sure which one. They were absolutely identical and I couldn’t tell them apart, and it made me wonder how their mother was able to do it.
“There are several boys at the house already and you’d fit right in. Wyatt is six, Tristan is ten, Joshie is twelve, and Benny is thirteen. There are a couple of older boys too, but the younger four are the ones you’ll probably be spending the most time with.”
They seemed to be considering this when Brandon spoke. “How old are you now?”
“Seven and a half,” the other twin answered.
“Then you should like it there. Not only will you have plenty of boys to play with, but there’s a lot to do. We have a ping pong table, an air hockey table, a pool table, two televisions, and there’s a PlayStation hooked up to one of the TVs.”
“We don’t have any of that stuff,” the first one responded, and then the boys looked at each other and seemed to be communicating silently. After a few seconds, they looked at us and smiled.
“That sounds nice,” the second one stated, so it seemed as if we’d won them over as well.
“When can we… do this?” Mrs. Thornton asked, since she also sensed that her children were now willing to cooperate.
“They currently attend a different school than our sons, so it probably wouldn’t be wise to move them until school has ended for the year,” Brandon suggested.
“If it’s agreeable with you, the first weekend of June would probably work best,” I offered. “School will be over and we’d have the summer to get acquainted.”
“That would… work fine… Would you… kids go to… your rooms now… so I can… finish up… with them?”
Her children all nodded and then they left us alone. After they were gone, Mrs. Thornton looked at us and spoke. “That was… very clever… of you… to say… those things… I could tell… it was when… they made up… their minds… and were… willing to… do this.”
“Trust me, it wasn’t exactly a stroke of genius,” I corrected. “They were just the same sort of things we might have used if we were trying to convince our sons about something like this.”
“It worked,” she agreed.
“I just have one question before we leave,” I stated. “How do you tell the twins apart?”
“I’ll tell you… a secret. Hayden has… a tiny scar… in his right… eyebrow. He got it… when he fell… off his bike… and hit… his head… on the curb. If you… look closely… you can… see it.”
“Thank you, because I didn’t know how we were going to tell them apart.”
“Mrs. Thornton, would you mind if we picked the kids up next Saturday when we get out of work?” Brandon followed. “I think it would be good for them to see the house and meet everyone.”
“Yes… that would… be fine.”
“Great! We’ll pick them up around 12:30.”
We then said goodbye and left, and once we got to the car, Brandon spoke. “This is working out better than I thought it would. Holly won’t be a problem, because she’ll only be with us for a couple of months before she leaves for college.”
“And if she decides to work at the childcare facility, then we won’t have to worry that she might do something with Ryan or Noah when we’re not at home.”
“Damn, I didn’t consider that. Is it why you offered her the job?”
“Not at first. I offered it because I felt she could use the money and it might convince her to agree to live with us, and we could also use the help. I didn’t realize until later that it would create an additional benefit of keeping her and the older two from fraternizing when we weren’t there.”
“You shouldn’t have admitted it and just let me think you were a genius,” he quipped.
“I am a genius, whether the thought came to me beforehand or afterward.”
“Ok let’s get back to the house, because we have things to do to get ready for Benny’s party tomorrow. We’ll be in church all morning, so we’ll have to get everything ready today.”
“I’m glad I have you to remind me about things like this, because I wasn’t thinking about his party. It momentarily slipped my mind.”
“That’s what makes us such a great couple. We complement each other.”
“I take it you mean complement, as in something that completes something else, rather than compliment, as in an expression of praise.”
“Then I agree.”
When we got to the house we said hello to the boys first. “Dang, you guys are working late a lot,” Noah stated.
“Yes, things came up that we had to take care of,” Brandon replied.
We then told the boys that we were going to change, but before we got to the stairs, Dad stopped us. “I take it you haven’t eaten, so I’ll have something ready for you when you’re done.”
“Thanks, that would be a big help,” I responded, and then we went up to our room.
After we changed, we went downstairs to have lunch. Dad sat with us as we ate and asked a few questions. “How did it go?”
“Surprisingly well,” I answered.
“Even though Holly was resistant at first, Danny came up with the perfect way to convince her to do this?”
“What did he do?”
“He offered her a job at the health center so she could save up money to continue her education.”
“And Brandon was responsible for convincing the twins,” I followed.
“He told them about the boys and all the fun stuff there was to do here.”
“Then it sounds like it was a very productive morning.”
“It was, and we’re going to bring them here next Saturday to meet everyone and have a look around.”
“Then I’ll make sure the house looks good.”
After we’d finished lunch, Brandon and I started doing our chores, along with taking care of a few tasks that we needed to address before Benny’s party. That included me running out to pick up a few additional items, and when I returned I continued doing my chores.
Later, while we were eating dinner, Revin asked a question. “Tristan said you’re gonna have a birthday party for Benny tomorrow. Can I come too?”
“Of course,” I agreed. “I mentioned it to your mother last weekend and both of you are going to come back here with us after church.”
“My mom’s comin’ too?”
“Yes, we invited her as well.”
Once that had been taken care of, I made a suggestion. “How would you boys like to play cards with us tonight?”
“Yeah, I want to play poker,” Ryan gleefully agreed.
“I don’t think the other boys will be able to do that,” I replied.
“We can break up into smaller groups then,” Dion suggested. “We don’t all have to play the same game.”
That led to a discussion, and when it was over we reached an agreement. Dad, Pop, and I would play poker with Noah and Ryan, Brandon and Dion would play rummy with Joshie and Benny, and Trey would play Go Fish with Wyatt, Revin, and Tristan. We would stay in the dining room to play poker, Brandon and Dion’s group would play rummy in the living room, and Trey would take his group to the family room. Once that had been agreed to, Brandon, Trey, and I each grabbed a deck of cards before we went to our designated locations.
“I’ve got something that will be perfect for this,” Dad announced as he got up and headed to his bedroom. He came back carrying a large jug filled with coins. “I’ve been throwing my pennies into this jar for years, and now they’ll come in handy.” He dumped a large pile of coins on the table and then continued. “I want each of you to count out one hundred pennies and you can use those when betting.”
It sounded like a good idea, so we started counting them out. “And no cheating,” Pop warned. “Only 100 pennies each, and don’t try to slip in a few extras.”
“Would we do that?” Noah teased.
“I hope not, but I just thought I’d make sure,” Pop answered.
Before we started playing, Dad told us the ground rules. “Ante is a penny and maximum bets are five pennies. That way the game won’t end after just a couple of hands.”
That made sense and we started playing, and right away we noticed that Ryan thought he could bluff his way into winning pots. It didn’t work out for him and he quickly lost all of his pennies. “Can I please have a few more pennies from the jar?” he asked, looking hopeful.
“No, that’s what happens when you don’t play smart,” Dad replied. “You lose all of your money and go home broke.”
“It wasn’t my money and I’m already at home.”
“And you should be grateful for that, otherwise we’d have all your cash and you’d have to walk home.”
We then continued playing against Noah for a little while longer before Dad relented. “Ok, you can count out another twenty-five pennies, but that’s it. Just be a little smarter this time.”
“Ok, I will, and thanks.”
This time he didn’t try to bluff and did a little better. In fact, he had about forty pennies when we agreed to call it quits. The others seemed to enjoy themselves as well, and we sent the boys upstairs to get ready for bed. We went up later to tuck them in, and then we finished doing a couple of things before we turned in as well.
When we woke up the next morning, we got up and went to church, and after Sunday school and the church service ended we went out for brunch. As we were eating, Becky made a comment.
“I wish you would have told me what I could buy for Benny, because it doesn’t feel right that I’m just giving him a card with a few dollars inside.”
“Trust me, he’ll appreciate every dollar he gets, and besides, he isn’t lacking for anything.”
“Ok, if you say so, but I’m still a little uneasy that I don’t have a present to give him.”
“The card will be fine.”
When we got to the house, we sang Happy Birthday to Benny first, and then we let him open his gifts. He thanked each of us for what we gave him, including Becky.
“Thank you very much,” he told her. “I’ll put this with the other money I’m saving up, cuz I want to buy a car before I go to college. That way I can drive home for the holidays instead of riding a bus or having somebody come get me. It won’t be a new car, but this will help.”
Becky seemed relieved by the positive response she’d just received and appeared a little more at ease afterward. We then had the cake and ice cream, and when we finished I announced that I’d arranged for them to play some games.
“We need to go outside, because I’m going to divide you boys into two teams so you can compete as you play Bean Bag Toss.”
I’d set it up the previous evening so it would be ready for today. The game consisted of two boards, each with a four inch diameter (ten cm) hole cut in the upper third, at the same end where the legs were attached so the target would be inclined. There were also four red bean bags and four blue ones, and when I went to divide the boys into teams, I discovered there was an uneven number.
“Hmmm, it looks as if we’re a person short,” I told them.
“Can my mom play on my team?” Revin asked before anyone else offered a suggestion.
“Sure, if she wants to.” I turned toward Becky to get her response.
“Ok, I think I should be able to do this,” she agreed. That meant she’d be on the same team as Revin, Tristan, and Ryan, and they would play against Noah, Wyatt, Benny, and Joshie.
I’d set the two boards next to each other, about a yard apart (1 m), and then I paced off an appropriate distance and marked the line the teams had to stay behind when tossing the bean bags. I thought everything was set when Wyatt complained.
“This isn’t fair. I’m smaller.”
“Yes, you are, so I’ll let you take one giant step in front of the line when it’s your turn.” That seemed to appease him, so I continued. “Each team will shoot their four bean bags three different times. You’ll score one point if it lands on the target and three points if it goes through the hole. Dion and Trey will keep score for the red team, and Brandon and I will keep score for the blue team. Everyone grab one of their team’s bean bags and we’ll get started.”
After the boys took their first turn, we had them collect the bean bags so they could go again. After doing it a third time, we announced the winner.
“The red team scored 13 points,” Dion reported.
“And the blue team scored 16 points,” Brandon stated.
“The blue team wins,” I confirmed, much to Wyatt’s delight.
“We won. We won,” he screeched as he began to jump around. “We beat you guys,” he added as he looked at his opponents.
“You did,” Benny agreed, “but I want a rematch.”
“Ok, we can do that,” I concurred, and the teams got ready to go again. When we tallied up the scores at the end, the red team won.
“We beat you this time,” Joshie taunted his little brother.
“I want to do it again,” Wyatt squealed, and when I checked with the others they all agreed.
“Yeah, we gotta have a winner,” Benny conceded.
They then played a third game, and once more we declared a winner. “The blue team won again, so they’re the overall champs.”
“We won. Na-na-na-na-na,” Wyatt chanted, mocking the other team.
“Ok, your team won,” Joshie admitted, “but you could try being a good winner and not do that.”
It seemed as if his comment had managed to get Wyatt thinking about what he was doing. “Sorry. I was just happy we won.”
“And you should be, but you didn’t have to act like that,” Joshie told him. When he saw how his brother was reacting to his comment, he added. “Congratulations, you won fair and square.”
As soon as the tension dissipated, I announced the next game as Brandon went to get the items we were going to need. “This time the same two teams will compete in the Peanut Pass.”
“But we want to play against you guys this time,” Benny countered, meaning he wanted to play against the four dads, so I did a quick calculation before making an announcement.
“Then to make the teams even I’m going to go see if Grandpa Josh and Grandpa Jake will play too, and that way there will be seven on each side.”
The boys thought that was a good idea, so I went inside and convinced Dad and Pop to join us. When we came outside again, I explained how this game would be played.
“Each of you will be given a plastic spoon. You will put an inch of the handle in your mouth so you can hold it steady, and the bowl of the spoon will extend in front of your face. Once everyone has done that, the first person in line will place a peanut on his spoon and then he will pass it to the next person without using his hands. If the peanut falls off the spoon, the person passing it has to pick the peanut up, place it on his spoon again, and then count to three before he can try again. You will continue doing this until the peanut has been passed from one end of the line to the other, and the first team to do this wins. Now, how do you want to pick teams? Do you want some of you and some of us on each team?”
“No, we want to go against you guys,” Benny quickly replied.
“Yeah, let’s do that,” the others agreed.
“So you boys want to compete against the adults?”
“Yeah, we do,” the younger boys screamed.
“Then Becky will have to be on our team, and I suggest your team lines up from the tallest to shortest. That way there won’t be a huge height difference when you’re passing the peanut.”
We then formed our lines facing each other, with Noah starting for their team and Dad starting for us. I yelled go, put the spoon back in my mouth, and the action began. It took some time to get used to doing this, meaning both teams made quite a few mistakes, but for some reason our team dropped the peanut more often than the boys, so they won.
“I won again,” Wyatt shouted.
“Yeah, the kids beat the old people,” Ryan added.
“You’d better watch who you’re calling old,” Brandon threatened.
“Yeah, the kids just beat the adults,” Noah corrected, attempting to be more diplomatic.
“Can we do it again?” Revin asked. “That was fun.”
“Sure, as long as everyone agrees.” They did, so we started over.
Even though my team did a little better this time, the boys still won. They were faster, had better coordination, and were more agile, which was a distinct advantage. As soon as the peanut got to Wyatt, he once again began to dance around.
“We won. We won. We beat our dads,” he shouted.
“And mom,” Revin corrected.
Now that the games were over, we got ready to go inside again.
“I’ve got to admit that even I had fun,” Becky told me as we were walking toward the backdoor. “You guys sure know how to throw a great birthday party for the kids.”
“We’ve had plenty of practice,” I responded, and she looked at me and laughed.
“Yes, I suppose you have.”
After getting drinks and hashing over the best moments and worst debacles of the afternoon, Becky announced it was time for them to leave. “Revin and I need to get home now, but thanks for the fun day.”
“You’re very welcome and I’ll drive you home.”
Wyatt and Tristan wanted to go with me when I did this, so we drove them to their house and said goodbye. “I had a really good time,” Revin said as he was getting out. “Thank you.”
“And next week I’ll plan something special for when you two stay with us,” Becky added, speaking to Wyatt and Tristan.
“K, see ya,” they replied, and then we headed back to the house.