12-year-old (quite immature) Jackeline answering my question as to whether she wants almost-11-year-old (extremely mature) Josselyn to attend church with her and the local family whom she goes with on Saturday evenings: “I don’t think so, because I don’t know if she’ll obey me in church.”
One day as my husband Darwin and I crossed paths in front of the schoolhouse on our property, he came over and gave me a peck on the cheek. Our 6-year-old popcorn kernel Gabriela, who was standing up on a wooden swing a few yards off, saw us, although we thought nothing of it. As Darwin kept walking in one direction and I headed over to say hi to Gabriela, she blurted: “Ain’t dat right dat he’s yo bofen?”
We all know that her pronunciation of many words is catastrophically terrible, but in this instance I literally didn’t have any clue what she was saying. I asked: “What? What’s ‘bofen’?”
She pointed with a finger to where Darwin had walked off to, and say, “He’s yo bofen.”
I finally realized that she was saying her version of ‘boyfriend,’ and I laughed and said, “No, Gabriela, he’s my husband, that’s like a ‘bofen’ for life.”
As I held 12-year-old Jackeline’s homeschool exam in my hands, ready to grade it, I saw scribbled across the top of the first page in her handwriting: “God help me [with this exam].” I laughed, well aware that she has not proven herself to be a very good student, and said: “I sure hope He did.” She ended up getting a 95%!
Josue, 7-years-old and with several developmental disabilities, tends to put himself between my husband and I when we get too close, points an irate finger at Darwin and says, “No! Mine!”, pursing his lips and tilting his head to the side in a very goofy but determined stance.
The other night when that happened again over dinner, Darwin said simply, “I think I’ll only be able to kiss you for about four more years.”
Me, perplexed: “What? Why’s that?”
Darwin: “Because Josue’ll be pretty big by then and he’ll really have the strength to do me some damage.”
Over dinner one night, 6-year-old Gabriela who has been living with us roughly 4 months and who is mentally and emotionally 4 years old due to severe abuse, begins shooting off all these questions in her usual loud tone about what grade everyone is in: “Dayana? What gray’s she in?”
Me: “Sixth grade.”
Gabriela: “Ah Dayana’s in sist grade. And Jason?”
And so on, until she had asked all 7 of our kids’ grades more than once, and, to derail the repetetiveness of so many of the conversations she initiates, I asked: “Gabriela, do you know what grade I’m in?”
Without missing a beat, she says with total confidence: “First.”
One night as we were doing after-dinner kitchen clean-up, Darwin wanted to give 6-year-old Gabriela a hug or a pat on the back or something along those lines, and she scooted away. He said something about how we all love her and are not going to hurt her, and then asked, “Gabi, do you love me?”
She answered with wide eyes and a big, fake smile: “No.”
Gleny, our 11-year-old daughter who’s been with us over 2 years, came around the corner and asked: “Gabi, you love my mom, don’t you?”
Gabi, without changing her deer-in-the-headlight look, said: “Yes.”
Gleny, exasperated by her new little sister, said, “Gabi, if you love my mom, you also love my dad because they’re like one flesh.”
A couple things that we heavily stress in our day-to-day family life are teamwork and initiative, and a few weeks ago we set aside about an hour or two for each person to really do a good, deep clean of their bedroom and belongings. Our eldest has her own room and is extremely clean and organized, so she had no problems. Our two boys (8-year-old Jason who’s quick as a whip and 7-year-old special needs Josue) share a room, and then our four younger girls (12, 11, 10 and 6) share a room. (I bet you can imagine where the majority of the organizational and emotional chaos is concentrated.)
Over dinner that night the boys and girls were reflecting on how their afternoon went with their roommate(s) in an effort to work together and clean their shared space. The four girls exchanged glances and began telling of tears shed and arguments had (alas, we were there with them to witness it all and help them work through it peacefully), each one still a bit altered after such a dramatic experience, and then out of nowhere 8-year-old Jason pipes up and says: “Oh, Josue and I did awesome! He helped me fold the sheets, and he was in charge of opening the windows and organzing the shoes while I swept and mopped the floor.” Josue, who can only say a handful of 1- or 2-syllable words and wears diapers, sat there with a big toothy grin and pointed at Jason across the table in affirmation that all he said was true.
One night over dinner several weeks ago after 12-year-old Jackeline’s birthday party, I told our kids to guess how many photos I had taken. Each person made their guess somewhere between 11 and 200, but 6-year-old Gabriela didn’t seem to understand what the guessing was all about, so 11-year-old Gleny tells her, expasperated as tends to be her style, “Gabi, just say a number!”
Gabi, looking around at all of us nervously, with a big fake smile says through gritted little teeth: “A number.”
After Gabriela had received a stark behavior report from her pre-school teacher (she attends a special class with only 4 students that serves to meet the psychological needs of special needs and/or children who’ve suffered traumatic pasts) informing us that Gabriela had kicked and thrown herself on the teacher, ate the other kids’ snacks, lied, and screamed that she wouldn’t be obeying anybody, Gabriela came bounding through our front door the following day after class announcing triumphantly, “Mom! Jennifer! I didn’t kick the teacher today!”
11-year-old Gleny tells me she needs to conduct an ‘interview’ with me for some fourth-grade writing assignment at her school. I get excited, put aside what I’m working on, and say, “Okay, shoot.”
Gleny, very professional: “What is your favorite animal?”
Me, utterly disappointed by the (low) quality of the question: “What? Oh…Uh…my favorite animal would have to be…unicorns.” [I laugh nervously, afraid my answer might not be valid.] “Next question?”
Gleny, still very serious: “No; this is the only question. Why is the unicorn your favorite animal?” She’s got her No. 2 pencil in her hand and she’s ready to write down whatever I say.
Me: “Uh…What? You mean you need to know why I love unicorns?” Then, assuming the same serious demeanor as my interviewer, I furrowed my brow and said, “Oh, of course, because they are extremely cuddly.” I was satisfied with my answer and trying not to laugh out loud as she wrote it all down in her wobbly cursive handwriting.
Gleny, looking up at me from her notebook: “Why else?”
Me: “Huh?…Oh, they’re so magical and friendly, too.” Her teacher’s gonna kill me!
Gleny, writing down verbatim my answer: “I need one more reason.”
Gleny: “Ok, great! Now I’m gonna go interview Dad.”
[Later that afternoon…]
Me to Darwin: “Hey, did Gleny interview you about your favorite animal?”
Darwin: “Yeah, mine’s the tiger.”
Me: “That’s sooo boring…”
In a drawing/card that 11-year-old Gleny made for me: “I love you a lot, Mom. God is always with you wherever you go, and where you are in any place. Keep strengthening your commitment to be a mom. May God guide you in the correct place. You are a very good mom. From your daughter, Gleny. It was a pleasure to give you this card.”