Claudia almost burst out laughing at the scene in the backyard. Some how her three children had cornered her parents’ little schnauzer, Melvin, near one of her mother’s flower beds and he looked none too happy about it. Leading the pack was her 7 year old adopted daughter, Lizzie, her hands at the hip line of her skater dress, she seemed less than happy about something. Claudia’s eyes moved down to see grass stains and a sizable rip along the right leg of the tights Lizzie had carefully pick out all by herself that morning. Lizzie seemed to be chastising the dog and her brothers were trying to keep between her and the dog. Claudia covered her mouth to hide her smile before calling out to her 5-year old twins, or as she and Devon privately referred to them, the “Roman Surprise”, Anthony, Hashim and Elizabeth Wright, what on Earth is going on out in this yard and why is Melvin hollering like that!”
All three children jumped at the sound of their mother’s voice and tucked their heads. Melvin took the opportunity to dart around the boys and made a beeline for Claudia. She knelt down and opened her arms and caught the little puppy who was whimpering and breathing heavily against her chest.
“Mama, we were playing tag and Melvin jumped up on my leg and ripped my stockings and I fell down,” Lizzie began.
“Mama, mama, Lizzie was chasing Melvin with a stick and he looked scared and we didn’t want Lizzie to hurt him,” Hashim added quickly. Anthony hung back quietly looking like the kid in the class who doesn’t want to get called on.
Claudia sat Melvin on the porch and swatted his bottom gently and watched as he took off inside the house in search of Marilyn. Turning to her children again she called them up to the porch steps and had them sit on either side of her. Anthony leaned over and put his head in her lap.
“So, Tony, you have anything to add to this little story?” Claudia asked.
“We didn’t mean for Lizzie to fall down, Mama,” Tony began. Hashim’s eyes got big as he snapped his head toward his twin willing him to stop talking. Lizzie seemed to be very interested in what Tony had started to say.
“Start from the beginning, Tony.”
“Well, we saw this commercial on tv where this puppy really liked peanut butter so we got some peanut butter out of grandma’s cabinet and we tried to give it to Melvin. He really liked it and wanted more but we ran out and he started trying to get Lizzie to give him more and he ripped her stockings and she tripped and fell down.”
“Lizzie, is this true? Were you feeding the dog peanut butter?”
“It was Hashim’s idea, Mama,” Lizzie said crossing her arms and starring at her brother with a threatening look. Hashim stuck his tongue out at his sister and crossed his arms in the classic 5-year old pout. Tony looked up at Claudia from his spot on her lap and pleaded with his eyes for a lenient punishment.
It was all Claudia could do to keep a straight face so she employed one of her delay tactics. “Go inside, all of you and wash up in the bathroom. Come with me, Lizzie and I’ll help you out of those tights.”
As the troop climbed up the stairs to their second floor suite, Claudia thought of how much her life had changed since that birthday in Rome. She and Devon had tried to conceive for years to no avail and had reconciled themselves to the adoption route. Working through an adoption program at their church they had completed all of the pre-placement requirements in order to adopt their first child. Shortly after their return to Atlanta from Rome they were informed by their Department of Family and Children Services case manager that their petition to adopt a beautiful little one year old girl had been approved. Within a month all of the necessary legal business was finalized and the Wrights brought Elizabeth Angel Wright home as a member of their family. The adjustment was not as smooth as they would have liked. Lizzie had a rough time with her biological parents. Her mother had taken drugs while pregnant with Lizzie and as a result, the baby was born addicted to several schedule 1 drugs including heroin and MDMA, more commonly known on the street at Ecstasy. When Lizzie came to live with the Wrights, the evidence was clear that her early development had been stunted earning her the classification of “Special Needs”. Claudia and Devon decided the only special need their daughter had was as much of their love as they could muster and they set out to be the best parents they could. When Claudia missed her period the next month, she didn’t think much of it, but when month two came around and there was no evidence of her monthly bleeding she took off the afternoon and went in to see her doctor. Lo and behold she was pregnant, with TWINS taking their family in the span of a year from 2 to 5.
Shooing the boys into their bathroom she called out for Devon to come and help the twins clean up before leading Lizzie into her and Devon’s bathroom.
“Baby girl, why didn’t you come and get one of us after your game got out of control,” Claudia asked gently of her little girl, taking note that Devon must have taken control of the record player because she could hear the distinct sounds of The Temptations, “Papa Was a Rolling Stone” floating up the stairs and threw the cracked door frame of their guest suite.
“I didn’t want you to be mad at me for ripping my stockings, Mama,” Lizzie said, her chin tucked into her chest, Claudia could see the tears following down her precious mochaccino colored cheeks.
“I’m not mad, precious, but I am concerned that you tried to feed Melvin something without checking with me or daddy or grandma. And I’m very concerned that you didn’t come get me when Melvin got over excited and jumped up on your leg.”
“I was scared, Mama.”
“I bet you were, sweetie. So what will you do differently next time?”
“Come ask if it’s okay to feed Melvin peanut butter.”
“That’s right, love.” Claudia wondered whether she should tell her mother that Melvin was likely gonna have an interesting bowel movement in the next day or so.
“Let’s go downstairs and let your Grandma know what you all did to her dog. She might have to take Melvin to the pet doctor.”
Lizzie pulled back not wanting to face the wrath of her grandmother, but Claudia was firm. “Lizzie, we accept responsibility for our actions in this family. Come on, let’s go talk to Grandma.”
Lizzie acquiesced and followed her mother downstairs to her Grandmother’s study quietly.