When we woke up on Sunday morning, I had everyone eat a large breakfast before we left to pick up Becky and Revin for church.We didn’t usually eat a lot before going, but we wouldn’t be stopping for brunch on the way home because of the birthday party.We were going to have a cookout and would be eating later than normal, so I wanted to make sure everyone was full and would last until then.I especially wanted to make sure the boys didn’t become grumpy because they were hungry and then start acting up.
This was the first time Xander had been with us when we attended church, so we introduced him to the minister and our friends as we were entering and leaving the sanctuary.Shortly after we arrived home following the service, the other family members began to show up as well.Before long, Vinnie and Kevin, along with Cole and Beth were there, followed by Dustin and Katie, Richard, Aunt Sally, and the Shays.After they’d each wished Holly a happy birthday and handed her their presents, we introduced them to Xander, while Danny and Dion fired up the grills.Danny had taken the day off for Holly’s party, even though he knew it might set him back slightly for the rest of the week.
Brittany arrived last and we had Holly take her around and introduce her to everyone, and then we allowed Holly to open her presents.
“Damn, I guess being part of a large family has its advantages,” I heard Brittany comment after Holly had opened all of her gifts.
“Yes, it’s pretty neat,” agreed Holly.“Not only is everyone really nice, but I got a lot of nice things from them as well.”
“And you’ve got a new brother too, but I didn’t hear anyone mention him when I went to HersheyPark with you guys.”
“That’s because he just joined the family this past Monday, and the twins seem to really like him.”
Meanwhile, Brandon and I asked Noah and Ryan to help us carry out the salads and other items from the house and place them on the banquet table.We’d brought it outside so we could set the plates, utensils, and food on it, because that way we’d be able to use the picnic tables to sit at and eat.Once the meat finished cooking, Dion and Danny started taking it off the grill and we called everyone to gather around the banquet table so they could start filling their plates.
As soon as everyone had food, Brandon and I sat down to speak with Aunt Sally.
“How have you been doing since you retired?” I began.
“I’ve been dealing with some medical issues, but I’m holding up fairly well now.”
“Why?What’s wrong?” pressed Brandon.
“I’d rather not speak about that at the moment, since it’s under control and I’m feeling better.”
“We’re both glad to hear that, but please let us know if there’s anything we can do to help.”
“I will, but now I’d like to talk about Richard.I’m very impressed with the job he’s doing running my former department.The last time I spoke with him he admitted that his success wasn’t all his doing and he’s glad that he has you two and your husbands to rely on for the tough placements.”
“I take it you mean Xander and TJ,” I responded.
“Yes, that’s correct, and I didn’t know you’d named the baby already.”
I acknowledged we had and explained what the initials stood for, and since she’d mentioned both boys, we decided to give her more details about how they were doing.
“We’re not sure how much Richard told you about them,” offered Brandon, “so we’ll share a little information with you.Xander has an incontinence problem, but he’s fitting in very nicely and getting along well with the other boys. TJ is still in the hospital, in an incubator, but Trey and Dion have been visiting him on a daily basis.”
“Yes, we’ve been spending as much time with him as we can,” I confirmed.“We’re doing our best to let him know he’s loved and we’re eager to bring him home.”
I then took out my phone and showed her the photos and video that I’d taken of TJ when we’d visited him in the hospital.
“Oh, he’s adorable,” she said.
“He is, but we didn’t know what to expect at first, due to the situation surrounding his birth,” I admitted.“I guess we even thought he might look like one of those kids with Down’s syndrome, although we both realize how ridiculous that sounds now.Thanks to his mother, he’s going through withdrawal for OxyContin and doesn’t have a genetic defect, but we still would have taken him and loved him just the same.”
“Yes, I’m sure you would have, and that’s why we must be careful about jumping to conclusions.Sometimes our brains don’t consider all of the details before they rush to a conclusion.”
“Isn’t that the truth?”
“But it looks as if you and Dion have gained another adorable son in the process, and it appears that Danny and Brandon have as well.”
“Yes, we’ve all been blessed,” agreed Brandon.
Once everyone had finished eating, Holly and Brittany began playing games with the boys.It was obvious that she was doing this more for her brothers than for herself, and Brittany was a good sport about it and agreed to do it with her.They split their time playing beanbag toss and lawn darts with the boys, and our lawn darts were the type with weighted heads, rather than the older version with metal points.
Since there were six younger boys, Holly and Brittany each paired up with one of them and then they played against two others.Each group would play one of those games, and when that game ended they would switch games with the other group.Once they finished playing both games, Holly told the boys to go inside and put on their swimsuits, and then she and Brittany went to her bedroom to do the same, since she’d told Brittany to bring her swimsuit to the party.Fortunately, we had a swimsuit that one of the other boys had outgrown and Xander could put on over his absorbent briefs, and while they were changing some of the other family members made comments about what that group had just been doing.
“It was so sweet of Holly and her friend to do that with the younger boys,” said Mary Shay.
“Yes, it was, especially since it’s her birthday party.”
“Did you know she was going to do it?” asked Katie, Dustin’s wife.
“I’d talked to her about it briefly when I asked if there was anything special she’d like to do at her party.”
“So, you had those games already?” asked Beth, Cole’s wife.
“Yes, but we had to dig them out of storage, because they haven’t been used recently, but I imagine they might get a better workout now.”
“Yes, I’m sure they will.”
“By the way, Cole,” I followed, “did Dad ask you for a favor when he and Pop had dinner with you two the other night?”
“Yes, and I told them I’d have an answer for them by the time they got back from their trip to Atlanta.”
“That’s great.Would you like to announce to the others about the little surprise you sprung on them?”
“So, they told you guys about that too?” asked Beth.
“Yes, Dad did.I hope it wasn’t supposed to be a secret.”
“No, that’s fine and we’d be happy to announce it to the others,” agreed Cole, so I stood up to get everyone’s attention.
“Everyone, may I interrupt your conversations for a moment,” I shouted.As soon as the others quieted down, I continued, even though I had to speak over the sound of the kids horsing around in the pool.“Cole and Beth have something they’d like to tell you.”
“We told Dad and Pop about this on Thursday.” began Cole after standing up, “but now we’d like to share the information with the rest of you.”
“I’m three months pregnant,” continued Beth as she stood beside Cole, “and we’re expecting our first child at the end of March.”
The others reacted positively to the news and congratulated Beth and Cole, and then everyone began discussing the announcement amongst themselves.I pulled Kevin and Vinnie aside to ask them a question.
“Doesn’t this make the two of you want to become parents now?”
“We’ve discussed it,” answered Kevin, “because the Shays have let us know in no uncertain terms that they’d love to have a grandchild, especially Mary.Vinnie is hesitant, though, and says he’s not sure if he can handle raising a child, due to his condition.”
We turned toward Vinnie before Dion spoke.“It’s never stopped you from doing anything else, so you should definitely consider it.If you change your mind, you should both talk to Richard.I’m sure he could hook you up with a child sooner or later, even a baby, since he’s the one who arranged for us to get TJ.”
“I know, and we might do that if I decide I can handle it,” replied Vinnie.
We were still talking to him when Holly and Brittany came back out to join us again.
“Did you enjoy your time in the pool?” asked Dion.
“Yes, but that’s not all we did,” responded Holly.“The boys wanted us to see the tree house too, so we climbed up the ladder and they showed us all around, and then we walked over the bridge to the deck and went down the slide.”
“I can’t believe that tree house.It’s incredible,” added Brittany.“I can see why the boys like it so much.They even told me they slept out there one night, and the slide was fun too.”
“Yes, they spend a lot of time out there,” replied Dion, “Pop and the older boys did an incredible job on it, and they just recently installed the slides.”
Some of the others were getting ready to leave by this point, so Holly left us so she could say goodbye to everyone and thank them for their gifts.She also answered a few of their questions about college, such as when she’d be returning and how she was enjoying college life.Before they left, they also said goodbye to Brittany and let her know it was a pleasure meeting her.
Before Brittany left, I pulled her aside and thanked her for doing all of those things with the boys and she had a simple response.
“I hope to be a mother some day and thought this would be good practice.Besides, I enjoyed doing everything with them as well.”
“And we want you to know that you’re welcome to come back anytime.”
After everyone else had returned home, we had the boys and Holly help to carry everything back into the house, and then we spent a quiet evening watching a movie together.
When we woke up on Monday, Dion and I agreed to take turns going to the hospital to spend time with TJ while the other one stayed at the house with the rest of the boys.The first would leave shortly after breakfast and return before noon, and the other one would leave after lunch and return before dinner.We would switch off going first and second, and the one going first would also prepare dinner, but neither of us had a problem with that.
The day started out smoothly and the boys were cooperative about helping out.It seemed they didn’t want to do anything to upset us. Since things were going so well, I thought it would be the perfect time to do something else and called Joshie and Benny so I could speak with them.
“Since you two will be starting high school this year, I think it’s time for you to take on a little more responsibility.With that in mind, I’m going to teach you how to do the laundry, since it piles up quickly around here.”
“You mean you want us to do this until school starts?” asked Benny.
“No, we want you to do it after school starts as well.I’ll watch you do it until then, to make sure you aren’t doing anything incorrectly, and once school starts you can do the loads on your own.”
“But we’ll have homework to do,” countered Benny in hopes that it would convince me this wouldn’t work.
“Yes, I agree that you’ll have homework, but you can still help out on the weekends.You and Joshie can take turns, possibly with one doing a couple of loads on Saturday and the other doing a couple of loads on Sunday.That way you should still have plenty of time to do your homework as well.”
“What if we want to spend some time with our friends on Saturday?” countered Joshie.
“Then you can take turns doing the laundry on Sunday instead.Once you start the washer or dryer you’ll have time to do something else while the machine is running.Oh, and once the clothes are dry, we expect you to fold them as well.”
“How come we have to do this?” continued Joshie.
“It’s because you’re getting older and the next four years will pass by quickly.By then you’ll be going away to college or possibly just living on your own or sharing an apartment with friends, like Jesse is doing, but either way you’ll have to do the laundry yourself.I don’t think you’ll want to ruin your clothes by having them shrink, the colors fade, or your whites turn another color because you’ve mixed them up with the wrong garments, so this will help to prevent that.”
“Can’t we wait a year or two before we start doin’ this, cuz we’ll still have time to learn?”
“You could, but then I’d just have to find another job for you to do, since you’re old enough to help out now.There will be lots of yard work to do this fall and winter, such as raking leaves and shoveling the walks and driveway when it snows.The trouble is that you can’t just start doing those things and then walk away to do something else, like you can with the laundry.You’ll have to stick with it until the job is done.”
“But we’ll be able to use the leaf blower and snow blower to do those things.”
“Yes, you can use those items, but you’ll still be outside in the colder weather, instead of inside a nice, warm house.”
Those two put their heads together and began whispering so I couldn’t hear what they were saying, and after a couple of minutes Joshie turned toward me and spoke.
“Ok, you can teach us how to do the laundry then.”
“Fine and you’ll have your first lesson tomorrow, because I have to get ready so I can go see TJ as soon as Dion gets back.”
I felt that went well, because they ended up making the decision for themselves and chose the task I first offered.
When Dion returned, he told me about his visit quickly and then he handed me the car key and gave me a kiss.When I arrived at the NICU, the nurse was just moving away from the incubator after feeding TJ and changing his diaper.She spoke to me quickly before she left.
“I don’t know if Dion told you this, but he was singing lullabies to TJ today while touching his arm and hand.I think TJ enjoyed it.”
“No, he didn’t tell me that, but it doesn’t surprise me.”
“The other nurses and I enjoyed listening to him as well, along with the other babies in the unit.They were all very calm and quiet while Dion was singing to TJ and none of them cried, which was quite unusual.”
“I’m sure they all enjoyed it, because Dion used to do the same thing with our other sons when they were babies, and even when they were older.He has a wonderful voice and sings professionally, and our oldest son has a very nice singing voice as well.The youngest mostly gets a kick out of performing with his classmates at the school concerts, although he has a decent singing voice as well.”
“Are your other sons adopted?”
“Wyatt, the youngest, is adopted, but Joshie is Dion’s biological son.Dion had a brief fling with a girl in high school and they ended up with Joshie as the result.The girl’s family wasn’t thrilled when they found out she was pregnant, but they were also opposed to her having an abortion, on religious grounds.After she gave birth, they didn’t want her to miss out on the chance to go to college just to raise a baby, but they weren’t willing to help her either, so we offered to take him.She ended up signing over custody to Dion, and then our dad helped to take care of Joshie while we were at college.”
“Yes, that definitely sounds like your father.He was my principal when I was in school.”
“Along with nearly everyone else who grew up around here.”
After she left, I thought about our conversation and what she’d said about Dion, and it gave me an idea, although it wasn’t singing to TJ.I knew I didn’t have a very good singing voice, but being a writer and an English teacher, I opted to turn to the written and spoken word.I’ll tell him nursery rhymes today, and then tomorrow I’ll bring in some of the children’s books we have at the house so I can read to him.Two can play at this game.
While I was reciting all of the nursery rhymes that I could remember, I also touched and stroked TJ’s hand and arm, and every once in a while he’d open his eyes and appear to look at me.I’m still not sure if a premature baby can actually see or if his eyes are able to focus, but I’d like to think that he saw me when he did this.It also reminded me of something Danny had told us previously, and it was that TJ might be sensitive to bright lights and loud noises.As I thought about this, I concluded it was probably the reason why the lights in the NICU were kept dim and the curtains were drawn on the windows, to keep out the bright sunlight.In the same vein, I kept my voice low and as sweet as possible.
As it neared the time for me to go home, I finished up by telling TJ the nursery rhyme ‘Humpty Dumpty’ before giving him an air kiss and hug and telling him that I loved him.I enjoyed this visit, so leaving was difficult, but I knew I’d see him again the next day.
During the ride home I had only one thought: I can’t wait until I can hold TJ and rock him while reciting the nursery rhymes or reading him a story.I was still concerned about his diminutive size, but the desire to completely bond with him was starting to overcome my concerns.
Just as I was pulling in the driveway, the others were also arriving home from work, so it appeared that I’d stayed at the hospital longer than I’d intended.I was originally planning to return home in time to help Dion with dinner, but it was obviously too late to do that now.
“I’m sorry, honey.I meant to get back early enough to help you.”
“Don’t worry about it.Ryan saw that you weren’t around and asked if he could do anything to help, so I taught him how to do a few more things.”
“That’s great and I’ll have to thank him.”
“I believe he’s in the dining room setting the table, so you can do it now, if you want.”
Once I’d thanked Ryan, I helped Dion carry the food to the table and then we all sat down to eat.During the meal, everyone asked Dion and me questions about TJ and wondered how he was doing.After a little coaxing, Dion admitted that he’d sung lullabies to TJ while he was there, so I confessed that I’d spent my time telling TJ nursery rhymes.
“By the time he comes home, TJ’s going to be ready to enter kindergarten,” teased Noah.“I’m sure he’ll also have figured out that his daddy is a music teacher and his poppy is an English teacher.”
“I’m surprised they didn’t give him homework,” added Benny.
“Yeah, cuz Poppy did that to us today,” added Joshie, with Benny nodding at his side.
“I did not.I told you I was going to have you do some house work, not homework,” I countered, and when the others looked at me oddly, I explained.“I told them that starting tomorrow I was going to teach them how to do the laundry.”
“Does that mean I don’t hafta do it any more?” asked Ryan.I’d forgotten that I’d just taught him to do it as well.
“No, there’s enough that the three of you can take turns.You’re just getting a little break because you’re helping out with the meals.”
“When are we gonna get a break?” asked Benny.
“When you go to college,” I joked, eliciting a groan.“I might even give you a break in October, because you and Joshie will be in charge of setting up the Haunted House this year, since you’ll be the oldest two still at home.”
“That’s fantastic,” said Joshie.“Will we be able to ask our friends to help too?”
“Yes, because we’ll need plenty of others to make it work.You’ll have time to ask them once school starts.”
I think knowing that they were going to be in charge of the Haunted House this fall caused the other things to seem less important, and they were both smiling as they continued eating their dinner.Once they finished, they took care of their dishes quickly and then raced up to their bedroom.I think they were already starting to plan what they wanted to do for the Haunted House this year.
After taking care of their dishes, the younger boys went out to the tree house again, while Noah and Holly disappeared.I wasn’t sure what they were doing, although maybe they were thinking ahead about going back to college.Elliot wasn’t here, because he ate with Ian’s family tonight, so it left the adults alone downstairs.We merely sat in the living room and chatted about a variety of topics.
“I think it’s great that you’re teaching those three how to do the laundry,” said Brandon.
“I probably should have talked to you and Danny about it first, but I thought it was a good time to spring the idea on them.”
“No, it’s fine, and I’m glad you’re doing it.You’re home with them all day long and we trust your judgment, so do whatever you think is best.Besides, it will be good for them to help out a little more and it will be good for them to know how to do their laundry for when they’re on their own.”
“That’s what I thought as well.”
“And since Dad will be helping out with TJ this fall, it will take a task away from him,” said Dion.
“Yes, it’s time the boys did a little more to help out, and Dad is already doing more than his share of the work,” Brandon agreed.“In fact, Danny and I should probably be helping out more now as well.”
“No, you two have enough going on right now,” stated Dion, “and Trey and I have the summer off.”
“But you’re also running to the hospital to spend time with TJ, so it’s not like you’re actually on vacation.That’s why I think it’s great that you two are teaching the boys different things and getting them to pitch in.You certainly don’t need our permission to do that.”
“It’s mostly Trey,” confirmed Dion.
“And you do it too, when I’m busy or not here.Besides, we’re happy to do this, as long as you and Danny are ok with it.”
“We definitely are.”
The rest of us spent a couple of quiet hours chatting and relaxing until Danny came home, and then we filled him in about everything while he was eating.We also called the younger boys in so they could spend a little time with Danny before we sent them upstairs to get ready for bed.Once they’d left, Danny spoke to Brandon.
“By the way, since you told me Xander was able to take pills, I sent a prescription to Kevin’s pharmacy for the medication.It may take a couple of days for him to fill it, since I’m not sure if it’s something he would have in stock, so call before going over there to pick it up.”
“What is the medication?”
“It’s called Oxybutynin and it’s used to treat overactive bladders.It has some side effects, though, so you’ll have to watch him the first few days.”
“Then we’d better let Dion and Trey know about this as well.”They then called us over to join them.
“I prescribed some medication for Xander, but it may have some side effects that you should be aware of.It may cause him to have blurred vision, or it may impair his thinking or reactions.If you notice any of those problems, contact me immediately and I’ll let you know what to do.”
“Could there be other side effects?” I asked.
“Only if he’s allergic to the drug, so if you notice anything unusual, call me right away.”
“Ok, we can do that,” Dion and I agreed.“When is he going to take it?”
“He should take it with a half-glass of water at the same time every day, so let’s have him take it before dinner.That way Brandon will be here and I should be home shortly thereafter, but some of those problems might not appear until the following day.”
“Ok, that’s good to know.”
“And we appreciate all of your help with him,” said Brandon.
“Yes, we do,” confirmed Danny.
When the boys finished showering, we went up to say goodnight and tuck them in, and it wasn’t long after that before the rest of us went through our nightly rituals and turned in as well.