When we woke up on Monday, Pop, Danny, Brandon, Noah, and Holly had to leave for work as usual, so Dion and I made breakfast for them before they left.Dad got up as well and came out to spend time with Pop before he went to work, so the eight of us sat down to eat.
“So, what do you two have planned for today?” Dad asked Dion and me after the others had driven away.
“We’ll probably take turns going in to spend time with TJ while the other one stays here to keep an eye on the rest of the boys.”
“Why don’t you both go to the hospital and I’ll watch the other boys for you.”
“Are you sure you want to do that?” asked Dion.“Wouldn’t you rather rest up after your trip?”
“No, I’m fine to watch the boys this morning.It’s not like it’s difficult, since they’re old enough to entertain themselves.Besides, Jake isn’t getting a chance to rest up, so why should I?”
“Ok, if you don’t mind.”
We then told him that Ryan would be fixing breakfast for the others when they woke up, as well as fixing lunch for everyone later, and we’d be coming home to eat the noon meal with them.We also informed him about Xander and the side-effects of the medication he was taking, so Dad said he’d keep an eye on him as well.Since he was agreeable, we left for the hospital.
“We’re surprised to see both of you here at the same time, since it’s no longer the weekend,” one of the nurses said in greeting when we reached the NICU.
“Actually, we’re a little surprised about being able to come here at the same time as well.Our dad got back from his trip to Atlanta last night and agreed to watch the other boys so we could come in together to spend time with TJ.”
“Does this mean you’ll be able to do this every day from now on?”
“Most likely, so we hope you don’t get tired of seeing us and then try to kick us out,” joked Dion.
“Just the opposite.We enjoy it when you’re here, because the entire NICU suddenly becomes a little quieter.I think your singing and Trey’s reading the stories have a positive effect on all of the babies.”
“That’s nice to know.”
We spent the morning taking turns entertaining TJ and the other occupants of the NICU.Dion would sing a couple of songs, and not all of them were lullabies, and then I would read one of the stories.We continued doing this until lunch time, and then we went home to eat.When we got there, Dad immediately explained what was going on.
“The younger boys wanted to eat lunch in the tree house, and since Ryan told me that you’d let them do it before, I agreed.Ryan was going to make tuna sandwiches for them, along with putting a fruit cup and a drink pouch in each bag, but he had a bit of a problem.”
“Yeah, I did,” announced Ryan somewhat sheepishly.“I didn’t know you had to drain the liquid from the cans of tuna first, before you made it into sandwiches.”
“I caught him in time, so we were able to correct the problem, and then he made the lunches and sent them up to the boys.The rest of us are just about ready to sit down at the table and eat, but we wanted to wait for you to join us.”
“And I’ve made each of us a tuna sub,” clarified Ryan. “Elliot ran to the store and purchased sub rolls so I could do this, and I’m gonna make them with cheese, lettuce, sliced tomatoes, black olives, and bell peppers.The younger boys didn’t want all that stuff with their tuna, so I just made them sandwiches instead.”
“Sounds good to me,” stated Dion.
“And we’ve also got cottage cheese, if you want a side of that as well,” added Dad.
“That sounds good too,” I agreed as I looked around. “Where’s Elliot?”
“After he went to the store for us, he took off to have lunch with Ian and his mom,” Dad explained.
“Ah, I see.”
We then sat down and ate together, and as soon as we finished our lunch, Dion and I went back to the hospital to spend the afternoon there.After enjoying a few more hours with TJ, we left a little earlier than usual so Dion and I could go home and fix dinner, but Ryan and Dad were already working on it when we got there.
“You didn’t have to do this.We were going to prepare dinner for all of us.”
“It’s not a problem.I figured that I’d better start doing this again before I forgot how,” joked Dad.“I’ve been eating out a lot on my trips, so it was rather enjoyable to do this again.”
“As long as you don’t mind, but Dion and I will do it tomorrow if you want.”
Dad and Ryan shared a momentary glance before Dad answered. “I think we can handle it, so you two can just worry about taking good care of TJ.”
After the others arrived home, we sat down to eat and the younger boys told us about how they’d eaten lunch in the tree house again.They also asked their grandfathers when they were going to tell them about their trip.
“We’ll do that after we finish eating.We’ll all go to the family room and then Grandpa Jake and I will tell you all about it.”
That seemed to suffice, so we chatted about other things while we finished eating.Once the meal ended and we’d cleared the table, we all went to the family room and Dad was the first to speak.
“We had a really nice trip to Atlanta.The weather was good, but hotter than we’re used to, the flight was smooth, and Shannon and Nick were there to meet us when we landed.They took us to their house first so we could freshen up and change, and then they took us out to eat.”
“Did you eat the same stuff there as you do here?” asked Tristan.
“Not exactly, because Shannon and Nick wanted to make sure we tried foods cooked in the southern style,” answered Pop.
“So, what did you eat then?” followed Hunter.
“Well, people in the south eat a lot more pork than we do, including pig’s feet, but we didn’t try those,” replied Dad as he glanced down at the list he’d made so he didn’t forget anything.“We had the Pork BBQ with Brunswick stew, though, and we tried fried catfish, oxtails, and ham and biscuits.We also tried collard greens, boiled turnip greens and cornbread, fried green tomatoes, fried okra, and chicken and waffles.They also made us try hominy and grits with breakfast.”
“I don’t think I’d like some of those things,” said Hayden.
“Maybe not, but we tried all of them.”
“Did you have the chicken and waffles at Gladys Knight’s restaurant?” asked Brandon.
“No, she’s no longer associated with any restaurants after her son was caught using business funds for personal expenses.In fact, she had to sue him to break the contract, but Shannon and Nick took us to another place that serves it.”
“Who are Shannon and Nick?” asked Xander innocently.
“They’re two more of your uncles,” answered Noah.“Shannon is Grandpa Jake’s son and Nick is sorta Grandpa Josh’s son, and now they are married to each other.”
“Will I get to meet them?”
“Eventually,” replied Dad.“They’re coming here for Thanksgiving, which is in November, so you’ll get to meet them at that time.”
Dad and Pop then gave us a quick recounting of everything they did while they were with Shannon and Nick.
“Wow, you did a lotta stuff!” said Joshie.
“Yes, we did,” agreed Pop.“It seemed as if we were on the go nearly every minute and it was all very interesting.”
“By the way,” said Dad when Pop finished, “I called the farms this afternoon to see if they’d mind if I visited sometime this week.They agreed that I could come on Friday, so would anyone else like to go with me?”
“I do, I do,” chanted each of the younger boys, but the older ones didn’t seem to be interested in doing this.
“Ok, I’ll be happy to take you boys and Revin too, since he’ll probably want to go as well.Joshie, Benny, and Ryan, don’t you want to go with us?”
“Nah, we’ve been to the farm before, so we’ll just stay here,” they replied. I thought they might have been worried that they’d have to help out with the farm chores if they went with Dad.
“How about you, Dion and Trey?” continued Dad.“Would you like to go with us?”
“If you don’t mind, we’d rather go to the hospital and spend time with TJ,” answered Dion.
“And if you think you can handle the younger boys on your own then we’d be happy to let you borrow our SUV so you can take them with you,” I offered.
“Oh, I think I can handle this group, because if they don’t listen to me then I’ll just bring them home early,” responded Dad.
“We’ll be good.We promise,” chorused the younger boys.
“I felt that’s what you’d say,” Dad told the younger group and then he turned toward Dion and me.“And thank you for allowing me to use your SUV.”
“Since Jake will be driving your car to work, it just makes sense,” I replied.“Besides, I felt it would be the only way you’d be able to take this many with you.”
“I was going to drive Jake into work on Friday and pick him up afterward, but this will definitely be easier,” agreed Dad.
The next three days were pretty much the same, with Dion and me
going to spend time with TJ at the hospital while Dad watched the other boys.Things were going quite well too! TJ had gained a little more weight, and he was also staying awake longer and looking at us during our visits.In fact, Dion and I were considering holding him while we were there, since he now weighed nearly four and a half pounds (2 kg), and the nurse agreed he was well enough so we could start doing that.
On Friday, after the boys ate breakfast, Dion handed Dad the key to the SUV and then we watched as they all buckled in and Dad drove off to visit the group farms.As soon as they left, Dion and I told Joshie, Benny, and Ryan to behave before we hopped in our car and headed to the hospital.We also chatted on the way there and questioned whether we were going to hold TJ today.In the end, we agreed to give it a try, and when we arrived at the nurses’ station, we told them what we’d decided.
“That’s terrific.We were also going to tell you that you didn’t have to wear the gowns and masks any longer, since TJ is doing so much better, but we’d still like you to wash up before going in.One of us will take TJ out of the incubator and hand him to you, and then you can hand him to each other as you desire, but just be very careful with him.”
“Oh, we will,” we both agreed.
Dion opted to hold TJ first and sat down in the rocking chair the nurse had brought over for us to use.After she took TJ out of the incubator, she handed him to Dion and Dion cradled TJ in his arm as he began to sing.It was obvious that TJ seemed to enjoy this more, because he opened his eyes as soon as he was laying in Dion’s arm and kept them open for a lot longer than usual.
Dion sang a couple of songs to him, and then he stood up so I could sit down.He then handed TJ to me, and once I was ready Dion handed me one of the books to read.Just like with Dion, TJ kept his eyes open at first, but about halfway through the story he closed his eyes and drifted off.
“I guess we know how to put him to sleep at night,” I whispered to Dion shortly after it happened.
“The singing seemed to intrigue TJ and get him excited, and he seemed mesmerized by the tone of my voice, so he looked at me the entire time.However, the steady rhythm of your voice when you read to him seemed to relax him and he slowly drifted off.”
Now that he was sleeping, I lifted TJ and held him against my chest instead, with his head resting on my shoulder.He fussed slightly when I lifted him into this position, but then he settled down once he was in place.I rubbed his back as I gently rocked back and forth, and I did that for about a half hour before I handed him over to Dion so he could do the same thing.
Once again, TJ made a slight fuss as we completed the handoff, but he settled down quickly once he had his head on Dion’s shoulder.We continued passing him back and forth until the nurse came in to feed and change him, and since it was lunchtime, we went home to eat.
When we returned to the hospital later, TJ was awake again, so we went through the same process that we’d followed in the morning.This time, however, TJ’s arms and legs flopped around as we held him, which we interpreted to mean that he liked doing this.We were both very glad that we’d finally decided to hold him.
We continued taking turns holding TJ until it was time to go home for dinner, and before we handed him back to the nurse, we gave him a parting message.
“We both love you very much and we’ll be back tomorrow to see you,” Dion told him first.
“Yes, we love you dearly and we’ll be here to spend time with you every day,” I added.“We also can’t wait until we can take you home to meet your brothers and cousins.”
We knew he didn’t understand a word we were saying, but he appeared to like the tone of our voices as we said this to him.It gave us a very good feeling as we handed him over to the nurse.
When we got back to the house, we sat down with the others to eat and happily told them about our visit with TJ.
“Does this mean you’ll be bringing him home soon?” asked Wyatt.
“He still needs to gain a little more weight before that can happen, but it shouldn’t be too much longer.”I felt he would be less combative if I told him this, rather than acknowledging that it would probably be six more weeks before we could do that.
“Good,” he replied with a smug attitude.
“So. how was your trip to the farms?” asked Dion.
“It was fun,” answered Tristan.
“Yeah, it was,” agreed Xander.“I was never on a farm before.”
“There were only boys at the first farm,” said Tristan, “but the other farm had girls, a baby, and some smaller kids too.”
“And the smaller kids were girls AND boys,” observed Hunter.
“But when the boys get older, they hafta move over to the other farm,” added Hayden.
“Yeah, they do,” confirmed Hunter.
“We got to help collect the eggs from the nests in the chicken coops at both farms,” stated Wyatt.
“And both farms had a rooster too,” stated Xander.
“Yeah, the rooster at the girls’ farm was named Rocky,” explained Tristan, “and the one at the boys’ farm was called Foghorn.”
“I’m not sure if he was named after Foghorn Leghorn from the Looney Tunes cartoons or if he was given that name because he was louder than the other rooster,” said Dad.“One of the boys who started off at the girls’ farm and then moved over to the boys’ farm when he got older told me that Rocky was like an iPhone alarm, while Foghorn was like a TV playing at full blast.”
“Then they shouldn’t have trouble waking up in the morning,” teased Brandon.
“And we got to help feed the pigs too,” said Hayden.
“The boys on the farm prefer to call it slopping the hogs,” corrected Dad.
“But why do they call it that?” asked Hayden.
“Because they call the food they give the pigs ‘slop’, because it’s a mixture of leftovers and other things that no one else wants.”
“K, I get it now,” confessed Hayden.
“But they said we was too late to see how they did the milkin’,” said Hayden.
“Did you get to see them do that later, cuz they milk the cows twice a day?” asked Benny.
“Yeah, we did.They said we could watch them before we came home, so after we left the girls’ farm, we went back to the boys’ farm to do that,” replied Tristan.
“And two of the boys showed us what they had to do,” continued Wyatt, “but they wasn’t the biggest boys.”
“No, it was a fourteen and fifteen-year-old that showed them what they did when they milked the cows,” clarified Dad.
“They showed us how to clean the cow’s bag and then they let us pull on those fingers that hang down from it to get the milk out,” continued Wyatt.
“That bag is called an udder,” corrected Dad, but Xander interrupted him.
“Not other, but udder,” replied Dad.“I know those two words kind of sound alike, but they’re totally different.Now that I’ve explained this, I’ll also mention that the parts hanging down from the udder are called teats, not fingers.”
“Oh, ok,” said Wyatt.
“And even though they normally use milking machines to do this,” continued Dad, “they let each of the boys try doing it by hand briefly, so they could see what it was like.”
“Yeah, you had to pull down and squeeze the teat to get the milk out,” clarified Tristan.
“But you couldn’t do it too hard,” cautioned Hunter, “or the cow might kick.”
“Do all of the boys help with the milking?” asked Benny.
“Yes, they all take part in that.”
“And they let us ride the horses too,” enthused Hayden.
“Yeah, that was fun,” squealed Xander.
“But it wasn’t like when we rode horses on vacation,” offered Tristan.“We got to ride the horses by ourselves when we was on vacation, but this time they just put us on the horses and one of the older boys would lead the horse around for a while.”
“It was still fun,” countered Wyatt.
“Yeah, it was,” chimed in the twins and Xander.
As soon as the younger boys finished eating, they took their dishes out to the kitchen, rinsed them off, and placed them in the dishwasher before heading out to the tree house.As soon as they were gone, Dad told us a little more about the visit.
“The farms have changed some of the things they were doing when the rest of you were there.The pigs proved to be too dangerous to have around the younger kids, so they were moved over to the boys’ farm.The older boys then helped Derrick Ballard turn the pigsty into a chicken coop, complete with nests, so now they have laying hens at both farms.The younger kids collect the eggs each day so they have fresh eggs for breakfast and other uses.”
“That makes a lot more sense,” commented Brandon.“I was afraid the girls would name the piglets and then get upset when they were slaughtered after they grew bigger.The same thing is probably true about the beef cattle as well, so how are they handling that?”
“Derrick and Amy just tell them that they’re selling one of the animals before they disappear.Lester and the older boys move them over to his farm after dark or when the girls and younger kids are busy doing other things.All of the chickens, pigs, and cattle are slaughtered and cut up over at the boys’ farm, and then some of the meat is taken over to the other farm and placed in their freezer.”
“As long as it’s working out,” agreed Brandon.
“And they’ve also added some turkeys to the girl’s farm, and those are also slaughtered at the other farm when it’s time.Both farms also have a vegetable garden to supply the house with fresh veggies, and the girls have planted flowers in front of their house, so it looks really nice.”
“I’m sure it does,” agreed Dion.
“Aren’t they busy haying now?” asked Joshie.
“Yes, and Lester and the older boys are taking care of that.Lester only allows the 15 to 17-year-old boys do that, because besides the two large tractors, there’s other machinery involved and it’s quite dangerous.”
“So, what do the other boys do while they’re haying?” asked Benny.
“While the older group is doing the haying, the younger boys feed the pigs, or slop the hogs as they prefer to call it, and they also gather the eggs and water the garden.They’re also growing a lot of corn to use to feed the animals, but that won’t be ready to harvest until the fall.”
“It sounds like the boys are kept very busy,” I observed.
“Yes, they are, and while they were doing those other things, I got to chat with the house parents.They all seem to think things are going very well and they’re very happy with their jobs.Amy Ballard is thrilled that she finally got to have a baby to take care of, along with a couple of toddlers, and the older girls are happy to help out with the younger kids.”
“How old are the boys when they get moved over to the other farm?” asked Joshie.
“Usually that happens when they’re twelve, although Lester has agreed to take an early developing eleven-year-old when necessary.Doing that has kept the girls’ farm from having other problems, such as privacy issues and barging in on self-gratification sessions, once a boy starts going through puberty.”
“Ah, got ya.”
“Do they have tractors at the girls’ farm too?” asked Benny.
“Yes, they have a large tractor, like the ones at the boys’ farm, and they have a smaller tractor as well.”
“What do they have them for?” asked Ryan.
“They sometimes need them to haul farm supplies around, plow the garden, add fertilizer to it, and a variety of other tasks.”
“Do the girls get to drive the tractors too?” asked Joshie.
“Only Derrick drives the large tractor, but some of the older girls are allowed to drive the smaller tractor,” answered Dad.
“What do they use that one for?” wondered Ryan.
“For some of the smaller jobs, and they also use it to mow the lawn.”
“Do the boys have a small tractor to mow the lawn?”
“No, they use one of the large tractors to mow most of it, and then they have a riding lawn mower for the more delicate areas, such as around the house and trees, as well as a few other places.”
“Do the younger boys get to use that too?” asked Benny.
“Yes, all of the boys know how to use the riding lawn mower.”
“It sounds like you had a very productive visit,” commented Brandon.
“Yes, it was.The Footes and Ballards also told me that Richard used to stop by and check on things from time to time, since the Foote’s farm was the place he grew up after the Beckers adopted him. It’s unfortunate that he hasn’t been able to do that since he took over as the Director from Aunt Sally, because he’s got too many other things to deal with.”
“Yes, I’m sure he’s much busier now,” agreed Brandon.
“I’ll be interested in talking to him about our visit the next time I see him.I’m sure he’s still interested in what goes on at the farms.”
“He probably checks with the social workers who are assigned to the kids at the farms, so he still knows a little about what goes on out there,” added Dion.
“Yes, I’m sure he does, but I might be able to offer some insights that the social workers can’t give him,” stated Dad as that part of the conversation came to an end.He then turned to Dion and me and spoke again.“So how did your visit go at the hospital today?”
“We both held TJ this time,” blurted out Dion. ”It wasn’t as difficult as we feared,” I added, “and TJ seemed to enjoy being held more, rather than remaining in the incubator.”
“Yes, he was more alert and seemed to get excited when we held him,” added Dion.
“How could you tell?” asked Dad.
“His arms kept waving about and he was kicking his legs.He seemed to be having a good time.”
“And his eyes stayed open longer than usual too,” I added.
“Except when Trey read to him,” added Dion.“That’s when he fell asleep.”
“It sounds like he’s getting used to his dads and likes having both of you around.”
“Yeah, we thought so too,” we both agreed, and then we went out to check on the other boys.