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I had begged R to replace the ripped carpet in the living room. “It’s just a rental!” he protested. “Yes, but one of the kids is going to get hurt,” I pleaded.

A had frequently fallen, catching his toes in the torn carpet, while bringing in wood. His face had been bloodied countless times as he was unable to catch himself with his arms loaded. I was always worried I’d fall with a baby in my arms, but R flatly refused. The landlord certainly didn’t see any problem with it and made it clear he had no intention of fixing it either.

I stood in the sunbeam admiring 19 month old J while he played. The sunlight bounced off of his blonde head as he babbled to himself. I turned away for no more than a minute–no more than a minute–to grab something from the kitchen counter. But, I knew immediately what had happened when I heard the slamming sound of something hitting the wooden stair.

I turned to see J squirming to free his foot from the torn carpeting, his face still planted firmly on the step. I grabbed for him and lifted him up. I couldn’t tell where the injury was because there was blood everywhere. Everywhere.

I panicked.  Breaking every law, I drove as quickly as I could to the emergency room.

I nursed J to comfort him as we waited, and the blood covered both of us.

Once the doctor finally came in, he questioned me harshly.  I didn’t understand.  My baby was bleeding everywhere.  Why didn’t he just tend to him?  Why was he asking so many of the same questions over and over again?

Thus began a very long ordeal.  The injury didn’t heal well.  He developed a pyeloma that broke open and bled every time he tried to eat or talk.  Two cauterizations were of no effect.  He lost so much weight that our nurse practitioner scheduled him to see a specialist.  He, in turn, scheduled J for surgery to remove the pyeloma.  The baby couldn’t afford to lose anymore weight.

The ENT doctor admitted there were no guarantees the pyeloma wouldn’t return even larger after surgery.  So, I requested prayer from everyone I knew.  I had up to twenty four hours before the scheduled surgery to cancel the procedure.  Days passed, and nothing changed.  He couldn’t eat.  I couldn’t brush his teeth.  His mouth just bled.  And bled.  And bled.

Twenty-five hours before surgery we awoke, and it was gone!  There was nothing more than a lump on his lip where this large, friable bubble of bleeding tissue had protruded from his face!  Hallelujah!

He regained all of his lost weight and then some.  However, not brushing his teeth for such an extended period of time took a toll on his dental health.  At 2 1/2 he required two surgeries performed by a pediatric dentist in a nearby city.  His teeth were horribly decayed, and two of his front teeth were damaged, broken off, from the impact of his fall.

It’s been a long haul.  He brushes carefully.  He flosses his own teeth regularly.  I still brush for him daily, just to be certain every surface is clean.  He takes Bio-Dent supplements at bedtime.  But, the damage is hard to reverse.

After several more abscesses on his gum line, I took him back to the dentist again this week.  This time a tooth will have to be pulled.  The dentist fears damage to the adult tooth underneath.

While the other children and I waited in the crowded office for the final determination, in she walked.  You can hear her coming a mile away.  Though she and R’s brother have never married, she fits in perfectly well with that family.  Loud.  Obnoxious.  Inappropriate.

R’s family had nothing to do with us for over thirteen years.  His parents and siblings had not seen young R since he was two years old, and they had never met the younger three children.  R’s dad died not knowing half of his grandchildren simply because I had birthed them.  They felt very justified in extending their hatred for me toward my children.

Supposedly they hated me because I’m a Christian and I home school, because I try to live my life according to my faith.  R’s dad had once said, with tremendous disgust, “It’s one thing to be a Christian.  It’s another thing to be TOO Christian.”  I think R had been carefully grooming their perception of me from day one as well.  God only knows what he may have said about me to turn them against me before they ever got to know me.  I seemed to never have had a chance with them.  Neither did my children.  They just weren’t interested in any of us.

However, since R left, they’ve claimed ownership.  Suddenly, they are “Aunt” and “Uncle” and “Grandma.”  There is an unseen bond that unites them all and makes them family.  And, without ever spending any time with these children, they know them.  Oh, just ask them, they KNOW these children so well.

I hoped we could hide in the crowd.  I hoped we could sneak out of the dentist’s office unseen.  But, apparently, the more we tried to blend in with the potted plants and the art work, the more evident our presence became.  She hollered–yes, hollered–from across the room.

“E?!  E!?  Hey, L! I thought that was you over there!  D won’t have anything to do with me!  How are you guys?  Hey, J!  How are you?  He’s the only one that will talk to me.  The older boys are just so quiet.  They don’t talk to anyone.  And, D is just into her daddy.  Boy, she loves her daddy.  At Grandma’s house, she’s all, ‘Daddy, this.  And, Daddy, that.’  She is really into her daddy.  Those older two boys are just so quiet though.  J is friendly though, aren’t ya?   Do you remember me from Grandma’s house?  I’m your dad’s sister-in-law.  [Funny, I thought in-laws were those related to you by THE LAW.  If you’ve never been LEGALLY married, how do you say that with a straight face?]  Boy, I don’t know what to do about my cholesterol.  I was telling R, am I just supposed to eat oatmeal and fruit the rest of my life?  Well, I guess I could lose some weight, but………what are you supposed to do?  Hey, D!  Hi, E!  Oh, come here, L; I’ve got to give you a hug.”  She twitched and jerked ever so slightly, as former tweakers so commonly do.

I was embarrassed and just wanted away from her.

Her perception is altered, yet she was screaming it for everyone to hear.

For the record, the older two boys are not quiet.

Young R can monologue all the way to town, a half hour trip for us.  He’s been in public school three weeks and has already stayed after school with his friends, albeit without telling me of his plans.  He takes his guitar to school a couple of times a week, once to play with one boy he just met and once to teach another new friend to play.  His counselor describes him as “articulate.”

E is very social and uses every opportunity to make friends and talk to people.  In fact, I worry about him because he isn’t very judicious in his choices.  He doesn’t care.  If you’ll chat with him, he’ll be your friend for life.  And, he’ll remember everything you tell him.  It’s a running joke around here……..”Hey, E, remember the woman I was talking to on March 6, 2009?  She was wearing a red top because red is her favorite color?  It was her mother’s dog’s birthday?”  He LOVES people, and the details of their lives are important to him.

When someone uses the word Grandma with my youngest two children, they don’t automatically think about the old woman at the house where they visit their dad.  They just met her less than a year ago.  J and D say that she is mean.  They’ve told me that she doesn’t talk to them or interact with them; she just sits and watches dirty movies on the TV.

D is really into her daddy?  The man she refers to by his first name, not Daddy?  The boys told me that on a recent visit R told D, “I’m Daddy.  Call me Daddy.”  In her very sassy little manner, apparently she got in his face and said, “R!”  He backed down and responded, “You can call me that, too.”   She refuses to spend the night with him.  The last few times he’s called, she hasn’t wanted to talk to him on the phone either.  He scared her the night he was mean to her and wasn’t going to let her come home.  When he did that, she seemed to lose the affection she felt for him.  She seems angry now, hateful even.

This “sister-in-law” has seen the children on three brief separate occasions.   That seems to have been enough though for her to get to know my children, understand them, and discern each one’s unique personality.  And, then broadcast it for thirty strangers to hear.

The kids and I walked out of the dentist’s office a little shell shocked.  There is no way to respond.  No way to correct their altered perceptions of who we are or why we do what we do and act the way we act.  R’s family has us all figured out, and they’ll be the ones to tell us and the good folks of this town what we’re all about.

This town is just too small.  Days like this make me wish we could pack up and run to a new town, a bigger town, a town where we can just be ourselves without someone else laying claim to know us better than we know ourselves and each other.

I wish we could extract these diseased relationships as easily as you can extract a diseased tooth.

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