The story is mine and the characters are mine. Please do not use them without my permission.
Kasia flopped down on the chair harder than she meant to. It had to be a miracle the thirty-year-old chair did not break or even crumble under her weight. Wait, is this the original chair that came with the table? That could not be right, but she did not have the brain power to figure out why not. If the table was thirty, why not the chairs?
It was also a miracle Kasia did not wake Mekeena from her nap, as she was strapped to Kasia's chest. That was one heavy baby, especially when she was asleep and she always fell asleep when strapped to Kasia's chest. It was like carrying around a bag of sand that was tipped forward, but it was better for her to carry Mekeena than Dalia, and one of the reasons was because the baby always fell asleep with her.
Kasia was sure Mekeena knocking out almost immediately had to do with how high she was off the ground and her feet dangling, like the sensation of floating just put her right to sleep. She needed a nap, so they took a family walk to Granddad's house. Her father could deal with the boys for a few hours. She and Dalia needed a break.
"Malik, take your shoes off!'' Dalia huffed for the tenth time in ten seconds. That poor boy did not listen. He was already jumping on the couch with his damn shoes on. He had to know he was very close to a timeout, not that those stopped him for long. Good thing they loved him, but they still had to convince him of that.
"I did!" Malik, at seven, was a master of "I'll do what you said on my own time and not a second before," so kicked his shoes off, sending them flying toward the television. Kasia's heart was in her throat for a second, but the sneakers missed the television. They did not have the spare cash to replace the damn thing. Beyond having to feed, cloth, and house three kids, there were creature comforts for those kids and activities for two of them to worry about. They did not have hundreds of dollars just lying around to repair her father's television.
"I've told you about that," Dalia said. They both told him often and endlessly. How they had not lost their minds or their patience yet was a mystery to Kasia, but she was certain somehow they were both keeping each other sane without actually talking about it. The kids did not leave them time to talk about much beyond the kids. It could have also been that they were just exhausted enough to function, but not do much else.
"Yeah, she told you about that," Daddy said as he stepped out of his room.
Malik flopped down on the couch. He watched Daddy closely as Daddy went right to him for a hug. Malik was not as open to affection as his little brother and baby sister. It was one of the reasons Kasia and Dalia adopted them. Malik was seven and a closed-off handful, which was understandable. His parents died, after all, and then he had been separated from his siblings for more time than he should have been or needed to be. Who would act "right" under those conditions? Foster home after foster home returned him to the state due to "behavioral problems."
Kasia and Dalia felt for the little guy and decided to take him in. Then they found out about Munir and Mekeena after showing interest in Malik. And, even though they had agreed to only adopt one child, Dalia could not live with herself breaking up siblings. So, they became an instant family of five. It was a journey to be sure, but she was confident they had this. Of course, there were days when she wanted to hide under the bed, scared that with one false move she would ruin everyone's lives.
Since becoming a parent, Kasia sat down at this very table and had long discussions with her father about raising her. He stressed unconditional love, of course, which she already planned on. But, she got a lot of insight on what went through his mind as he went through parenting. He did not have it altogether like she assumed her entire life. There were times when he wanted to cringe right in her face, when he wanted to break down and cry right in front of her, or scream at the top of his lungs over something, but kept his composure and held off. And, he admitted, he never thought about being a parent, but the second he found out about her, it consumed his thoughts. He wanted to be the best dad possible to her. Mission accomplished in her mind. Now, she wanted to be the parent possible to her kids.
It was definitely not as easy Daddy made it seem. Malik fought them on everything in the beginning. He was particularly fond of being dirty. He refused to bathe, brush his teeth, or let them do anything with his hair. Each refusal got more and more frustrating, but Kasia considered and consulted what her father would do each time. Daddy told her to wait him out and just let him know that it was safe to change his mind. She and Dalia had a talk with all the adults at his school, so they would not think he was being neglected, to let them know things would be done on his time. And, then one day, he took a shower without being asked and brushed his teeth. And, the real moment came when he asked for a haircut. They had to wash his hair first and then Daddy took him for their first trip to the barbershop. It was a process and they all respected the process.
"Why are you not being good for your moms?" Daddy asked Malik, as he often did. Malik straightened up immediately. There was something about being faced with a literal giant that made people, kids and adults alike, end up on their best behavior, if only for a moment.
"I'm being good. I'm not jumping on the couch," Malik replied, straining his little body to look Daddy in the face. Well, he was not at present jumping on the couch, thus was being good.
Daddy chuckled and made his way to Munir, who threw himself against Daddy's legs. Daddy wasted no time lifting him up and pinning him to the ceiling with both hands. Munir giggled and wiggled, but Daddy had him. And then, Daddy let him go, his little dread locs flying above him. Kasia's heart always fell into her feet when they played like this, but Daddy caught him as always.
"Do it again, Gigi!" Munir clapped as he landed in Daddy's arms. "I can be Spider-Man!" He moved his little hand like he was web-slinging. It was cute how much he loved Spider-Man. His room was decorated like that and his clothes tended to have some kind of Spider-Man design, as they let him pick his own clothes. And while he liked any version of Spider-Man, he was particularly into Miles Morales because he thought "he's like Malik!" So damn adorable.
Daddy laughed. "Gimme a second. You're getting so big, so it's getting harder and harder to do this." He put Munir down. Munir was hardly big, as he was a toddler, but he had grown since coming to stay with them and Daddy had his knees to worry about.
"It sounds like my boys are here," Raven said as she stepped out of the bedroom. She was dressed in "go to the park" clothes, a t-shirt and comfortable pants, so eventually she and Daddy would definitely give Kasia and Dalia a much needed moment to themselves. Parenthood was exhausting.
"Nana!" Malik ran to Raven. He loved her and was always overjoyed to see her. Of course, she did sneak him candy often, but whatever worked.
Daddy and Raven were indulgent grandparents to children who needed indulging. They had grandparents from their birth parents and Kasia and Dalia made sure they saw them, but neither set of grandparents were prepared to take care of three small children. But, they gave them love and connection that they required and deserved.
"And look at my mini-munchkin!" Daddy turned to Mekeena, who was out like a drunk on the bus, complete with a thin line of drool. "How dare you walk her over here in that contraption knowing it puts her to sleep? We don't want her napping." Daddy stepped over to Kasia and Mekeena. He kissed the baby's cheek and hugged Kasia.
"Look, I need to be hands free with Malik on the street," Kasia said. He was a runner. He liked to test if they would chase him, come after him, or let him disappear forever. They always chased him. He needed to know he was wanted, so she had to be ready to sprint after him and keep Mekeena secure while Dalia held onto Munir, who would follow his brother if he could, not wanting to ever lose him again.
Daddy laughed. "Don't we all?" It was all too true. Good thing Raven had a good set of legs. Daddy might chase Malik, but there was no guarantee he would catch the kid, especially if there were obstacles in the way.
"Gigi, pick me back up!" Munir tugged at Daddy's pant leg. Daddy pretended to wince and groan. Munir gasped in alarm.
Dalia wagged her finger. "Hey, what's the magic word, buster?"
Munir's large, hazel eyes went wide with panic. "Oh, right!" He turned back to Daddy. "I'm sorry, Gigi! Please! Please! Please!" He held his hands up.
Daddy grinned and stood back up. To get the children into the habit of saying please, a little manner lost in almost a year of foster care, they all pretended it hurt them physically when the boys asked for something and did not say please. The magic word fixed them right up, which made Munir happy, but sometimes Malik just laughed over their antics. Malik seemed to know most of the time they were pretending. For Malik, mostly getting what he asked for was enough incentive to say please and thank you.
"Yes, Mu-bear? What would you like Gigi to do?" Daddy asked with his chin in the air. He loved his title, "Gigi." He always swore there was something regal, yet loving, about it.
"Pick me up!" Munir tossed his hands up to the ceiling, like he was doing a super move. "Please! Up! Up! Up!" Hyper in only the ways a four-year-old could be.
Daddy groaned as he leaned down to grab hold of Munir. He groaned as he stood up and put Munir on his shoulders. Munir cheered and patted Daddy's head, drawing attention to the fact that Daddy needed a haircut. His curls were everywhere. He would probably go soon and take the boys with him, even though Munir had locs.
Kasia and Dalia were not sure why only Munir had locks, but they left his hair alone as Malik insisted their parents wanted Munir to have locks and they would honor the children's birth parents as best they could. But, Munir could still get a shape-up, so he hung out at the barbershop with his "Gigi" and big brother and loved every second of it. It made Kasia look forward to one day going to the salon with Mekeena to get braids done together, but for now Dalia handled Mekeena's hair. Kasia, all too often, resorted to the old "afro-puff" her father used to do when she was little.
Kasia sighed as Dalia kneeled before her to free Mekeena from her chest. Mekeena curled into her mommy's arms as soon as Dalia had her in her arms. Kasia groaned and stretched, rolling her shoulders while she was at it. As much as she loved Mekeena, having a dangling lump strapped to her chest was not Kasia's idea of a good time.
"So, how are things going?" Daddy asked as he sat down on the couch with Munir still on his shoulders.
"Mu-bear, tell Gigi about your school trip," Kasia said.
Munir squealed. He started pre-kindergarten and he loved every second of it. He pulled Daddy's head back in an attempt to look him in the eye. Daddy played along, but there was only so far his head could go.
"We went to the zoo!" Munir started to go through all of the animals he saw.
Malik made his way over to Daddy. "My class's gonna go on a trip next week!" He needed attention so badly.
"Tell Gigi where," Kasia said, waving Malik on.
Malik's face flushed and he bounced on his heels. "It's to the science museum and Mama promised to go with me!" He was very excited about the trip and they needed parents along. While Malik was not the same flight risk in school as he was at home, Kasia wanted to show him that she would be there for him through things that he enjoyed. Her best memories with Daddy was doing stuff they both liked.
"Hey, what if we go buy some pizza and you both tell me and Nana all about your trips?" Daddy gave Kasia and Dalia a smile. Ah, they were about to get a thirty-minute break. They could use it, especially since it came with silence. Malik and Munir did not know what silence was.
"Pizza and tacos!" Malik grinned.
"And burgers and fries!" Munir leaned down, trying to get Daddy to look at his face.
"Who is eating all of that?" Raven asked with a smile.
"Gigi and Mama eat a lot because they're so big," Munir replied. It was not a lie, but even they would not be able to eat all of that.
Malik put his chin in the air. "I'll be even bigger when I grow up."
"Well, then we need to get you in basketball and baseball now," Daddy said. That had already been discussed. Those would be their summer activities. Kasia was in charge of that while Dalia would focus on Mekeena. There was very likely a "mommy and me" swim class in their future, which would be interesting since Dalia did not swim.
"I'll play basketball better, too," Malik said with his chin in the air.
Daddy laughed. "We'd love that, actually. Now, let's get our shoes back on. We might even stop to visit Grandma."
That got Malik moving. Just as he loved his Nana, he loved Kasia's grandmother. They called her Grandma, too, mostly because they heard her say that. And Grandma loved them. She was a little off when Dalia came over, as if trying not to offend Dalia or upset Kasia, but she was so awesome with the kids. It reminded Kasia of how Grandma was with her when she was younger, before she came out. Age had made Grandma more indulgent and open-minded, so Kasia and Dalia could drop by unannounced with the kids and she would love it. She showed them off to her friends just like she used to do with Kasia and Malik ate it up just like Kasia used to.
So, shoes were back put on as were jackets and they were gone. Kasia breathed a sigh of relief as soon as the door closed. Dalia smiled at her.
"I'm gonna fall asleep right here," Kasia said as she put her head down on the table.
"I doubt it would be the first time," Dalia replied.
"Nah, and hopefully not the last. This table has seen damn near my entire life. I can't believe how it's still holding up."
Dalia gave her a soft smile. "I bet your dad takes good care of it."
That never occurred to her. Daddy probably did fix up the table through the years. She caressed the surface, feeling the nicks and scratches of the ages. Stupid table. Always there when something happened, the good and the bad. It was a constant in life she never would have thought she appreciated.
By the time pizza was placed on the table, Mekeena was awake and Dalia was feeding her. Of course, Mekeena being a baby, she wore more of the food than she ate. Kasia cleared space on the table as Raven put down plates. Munir remained on Daddy's shoulders. They had been out for almost two hours, so they definitely stopped at the park before they got the food. If Munir stayed on Daddy's shoulders the whole time, it would not be a surprise.
"Mama! Careful!" Malik's voice was loud.
Kasia jumped, heart in her throat, and it was good she already put pizza boxes down or she would have dropped them. "What? What did I do?" Did she hurt Malik? Oh, god, we're gonna lose the kids!
"You dropped the Gundam!" Malik waved the model at her. "You coulda broke it."
"Thank you for saving him. That's my favorite," Kasia replied. He knew the word "gundam" thanks to her, even though he watched the anime with Dalia. He first encountered them as her models. There were quite a few of them in the home office. Dalia did not mind her decorating with models and she had started doing puzzles again. She framed the first puzzle she and the boys had completed. It was on the living room wall at home.
Malik moved the arm. "Can I build one?"
"Yup. I'll take you to the collectibles store," she replied with a smile. Pride bloomed in her chest. She had been looking forward to this moment. Hopefully, he would be interested in keeping the hobby right along with her.
"Thank you!" Malik grinned and then his brow wrinkled. "You'll help me, right?"
She smiled. "Anytime you need it, bud." Some of her best memories were of her and Daddy building models. She wanted Malik to have memories like that.
"Me, too?" Munir asked, staring at her with big, hopeful hazel eyes.
"Yup, you, too. Now, everybody's gotta eat!" Kasia popped open the top box of pizza and pulled out a slice for Malik. Raven slid a plate under it before handing the plate to Malik. He parked himself in what was usually Kasia's chair. He knew it was her chair, but she would never dare move him. She wanted him to be comfortable and if he needed her seat for that to happen, then okay. He held onto the Gundam as he ate his pizza and that was okay, too.
Daddy put Munir down in a chair by Malik as Kasia slid half a slice in front of him. Sometimes, he could eat a whole slice and other times not so much. She would save the other half for him in case this was one of his hungrier moments. He smiled as he bit the slice and kicked his feet back and forth in his chair.
Daddy poured the boys some juice while Kasia plated two slices for him. She grabbed her own slices and then passed a slice to Dalia. Hastily, she passed Raven a slice and then broke up the box for recycling. She and Daddy would probably pop open the second box.
Kasia moved to stand by Dalia, who now held Mekeena in her lap and tried to eat as the baby grabbed for her slice. Dalia laughed and bit as much of the slice as she could while she had the chance. Kasia leaned down to distract the baby, so Dalia could eat in peace. Dalia blew a kiss at her.
Once the boys were done, they relocated to the living room. Daddy sat on the couch with them to start a movie. Dalia and Raven followed not long after. Kasia ate more pizza as she cleaned up the mess, wanting the table to get a rest from their madness. Eventually, she made her way to the movie as well.
Nightfall and the boys were asleep in Kasia's old bed. She and Dalia sat at the table, trying to decide what to do. It was not so late that it would be mean to wake the boys up to go home, especially since Daddy would likely drive them, but they would also love to stay with their "Gigi." Was it fair to saddle him and Raven with two kids, especially one prone to mood swings? Not to mention, Munir had awful nightmares.
"We don't mind having them," Daddy assured her, standing in the living room.
"You say that now until Munir wakes up screaming," Kasia pointed out. The first and last time it happened when the boys stayed over, Kasia had to come pick the boys up in the middle of the night. Nothing Daddy did calmed Munir down. It was not until he was in Kasia's arms that he settled. With a snotty snivel, he explained with his face bright red that he thought, "Mama and Mommy died like Ma and Dad." Kasia's presence proved that false and that was the last time he stayed over. But, he often had nightmares like that at home and tended to crawl into bed with her and Dalia. He found comfort in Dalia, who told him about her nightmares, and explained that Kasia was great nightmare repellent. He took that to heart.
Malik had done a sleepover a few times on his own, delighting in all the attention being on him of course. But, even he was not great with sleeping over when he had the chance, paranoid that his new mothers would not return for him. Early on, and still more often than not, Daddy said Malik stayed awake the whole night, waiting, sometimes even standing at the door. Daddy handled that by having "campouts" in the living room, but sometimes it worked and sometimes it did not, even when Raven was there.
"Still, we'd like them to stay over and get used to it. Kids need to spend the night with their grandparents and do things that would make their parents balk," Raven said with a smile.
Kasia agreed with that, even though time with Grandma had not always been positive. She had enough good times with Grandma to know what a good grandparent was like and how that could impact a child. She looked at Dalia.
"I'll come get them if Munir can't handle it," Kasia said.
Dalia frowned. "I don't want to feed their trauma."
"But, the more they stay, the more they learn to trust Gigi and Nana with their trauma." Kasia motioned to her dad and Raven, both who stared at them with hopeful eyes.
"Plus, they learn we're all there for them if they get scared," Raven said.
"And you know we want to be there for them and we want them to know that," Daddy added.
Dalia nodded. "That's true. And maybe Mu-bear will be all right once he makes it through the night. Malik got better with each stay."
"Sure has," Daddy said with a grin. He seemed to miss having kids around.
"We'll walk them over in the afternoon," Raven said.
Dalia looked skeptical. Kasia reached over and took her free hand. Dalia looked at her and she squeezed. Dalia smiled.
"Okay." Dalia nodded. Daddy and Raven high-fived. Kasia held in a laugh.
"Then, let's leave them to it and have a nice, quiet night with the baby." Kasia rose to her feet, resting her palm against a table that saw her through the best of times and the worst of times for thirty years. Hopefully, it had thirty more years in it.
Thank you to everyone that read this story. I hope you enjoyed it. Feel free to let me know what you thought. Check out my Facebook or Tumblr pages (links on my profile). Or even better, if you like my work, become a Patron on my Patreon page (link in my profile). I'm returning to my padded cell now, but I'll be back in a little while. Take care. Hasta…