Sister`s Keeper

by Rhonda Davis

     Mikayla Thompson was filled with nervous anticipation of her first night as a childbirth instructor. She checked her clothes and hair about a million and one times, did that 'check the smell of my breath in my hand' thing then kissed her husband, Anthony.

"You're going to be fine, honey, I promise. With God, that winning personality and spirit, no way you can lose!" he reassured her.

"Thanks, I needed that a lot," she replied gently.

Through her church, Mickie set up the 'Childbirth plus One', a class for people ready for the wild ride of becoming a parent into the first year. With three children, she felt almost old hat at it. With the help of Sharon, her husband Brian, Myra and William, they prepared the course curriculum.

      She looked into the classroom just moments before to see how many actually showed up. It was a good size crowd with a mixture of races, young and older couples, except for one young lady who looked to be by herself. Most were members of the congregation of the church she attended.

      "Well, Malcolm, here we go", she said to her four month old. She walked into the classroom, set him and his car seat gently on the floor and began.

      "Babies. We all know how to have them. It's been going on since the beginning of time. I'd find the perfect set of eyes, body type, and smile, fall in love, and procreate. First, the feeling of jubilation when my husband, Anthony, and I found we have been blessed with the responsibility of caring for another life. Nine months of anticipation, wondering if all ten toes and fingers will be there, and the joy of telling our loved ones, and anyone else who will listen, WE are pregnant. " She looked around to see if she had everyone's attention. Satisfied, Mickie continued.

      "We'd watch my round belly grow, feet swell and odd craving at three o'clock in the morning. Long walks in the mall, oohing and aahing at the precious little clothing, tiny diapers and tee-shirts, cribs and bibs, and me with all the 'motherly' feelings. Warm fuzzies filled my heart as tears welled in my eyes when I understood it was our turn."

      Mikayla looked at a couple of the expectant parents. She saw the same starry-eyed look she had just before Tonya was born. She laugh to herself. She never thought she'd be teaching to new parents. For years it had been just a dream, but now it was a reality. The nervous bats in her stomach had subsided to butterflies.

      "About seven or eight months in I could no longer sleep on my stomach, couldn't fit anything because I had succumbed to all of the cravings, but, promised this would be the last pint of Ben and Jerry's I'd would have this week. I was tired of the round belly table with my button poking out of my shirt, even though I've applied duct tape to keep it down." The class broke into laughter at the visual. "My breast ached, and HE wanted to touch them, the one who got me into this shape in the first place. Can't fit into sweat clothes, shoes or the car, so I'd sit on the enormous behind that had been created and think of cute names." Mickie touched hers for exclamation.

      "My stomach had become public domain. Strangers want to touch 'it'. No harm done, just aggravating to hear people ask about 'it', when I was due, and if I was lucky, I'd hear someone's horror story about how they were in labor for one hundred twenty seven hours!"

      "After I was nine months along, with all baby showers and gifts, false starts, sleepless night, pea-size bladder, and crying spells, I wondered if it would ever be over. Then GOD decided to let me off the hook. Bags packed, we headed for the hospital. The contractions weren't bad, at first. I thought I'd breeze right through this. The Lamaze coaches had me prepared. Natural. Just as it had been times before me." Mickie let out a loud sigh, then silence for effect.

      " Yeah......well, someone didn't prepare me for the Mack truck leaving my body that had me

cursing the ground my husband walks on. There I was, lying on the birthing bed in the tiny birthing room, surrounded by friends, family, a couple of unknown medical students, with all of my business in plain view. That's when morphine came to my mind! Then, WHAMO, it's over. One healthy, loud baby is born. " She looked over at Malcolm smiling."All ten fingers and toes. Looked like an alien, though. Head too big for it's body, arms and legs flying every which way, and did I mention loud? And then, right on cue, he pees on the doctor. I looked at him and sigh. Yeah, it was worth it." Another laugh. She couldn't help but feel like this was her calling: To assist her Heavenly Creator in the education process. Lots of prayer made this fly, she thought. Thank you, Father, they're laughing at this.

      "All the help you get will depend on who you ask. Now, your own mother, of course, are always a good bet." Mickie said with a thick layer of sarcasm, "She has advice on everything. She will tell you how a brown paper bag soaked in vinegar gently applied to the forehead will 'pull the fever right out of it'. She'll let you know, based upon her vague memory of you, when they should reach certain milestones, such as talking. 'I think you were spouting sentences when you were about two maybe three months old.' She'll also let you know when you do something you shouldn't. 'You shouldn't take her out without a tee shirt and hat on. Yes, I know it one hundred and seventy degrees, but it'll get a chill. I'm not telling you what to do, baby, just trying to HELP.' Even little old ladies on the street will talk to you through it. 'Oh, isn't it the cutest thing. I hope Mommy sterilized that pacifier before she gave it to you. That plastic is all germy and we wouldn't want you to get sick'."

      "So you'll bring your bundle of joy home from the hospital in one of the cute outfits given to you at the baby shower. You're kind of anxious to try out that crib your mate put together. Yes, there were a few pieces still left over, but what the heck, he did read the directions, and those were there just in case

the others got lost. But it looks good and sturdy. The room is painted and all the mobiles, black and white of course, hanging over the crib, and the rocking chair in the corner. Gently, you'll place your bundle of joy in the crib, smile as you hold your mate, and to yourself you think, now what?"

      "Well, that's what we're here for." Mickie took a deep breath, smiled and turned around, reached into the carrier and picked up Malcolm. My name is Mikayla, Mickie if you like, and this is my four month old son Malcolm. What we're doing is giving a little help, some hands on training, help for dad, and a little for the babies, as they try to school us. I have enlisted the help of several other parent couples who will come in or we'll go on 'field trips' to experience this wonderful thing known as parenthood." While she spoke, Malcolm babbled and they passed out the syllabus. A hand went up in the front of the room.

      "So we get the chance to see you guys in action at your house, changing diapers and stuff?" the question was raised by the young lady at the front.

"What's your name?" Mickie asked

"Diana. I was also curious 'cause..well, daddy works, an' I hafta let him know in advance if I need a ride" she replied timidly. Mickie noted this was the young woman she saw when she peeped in beforehand. She had a sadness about her that went right into Mickie's spirit. Not wanting to intrude, she replied,

"Yes, Diana, but, I will give you plenty of notice. That's what the paper will explain. Take your time tonight and kinda familiarize yourself. I have my cell phone number on it, to call if you have any additional questions before the next class time. I'm usually here at the church for bible study on Wednesday, so you can also get to me then."

      Mickie glanced back at Diane. Her face appeared soft, almost childlike, as if she were questioning the whole thing of being in the class. 'Gently, gently' Mickie heard a Voice say. After her opening, they went into discussion The time had passed quickly. People went around introducing themselves and their due dates. But, she couldn't help but wonder what it meant to be gentle. Was it talking about the class or Diane? She hadn't asked many questions, just mostly listening.

      As the class wound up, Mickie pulled the group together to say a parting prayer.The was a short round of hugging and laughing amongst the participants. Most of them, though, came over and met with Malcolm . Mickie smiled, "He's a big ham anyway! Loves all this," she said as he cooed at one of the women.

      As everyone milled out of the church, Diane was standing near the edge of the steps, peering down the street. The night sky beamed bright with the full moon and stars in the sky. One of God's perfect July evenings. Mickie, with Malcolm in tow, walked over to her. Her steps were ordered and quiet.

"Are you waiting for a ride, Diane?" she inquired.

"Yesm'm . Daddy was 'posta be here at 7:30, but it looks like he's gonna be late, as usual. Ma'am, you can call me Di. Mos my friends do."

"Do you live close? I could take you home, if you'd like," Mickie questioned. She didn't feel comfortable leaving her here by herself. She knew one of the security guards was still there, but women need women.

"Bout half mile. I'm OK. I could walk. It ain't that far." Her head hung down. She never

really looked in anyone's eyes. Mickie felt the closed posture radiate her fear. Malcolm babbled talking to Di.

"You know what?" she said as she looked for her phone, "Why don't you call your father and tell him you have a ride, and I'll take you home, OK?" Mickie handed her the phone. Timidly, Di reached for it.

"You sure it won't be no problem? I thank you, 'cause this baby boys' getting kinda heavy," as she rubbed her hand on her midsection. Mickie laughed. Di made the call as they headed for Mickie's

Jeep. She strapped in the baby and helped Diane into the car. Mickie climbed in, closed the door and buckled up. Di did the same.

"So, how far along are you?"

"Nine months. Doctor said any day now. I'm real excited, and a lot scared." Mickie took a quick glimpse at her and smiled as she pulled away from the curb.

"Yeah, right now is the crazy part. I bet his daddy is excited about it too, huh?" She was trying to ask her about the baby's father without sounding too nebby.

"I guess so. We ain't seen him in 'bout six, seven months. He's in the Army and he shipped out to Iraq back in January. We jus got married in December when I found I was pregnant, then he got his orders to go." She paused for a moment, trying to gather herself, but she couldn't hold back the tears. They fell from her eyes, and her voice was strained. "I ain't really got nobody here. Daddy do what he can, but he don't know too much 'bout how I be feeling sometimes. It's been hard since momma died and I ain't got no sisters."

Mickie's heart filled with her pain. "Gently, gently," the voice said again. "Why am I here, Lord?

What is it I'm supposed to do?" she prayed in silence.

     "I can't imagine what that feels like. With him so far away and no one else, it must be hard."

Compassion engulfed her spirit and silence filled the car. As they drove, the voice came again, "Teach her." OK, Father, she thought, Your will not mine.

"Listen," she started gently, "I want you to know you are not alone, even though you may feel that way right now. God is here and so am I. Take my home number and call. I care about you". Mickie reached over and touched her hand. "You don't have to do this by yourself. Momma told me in order to be a strong woman you have to know when to be gentle with yourself." Mickie felt the words come to her as she continued the drive. When the jeep stopped in front of Diane's house, an unstrained hush came to the conversation while she unhooked her seat belt.

"I didn't mean to be cryin'. Jus kinda came out," she sniffed. Her eyes were swollen and bloodshot from crying.

"Don't worry about that. I meant it when I said I love you. It's a hard road when your feeling isolated. You can be real with me. Like I said, call me. I really want you to. I can be your sister." Mickie expressed sincerity in her voice. Diane got out of the jeep and closed the door.

"Thanks again for the ride." She looked at the house then back "I will call you." For the first time, Diane looked Mickie in the eyes. They said what she couldn't, she even managed a tender smile. She turned and walked up the sidewalk into the house. Mikayla spoke almost in a whisper. Thank you, Father, for giving me the chance to learn.

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