Marco in the Park

by Nick Brady

Part 25

My birthday falls on March 1 and Marco had a surprise for me. I came home from work and there was something standing against the kitchen table with a sheet draped over it. On the table was a birthday cake with 28 candles which Marco was hurriedly lighting as I walked in and took off my jacket.

"Happy birthday to you...," he began to sing with a big grin on his face.

"What's this?" I laughed.

"It's your birthday party," he explained.

I hugged him close and gave him a big wet kiss. "Thank you!" I looked at the sheet draped over something mysterious.

"And what's this?"

"Look and see," he instructed.

I took hold of the sheet and pulled it away from a framed painting. It was clearly Marco's work. It was of a pair of Red-tailed hawks, mottled brown on their backs, the under-body and legs white and the fan of tail feathers a rusty red. One was an adult, the other somewhat younger although fully feathered. The younger was crouched as if about to vault from the limb he was perched on. The older was bent towards him with wings partially spread and watching intently.

The metaphor was clearly that of an older bird carefully teaching the younger to fly. It was beautifully drawn in Marco's confident style. The hawks and branches were detailed, the background only suggested. The feathers were rendered by colors which blended together into the natural shades of the feathers. The eyes were intent and finely rendered. It was a magnificent painting and the realization that it portrayed us and our relationship struck me like a thunderbolt.

I pulled up a chair and sat down to look closely. "Oh my God, Marco. This is incredible," I choked out.

Marco stepped behind me and put his arms around my shoulders very affectionately. "I don't need to explain this to you do I?" he asked.

"No," I shook my head. "No, I recognize these birds," I chuckled in a trembling voice. It took me a moment to be able to say, "This is the most beautiful thing I have ever seen."

"I want to put this up on the wall somewhere, but I don't want to take down your Indian," I suggested.

Marco smiled. "There is room for both," He took down his old friend then arranged them to hang side by side. "I think they'll get along," he said.

We sat and looked at them and I decided he was right.

After a minute I mentioned, "We need to talk about Father Hoover's suggestion."

Marco sighed. "I know. I keep thinking about that. Knowing Father Hoover, I bet we end up being foster parents. If so then we will for sure need a bigger place. There is nowhere to put a kid in here. The sofa won't cut it."

"It would be nice to have a house anyway," I agreed. "Maybe we should do that first and then see what happens. If we end up getting a foster kid we would be ready. No doubt there will be paperwork and legal niceties."

The next Sunday after church we told Father Hoover that we weren't sure about being foster parents but the house did sound like a good idea. He just smiled and told us he would make the arrangements. Two weeks later we found ourselves moving with the help of a couple of young men from the church and their pickup trucks. As if by magic some additional furniture appeared in the other two bedrooms, a twin bed in one, a set of bunk beds in the other and chests of drawers in each.

Suddenly we had a three bedroom house with a fenced-in back yard and a lot more room. Our first order of business was to find the right place to hang up Marco's Indian and my hawks. It began to look like home.

Sure enough, within the month we were greeted by a smiling Father Hoover after the Sunday services.

"Could we chat?" he asked.

We seated ourselves in his office where he handed us two small stacks of papers. "You will need to fill these out," he instructed us.

"What's this?" I asked.

"Oh, the usual formalities," he told us. "A background check to verify that you have no legal problems, consent agreements. You know, that sort of thing. I foresee no difficulty."

"What are we agreeing to?" Marco asked suspiciously.

The old priest smiled kindly. "There are a pair of young brothers, twin boys actually, who are in need of a good home. Of course we will arrange for you to meet them discretely before you make a final decision, but I think you will find them easy to love."

Marco sighed. "This is getting awfully real."

Father Hoover laughed. "Yes, well you may remember the story of Samuel in the bible. When he heard the voice of the Lord, he simply replied 'Here I am'. Sometimes we hear a call and are not sure of the source, but it is often the work of our Lord. I would suggest that this is such a case."

"Boy, you don't give a guy a lot of wiggle room, do you," Marco protested.

"I answer to my own call dear boy," he chuckled. "Do you need more time to think about this? I admit it is a very important decision."

Marco and I looked at each other and nodded silently. "I think we might need to see the boys before we decide, and perhaps know something about them."

"Of course," Father Hoover answered with the sense that everything had been decided. "Take care of this paperwork and I will set things in motion." We were dismissed.

We drove home from church feeling sure that our life was changing forever. We sat down and filled out all the forms. We used Father Hoover, Luigi and my boss as our references, attached a copy of our wedding certificate and then looked at each other across the kitchen table.

"Are we really going to do this?" I asked Marco.

He smiled. "Here we are, I guess."

Marco dropped off the forms at the church after school and we waited to hear from somebody. A week later we got a call from the Oklahoma Department of Human Services regarding our application. We arranged to meet at their office on Wednesday afternoon, checked in at the desk and were shown to a cubicle. A pleasant looking lady stood to greet us.

"Hi, I'm Cindy," she introduced herself.

We introduced ourselves and took a seat.

She looked us over and studied our paperwork. "You guys are married?" she asked.

"That's right," I told her. "We have been married for about a year and a half."

She continued to flip through our forms. "You have nice references. We know Father Hoover. We have worked through him before. You are both working, and you are going to TU?" she glanced at Marco who nodded.

"This is all sort of general today, but I do wonder," she looked at Marco again. "Are you Native American?" she asked him.

"Yes I am, I'm one-quarter Seminole," he told her. "I'm attending TU on a Seminole tribal scholarship."

Cindy had a trace of a smile. "That's interesting. We need more Indians who are willing to be foster parents. Can you tell me what you would be comfortable with in terms of ages, and gender?"

We hadn't really talked about that before. I looked at Marco who replied, "I think an infant would be tough for us right now. Maybe at least 3 or 4? and I could relate better to a boy I think," he looked back at me for confirmation.

She looked at her paperwork a bit more, then smiled. "Actually, your friend Father Hoover has already sort of talked to our supervisor. You guys look pretty good, actually you look great. How would you feel about twin 4 year old boys?"

I was surprised at how quickly we seemed to have been approved. "It is OK that we are a same sex couple?"

The girl laughed. "You come right to the point don't you? Well maybe it's not ideal, but I guess times have changed. We even have single foster parents. What's important is that you seem to be very stable and come well recommended," she looked at Marco again. "These boys are Native American, Seminole even. You might be just the right family for them."

For the first time Marco broke out in a broad smile. "Really? That's kind of neat. Can you tell us about them?"

"Well," Cindy pulled some additional papers from another folder on her desk. "They are living in a shelter up in Miami right now. Their parents were a young couple who were killed in an automobile accident about a month ago and appear not to have had much family. The only living relative is a maternal grandmother who is er, not suitable. We tried to locate some other family members but the father has none that we can find. It looks like these guys are on their own. I don't know much about their home situation, but it doesn't appear that either parent had a record or anything. They should be pretty nice kids."

I could tell that Marco was getting excited. "Actually, that sounds very interesting" he looked at me for agreement.

"Assuming that our application is accepted, I think we would like to have a chance to meet these boys first, or at least see them."

"Oh yes of course. Give us a week or so and we will get back to you," she smiled. "I really don't think there will be any problem. You gentlemen come very well recommended."

On the way out of the office I said to Marco. "I think that was a done deal before we ever walked in there."

Marco shook his head. "Never underestimate Father Hoover," then he laughed. "But I'm OK with it. I think he knows what we need better than we do. Let's see what happens."

What happened was that on the following Monday we got a call from DHS asking if we could be in Miami the next day to see the boys. We excused ourselves from school and work, and drove to the northeastern Oklahoma town of Miami to visit the shelter where the boys were being housed temporarily. We went into the front room and introduced ourselves to a lady who told us her name was Maria.

"Yes, we were expecting you," she said. Let me take you out to where the boys are playing."

It was a pleasant spring day and there were a dozen kids of varying ages in the back yard. Sitting in a sand box pushing rusty toy cars around were two small brown boys who looked remarkably alike.

"That's them," she pointed to the sand box.

Marco almost held his breath. "What are their names?"

"Their names are Samuel and Benjamin Crane and they will be 4 years old on July 12," she laughed then admitted, "I really can't tell you which is which."

We sat in a couple of folding chairs next to the house and watched them quietly so as not to draw attention to ourselves. They were engaged in pushing the sand into little roads and hills and moving the cars around. They were obviously working together to a certain extent, but we could not tell that they were speaking to each other. The lady stood with us for a few minutes then excused herself and went back inside.

Marco leaned forward with his elbows on his knees to observe them then glanced over at me. "They're beautiful," he said. "Look at how they work with each other."

They were in fact very handsome little boys with straight medium-length black hair and dark copper-brown skin, healthy looking but a little thin. They were quiet but very alert. They were wearing knit shorts and clean but dingy T-shirts, their canvas shoes were untied. They were adorable.

Marco watched them very intently for several minutes. He seemed to be absorbing something from them, looking at them with the same intensity with which he usually observed things.

"I think they're OK," he said.

"How do you mean?"

"I was afraid they would be messed up or something. I think they're alright," Marco observed. "I think we can do this. What do you think?"

"They look like neat little boys. I have the feeling that you will be the one they relate to best, but I am fine with this. I could pick them up and take them home right now," I admitted.

Marco stood and shook his head slowly from side to side. I could hear him mutter quietly, "Here I am Lord – here we are."

We went back in the house and told Maria that we thought little Samuel and Benjamin looked great and we hoped that things would work out with them. On the drive back to Tulsa we called Cindy and told her the same thing. She assured us that we would be hearing from her soon.

Things progressed rather quickly after that, maybe quicker than we were prepared for. Cindy called and told us that our application had been approved and wondered what we thought about the little boys in Miami. We said we would love to have them and were told to pick them up on the following Saturday.

Suddenly realizing that we were not really prepared to take two toddlers into our home quite so quickly, we did the only sensible thing we could think of. We called Father Hoover who told us to come right over.

"We are supposed to go get them on Saturday," Marco told him with a sense of apprehension.

"I guess we can put them in the bunk beds but what about clothes? We don't really know what they will need," I added with concern.

"Now boys, don't panic. You are not alone here," he assured us. "Someone is on their way to join us who will be very helpful."

We were describing the little boys at the shelter when a smiling lady tapped at the door and was invited in.

"This is Susan and she will be very helpful to you," Father said by way of an introduction. "Susan is a social worker and has more experience with these things than the rest of us put together."

"Oh I don't know about that, but I will help if I can," Susan said pleasantly. "What can I do for you?"

"These brave lads are about to take responsibility for twin toddlers. This is their first time as foster parents and their experience is limited. They are wondering what they need to acquire in order to provide for these youngsters. Do you think you might advise them?"

"Oh my, you are in for an adventure aren't you? Do you have beds for these boys?" she asked.

"We are in a 3 bedroom house and have a pair of bunk beds and a dresser, but that's about all," I told her.

"How old are these boys?"

"They will be 4 in July," I said. "We may have bitten off more than we can chew," I admitted.

Susan smiled. "Father has told me that he has great faith in you fellows and that is good enough for me. Let's see if we can make a list of what you will need. How about car seats? You will need those to get them home, and probably a pair of high chairs if they are little fellows. Hopefully they are potty trained but you will need a potty chair I imagine. Will they have some clothes to bring with them?"

Marco and I looked at each other with some concern. "Probably none of that," Marco guessed.

Susan was making a list. "I can help with those things I believe. Do they have any special dietary concerns?"

Marco paused. "Not that we know of. They look pretty healthy though."

"Oh my, you boys are brave. I suspect that you will be informed of anything that the shelter knows about when you pick them up, but it will be best to schedule them for a physical as soon as you are able. I believe I can help with that as well," she added another item to her list. "When will you be picking them up?"

"They said to come get them on Saturday," I told her.

"This coming Saturday?" she asked with surprise.

"Yes Ma'am," I replied.

"Very well, we can probably get Brad to do the physical at the clinic, don't you think?" she looked at Father Hoover.

"I will call him. They have 24 hour coverage at the emergency clinic," he agreed.

The calm deliberate way that Susan ticked though the things that we would need, and her comment that resources were available gave us some reassurance that our situation was perhaps not as overwhelming as we feared. There was more discussion, mostly between Susan and Father Hoover and by the time we parted we had a list of those things that we would need to procure, most of which was a grocery list. To our surprise we were told most of the other things could be provided. Susan promised to get back to us very soon.

When we concluded, Father Hoover walked us out with his hands on our shoulders. "Fellows, I realize that I am partly responsible for getting you into this challenging situation and you may be sure that I will not abandon you now. St. Jerome's is a community of good people and we have many resources to draw from here. Have faith. This will all work out."

On Thursday I got a call on my cell phone from Susan. "Will one of you be home at 6:00 this evening?"

"Yes, we should both be there," I assured her.

"Take courage," she told me. "Help is on the way."

Promptly at 6:00 a large van pulled up in front of the house and a pair of young men knocked to be sure they had the right address, then began carrying in all the things that a pair of small boys would need to set up housekeeping. There were car seats, high chairs, potty seats and several boxes of toddler size clothing. Also included was a box of toys and some nice storybooks, something we had not thought of but Susan had remembered. The young men not only carried them in but helped us put them away and straighten out the place to make it kid inhabitable.

I recognized one of the guys as from our church. I thanked them and tried to tip them but was laughed at for my efforts. "We are glad to help," they told us. "Good luck. You guys are going to need it."

We sat down in the living room and looked around at the assortment of toddler stuff that had suddenly appeared in our home.

"Wow, this is crazy," Marco sighed. Then he shrugged. "Well, are you ready to go shopping for our little family?"

I pushed the shopping cart as Marco went through the list of kid friendly foods. There was soft sandwich bread, smooth peanut butter, grape jelly, a container of honey that looked like a little bear, macaroni and cheese dinners, hot dogs, baloney, sliced cheese, crackers, sugar cookies, fruit flavored yogurt, milk, eggs and cheerios. We added a package of carrot sticks, a package of frozen green peas, a can of beets, a couple of sweet potatoes, and fresh fruit – apples, oranges and bananas.

"I hope this works. Actually it looks pretty good," Marco said. "We can all live on this."

"I just hope these kids don't have any special allergies," I fretted.

"Nah, these are little Indian boys. I bet they're tough," Marco guessed.

Friday afternoon we heard from Susan and were given the address of the 24 hour clinic where we were to take the boys for an introductory physical examination on Saturday afternoon. That evening was spent giving the house a good cleaning. We didn't need for them to get sick from our sloppy housekeeping.

Saturday morning we tried to think of what else needed to be done but went blank. We buckled the car seats in the back of my Camry and took off for Miami. The great adventure had begun.

We arrived in Miami about noon and Maria ushered us into the dining room where the kids were eating lunch. I noted that it looked like baloney sandwiches, carrot sticks and milk. All items on our list. So far so good.

After lunch she had us sign some papers then invited the twins into the living room and introduced us.

"Samuel and Benjamin, this is Marco and Marty. They are going to take you live with them. You will get to ride in their car and do lots of fun things!" She tried to be enthusiastic but the boys looked suspicious. I felt nervous.

Marco stepped up to the boys and squatted down to be at eye level. "Hi. My name is Marco. What are your names?" he asked quietly. The boys stood closer together and did not respond.

"I know that one of you is Samuel and one of you is Benjamin. Are you Benjamin?" he poked one of the boys in the tummy and grinned.

The boy who had been poked gave a shy smile and the other said crossly. "No!" then pointed at himself.

"OK then, you are Samuel and you are Benjamin," giving each a gentle tummy poke while smiling in a friendly way. We both tried to remember who was who by memorizing the T-shirts. The boys seemed to relax a little.

Maria appeared again carrying two little knapsacks with Sponge Bob on the back. Inside I assumed was whatever the boys had for possessions. "Look what you have! Look, it's Sponge Bob and you get to keep them." The boys looked interested but not totally convinced.

"Do you have car seats?" Maria asked and we nodded in the affirmative. "This works better if we do it quickly," she told us quietly and helped us out to the car where the boys were reluctantly strapped into the car seats. She stepped back quickly and waved goodbye. We drove off feeling like kidnappers.

As soon as we drove away both boys began to squirm and cry.

"They're scared," Marco said. "Stop at the McDonald's up here."

I pulled in and went to the drive through. The kids continued to cry. Marco ordered 2 orders of fries and 2 small root beers with lids and straws. As soon as we left he turned around and waved the fries under their noses.

"Want some fries?" he tempted them. The crying continued but they were looking at the fries. Marco took one, ate it and smacked loudly. Then he took another and offered it to one and then the other, pretending to snatch it away as quickly as it was offered. They looked somewhat interested.

On the second pass one of them (we thought it was Benjamin) opened his mouth and accepted the fry. At that point Samuel opened his mouth. Marco began to feed them fries, supplementing them with root beer. Soon the boys were munching on their snacks, wet tears still on their cheeks but no longer crying. Marco fed them fries until they lost interest then gently wiped their faces with a napkin. He began to point at things out of the window until their eyes grew heavy and both little boys sagged down in their car seats and fell asleep.

Marco turned to me and smiled. "Round one," he said.

I looked at him and chuckled. "You are amazing. How did you know how to do that?"

He sat back and grinned. "You got to think like a little kid."

We arrived back in Tulsa and drove to the clinic. Each of us took a sleeping boy in our arms and walked inside. The receptionist seemed to know who we were and sent us back to an examining room. We were soon joined by a physician's assistant.

"Hello, I'm Brad," he told us. "Are these your new boys?"

To our surprise the little guys seemed to be pretty stoic about all this. I assumed that the combination of fries and a nap had been helpful.

Brad was good with kids. First he got them to 'go potty' for a urine sample. He made a game out of listening to their heart sounds, allowing them to first listen to his. He exchanged lion faces with them, managing to look down their throats in the process. He took their temperature with a clever gadget that he swiped across their temple and probed their abdomens while pretending to tickle them. With our assistance he quickly removed their clothing, inspected their genitals and checked for any bruises or evidence of abuse while keeping them distracted with a sucker. They looked great and got a clean bill of health.

"These guys look pretty healthy," he told us. "It would be best if we had some kind of a health history for them but your social worker might be able to find that for you. I am guessing that they don't have any serious allergy problems. Their throat and lungs seem clear. Common food allergies would probably have shown up while they were in the shelter. Watch them carefully and keep track of what they eat."

We shook hands and thanked him as we got ready to leave. "I will call your social worker while you are on the way home and she will send someone to help you get the boys settled. I would recommend that you find a regular pediatrician for them soon. We normally are only here for emergencies but were happy to help you today. Best of luck!"

We wrestled the boys back into the car seats where Marco pacified them with left-over fries. We were home soon to find Lisa, a young nursing student waiting there to assist us.

Lisa was great. We got instruction on potty training. They were not diaper kids but would need to be reminded to go periodically to avoid accidents. She looked over the sleeping arrangements and suggested that the bunk beds would best be put side-by-side to avoid a fall from the top bunk, and helped us rearrange them. We talked about a simple diet and the benefits of soft easy-to-digest foods. She checked our food stock and approved with a reminder that some green vegetables would be nice. She basically gave us a crash course in parenting toddlers.

"We don't know how to thank you," I told her. "Could we talk you into camping in the spare bedroom?" I asked, only partly joking.

"Oh you'll be fine," she assured us and was off and away.

And there we were, alone with two little boys. During the time that Lisa had been instructing us little Samuel and Benjamin had sort of followed us around out of curiosity. Actually, they had followed Marco around and kept him in their sight. Now that we were on our own, we sat them down in the middle of the living room floor and dumped out the box of toys that Susan had left for us. Marco and I sat and watched them as they inspected the contents of the toy box, mostly cars, trucks and trains.

"Well here we are," Marco said while keeping his eyes glued on the twins.

I shook my head and laughed, "The first thing we need to do is figure out how to tell them apart."

"Benjamin is a little bigger," Marco stated.

"Really?" I looked again and couldn't see the difference.

"I was looking at them when Brad had their clothes off," Marco explained. "Samuel is a little shorter and more slender. Benjamin is just a little bigger."

"Well that only works if they are both naked and standing together."

"True," Marco laughed. "But it's a start. At least they know the difference."

"They are beautiful," I said. "They were following you around like puppies."

"Yeah, they seem to like me. I guess I am the right color."

"And you fed them fries," I suggested."

"Can you tell them apart right now?" I asked.

"Well yes, but only because I remember what color shirt they are wearing. Maybe we should just let them run naked."

"No, really. I need to tell them apart. We will confuse them if we don't get their names right," I insisted.

Marco looked very thoughtful. "You're right. That is important. Maybe we could give them different haircuts or something."

I laughed then thought about it. "Actually that might not be a bad idea, at least until we get used to them."

"We will figure this out," Marco had scarcely taken his eyes off of the boys as they inspected their toys. "What do you think Marty? Is this going to work?"

"It just has to. I don't think there is any turning back now."

"Nope," Marco got up and went to the kitchen. "I need to feed these puppies."

Marco diced up some hot dogs and quickly made a mac and cheese dinner while I set up the high chairs. We put some milk in a pair of tippy cups and dished out their dinner. We decided to watch them eat and feed ourselves later. Marco supervised while I put sheets on the beds.

They pretty well fed themselves, ignoring the small forks that were provided and ate with their hands. Marco helped with the milk and they seemed to get a fair amount of food inside themselves. The greater portion went on the table and on the floor, but it was a start.

Marco looked over the cheesy face and hands and said, "OK boys. It's bath time. Marty, you run the tub and I'll get them undressed.

I started running warm water into the bathtub, not sure of the temperature but being careful not to let it get too hot. While I was bent over Marco tossed a couple of empty plastic containers into the tub then retreated to the living room. After a minute I heard loud giggles then he entered the bathroom with a naked squirming boy under each arm.

We put them on the little potty chairs and encouraged them to 'go potty'. First Samuel pushed and his face got red and he dropped his little deposit inside. Not to be outdone, Benjamin followed suit. We were generous with our praise and more than a little grateful. We each wiped a small bottom as the boys leaned forward and stood on their heads.

I squirted in a little dab of bath gel and swished it around to create some soap bubbles then we put the boys in the tub. Marco splashed them gently and poured water over them with the containers. They seemed to like that so we watched them closely and let them soak and play with the plastic tubs.

Marco looked at them with an expression of pure joy. "Wow, they are such cute little fellows."

"They are beautiful," I said. They look like miniature Marco. They even have their foreskins like you."

Marco smiled. "They need to know how to keep themselves clean but I can show them how. I understand about that."

I sat on the toilet lid and watched while Marco sat on the edge of the tub and cootchie-cooed them while he swished around on them with a wash cloth. They did fine. Marco pulled first one and then the other out and handed them to me to be wrapped in a clean towel and patted dry. We took them into what was to be their bedroom and got out some underpants and a clean T-shirts.

Marco looked them over and pointed to the one he declared was Samuel. "Put the yellow shirt on this one. Benjamin gets the blue shirt." We had them sorted out for the first night.

We put them in separate beds and stood back. Samuel almost immediately scooted down and got in bed with his brother then they looked a little more content.

We stood and admired them for a minute then turned out the light and started to leave. There was an immediate protest.

Marco disappeared and returned with a copy of 'The Cat in the Hat' by Dr. Suess. "I need to read to them," he said.

I sat on a little side chair while Marco kicked off his shoes and snuggled into the bed with his little puppies. He began to read, slowly and with expression, holding the book so that they could see the pictures. Probably they did not really understand the words, but they like the sound of them, the rhythm of the simple rhymes and the warm sound of Marco's voice.

I sat and watched as they grew quiet and fell asleep. Marco lay very still and waited for ten minutes or so, then gently slid out of bed and pulled the covers over the sleeping children. He turned to me and I saw that his eyes were wet. He nodded his head and gave me a silent thumbs-up.

"Round two," he whispered.

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