About ten years ago, I received an IM on AOL from an unknown person, wanting to know the name of the newspaper published in Salts where we were living at the time. After messaging back and forth for a few minutes, I learned that she was the mother of three young children whose husband had abandoned her in her ninth month of pregnancy with her last child, saying that he did not want to have anything to do with her because she was "too lazy to work." She had moved back in with her mother in northern California, borne the child, and then admirably went into training to be a prison guard. Talk about gumption! Now she had been offered a job at Soledad State Prison near us. She planned to leave the children with her mother until she could find an apartment large enough for them all and in the interim stay at a cheap hotel, which is why she needed to find out the name of the newspaper: to check out the classifieds. (No internet-based newspapers back then.) As we messaged, an idea entered my head, and I asked her to get off the computer and call me on the phone.
Only a couple of weeks earlier, Shane and Lemony who had lived with us when they were first married, had moved out. We had given them the master bedroom suite, which had a separate bath and separate entrance. It would be ideal for Vanessa. We still needed to clean it up, re-paint it, and that sort of thing, but, as it turned out, the job did not start for a couple of weeks. Living with us would allow her to build up funds for a deposit and related costs for the apartment she would end up with. We charged her a nominal rent to cover our increased costs for having her there, and, because I am such a poor painter, Vanessa arrived to a mess, finishing up the job really well, and we gave her the first month's rent free in exchange for that labor.
Actually, I am totally incompetent at anything related to housekeeping, which is why having seven children was great -- they, too, hated my housekeeping and cooking and pitched in without being asked, even and especially as teenagers, to clean up the house and make the meals so that they did not have to deal with the results of my incompetent attempts at these things. Vanessa quickly discovered what all my children knew, and soon she was offering to make dinner, rather than eat what I prepared. That worked out well, too.
It took a while for Vanessa to reach the point that she had enough money for an apartment. In the interim, she really missed her children. We had a lot of empty rooms since all the children, being approximately the same age, left at once, leaving us suddenly empty nesters. So, Vanessa brought the children down. I remember the youngest being so excited at meeting Donnie, who is a portly person with a white beard and mustache. She climbed up on his lap, patted his stomach, and said, "I want a Barbie!" The next day I caught her skipping around the room, singing "I live with Santy Clause, I live with Santy Clause." (So much for Donnie's self-esteem! Actually, he thought it was funny!)
Day care would have been expensive but at precisely that time, I had an extended consulting contract with a company that preferred that I work at home. One child during the day and three after school was very little work. (I know, I know...it is all relative, but after seven, three is easy.) So, I babysat them for her until Vanessa could find a place.
With the meals and babysitting, we soon got to know Vanessa well, and she was like another one of our children. She would share with us her concerns at work, the abuse she had suffered at the hands of her father (Sheesh! Did anyone grow up in a good home?), and her worries about her children and just plain stuff related to daily living. We missed her when she moved out, especially because she was almost immediately after that trasnferred to a prison farther south. The move was fine; she was now able to stand on her own two feet: emotionally, career-wise, and financially. We were proud of her and happy for her.
Vanessa kept in touch for years, but then, as with Ksenya, given all the concurrent moves by all members of the family, we lost track of her and she of us. That, in a way, is sad, but perhaps it is how life is supposed to be. We are given some of God's children to take care of for important spans of time, and if we do it well then the reward is in knowing that we made a difference. It is not in having anyone feel beholden to us, return favors, or even keep in touch. We simply provided one of the way stations in their lives.
And that is the way it is with the Mahlou clan. God keeps putting people, mainly young ones, in our path. We keep taking them in and caring for them in until they are ready to move on to their next intersection in this world. We love them, but we know that first and foremost they belong to God, not to us. We are simply God's laborers in these cases, and He pays us extravagantly for our services in blessings.