Why is Elsie not growing? Blake’s thoughts centered on family as he maneuvered his Mercedes-Benz through Newport Beach’s narrow streets. Parking was a hassle and the houses closely built along the sand, but having his family away from Los Angeles was vital to him.
Monetarily rewarded by a long day at the office, concern for his motherless babies now kicked in. He realized if he hurried, he’d have time to play with Sallie and Elsie before bedtime. He took the steps two at a time.
Eight months earlier his beloved Sadie had died giving birth to the twins. Nothing the doctors could do—a brain aneurysm. It had taken all of Blake’s faith in God to move forward for his girls’ sake.
Approaching the nursery he heard giggles, the kind that come bubbling up from a baby’s belly, irresistibly contagious. He paused at the door. While the nanny busied herself putting clothes away, the twins lay on their backs on a thick quilt, their faces turned toward each other. Sallie reached her dimpled right hand over to pat her sister’s cheek. Giggles erupted. Then Elsie reached out her tiny hand and patted Sallie on the cheek. More gales of giggles. Blake knuckled moisture from the corners of his eyes and cleared his throat. Two little heads turned immediately in his direction, two sets of arms and legs flailing double time, as they recognized their daddy. Blake scooped up an armful of soft sweetness and settled Indian style to hold them on his lap.
“Good evening, Mr. Blake.” The nanny turned in greeting.
“Hello, Daphne,” Blake looked up at her as little hands patted his face and giggles burbled. He glanced down, breathed deeply, sighed. “Daphne, have you noticed our little Miss Elsie still isn’t growing like her sister?” He nuzzled his nose into one set of blond curls and then the other.
Chubby rolls on Sallie’s arms and legs made Elsie’s look like matchsticks. At her last medical check-up, Elsie’s weight was the same as the previous two months while Sallie had gained three pounds. In spite of her giggles, Elsie’s face looked gaunt. What is happening to my precious girl? I can’t bear to lose her. Oh, God, my hope is in you. Show me what to do.
“Are you following the doctor’s instructions, Daphne?” Blake inquired.
“Of course, Mr. Blake, but babies grow differently,” assured Daphne. Her cheeks flushed to match her hair and her eyes avoided his. “Miss Elsie will catch up. Don’t ya worry none.”
Blake put in a nanny cam.
The recorded scenes revealed the reality. Daphne putting the girls in their high chairs. Tying on the bibs. Opening the jars of baby food. Offering a spoonful to Sallie, her mouth an open invitation. Daphne doing the same with Elsie. A tiny frown puckering the baby’s forehead as she turned her face away. Daphne making no effort to pursue.
“What a good eater you are, Miss Sallie,” Daphne cooed as Sallie eagerly gummed her strained spinach. “Not at all like your sister. Miss Elsie is a bad eater! She’s a silly bad girl. All she wants is her bottle.” Daphne’s lips puckered sourly like a cinched up garbage bag as she narrowed her eyes at Elsie.
Each meal proceeded in similar fashion. Whenever Elsie turned her head away Daphne gave no encouragement to try the food. When the bottle was given, Elsie sucked it dry in seconds.
“Clearly you have little understanding of differences of temperament,” Blake thundered at Daphne. “It’s obvious to me that Elsie has trouble with anything new introduced into her life. Patient persistence and kindness is required, which you don’t seem capable of giving. Daphne, you’re fired!”
Then Esperanza, referred to him by the pediatrician and known for her success in nurturing babies with failure-to-thrive syndrome, came bringing the desperately needed attributes into his home.
Esperanza encouraged Elsie to sample strained peas smeared on the bottle’s nipple, her soft Jamaican accent turning it into a song, “Come, my darlin’ Elsie. You’re a good eater, aren’t you, my sweet? I’ll soon have you eatin’ from a silver spoon and you’ll be lovin’ it, won’t you? A good eater, just like your sister. Two more beauteous babies I’ve never seen. Such a lovely walk in your beautiful pram this mornin’. Nothin’ like God’s fresh sea breezes to bring up an appetite.”
Blake smiled as he watched. Thank you, God, for Elsie’s hope for a future found in this woman.
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