We had our birthday party for two of the Children Raised by Wolves last night. I made a call to CPS earlier in the week to express our concern for the kids (and was told that CPS was already aware of issues with this family), so both FT and I had been afraid that, by the time Friday rolled around, the kids would have been whisked out of the trailer to foster care. But they were still there on Friday, and incredibly excited on the phone when we called to confirm our dinner date.
As soon as I got home from work I changed into my casual clothes and we went next door to pick them up. I was somewhat cheered to see that the boys were in clean clothes -- the oldest child has to nag his mother to achieve this -- but dismayed when Mama Wolf informed us, matter-of-factly, that she'd given the younger boy a Benadryl "so he'd calm down." (LC and FT make yet another mental note for the next telephone chat with CPS.) The younger boy curled up in the back seat of the Jeep and promptly fell asleep. The older boy was quiet, but expectant.
First we stopped at the local hobby shop, because the boys like model cars, and let them pick whatever model kits and supplies they wanted. (Because the parents have a habit of buying the boys merchandise at this store, then turning around and returning it for cash, we had the owner -- who is also on to some of the dynamics of this family -- tear up the receipt, and asked him to under no circumstances accept returns of our gifts.)
Then we went to -- laugh not -- Soaring Eagle Casino and Resort in Mt. Pleasant. FT had a Player's Club card from an extended family outing a couple of years ago that would pay for buffet dinners for all of us, so we decided that would be an good venue for these always-hungry children to get a full meal of anything they wanted. The casino also has a large arcade, away from the gaming area. Up to this point the kids had been rather subdued -- one by medication, one by excitement over his new model car kit -- but once they got inside the casino, their eyes grew wide as saucers, and they started smiling and goofing around like kids. As we approached the dining area, with its numerous food stations and Rainforest Cafe-ish tree pillars and thousands of ceiling lights simulating fireflies, they were positively enchanted.
We had to help the overwhelmed boys pick foods to try from the buffet, but by the time we got to our table their plates were stacked with kid-friendly foods like fried chicken and mac and cheese. We noted how excited they were by the presence of fresh fruit, and how when we asked them what they wanted for dessert the younger boy wistfully requested applesauce. When FT offered the boy a piece of barbecued rib, he told her that he'd never eaten spareribs before. (It didn't make an impression.) Both boys seemed afraid to leave food on their plate; we had to reassure them that if they didn't like something it was okay to let the waitress take it away. When it came time for dessert, the kids bypassed the fancy cakes and pies and other pastries on the table, and instead picked soft-serve ice cream, sans toppings despite our observation that they could make their own sundaes. (Younger Brother did mix gummi bears into his). Despite all this sensory overload, though, these children behaved as much like little gentlemen as an 8- and 9-year-old can, and held their own in conversation with two boring middle-aged broads.
It turns out that they were curbing their enthusiasm until they could get to the arcade. We loaded up a couple of cards for them and let them at the machines...and I think they tried most of them: basketball and simulated motocross and skeeball and air hockey and a few games we couldn't figure out. FT and I became exhausted just watching them. But they were all about the games, until they were literally down to their last 25 cents, searching for a machine worthy of one final play. They were both grinning from ear to ear.
"This is the best place I've ever been to since...well, it's the best place," pronounced the younger brother.
"I want to come back here," said the older brother.
"I want to live here," pronounced the younger brother. "I want to own this place, so I could play the games for free." He then looked at us. "I'd let you come and eat for free whenever you wanted. But you'd have to pay for the games."
We stopped at a Starbucks to caffeinate ourselves and get the boys some whipped-creamy strawberry drinks -- and then we were on our way back home. Now the kids couldn't stop talking. About everything. And they finally started sounding like little kids living without anxiety -- kids making farting and booger jokes and laughing at themselves.
We are both positively worn out today -- but it was worth it, and worth every penny, to take these children out for a big adventure.