This new family, including three soon-to-be adopted children, is short on everything but love this Christmas | Jenice Armstrong
At a time when most folks their age are thinking about retiring, a Logan couple is in the throes of child rearing. That could be the best Christmas gift of all.
Arlene and Kenneth Watkins met in 1988, when both were in their 20s. They had always planned on having a family but she never got pregnant.
After the couple married in 2002, Watkins took classes to become a foster mother. The couple added a bedroom to their former home in South Carolina so they could accommodate siblings. After she moved back home to Philly, she kept her dream alive, even decorating with a Noah’s Ark theme in one of the bedrooms. But it never happened.
They made themselves content with it being just the two of them. Then, almost three years ago, one of Arlene’s relatives asked if they could possibly take in his three children, who were in foster care at the time. Arlene, now 59, and Kenneth, 61, never hesitated and welcomed the children into their home.
“God gave us our hearts’ desire,” she told me last week over the phone. “He just did it on His time.”
I never had children of my own. My stepson, nieces, and nephews are all grown up now.
Getting to experience the wonder of the Christmas season through the eyes of young children is a treat for me, which is why I met up with Arlene Watkins and her family at the Macy’s in Center City on Friday. I trailed along behind as she introduced her young charges to Philadelphia’s tradition of visiting the Dickens Village display and to the story of A Christmas Carol.
“When we get home, I’ll play the Scrooge movie for you,” Watkins promised them. Although the fictional story of Ebenezer Scrooge was new to them, they were as wide-eyed as if Santa himself had been at the store — which, unfortunately, he wasn’t this year because of COVID-19 and social distancing concerns.
“This is so fun,” the 3-year-old called out as the family posed for photos.
It really was.
Everything was so new and magical to them. And it was fun to watch them go through the shelves after a Macy’s store manager who toured the store with us told them they could each select a toy to take home. Their excitement was contagious.
I’ve been so bummed about having to turn down party invitations — and also preoccupied about the rise of the omicron COVID-19 variant — that I had barely stopped to think much about the real reason for the season and all of the joy it can bring. But for a little while Friday, I stood back and smiled as I watched it unfold in front of me.
I don’t think any of the youngsters — Elijah, 12; Joy, 7; and Ebony, 3 — enjoyed the outing more than Watkins herself.
“My children are happy,” she said as they got ready to leave the store.
She and her husband are in the throes of child rearing at a time when most folks their age are thinking about retiring. Arlene works at a day-care center and Kenneth is a carpenter out on disability. The monthly allotments they get from the Department of Human Services for each child don’t go far when the youngsters are clamoring for things like Nikes, Reeboks, and a Nintendo Switch for Christmas.
“My 7-year-old just came downstairs with another Christmas list,” Watkins told me. “I said, ‘Where did that come from?’”
They may not have a lot but there’s one thing that this family won’t be short on come Saturday. It’s the most important thing of all — and that’s love. I’m glad to report that they have that in abundance. Next month, their new family will become official when the adoption is finalized.
That will be the best gift of all.