Our house

An inside look at changing families in Kentucky and across the United States

Jan 2, 2013 at 6:00 am
Our house
Photo by Casey Chalmers

Becki Patterson stretches plastic wrap over a glass bowl of peas before placing them in the microwave. She mashes potatoes, fighting an ache that throbs in her finger’s knobby joints and insults nearly every strain of tissue and muscle from neck to toe. The 64-year-old suffers from fibromyalgia, osteoarthritis and chronic fatigue syndrome. She’d like to collapse on the couch now, about 5:30. But three kids depend on her.

Last year, Patterson and her husband, Chuck, assumed guardianship of their grandkids, Sophie, Max and Kevin. (LEO has changed the names of the children to protect their identity.) Crisis begat this arrangement, as is true for many such arrangements between relatives. For nearly a year and a half, their mother’s boyfriend physically abused all three children.

By contrast, the Pattersons provide an idyllic home: a two-story brick Tudor in far eastern Jefferson County complete with trimmed grass, rooms fit for Better Homes and Gardens, a 130-pound fluffy rescue dog named Jack, and a 20-year-old cat whose meows resemble a creaky door.

Friendly and outgoing, Patterson, an attractive, tall woman with short auburn hair and a generous laugh that hints of Phyllis Diller, conceals her physical struggles well, rarely complaining. This evening, soft jazz plays in the kitchen.

The microwave beeps. She swaps out peas for broccoli.

Upstairs, Max, a quiet 10-year-old with dark eyes and the delicate, angular features of a marionette, tries on suits for a field trip. Outside, Kevin, a blond, sturdy 14-year-old sporting a cast on his arm from a roller-skating accident, wrestles with a neighborhood friend. Pure teenager, he pins his buddy down by sitting on him.

“I farted in your face!” he laughs. “I bet it smells like bacon!”

His sister, 6-year-old Sophie, shrieks with glee, chasing the boys once they pop off the ground.

Patterson calls to her from the front door.

“If I went in your room, would I find school clothes on the floor?”

“Sorry!” Sophie replies, speeding inside and upstairs, brown hair sweeping her shoulders with each step.

Patterson loves these children. She’s been there since the day they were born, even holding Sophie for her first few hours of life as her mother, Christina Silvers, recovered from surgery. But this is hard.

On top of parenting’s typical agenda — braces for Kevin, driving Sophie to a play date, adjusting to youthful rowdiness — residual trauma from the abuse intensifies the workload.

Kevin exhibits anger, some control issues. Max is often sullen. Recently, his teacher called home worried about why one of her top students appeared to grimace in class for no reason. Sophie, who was also sexually abused by a babysitter’s adult son as a toddler, struggles with fear of abandonment. The first time Patterson changed her bed sheets, Sophie wailed.

Recent Census data shows more grandparents and relatives caring for children across the United States and here in Kentucky. The reshaping of American households transpires in other forms, too. Multi-generational households have increased. Data shows a decades-long surge in single-parent homes.

Theories behind these shifts include the increase in incarceration rates across the country, high unemployment, military deployment, divorce and substance abuse.

With the dinner table set, Patterson calls the kids. Between bites, lively chatter flies, interrupted by a few gentle reminders from Patterson: inside voices, feet on the floor, not the chairs. But before bowls are passed, with folded hands, Kevin leads a prayer.

“Sometimes our house can be chaotic,” he begins. “We aren’t a perfect family, but we love each other.”

Mom, for a third time

Sixty-four should be a comfortable age, with middle-age stresses outpaced and feeble times far down the stretch. The Beatles even deemed this golden year worthy of a catchy ode. Patterson envisioned her 64 as restful. She would pick up horseback riding, read some books in her spare time.

Having worked most of her life in marketing and public relations, Patterson also chose her 60s for reinvention, completing an associate degree program to become a licensed practical nurse on Aug. 31, 2011.

No time for celebration, though. On Sept. 1, 2011, she and her husband drove to Scottsboro, Ala. to pick up the kids. At 64, she was about to become a mom for the third time. Patterson raised a biological son with her first husband. When she married Chuck, she helped raise his two girls, one being Christina Silvers.

It wasn’t unusual to go long periods without hearing from Silvers. But after several weeks of silence, a family member called the restaurant where Silvers worked. She was in jail.

Patterson then Googled her stepdaughter’s name, and out tumbled the horrific details.

According to the indictment listing 23 counts of abuse, Silvers’ boyfriend, 37-year-old Shawn Hatfield, forced the kids to stand outside all day on hot days with one glass of water. He smacked Kevin with a cutting board, a dog’s metal water bowl, a leather belt. The beatings accumulated.

The kids say dirty dishes earned one. Eating food they weren’t supposed to yielded another. The indictment says Hatfield threw Max against a wall, then slammed him into a metal railing. He beat Sophie with a belt and forced her to hit her brothers’ feet with a hammer.

When abuse seemed imminent, the spunky girl forced yawns, pressing tears out from her blue eyes. That usually cut the severity of the beatings.

Earlier this year, Hatfield pleaded guilty to three charges of aggravated child abuse. His sentence includes 15 years on each charge, with the sentences to run concurrent.

Despite claiming she never knew about the abuse, Silvers received three one-year sentences that would run consecutively and probation for two years. As part of her plea deal, Silvers had to relinquish parental rights.

Still, acquiring the children wasn’t easy. Silvers never told the courts she had family that could raise the kids. If she had, they would’ve likely been turned over at no cost to the Pattersons. Instead, they entered foster care. Obtaining guardianship meant either going through the Jackson County Department of Human Resources or hiring a private attorney.

Wading through social services could’ve taken up to a year. So the Pattersons dipped into savings and spent roughly $3,000 on a private attorney who filed a motion for legal guardianship.

Kinship care — the type of guardianship the Pattersons now provide — is growing. According to the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s Kids Count annual report, in the last decade, kinship care has risen 18 percent nationwide. Between 2008-2010, relatives were raising 2.7 million children. It’s now estimated that one in 11 children and one in five African-American children will have a relative acting as parent at some point during their childhood.

Kentucky mimics this pattern. The Kids Count report shows the number of children in kinship care has doubled in the last decade, growing from 31,000 between 1999-2001 to more than 63,000 between 2008-2010. Recent census data shows 54,000 Kentucky children live in a household in which the grandparent is the primary caregiver.

In early September 2011, the Pattersons’ grandkids arrived in Louisville, each carrying few belongings, one being a golden teddy bear, a gift from a district attorney moved by their case. Sophie’s bear rests on her bed on top of a pink and orange striped comforter that matches hot pink curtains, a purple Hannah Montana dollhouse, and a closet full of purple and pink clothes. She loves this room.

“I love my things. I never want to lose my things,” she says. “When I was moving to Georgia, no I mean Alabama, no I mean …”

Even before the abuse and foster care, the children moved a lot, sometimes with a day’s notice due to late bills or an eviction, Patterson says. Sophie still mourns the loss of a large stuffed mouse and two real dogs from her peripatetic past. But she doesn’t like talking about it.

“It makes me cry,” she says.

At 7 p.m., Patterson walks in and ushers Sophie to the tub, grabbing her Halloween cat costume. As Sophie splashes, Patterson sews on a tail. Across the hall, zippers and buckles clang inside the dryer. Clean, ironed clothes, strict curfews — Patterson runs a stable household.

“Love you, Mommy,” Sophie pipes up.

“Love you, too,” Patterson replies.

The kids started calling her Mom on their own. Their biological mother is either their “old mom” or “Christie.”

A lot of people have asked Patterson why she is raising grandchildren that are not blood-related.

Her answer is simple.

“My value system is being right and fair. If it was my grandchild it would be no question,” she says. “This is a child. These are kids. They didn’t cause this. My head knew this was right. But I grieved tremendously when they came because I lost all my freedom.”

Many grandparents who take in grandkids, whether through formal or informal arrangements, share that sense of grief. Terry Brooks, director of Kentucky Youth Advocates, says there’s a “distinct lack” of support for kinship providers. It’s one reason his organization will advocate for policy change this upcoming legislative session in Frankfort. Brooks says Kentucky needs better financial and logistic supports. For instance, most states have educational and medical consent laws that allow kinship providers to make education and health decisions with a parent’s consent and without having to obtain legal custody. Kentucky lacks an educational consent law. That can make school enrollment burdensome.

“Mommy, tomorrow can you make me a side ponytail,” Sophie asks from the tub.

“Sure, baby.”

“I like side ponytails.”

“I do, too. They’re sassy, and you’re a little sassy,” Patterson says, eliciting a smile from Sophie that reveals four absent teeth.

By 8 p.m., dressed in pajamas adorned with what looks like Fruit Loops, hair still slightly damp, Sophie lies down. Patterson puts on reading glasses and cuddles next to her, book in hand and ready to assist with words she may stumble over.

“Sam and Suzie like to play together,” Sophie begins.

Patterson dutifully keeps her eyes open.

“This is the hard part,” she says. “I lie down with her and I don’t want to get up.”

But there are still bills to pay and two boys to prep for school tomorrow.

Single, young, first-time mom

At her grandmother’s house near 36th and Broadway, Ta’Kia Harris sits in a kitchen painted tomato red, searching eBay for a new phone. It’s about 2 in the afternoon on a hot June afternoon, and the self-dubbed “phone addict” longs for communication. Her phone’s been cut off for not paying the bill and the screen is shattered.

“I need to get my phone turned on,” she says. “Spalding might call this week.”

The 19-year-old Central High School graduate recently applied to Spalding University. Admission as a full-time student will make her eligible for a much-coveted apartment at the Family Scholar House, a program that houses and supports single, low-income parents obtaining a college degree.

At her feet, cooing in a pink and orange bouncy seat, lays Jamyiah, her 9-month-old daughter in puffy pigtails. A smile bends a dimple in her left cheek as she kicks her legs rippled with pillowy baby fat. Black polish adorns each toenail, smaller than a Tic-Tac, matching her mother’s polished nails. Harris glances at the time. She needs to catch a bus at 2:47 to make it to Family Scholar House for a workshop on school accreditation.

The more workshops and activities Harris involves herself in, the more points she earns, getting her one step closer to nabbing one of the 167 Family Scholar House apartments, for which there is currently a 659-person wait list.

Single mothers, like Harris, continue to climb in numbers across the nation and in Kentucky. Looking back to 1950, about 6 percent of families with children were headed by a single mother. By 2010, that number soared to 24 percent. Census data shows that from 1970 to 2009, the percentage of births that took place outside of marriage rose from 11 to 41 percent.

On a smaller scale, in Kentucky, the percentage of children living in single-parent families rose from 31 to 35 percent from 2005 to 2010.

It’s a trend that concerns sociologists and scholars as several studies have shown that female-headed households often struggle.

“If you look at educational attainment of kids; if you look at behavioral problems; if you look at incomes later in life, you see these average differences between kids who grow up in two-parent families and kids growing up in single-parent families, with the kids in the single-parent families generally faring worse,” says Karen Christopher, a women’s and gender studies professor at the University of Louisville.

But Christopher is quick to add that for some women, this trend toward single motherhood reflects progress. It’s now much more feasible for women to enter the workplace and gain economic independence compared to 50 or 60 years ago.

“That’s a good thing,” she says.

In Harris’ case, she didn’t plan on getting pregnant so young. But her senior year of high school, at 18 years old and with plans to attend Western Kentucky University, she discovered she and her boyfriend had conceived.

As Jamyiah gums up a Gerber cookie, Harris pulls her hair back, dumps wet clothes in the dryer, dresses in a long, strapless black sundress and flip-flops, grabs a Drumstick ice cream cone and puts on her black-framed glasses. She nuzzles Jamyiah to her cheek before passing her off to a cousin watching TV.

Outside, past fenced, barking dogs, Harris walks toward the bus stop three and a half blocks away. She holds her dress up with one hand, licking her ice cream in the other. At 4-foot-6, it’s hard to imagine a baby growing in such a compact frame. But Jamyiah emerged healthy and on time, weighing 6 pounds 13 ounces. An ambitious little human, the newborn fought to hold her head up on the first night in the hospital, Harris says.

It’s a quality the young mother values. Between her shoulder blades, a tattooed tiger roars with the word “ambitious” underneath. Lately, life has tested her tenacity. Standing near a sewer grate discharging fumes of spoiled food, she recounts all the jobs she’s recently applied for: Walgreens, Kroger, Save-A-Lot. No luck. Her grandmother had to give her bus fare today.

Financial hardships touch many single-parent households. In 2010, the poverty rate for children living in single-mother families stood at 47 percent, according to childstats.gov. That’s compared to 11 percent of married-couple households. (Though the poverty rate for married couples with children has also risen substantially — 47 percent in the last decade, according to the Center for Economic Policy and Research.)

A recent report by Legal Momentum, a women’s legal defense and education fund, reported that U.S. single-parent families are the worst off when compared to single-parent families in 16 other high-income countries like Australia and Canada. The report states: “They have the highest poverty rate. They have the highest rate of no health care coverage.”

It’s not that these families aren’t working. U.S. single parents have above-average employment rates. Wages are simply too low. Technological advances and globalization have emphasized the correlation between education and high-paying jobs.

In 2005, the difference in median income between families headed by an individual who has dropped out of high school and families headed by an individual with a bachelor’s degree was nearly $69,000 ($31,000 to $99,700), according to the Brookings Institution.

For single moms, finding the money and support needed to attend college is a challenge. The Family Scholar House clears hurdles by offering daycare, financial management classes, housing, and advisers who help parents apply for financial aid, among other services. The idea is that college will launch these low-income parents into a career that builds lifelong stability.

Harris believes in this mission. It’s why she’s making the trek on this afternoon. Her mom also got pregnant at a young age and missed out on college. Harris doesn’t want to follow that pattern.

As Harris sits with her feet unable to touch the ground, a young man in sweatpants and a baseball cap notices her. She’s used to this.

“How many tattoos you got?” he asks.

Harris looks away.

He asks again.


“What’s your name?”

She continues ignoring him.

“I’m just trying to talk,” he says before burrowing into a loud cell-phone conversation.

Upon arriving at Family Scholar House, she scoffs at his attempts.

“I’m not going to mess with that,” she says. “He’s not gonna help me at all.”

Harris sits in the back and listens attentively as videos and slides review the differences and potential pitfalls of attending for-profit, non-accredited institutions like Brown Mackie or Spencerian, a school Harris briefly attended for a nursing program.

For days now, she’s been anxious about her Spalding application, having recently submitted an essay entitled, “I Will Be Somebody.” It reads in part: “There were plenty of times in my life when I felt like giving up, but I didn’t. I felt like everyone in this world was against me, and all I had was myself … I was always known as the ‘quiet girl who didn’t say much.’ I can honestly say I did not care for school. I was making grades just to get by.”

Harris craves independence. At her granny’s house, she feels like a child.

Before catching the bus home, she walks Family Scholar’s downtown campus.

“These are the apartments,” she says, looking up at the cluster of three story buildings. “They’re really nice”

She’s already one of the first in her family to earn a high school diploma. A bachelor’s degree would mark another milestone.

Women juggling strollers, babies and diaper bags fill the bus Harris hops onto. A woman dressed in a tailored suit recognizes Harris from the workshop and strikes up a conversation. She has two kids, one 8, one 5. Both she and Harris share the goal of becoming registered nurses. As the bus bounces down Fourth Street, the two chat before the woman stands up to depart.

“I guess I’ll see you again. I wish you luck.”

“Thank you,” Harris replies. “I wish you luck, too.”

In need of help

At 9 p.m., Becki Patterson lies on a couch in front of CNN’s coverage of the first presidential debate. PJ, the 20-year-old cat, wedges himself near her hands. As she strokes his tabby fur, her mind drifts to the children, her limitations. Sophie wants her to volunteer at a fall festival, but she can’t imagine mustering the energy to corral kids all day. It’s only going to get more challenging. When Sophie’s a teen, Patterson will be in her seventies. Sixty percent of kinship providers are 50 or older.

“She’s already a pistol,” she chuckles.

Max runs downstairs with a notebook in his hand. The 10-year-old has been watching the debate, jotting notes, and he worries about the candidates’ position on coal because it will “pollute the earth.”

Patterson nods, tries to calm him.

“We’re going to have a good morning tomorrow!” she chirps. “A great morning.”

Today didn’t go well. With minutes to go before the bus rolled up, Max crumpled in tears.

“I just don’t want to go to school today,” he wept.

It happens every now and then. Patterson worries about Max’s healing the most. Sensitive and shy, he blames himself for one of the most severe beatings he and Kevin received from Hatfield with a cutting board.

“I accidentally broke one of the cabinets,” he recalls later that night in his room, hugging his knees. “I hated him. I bet he knew that. Sometimes I wanted to kill him.”

Max doesn’t mind talking about Hatfield. It makes it seem “not so secretive.” But his favorite escapes come through drawing, reading and writing. He shares a story he’s penned. It’s his take on the “Headless Horseman.” As the horseman and hero collide in a final scene, the horseman admonishes the hero: “You have no gifts.”

It’s a message Max says he received from Hatfield. He remembers the words “weak and pathetic” thrown at him often.

“I want him to be fixed so badly,” Patterson says. “I can’t do much more than I’m doing.”

Upon their arrival, she immediately secured therapy through Family and Children’s Place, which offered the kids free counseling as victims of violence.

It’s one of a handful of helpful outlets she’s found. She attended a conference in Lexington put on by the group Grandparents and Relatives as Parents and occasionally drops by a support group in town. But as a middle-class family, the Pattersons don’t qualify for any public financial assistance.

She’s not typical of most kinship caregivers. Census data shows a majority are poor, single, older and less educated. Despite this reality, few take advantage of available programs. Less than 12 percent of kinship families receive monetary help from the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program, also known as welfare. Less than half of low-income kinship families sign up for food stamps.

In Kentucky, a foster family can receive $700 a month for one child. But for a child that’s under the guardianship of a relative, the Cabinet for Health and Family Services only offers $300 a month for one child.

According to the nonprofit Community Coordinated Child Care, raising a child in Jefferson County can cost anywhere from $150-$600 a week.

Susan Vessels, executive director of Community Coordinated Child Care, says many grandparents also find themselves ineligible for the state subsidy available for childcare due to the stipulation that recipients work 20 hours a week. Many grandparents are retired.

“They could say, you know, in these instances where grandparents have agreed to take their grandchildren, we will pay for their childcare,” she says. “At least the rate we pay for low-income working parents, or at least at the rate they pay for foster children.”

Vessels stresses that kinship caregivers save the state a lot of money. The per diem cost of a child in foster care is $70. Grandparents often utilize personal savings to cover expenses.

In Patterson’s case, she and her husband have sold a home they owned in Tennessee for extra cash.

“Obviously retirement isn’t going to be an option,” she laughs.

(The children do qualify for the state’s Passport Health Plan, which helps with medical bills.)

Still, Patterson is barely hanging on.

“I physically and emotionally can’t do this anymore without help,” she says. So the family is moving to Virginia where relatives live. They’ll pitch in with childcare, possibly allowing her to tackle a part-time nursing job that will bring in extra income.

As she lies on the couch she eyes half-packed boxes. Her husband, Chuck, already started a new job as a maintenance engineer in Virginia, leaving her with many responsibilities back home.

Before heading upstairs, she washes grapes and places muffins out for the following morning. She settles into bed with the TV on in her bedroom, finally drifting to sleep around midnight.

College or paycheck

A lot changes for Ta’Kia Harris in the months following that summer day on Family Scholar’s campus. UPS hires her as a part-time package handler, but all the heavy lifting wears her down, and she quits after a month.

“I’m too girly,” she jokes.

She hears back from Spalding. They denied her admission. Disappointed but determined, she enrolls in Jefferson Community and Technical College with the help of her Family Scholar House adviser.

“I’m going to have to show my daughter no matter what trials and tribulations, I keep going,” she says.

By fall, frustrated with some of the classes she tested into, Harris drops out of JCTC and re-enrolls in Spencerian to study medical coding.

The week of Jamyiah’s first birthday, Oct. 13, she begins missing classes. No money for bus fare, she says. Plus, she’s irritated with a few of her teachers.

Harris wants to stay in school and move to Family Scholar House. But just as that path excites her, the expectations daunt her, like the 2.0 she must maintain to stay in the program.

“What if I get off track a little bit and I get off a C average?” she says one evening sitting at her grandma’s kitchen table. “Then what if I miss school so much I get dropped from a class and I’m not full time anymore?”

Aside from the what-ifs, a tangle of realities complicates plans. Harris wants to provide for Jamyiah. She longs for a paycheck that will fund a Christmas stocked with presents.

Whitney Wilson, a 23-year-old single mom at Family Scholar House, identifies with Harris’ plight. With two daughters, ages 3 years old and 19 months, balancing studies at University of Louisville with work at the U of L library and the demands of motherhood defy the constraints of time.

“The biggest challenge is not being there enough for my kids,” Wilson says. “But going to school is going to make it better in the future, even if it’s hard now.”

Prior to coming to Family Scholar House, Wilson bounced between a hotel room and friends’ couches. She says her 3-year-old has lived in eight different locations. Wilson, who aspires to work as a prosecuting attorney, leans on the promise that education will construct comfort, prosperity.

Harris agrees. She wants Jamyiah to have an educated mother and then go to college herself.

Recently, James Heckman, a professor of economics at the University of Chicago, spoke about early childhood development in Louisville. He reported that the number of words heard by children in the first four years of life ranges from 14 million to 45 million, depending on the education and income level of the parent.

Financially, a Pell grant will cover a large chunk of Harris’ college expenses. But she still needs income. So in October, she weighs whether to pursue college or a paycheck.

“I really don’t want to quit school,” she says, “because if I keep putting it off, I’m never going to finish.”

But a month later, on a November night, Harris reports she’s stopped attending classes. Jamyiah, a precocious, waddling 1-year-old, plays nearby with spice bottles she’s yanked from a cabinet.

Harris explains that personal issues have distracted her lately. Her father is facing legal trouble. Her friendship with Jamyiah’s dad needs mending.

So she’s holding off on school. A nearby grocery store has hired her for one day a week, but she’s searching for a full-time job either in fast food or as a nursing assistant. She’ll likely stay with her grandmother for a while.

Multigenerational families — where three or more generations live under one roof — have grown in recent years. Census data shows that in 2000, 3.7 percent of U.S. households were multigenerational. By 2010, that number creeped up to 4 percent. Hawaii has the highest number of such households with 11 percent; Kentucky sits at 4.6 percent, according to American Community Survey data from 2009-2011. The recession is partly behind this.

One room over, Harris’ grandmother, Donna Croft, watches a Western movie as she types at her computer. The graying, friendly woman who hobbles with knee pain doesn’t mind her granddaughter and great-granddaughter living with her. Though she wishes Harris would’ve stayed in school, she understands the difficulty facing the now 20-year-old. But Croft says she managed to go to a vocational college and raise four kids.

“So it can be done,” she says.

The Family Scholar House won’t give up on Harris. It’s common for women to start the program, need a reprieve, and return several years later.

“As I look at it, I have to sacrifice to make sure my kid has stuff,” Harris says. “And going to school, that’s not giving me money to make sure she has diapers … So I have to get a job.”

Fortunately, Jamyiah’s dad helps pay for food, gifts and clothes, even without a formal child-support agreement.

Harris dreams of graduating, marrying and having another child several years from now. Like most mothers, she holds only love, no regret for bringing Jamyiah into the world, but single motherhood has manipulated her trajectory.

“If you have plans in life,” she says, “they don’t stop (them), but they slow down.”

Making it

It’s 5:33 a.m. The first shower of the morning blasts on, slicing the stillness of morning. Kevin, 14, must catch the bus before sunrise. Patterson rouses herself and heads downstairs in plaid pajama pants and a blue T-shirt with fluorescent palm trees.

By 5:50, Kevin’s in the kitchen with backpack on, plowing through grapes, picking the skins out of his braces. This is one of his favorite parts about living with Patterson — the consistency. She’s here every morning to wish him goodbye.

“At our old house, I had to take care of my brother and sister a lot. And I was only 12 or 13. It’s kind of hard for a pre-teen going on to a teenager to start his life like that,” he says. “I wasn’t ready.”

Sipping coffee, Patterson warms up a muffin for Kevin before he heads out.

“Love you baby boy,” she calls.

“Bye, Mom.”

The door shuts.

“He’ll come back in,” Patterson smiles. Sure enough, the door clicks open.

“I forgot my key. Are you going to be here?”

“Don’t know,” Patterson responds.

“Where are you going to be?” he calls.

“Don’t know.”

“I don’t have time…” he starts. Patterson cuts him off.

“If you stopped asking all these questions you could’ve gotten your key by now.”

As he stomps upstairs, Patterson whispers that it’s a power struggle with Kevin. Living in the abusive household, Kevin was the parent, the protector.

Kevin recalls that one day in social studies class, he wrote an exit strategy for him and his siblings: 1. Find someone you trust. 2. Have proof … The list went on. He hid it behind the toilet at home. Without a phone to call for help, Kevin eventually told one of Hatfield’s relatives about the abuse, showing bloody bruises from a recent beating.

To this day, Kevin’s inclination to lead collides with Patterson’s authority.

“Got my key,” Kevin calls before heading out again.

“Good idea.”

Studies show adverse childhood experiences, like abuse and neglect, can cause mental health disorders later in life. Patterson feels pressure to reverse possible damages, raise responsible citizens, and do it quickly. “I don’t know how much of their life I’ll live,” she says.

Many child advocates view kinship care as a highly beneficial alternative to the traditional family. Children retain familial and cultural ties, making the raw absence of parents less painful.

At 6:56, Patterson gears up for “round two.”

She opens Max’s bedroom door.

“Time to get up, buddy.” He rolls over, squinting.

Patterson peers into Sophie’s room.

“Sleeping beauty?”

Sophie’s not there. In the last hour she’s climbed into Patterson’s bed.

“I had a bad dream,” she moans.

“You OK now?”


“You want to talk about it?’

“No, just a bad story.”

“But you’re OK now. And we’ve got blueberry muffins for breakfast.”


Sophie bounces out of bed, dresses herself and tussles with Max over a hairbrush.

With breakfast in the kids’ bellies, Patterson pats down Max’s unruly dark brown hair and zips Sophie into a pink jacket she doesn’t want to wear.

She watches through the glass door as they await the bus at the end of the driveway. Sophie looks back at Patterson with a pout, lowering her head and turning away with slumped shoulders, still upset over the jacket.

“So much drama,” Patterson chuckles, clutching coffee.

As the bus pulls up, Patterson waves. Her list of tasks today runs long: pack, work on buying a home in Virginia, look into the new school system. But she’s learned becoming a mom for the third time necessitates naps.

“Some days I feel guilty about taking a break after the kids leave,” she says before climbing back into bed. “But now I feel like I’ve already been up for three hours of work.”

Within moments of hitting the pillow, her heavy eyes sink …