On Tuesday evening, the outside of the Mack house in suburban Maryland appeared quiet, like many of the other homes on the tree-lined street not far from the Redskins’ stadium, in Capitol Heights.
But inside, it was bustling as Karen and Tyrone Mack helped five children get out of their school clothes, washed up and ready for dinner so they could be in bed by 8:30 p.m. The next day, the couple would awake at 4 a.m. so the whole crew could be out the door by 6:30.
That’s the routine in this energetic and cozy one-level house. It can get a bit cramped with three bedrooms and one bathroom to share, but the Macks, both 55, can’t imagine it any other way. The children, age 2 to 10, each have personalities that shine.
The couple have been raising the siblings for a few years. On Saturday, they will formally adopt them as part of D.C. Superior Court’s annual Adoption Day. Five children being adopted to one family is a record for the court, tied with an adoption in 2015. In all, 27 children are set to have their adoptions made official during Saturday’s ceremony.
The children’s biological mother is Tyrone’s niece, who has struggled with drug use and mental illness. Tyrone said the niece, the daughter of his late brother, asked him and his wife to take in the children when she could no longer care for them.
The couple are excited about their expanded family, but they also admit it’s intimidating. Between them, they raised six children during prior marriages and were heading for a quieter time in their lives. But without Tyrone and Karen, the children would be split up in foster care.
“It was important that we kept them together,” Tyrone said. “So many people sit back and don’t give their all to kids that are not theirs. But if we didn’t step and take our place in their life, they wouldn’t be society ready. And these children need it more so now because they are our future. They are our Congress. They are our president.”
The couple said the kids have had a challenging life so far, growing up in the Potomac Gardens housing projects in Southeast Washington as their mother struggled with drugs and their fathers came in and out of their lives.
Now they have stability as Tyrone and Karen try to prepare them for a better future.
On Tuesday, the kids seemed to fill the house, playing with each other and interacting with their guardians. Ten-year-old Heaven is the oldest and the most inquisitive. Though soft-spoken, she’s the protector of her younger siblings.
Chanel, 7, held a notebook, asked questions and jotted down notes. She’s a future reporter or teacher, the Macks say. She also sat next to her younger brother and helped him with addition, counting by 5’s up to 100.
Six-year-old Hakeem was a ball of energy, running around the house and letting out loud laughs as he chased his siblings.
Hayden, 5, sat back and watched everything closely. He’s the quietest of the group and doled out hugs to everyone as he prepared for bed.
The youngest, 2-year-old Jeremiah, took off his clothes and ran around in his Pull-Ups, climbing on chairs or into Tyrone’s lap to watch TV. “He’s full steam ahead. He gets into everything. You stop him from doing one thing, he moves on and finds something else,” Tyrone said.
The children yelled in unison about being happy about the adoption. “It means we can be a family,” Heaven said.
It’s a chapter that Tyrone and Karen didn’t expect. The couple met in 2000 at the Caribbean Festival on Georgia Avenue and were married four years later. Their adult children and one grandchild are scattered around, including in the District, Virginia, Atlanta, and Trinidad and Tobago, where Karen is from. The youngest of the six is 34 years old. Raising children today is different than raising children decades ago, the couple said.
“Kids have no fear today,” Karen said, revealing a hint of her Caribbean accent. “It’s a different type of discipline style.” These days, when the kids get too noisy or fight with each other, Karen yells, “Quiet time,” meaning everyone has to find a chair.
The couple used to go on regular date nights to concerts and plays, but finding a babysitter who is willing to watch five children is difficult and expensive. Privacy in the home, Karen jokes, is “nonexistent.”
“We were cool living our life, but our family needed us,” Tyrone said.
The children, Tyrone said, give him a second chance at being a father. “I didn’t do too good the first time around. I was 17 when I had my first kid. I didn’t do well at all. I have more patience. More time now,” he said
Tyrone works as a warehouse operator for the Agriculture Department. His eyesight is poor as a result of diabetes and he no longer can drive. So each morning, it’s up to Karen to drive Tyrone to work in Beltsville. The couple gets up about 4 a.m. so they can hop in the shower before waking up the kids and feeding them breakfast.
Then the family piles into a loaner vehicle. The couple’s minivan broke down and they are using the loaner until they can get the minivan fixed.
Karen drives Tyrone to work, then returns to the house so that one of the children can catch the school bus. She then drives the four other children to school and daycare. The children attend an after-school program so that Karen can pick up Tyrone from work.
Karen, a former school bus driver, now shops in bulk at Costco and BK Miller’s and spends her day cleaning and cooking, when she’s not shuttling the family around.
As a group, the family takes trips to the zoo and they enjoy restaurants with buffets. The children call them aunt and uncle and sometimes mom and dad.
The boys sleep in one bedroom, two on one bed with Jeremiah on a bunk that pulls out from under the bed. The girls sleep in another bedroom. The couple took the smallest of the three rooms.
“They are very close, and we knew if they were separated they would lose that tightknit relationship,” Karen said.
“We said, ‘Lord, what can we do?,” she recalled. “So we decided to take all the kids and keep them together. I guess that’s what God wanted us to do.”