There was a time in Susanna Patterson’s life when the house was quiet.
The sofa in the living room wasn’t a trampoline. There weren’t crumbs on the coffee table or a mountain range of dirty clothes in the laundry room.
But there also wasn’t the patter of little feet in the hallway. And the sound of the word “mommy’’ between all those squeals of delight.
Susanna can bake cookies with her children in the kitchen, but she is anything but a cookie-cutter mom.
She is 36 years old. She has never been married. She is neither divorced nor widowed.
Over the past five years, she has fostered and adopted five siblings.
People stop her in the store and ask: “Are they your children?”
“Where did you get them?” others want to know.
Sometimes, she has to bite her tongue.
“I really want to tell them I got them on Aisle 4, and there’s a special if they hurry,’’ she said.
Susanna hears it in surround sound – from the nosey, the curious and the judgmental. She is a white woman. Her children, ranging from ages 2-12, are biracial. (Their birth mother is white.)
Strangers interrogate her about the biological parents. Because she is never comfortable with all those heat-seeking questions, she offers as little information as possible. She often avoids confrontation by shopping online and having her groceries delivered to her in the parking lot.
“The store is not the time or the place to go into the ins and outs of how my family became my family,’’ she said.
Susanna is executive director of CASA, which sounds like last weekend’s leftovers from a Cinco de Mayo party.
“People call the office and ask if we build houses for Spanish people,’’ she said, laughing.
Although Susanna graduated from high school in El Paso, Texas — on the border with Mexico — that has nothing to do with CASA, which stands for Court Appointed Special Advocates. The nonprofit agency is made up of volunteer advocates for abused and neglected children.
They don’t build houses, but they are in the “home” business.
“We work for what is in the best interest of the child from the ‘big picture’ questions to the little everyday questions,’’ Susanna said.
In taking the first step as a foster parent, then adopting and raising the children, Susanna not only has talked the talk, she has walked the walk. She said CASA has about 30 volunteers but needs some 125 more to serve children in the region who are in foster care.
She came to Macon by way of Texas Tech and the University of Kentucky. When she was accepted to law school at Mercer, she already had some familiarity with Middle Georgia. Her father, James, was stationed at Robins Air Force Base from 1984-89, and she started kindergarten at Shirley Hills Elementary in Warner Robins.
She graduated from Mercer 10 years ago this month, was in the law center at Georgetown University for a year, then returned to Macon. She worked for Sell & Melton law firm for three years before becoming director at CASA.
She became a foster parent for her son Campbell, now 7, eight days after his first birthday, and daughter, Emma, now 6, when Emma was 17 days old. Four months later, she opened her home to James, who is now 12, and Anna Grace, now 9. (Her 2-year-old daughter, Lottie, has the same mother but a different father than her brothers and sisters.)
“As a practicing attorney, I realized God had gifted me with extra time and resources and called me to this area,’’ she said. “I can’t tell you if there was an ‘ah-ha’ moment. I just kind of knew early on they were going to stay with me forever’’ or reunite with their birth parents.
Going from zero to five kids was like going from chicken broth to hot wings. Her vehicles keep getting bigger, too. She has graduated from driving a Volkswagen Passat and Honda Pilot to a Nissan NV van, affectionately known as the “Party Barge.’’
The four oldest attend the Academy for Classical Education in Macon and are involved in baseball and dance outside of school. The family is active at First Presbyterian Church. Susanna’s parents, James and Grace, now live with her and are a big help with the somewhat-instant grandsons and granddaughters.
Susanna would love to marry one day … if Mr. Right comes along and is “not freaked out by the number of children I have.’’ Her kids would prefer it to be sooner rather than later.
“They wanted to order her a husband for Christmas last year,’’ Grace Patterson said, laughing.
“A lot of people tell me I’m a blessing to these children,’’ Susanna said. “I don’t know it that’s true, but they are a huge blessing to me. While parenting is an adjustment in my schedule, my time and the size of my vehicle, I wouldn’t trade any of this.’’
The oldest children’s’ biological father sent her a card and letter for her first Mother’s Day. It brought tears to her eyes. Susanna communicates with the biological mother, but the children have not had contact with her since 2014.
“Every Mother’s Day, there is a heaviness on my heart for their mother because she gave life to them,’’ Susanna said. “And, while Mother’s Day is a very joyful thing for me, there has got to be a huge part of her where it is a painful thing.’’
Ed Grisamore teaches journalism at Stratford Academy in Macon. His column appears on Sundays in The Telegraph.