On Thursday, during what has recently become a typical night at Kim Letua’s small Ewa Beach home, her husband, Rokeuaine “Roku,” made dinner in the kitchen for the family.
Roku, 49, cooked about a dozen hamburger patties in a frying pan as a large pot of rice bubbled in a rice cooker.
Letua, 44, hasn’t cooked much lately because a work accident in February tore two tendons in her left hand. After the incident she couldn’t even lift a grocery bag with that hand, let alone go back to her job as a sergeant correctional officer at the Oahu Community Correctional Center.
“I can feel, but it’s like a numbness. … It’s painful. Sometimes I get like shocking through here,” she said, gesturing down her arm.
Ten months later, she still doesn’t know when her hand will heal so she can get back to work.
Letua’s daughter, Kristen-Kelsey, 12, wasn’t hungry and went upstairs.
But once Roku finished cooking, half the patties and rice disappeared immediately as five kids, between 7 and 13 years old, who had been watching TV, talking on the phone or playing “pogs” in their small kitchen-living area, filled their plates.
All the children are Letua’s nieces or nephews, and they all live in her house.
She never planned on taking in and caring for five children, but she hasn’t looked back since taking on that responsibility.
Nearly eight years ago, family difficulties left Letua’s brother unable to care for his two children, Kanaloa “Kana” and Kamila, so she took them in. They were age 4 and 2 at the time, respectively, and are now 11 and 9. She and Roku have cared for them since.
Letua’s family life was more or less stable for much of the next decade. She enjoyed her job and had the experience and financial stability to take care of three kids. She had already successfully raised four children of her own, after all, who now live on their own.
Her situation changed dramatically in December when the sudden passing of one of her closest family members, a cousin she grew up with and considered a sister, left behind four children with few options.
She found out about her cousin’s death via voicemail as she sat in her car after work.
“I just sat there. I couldn’t even believe it, and I was just like, ‘I gotta go get the kids.’ That was my main thing when I first heard that,” Letua said.
Letua said the kids were going to be separated from each other to live with other family members or taken away altogether by the state. Their father, she said, lives on the mainland and is too sick to take care of them.
So, without hesitation, Letua took them in.
Today, three of them — Alazae, 13, Randy, 12, and Aldynne, 7 — continue to live with Letua, while the eldest daughter lives with another family member.
Even after the number of kids she had to care for doubled in a day, Letua was prepared for the challenge: She could work overtime or put in some time preparing taxes for her landscaping business or working as a life insurance agent.
That plan, however, was quickly put on hold after she was attacked by an inmate at work just two months later.
Despite suddenly losing her cousin, taking on the responsibility of raising six children, and being sidelined indefinitely from work, Letua has not lost hope.
Much of that has to do with her sturdy religious foundation. A devout Christian, Letua said she continues to believe that she is being watched over during what has become a particularly difficult year.
“God has a plan, even though we can’t see it,” she said. “The Bible says, ‘The steps of a good man are ordered by the Lord, and though he may fall, he may not utterly be cast down, for the Lord will uphold him.’ So no matter what we go through … at the end of the day, it’s just temporary.”
The family prays before eating dinner. Letua said they all go to church on Sunday and that she plans to start going to Bible study again.
While Letua said the transition over the last year hasn’t been easy, it’s gotten much better. The three newest kids, who had lived in Makaha and came to her with nothing other than the clothes they were wearing, had some initial difficulties adjusting.
Even now, the situation isn’t ideal. Letua’s home has three bedrooms: one for her and Roku, one for Kristen, which Alazae often sleeps in, and one for Alazae, Randy and Aldynne. The downstairs living room has been converted into a room for Kana and Kamila.
Letua wants to set up bunk beds or pull-out beds to accommodate all the kids, but for now they all sleep on blankets on the floor.
Their house is rented, and moving to a bigger rental unit is difficult with six kids, but Letua said eventually she’s hoping to buy a “forever home” that she can renovate accordingly for the growing family.
Aside from what is now an uncertain financial future in a house that’s too small, home life is generally enjoyable, they said.
Kristen called it a “never-ending sleepover” — a description she said is simultaneously good and bad. They have their favorites and have naturally paired up: Kristen and Alazae, the oldest girls, spend the most time together; Kana and Randy, the two boys, play football at school together; and Aldynne and Kamila, the youngest, are both practicing for their school dance.
They argue like they’re siblings and make up afterward like siblings. And even though they’re not, it doesn’t seem to matter.