It's never really quiet inside Juanita Soukouna's home at the corner of 95th Street and Oak Park Avenue in Oak Lawn.
After all, four children can keep a mom plenty busy. And when they're all the same age it can certainly make for an interesting situation.
Soukouna's children are the surviving members of the socalled Chicago Ridge quintuplets, who turned 10 years old on Dec. 2. Three boys: Gabriel, Sala and Moussa, Jr., and two girls, Assetou and Carolyn, were born to Juanita and Moussa Soukouna that day in 2002.
The refrigerator in Juanita's kitchen is covered with the children's artwork, and three of the four siblings crowded around the kitchen table one day last week after school, assisting each other with a math problem or spelling word, or helping another read a story. Gabriel, who has autism and is nonverbal, was in the living room - dancing to videos he likes on his Kindle, or jumping up and down on a trampoline.
Carolyn and Assetou, called Setou by her brothers and sister, say their mother has taught them some important lessons about how to make life run a little easier for everyone in such a packed house.
"We share chores," Carolyn said. "One person washes tables and sweeps, and the other person does the dishes - washing and rinsing - and the next day, we switch."
Carolyn says having three siblings is fun, but Assetou has a slightly different take.
"It can be fun, but not really, because it is hard for our mom to take care of all of us all at once," she said.
Carolyn enjoys having other people around her, especially if they are going to play a game or watch a movie.
"If you're scared, you have your sisters and brothers around you to be with," Carolyn said. "We all like to play together. We play basketball a lot, and we push Gabe on the swings."
The children's most recent favorite movie is "Hotel Transylvania," but Juanita says the show that makes everyone crowd around the television is "Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers."
"They'd watch 'Power Rangers' all day if they could," Juanita said.
Arguments occur but are usually quickly resolved in the Soukouna household.
"It's fun playing with each other, but sometimes, we argue," Carolyn said.
"If we argue, we just get over it the next day," Assetou said. "You just get over it. It's a good idea to get along, because if you fight with each other, it will just create a bigger problem."
Each child has big dreams for what they want to be when they grow up. Assetou is thinking about becoming a scientist or a teacher, after a lesson on simple machines inspired her. Carolyn hopes to one day be a basketball player or a nurse, like her mom. Sala said he'll probably be a volleyball player because he's enjoyed the sport at school.
The road to quints
Juanita had trouble getting pregnant, and turned to fertility medications. During a routine ultrasound, the technician heard five heartbeats.
"She just kept counting them, over and over and over, and saying 'oh my God,'" Juanita remembered. "I think the technician was more excited than I was."
Juanita was in the hospital from October until she gave birth in December, and the babies were born 13 weeks premature. Each child came within a minute of each other, and the largest babies, Moussa, Jr. and Sala, were barely over two pounds each. Carolyn came home first on Jan. 17. Assetou, Sala and Gabriel came home in early February, and Moussa Jr. came home in early March.
"It's helpful that they weren't all coming home at once," Juanita said. "It was just adding one more person to the mix."
Moussa Sr. said life was difficult trying to balance five children.
"Someone's crying, somebody was sleeping, it was a really busy time," he said.
After 10 years, Juanita is amazed at how much the children have grown.
"It's hard to believe how tall they are now," she said. "I was doing Carolyn's hair the other day, and realized she'll be taller than me in a year or two."
Juanita, a home health nurse who has been out of work for two years because of her own medical issues including multiple knee surgeries, said the run-allday, run-all-night schedule can be tough. She's often up at 6 a.m. to help the quadruplets get dressed or get ready for school, and financially, money is very tight, she explained. Juanita's only income source is the $2,500 a month she receives in disability checks for her children - each has a developmental delay of some kind. Assetou has high-functioning autism, Carolyn has difficulty in math, Sala is developmentally delayed, and Gabriel has severe autism.
"They have overcome a lot developmentally," Juanita said. "No one talked until they were 3 years old."
Gabriel cannot speak, and it can be somewhat difficult to understand his needs, Juanita said.
"Autism is a whole 'nother ball game," Juanita said. "It's hard to tell when he is hungry, or when he is in pain. It's like having two or three kids all at once. When they are less verbal, it is hard to figure out what they need behaviorally. Since Gabe is not verbal, you can't assess what he needs, or what he knows."
The children all attend different schools. Carolyn and Assetou attend fourth grade at Kolb School in Oak Lawn, where they are on the high honor roll. Sala, who reads slower than a typical 10-year-old, attends Tobin School in Burbank. Gabriel goes to an Easter Seals program in Tinley Park, where he learns self-help and communication skills. He also uses a device called Nova Chat, which is preprogrammed with phrases like, "I want…" or "I need…" followed by a food, drink or activity. Gabriel uses the device at school, but at home typically just points or pulls Juanita's hand to go where he wants. He can also communicate using some sign language, and his siblings know basic signs.
"Gabe is full of energy," Carolyn said. "He likes to go on the swings, so we go to the park and push him on the swings. Sometimes we do it for 20 minutes each or more, and our arms don't get tired."
Another challenge for Juanita is taking care of her children largely as a single mother. She and Moussa split up when the children were two and a half years old. Moussa, who lives in Chicago, sees the children on the weekends.
"I think what broke us up was just life circumstances," Juanita said. "It's really stressful, raising five kids. It's still difficult."
Another difficult thing for Juanita is that instead of watching five children grow up, she is watching four. Moussa Jr., the last baby to come home, died Sept. 23, 2007 - a few months before the quints would turn 5 years old. Juanita said she does not know exactly what happened, but remembers the day. The children had gone to their father's house over the weekend, and when they came home on Sunday, Moussa Jr. was vomiting and lethargic.
"On Monday, he was whining on the couch," Juanita said. "We had a doctor's appointment that afternoon, but I thought I should take him to the doctor early."
Juanita got Moussa Jr. in the car, and while driving down 95th Street felt him kicking the back of her seat.
"I realized he was having a seizure, so I raced him down the street," Juanita said.
By the time Juanita got Moussa out of the car at the emergency room, he had stopped breathing, she said. She remembers a nurse using a bag to handpump air into his lungs, but said the monitor had flat-lined.
"There are so many challenges," Juanita said. "You don't go from running and jumping and playing to dead."
Juanita said through all of the difficulties, she has had faith in God and in the people of her community, many of who donated diapers or offered to come over and help feed the quintuplets after they were born.
"One lady, the kids call her Aunt Eileen, from Incarnation Church, has stayed with us," Juanita said. "She has been with us since Day 1, and she still cares. She helps us with school clothes and school supplies. Money is really tight for us."
Juanita's biggest wish is for her children to grow up and be on their own.
"I want them to be able to be normal and independent of me," Juanita said.
She also hopes to instill her values in her children.
"I want them to be good, Godfearing people."
Juanita said the children remember Moussa Jr., and their grandmother, Juanita's mother, Marguerite Peck, who died in 2008.
"In Bible study, they say they can't wait to go to Heaven and see Junior again," Juanita said. "When they say their prayers, they say they hope Gabe will be normal. They are more aware of the situation around them than I realized."
Three men were sentenced to prison sentences last month for their roles in separate crimes in Palos Hills.
Two men were each sentenced to 33 years in prison for a home invasion in May 2009. Andrew Dortch, 34, of Calumet City, and Marcus Simpson, 24, of Matteson, were each found guilty of home invasion with a firearm on Jan. 10, police said.
Dortch and Simpson were carrying guns when they entered a home in the 10700 block of Olympia Circle at 3:23 a.m. May 15, 2009. One of the residents of the home escaped to a neighbor's home and called police, but Dortch and Simpson bund another man in the home with duct tape. Dortch and Simpson attempted to flee from police in a vehicle, but were arrested several blocks away.
Three men, including one from Chicago Ridge, were sentenced to prison for robbing a Domino's Pizza at gunpoint in 2010.
Daniel Martin, 18, of Matteson; Jerry Jackson, 18, of Chicago Ridge; and Michael M. Watts, 21, of Tinley Park, were each charged with armed robbery in 2010. Jackson and Watts were charged with armed robbery with a firearm. Two of the men reportedly entered the store on Nov. 2, 2010, and one held a silver revolver while the other jumped over the counter and took money from the register.
Jackson was found guilty and sentenced to seven years in prison on Jan. 10, 2013. Watts and Martin were both found guilty and sentenced to eight years in prison last October and September, respectively.
Readers, let me start this edition of your beloved "Whatizit?" by apologizing
for the egregious mistake we made last week. It was simply an oversight, and
several of you called me on my error - which was of course not stating that the
previous week's answer was a hair brush.
But that is now in the past, and as we move on from that unfortunate episode
we congratulate all of you who knew last week's was pulled pork. Pat yourselves
on the back Nancy Carly, Bell Fruendt, Donna Hirsch, Rita Tinsman, Theresa and
George Rebersky, Dana Oswald, Mike Small, Elizabeth Hardin, Amanda Cardin, Jane
Foley, Celeste Cameron, Robert Solner, Dan and Laura Heneghan, Eddy and Jackie
Wilch, Carol Maroney, Sandy Joiner and Janice Mastro.
This week's clue is: Two states. Send responses to
under the subject Whatizit, and include your first and last names and where you
Juliette Hinajosa, 3, of Orland Park, laughs as she sleds down a hill last
Saturday at the Lake Katherine Nature Center & Botanic Garden's 20th annual
Winterfest. The event attracted residents from across the southwest suburbs
including Worth, Hickory Hills and Evergreen Park.