Don’t call Barbara Keller grandma.
Grandma makes her sound old. She’s either Nana or Barb. She’s mother to six kids, grandmother to 14 and a 72-year-old Energizer bunny raising four of those grandchildren in a rented home in Naperville Township that was never meant to be a permanent stop until life’s speed bumps appeared.
"They are all mine, bless their little hearts," Keller says of Violet, 9, Joey, 14, Bobby, 16, and Steve, 17.
The kids became all hers after their mother had a stroke while pregnant with Violet that left her so mentally diminished she simply took off one day, forever leaving behind her babies and a husband who would a few years later die of what Keller believes was a broken heart.
Hers is a story of love and circumstance. Asked how she manages, her reply is simple: "We just do it."
The biggest hurdle is finances. The kids have what they need, plus extras, she says, but not always what they want.
"My thought is and always has been there’s no such word as impossible, it just takes a little longer," she says. "… We have each other and we get by."
But being without a mom and dad isn’t lost on the kids.
Violet, "our little miracle girl," is smart and sensitive, Keller says, the girl who always gets two balloons when they go out to eat, one to send up to dad and one to keep. She wishes the most for a mother and worries the most about being left alone.
Steve is the worrier. His dad told him just before he died that he’s responsible for the family. So Steve struggles between being the responsible man his father wanted him to be and Keller wanting him to enjoy being a kid.
Keller says she loves raising the kids—all except the disciplining part.
"I look at it this way, all the mistakes I made in raising my own, this is kind of a second chance to do it right."
Still, people always tell her they can’t believe she’s raising these kids on her own at her age. "But if I didn’t where would they be?" Keller asks.
Keller’s focus has always been on family. She’s the type of person, when she sees people homeless on the street, who wonders about their family.
"I guess I’m just naturally a dreamer," Keller says. "Got a family, life will be fine."