Controlled chaos

Family life is a whirlwind for Paul and Ayana Potts and their six children, but they make it all work through love, scheduling, meditation — and a little help from United Way for Southeastern Michigan's Bib to Backpack resources.

Photos by Bruce Unwin. Video by Charles Ashley. Story by Dave Phillips.

Editor's note: For more information on the Ages and Stages Questionnaire and other early childhood resources, visit BibToBackpack.org.

It’s 6 p.m. on a Monday, and the Potts household is a flurry of activity.

“Are you done washing your hands?” Ayana Knox-Potts asks as her six children dive into the dinner she has just set on the table.

“Can I have a kiss?”

“How was practice?”

“Whose shoes are these?”

It’s just a typical evening for the eight-member Potts family.

The Potts family (clockwise from top left) is: Ayana; Ajani; Khamani; Paul; Amari; Jabari; Samaya (in front) and Anaya.


A family tree


Ayana and her husband Paul live in Rochester and are parents to three adopted and three biological children: Ajani, 13; Khamani, 11; Amari, 9; Anaya, 8; Jabari, 6; and Samaya, 5.

Having six kids wasn’t always the plan for Paul and Ayana, but as they realized they had a wonderful home and lots of love to give, their family kept expanding.

Ajani was born in 2003, and Khamani followed two years later. After Khamani was born, Ayana and Paul discussed the possibility of adopting, and shortly thereafter met and fell in love with Amari. During Amari’s adoption process, Ayana became pregnant with Anaya.

A couple years later, the couple became foster parents to Jabari. When he became eligible for adoption a few months later, Paul and Ayana signed the papers immediately. They had five children, and didn't plan to have any more. But while awaiting 8-month-old Jabari's adoption completion, the plan changed.

Ayana received a voicemail from the adoption agency asking her to call back because "a miracle was waiting." Ayana assumed the call was a follow-up regarding Jabari's adoption process and called back immediately.
When she called back, the agency explained that they had a foster child named Miracle with no place to go who was set to be released from the hospital where she was born.

"Of course, we couldn't let her not have a home, so we planned for another baby to join our family," Ayana said.

Miracle (whose name was changed to Samaya) found a loving home that day. The Potts family was complete.

Samaya (front) and Anaya play outside while Paul supervises.


The Ages and Stages Questionnaire

Family life is “controlled chaos,” Ayana said, but she and Paul hold things together through scheduling, meditation, will and determination—and a little help from United Way for Southeastern Michigan.

Through our Bib to Backpack work, parents and caregivers can access early development resources to help their children reach key developmental milestones in an effort to prepare them for school emotionally, socially and intellectually.

The Ages and Stages Questionnaire is just one of the resources that has had a huge effect on the Potts family’s two youngest children.

“We thought getting ready for school was just checking off the supply list,” Ayana said.

They soon realized that school preparation entails more than a child’s ability to recognize numbers, colors and letters.

The questionnaire takes about 10 minutes to complete and guides parents through an easy-to-read developmental checklist. It covers age-appropriate communication, motor skills, problem solving and personal/social skills.

The Ages and Stages Questionnaire is such an effective tool that we've made an investment so that parents and caregivers throughout Wayne, Oakland and Macomb counties can use it for free.

Paul and Ayana Potts look over the Ages and Stages Questionnaire. The couple uses several tools provided by United Way's Bib to Backpack in order to ensure their six children are developmentally on track.


Overcoming delays

Once parents take the questionnaire, they are sent results back within a few days from a specialist. If there are any concerns, the specialist will provide a variety of activities parents can use to help the child get back on track.
Paul and Ayana first used the questionnaire with Amari to determine whether he should start kindergarten or wait another year. They found no delays, and they sent him along.

With Jabari, they learned that he struggled with fine motor skills: he was unable to form shapes when using crayons.

With those results in mind, Jabari was placed in special education in preschool, where he learned to hold a crayon or pencil and draw a shape.



“If we didn’t have those services, I don’t believe Jabari would be where he is now in first grade,” Paul said. “I think that he probably would have been delayed."



Samaya’s delays were different than Jabari’s.

“She always fell, and we were writing it off,” Ayana said.

They thought Samaya was just clumsy, but eventually they learned that her gross motor skills were severely delayed.

“We didn’t know we could work on those things. Building blocks — just stacking the blocks up — I had no clue that was an exercise," Ayana said. “Stringing Cheerios — that’s an exercise. I had no clue. That’s so much fun for the fine motor skills. You’ve got to get the Cheerios on the string and cut the string.”

Paul Potts helps his children with homework. Paul credits the Ages and Stages Questionnaire with helping get his children ready to learn.


Empowering parents


All parents can use a reassuring voice from time to time, and Paul and Ayana benefit greatly from camaraderie with fellow parents through another Bib to Backpack resource, the Great Start Collaborative in Oakland County. There, parents and caregivers can share tips and resources with other parents.

“A lot of times as parents, when you go through different things — especially struggles — you feel quite isolated,” Ayana said.



“We were finding out that other parents were experiencing the exact same thing as we were. It wasn’t only comforting — it gave us an outlet and taught us how to deal with those things.”



Both Paul and Ayana feel so strongly about early development work that they chose to get even more involved to help other parents. Ayana works for Great Start, which is a United Way partner in Early Development, and Paul volunteers at a parent group. He was the first father to join, but others have followed suit.

Paul and Ayana are still in touch with many of the parents they met while involved in early childhood programs.

“Knowing that we have resources available, it gives so much empowerment to the parent,” Paul said. “It builds your confidence as a parent. You are more engaged with your children because you want them to be successful from kindergarten on up, so having these resources at your fingertips is really beneficial to all parents.



“We just hope that more and more information gets out there so more parents know about it. It changed our family structure, because it could be totally different at this point.”



Today, the Potts children are a flourishing group of diversely talented kids.

“We’ve got a techie,” Ayana said. “We’ve got an artist. We’ve got an athlete. And we’ve got an attorney.”

The parenting pair advocates for this work, and say it changes lives.

“We just hope that more parents learn about it, because it changed our family structure,” Paul said.

“There are so many different opportunities that are fun, and they help you because there is such a short period of time when they are younger,” Ayana said. “With Bib to Backpack, playgroups and parent coalition meetings, and all the great things that can help you build that relationship with your child, it’s a bond that will never go away.”