When Laura Mora remembers her school days, a tear rolls down her cheek. She was a vivacious cheerleader, a swift runner and a basketball player whose pretty face belied a wicked jump shot.
“But nobody from my family came to see my games,” Mora said. Her father had long since disappeared from her life and her mother was drifting away. When Mora got pregnant at 16, she felt more alone than ever.
Despite hardship, she has kept a promise she made when her first son was born: Her children would be the center of her world.
For this single mom, the more abundant the love, the better. So her small Coconut Grove apartment is often overflowing with it.
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Mora, 28, is raising her two sons, William, 11, and Jamir, 1, and her nephew Yeltsin, 13, and she frequently takes care of nieces Jeilyn, 12, and Darlin, 6.
That means working full-time to pay the bills, and attending football games, basketball games, sailing camp, parent-teacher conferences. She shuttles the kids to the doctor, the park, the store. She takes lunch at 2:45 p.m. so she can pick up William and drive him home. She cooks her very popular quesadillas on a hot plate in the matchbook-sized kitchen because she can’t afford gas for the stove. She oversees homework and expects help with Jamir, errands and cleaning.
And, she has been known to jam with her boys playing Guitar Hero or join in their pillow fights.
“I don’t want them to feel the way I used to feel,” she said. “I never had someone responsible to rely on. That made me independent but I wish I’d had a role model when I was young.”
William and Yeltsin have been taught to be gentlemen. They open the door for a stranger and shake hands. They said Mora is ever present without being suffocating.
“At our games, sometimes she gets so excited I have to yell, ‘ Tia!’ ” said Yeltsin, putting index finger to his lips. Yeltsin’s Hialeah Cougars team won the Extreme League Super Bowl and plays Dec. 9 for the Junior Orange Bowl title. He was named MVP.
“When Yeltsin gets drafted, he’ll go to the Giants,” said Mora, who was born in the Dominican Republic and spent her early years in Brooklyn before moving to Little Havana. And William, a LeBron James fan? “He’ll go to the Nets.”
At Coral Gables High, Mora’s classmates included future NFL stars Frank Gore and Jonathan Vilma. She knows the odds of making it to the pro level are astronomical.
“I stress education above everything,” she said. She is a customer service representative at the nonprofit Helen B. Bentley Family Health Center. “I’m thankful to have a meaningful job. I want to help people. I’d like to be a social worker, if I could find the time and money to take classes.”
William and Yeltsin could do their schoolwork more efficiently if they had a computer at home, and a laptop and printer would be helpful, too. As it is, they walk to the library after practice and often have to wait their turn to use a computer. Mora occasionally has to find information or print papers for the boys at her office.
Their wish is to get set up online at home, especially with Yeltsin entering ninth grade at Gables High next year. William, diagnosed with attention deficit disorder, received scholarship aid to transfer to Brito Private, where he is now thriving in sixth grade and considering a run for Student Council. He would like to take karate lessons.
There’s only one bed in the apartment for Mora, the baby and two adolescent boys. She could use another one. Her goal is to move into a two-bedroom place but the rent would increase by nearly $300 a month. The building has its problems, but for Yeltsin it’s a refuge.
“At my house, it’s crowded with too many people always arguing,” said Yeltsin, whose direct gaze is like that of his aunt, and cousin. “My aunt treats me differently here. She asks how I’m doing, how was the volcano we made in science.”
And if his grades slip?
“You mean, like, consequences?” he said. “Oh, yeah. Definitely.”
Family time is important, too.
“I like horror movies but Yeltsin gets paranoid,” William said. “He likes comedies.”
Mora likes being the best mom she can be.
“After I had William in 11th grade, I was basically on my own, but I went back to school and night school so I could graduate on time,” she said. “I walked and got my diploma. I was so proud that day. Nobody was there for me.
“I will always be there for my kids.”