And Cole has goals: to become a security guard and move into a house of her own. Sena has hopes too — of living where there are lots of parks. "I want to see something else for them," he said.
As last Christmas approached, the family was split among relatives and the children were making lists. Cole dreaded the holiday. "How do you tell a 3-year-old you can't buy them anything?" she said.
On Christmas Eve, Jaylyn turned pale and struggled to catch his breath. It was an asthma attack.
"You could tell he was not getting any air," Cole said. "It looked like he was dying."
A friend drove them to St. Francis Medical Center in Lynwood, which sent them by ambulance to Miller Children's Hospital in Long Beach. Jaylyn was hooked to oxygen and an IV.
A few days after Christmas, Jaylyn lay listless on his mom's lap. He started whimpering and coughing.
"What's wrong, papi?" Cole asked him. "What's wrong?"
When the nurses arrived for a breathing treatment, Cole walked down the hall to the hospital's family resource center.
"Do you know anyone who has a place for rent? A back house? Anything?" Cole asked a counselor. "My son is really, really sick. I don't want him to be moving around and around and end up back here."
The counselor promised to try and help.
Cole's eyes started tearing up. "I love my kids," she said. "I just been stressed sometimes."
Cole hadn't seen a doctor in months. She felt weak. It was already 1 p.m. and she hadn't eaten. She tried not to think about it. "I just focus on my kids," she said.
Back in the hospital room, Jaylyn started to nod off. Cole turned off the lights and lay down beside him.
The new year started off better. An old roommate told Cole her family could move back into her apartment.
Corina Bullis, 33, had an infant and a 4-year-old and was a recovering drug addict. She was behind on her rent. Cole's money would help, and she didn't want to see her old friend on the streets. "I felt more for the kids than anybody," Bullis said.
In Cole's room, a mattress lay on the floor next to a small bed. A shelf held a television, several stuffed animals and a stack of children's movies. A prayer was taped to the wall: God in heaven, hear my prayer. Keep me in thy loving care.
Cole turned on music, grabbed Gemini's hand and started dancing. She was so happy to be in an apartment where she felt comfortable.
"I just feel so relieved," she said. Now she just needed a job.
As she walked Gemini to a nearby Head Start preschool, he stopped at a patch of yellow flowers. "Mommy, can I pick a flower?" he asked. "Yes, you can get your teacher a flower," she told him.
In the classroom, Cole asked the teacher about a janitor's job. "Do you have a resume?" the teacher asked. Cole shook her head. The teacher urged her to write one. Cole never did.
At the end of January, Cole missed her period. Another baby would be difficult, but she said, "If I did get pregnant, I gotta deal with it."
When she walked by a pregnant neighbor, Cole touched her belly and said she was having one too. "I'm hoping for a girl," she said.
Since she was a teenager, Cole had been going to the same federal Women, Infant and Children program office for food coupons and health and nutrition counseling. This morning, she used her coupons to buy tortillas, milk, juice, cereal and fruit.
Cole asked a nutrition educator if the office was hiring. "I need some kind of income," she said. "And I may be having another baby."
The counselor, Martha Orozco, asked if she had returned to school yet for her GED. "Not yet," Cole responded. "I am just barely getting stable."
Orozco told her to keep trying. "Children are a blessing. You are just gonna have to be stable."
"I'm almost there," Cole said.
Cole wasn't pregnant after all. But she was sick, waking up many mornings with swollen legs or a throbbing headache. And she was out of blood pressure medication. She had to go to the clinic.
A nurse at the St. John's Well Child and Family Center in Compton pricked Cole's finger to check her blood sugar. The results popped up quickly: 357.
"Oooh. That's high," Cole said.
"Did you take your medication?" asked Annie-Claude Sanchis, a nurse practitioner.
She hadn't. Now her diabetes was out of control. "I think it's just the stress," Cole told her.
"I'm concerned when you are so stressed, you can't come get your medicine," Sanchis said. "Not good, Natalie. Not good."
Sanchis worries about the long-term damage to Cole's health and to her children's health. "If the mother is stressed, the kids are stressed too," she said.
Sanchis scheduled Cole for a full physical. Cole didn't go, saying she didn't want more bad news.
There was already bad news about her living situation. She and Bullis argued over money and she had to move out. "We don't fit in that room no more anyway," she said. "I don't care."