By Lester Wills
Those who have read my previous posts to this forum will know that while the ride has been like a rollercoaster, it has been enjoyable and very worthwhile. The same can be said of my experience as a foster grandpa to two teenage boys. They arrived when they were 13 and 11. This was a little different from my first experience with two girls, ages 4 & 3!
My daughter Eleanor and her husband Nick were fostering these boys with a view to adopting them later. They had also decided that when the adoption happened, it would be an open adoption, and so they would be in contact with the biological family.
The boys were obviously a little nervous at the start as they had been in several different foster homes. Sometimes they were together, sometimes they were apart. I cannot begin to imagine what that must have been like, but being with them made me think about it often.
I have a very strong memory of one incident at the beginning. Eleanor and Nick were going through one of the boxes the boys had brought with them. Eleanor found an award Richie (one of the children) had won and said something along the lines of “Look at this! We should put this up on the wall.” The response from Richie was chilling. He said: “But only biological children get their awards put up on a wall. Ours get put in boxes.”
That hit my heart strings then, and still does. It also brought home the difference some people perceive between foster/adoptive children and biological children.
The process of developing a relationship with these boys reminded me of some of the things I tried to do with my son many years ago. I thought about things we could do, but in some respects the boys took the initiative in developing that bond. Sometimes it was just happenstance. I can remember one incident in particular.
I had taken the boys out somewhere and we were driving back. I had stopped at some traffic lights and was at the front in the inside lane. A somewhat older car pulled up alongside with a young person driving. He looked at us and then started revving his car. The boys looked and saw what he was doing, and we all heard the engine noise of the car being revved. The boys immediately said, “Hey Grandpa, he wants a street race. Go on Grandpa, street race him!” Being a sensible older person trying to set an example to my new grandsons, I thought “NO.” But then the devil inside took over, just slightly.
I had a VW Passat with a turbocharged engine that was no slouch. So, I got ready. When the light changed I put the pedal to the metal and accelerated quickly to the speed limit and then immediately eased off. That meant I was doing all of 30 miles per hour in a 30 per mile hour zone. Needless to say, we left the young guy with his noisy car dead in the water. The boys were delighted and loudly proclaimed, “Grandpa is street racing!” I pointed out that no, I was not street racing. At that point the young guy passed us which lent credence to what I was saying. Not to be discouraged the boys proudly persisted, “Yes, you were.” They then said something that caused me to panic: “Just wait until we tell Mom!”
Oh dear, I thought. Actually, it was a single word that was a little stronger than that.
I told them in no uncertain terms I was NOT street racing and pointed out I had not exceeded the speed limit, and that they must not tell their Mom that I was. They agreed. Unfortunately that did not last long. As soon as we arrived home they jumped out of the car, rushed in and then promptly told their Mum that Grandpa is so cool, he was street racing!
You can guess my daughter’s reaction. Grandpa had some explaining to do.
Although it was not planned, that little incident certainly put me in a different place as far as the boys were concerned. There was another one of those happenstance incidents when I announced that I had met someone (something I never, ever expected to do). One of the boys asked, “What, like dating?” I said yes, at which point Richie announced, “Grandpa dating, no way!” It took a while for us to convince the boys that this was indeed the case. Later, my nervous girlfriend Donna came to the house for a meal and met my family. The boys did something wonderful and apologized to her for not believing she was real.
Sometime later Donna and I got married. The boys developed a relationship with her as well and called her Nana. We would take them places, go and see movies, and do things such as mini golf and various other excursions. We even had them both attend a sleepover. Nothing like a couple of teenage boys to keep you young!
Richie and I would often go for coffee together and just chat. He and I also did things together like go kart racing, where he showed his Grandpa how it should be done—much to my chagrin. We went out for meals together and I can remember on one occasion when we had rented a cabin for a week. Donna had gone back to work for a couple of days while I stayed there and worked. Richie drove down and stayed with me. We drove into town and had a meal together and then he let me drive his car back. He was good with computers and I often asked him about tech-related things. He was keen and willing to offer advice and help his Grandpa whenever he could.
I remember when their biological Grandfather died. Richie wanted to go to the funeral so I offered to drive him (his Mom and Dad were on a trip out of state). When we arrived at the church he was welcomed by members of his biological family. Then something happened that caused me to pause. Several members of the family thanked me for looking after him and for being his Grandpa. My initial thought was, “Why? He is my Grandson!” But then I took a step back. I thought about what it would look like from their perspective and realized why they felt grateful.
It was a salutary moment.
Not long after the boys joined the family, Eleanor got pregnant and then had Ali. The boys welcomed their new sister and loved her dearly. They would spend time with her, dressing up and playing with her, and reading stories to her. To say there was a special bond between them would be an understatement. But this also raised another issue.
Sadly, some people can ask questions that can cause pain. I encountered comments along the lines of, “Yes, they are the foster children, but what about your real Grandkids?” While I found such comments upsetting (as these boys were my real grandkids), I do not think such comments were intended to be malicious. Rather, people simply did not think through what they were saying. Words like this can be very hurtful, but until I encountered this situation, I had never considered it. So, if you are reading this, please take note.
I found during this whole process that these were simply teenage boys in need of normal relationships. We had our ups and downs, just as anyone does raising children in their teenage years. But I am so glad they came into my life. They helped develop memories that I will always treasure. Plus, having grandchildren of any kind keeps you young!
To me the greatest gift I received was to be accepted and loved by these boys. As a grandparent, you cannot ask for anything more.