opinion

Yo, Mr. President: A grandparent's love is bona fide

Ronnie Polaneczky, STAFF COLUMNIST

Updated: Wednesday, July 5, 2017, 6:31 PM

Anna Mesoraca (center) obtained permanent custody of granddaughters Alyssa, left, and Gianna when her son died in 2008.

My Granma Veronica was a beloved, indelible presence in my childhood. My sibs and I saw her practically every Sunday, in church or at dinner. And I spent hours doing homework at her kitchen table while her chicken soup simmered on the stove.

She taught me how to make pierogi, plant a flower garden, and sew a sleeveless top out of a cotton pillowcase.

(What can I say? She was a coal miner’s scrappy daughter who learned young how to make do.)

My own mama, rest her soul, was cherished by her 23 grandchildren. My dad is still around, and the kids love him as much as they did my mom.

Similar close grandparents/grandchildren bonds existed (or persist) in almost every family I’ve ever known or written about in this column. The ties are “genuine, authentic and sincere” – which happens to be the dictionary definition of bona fide.

Why does President Trump view them otherwise?

In his revised rules for travelers from six majority-Muslim countries, visitors may come to the United States only if they have close family here. Oddly, the rules do not consider grandparents and grandchildren to be “bona fide” close family to each other.

You don’t have to be a critic or supporter of the ban, which went into effect last week, to scratch your head about that. Just being a grandparent or grandchild yourself is enough.

Grandparents have always been critical members of the village it takes to raise a child. They extend the family beyond its core, strengthen it in times of stress, bring perspective born of experience. Even from a distance, they can ground grandchildren in a special way, helping them understand their family’s place across the arc of time.

They can also stabilize a child’s life.

According to U.S. Census data, 4.9 million children under 18 live in a grandparent-headed household; about 20 percent of those kids have neither parent present. I suspect that millions more kids have relationships with their grandparents that are just as close as if the kids actually shared a home with them.

Especially in Pennsylvania, grandparents’ ties to their children’s children are taken very seriously, says Cathy Cardoza.

“This state recognizes, big time, grandparent rights, not just for visitation” of the kids in, for example, divorce cases, “but for custody, too,” says Cardoza, a family lawyer based in Abington.

“The courts are always thinking about a child’s best interests. When it comes to the bonds that have developed over years, we don’t want to break something that has been a good thing for a child.”

Sadly, grandparents are increasingly being called upon to raise their grandkids because the children’s mothers and fathers are either deceased or absent due to substance abuse, jail, domestic violence, mental illness, or other factors that can render a parent incapable of parenting.

Those stats have been worsened by the country’s opioid epidemic.

“It’s horrible,” says Cardoza. “I’ve helped so many grandparents get temporary custody of their grandchildren because their [adult] kids got addicted. I’m sad to say that three sets of those grandparents now have permanent custody because their kids have died.”

Anna Mesoraca, 55, knows their woe. In 2008, her son Anthony fatally overdosed on heroin a month before his 29th birthday. He left behind two little girls, Gianna, then 7, and Alyssa, then 3. Their mother, also an addict, was unable to care for them.

Mesoraca has raised them ever since with her second husband, Tim (the girls call him Poppy). They are now 16 and 11, and the light of their grandparents’ lives. Gianna is a rising high school senior taking college classes on the side. Alyssa is so academically adept, her teachers want her to skip a grade.

“They’re amazing, wonderful,” says Mesoraca, a mental-health counselor who lives in Northeast Philly. “They’re intelligent, vivacious, friendly, and just really, really nice.”

She says there was “no question” she and Tim would raise the girls when Anthony died.

“They did nothing to deserve what happened to them,” she says adamantly. “They deserved to have a good life.”

And they wound up healing Mesoraca.

“After Anthony died, there were days I didn’t want to get out of bed,” she says. “But I did, because the girls needed me. They brought me back to life.”

Such is the power of the ties that can bind grandparents and grandchildren to each other.

If that doesn’t make for a bona fide family bond, what does?

Ronnie Polaneczky, STAFF COLUMNIST

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