A mother by any other name

By: Jennifer Power Scott

Photo by Jennifer O'Neil Author: Canadian Living Credits: Photo by Jennifer O'Neil


A mother by any other name

By: Jennifer Power Scott
Fostering love
A few years ago, Misty Gray was invited to a Mother's Day luncheon at a school in London, Ont. During a slide show, she saw a poem a Grade 8 boy had written for her. In it, he thanked her for supporting him through all of his tears, smiles and hockey games. "You chose to be there," he wrote. Misty cried.

"That's a memory that I will never forget and will forever cherish," she says. "It honestly just kind of swept away all of the challenges we had, just knowing that he had made that effort."

The boy was Jeffrey Collins, Misty's foster son. When he wrote that poem, he had been living with her family for two years. During the first year, he was suspended from school many times, got into fights and ran away. "I did have kind of a temper problem," says Jeffrey, whose biological mother struggles with drug addiction. "I was really rebellious to authority."

Never give up
But Misty didn't give up on Jeffrey. Eventually he won an award for being the most improved student in his class. She made him part of her wedding and took him on a family trip to Cuba.

When she and her husband were expecting twins, she assured him that he wouldn't have to move out. Once the twins came, she says, Jeffrey quickly developed a brotherly relationship with them, as he had with their daughter.

Jeffrey believes good foster parents like Misty can save troubled children who might otherwise turn to crime. "She didn't get a foster kid for the money or for the sake of having one," he says. "She did it to help out a kid."

Doing well

Now, with a high school diploma, an apartment and a job making high-end goalie equipment, Jeffrey is almost 21. He dreams of travelling the world and becoming a father. Although he loves his birth mom, he doesn't know where he would be without Misty. "I probably wouldn't be doing as well as I am now," he says. "And I thank her completely."

Page 1 of 3 -- Read about one woman's heartwarming relationship with her granddaughter on page 2
Grandmother Mommy
It was a monumental day for Betty Croft. She sat down with her granddaughter, a bright and talkative three-year-old named Terri, to tell her life-changing news: Nana was going to become Mom.

"She jumped into my arms, and she was actually crying a little bit, and it made me cry," says Betty, who lives in Riverview, N.B. "She was hugging me and she said, 'I get to call you Mommy now?' There was a whole different child in her."

Betty's teenage daughter gave birth to Terri in 1988. But with Betty doing most of the mothering in the first few years, Terri was confused, and a counsellor recommended her grandparents adopt her. When her daughter agreed to the arrangement, Betty didn't hesitate. "I loved Terri like my own," she says, "because I was raising her like my own."

Starting over
What came next was a storybook tale of adversity giving way to triumph. After Betty and her husband separated when Terri was 11, he disappeared and left them with nothing. Betty lost her five-bedroom house and moved with Terri to a basement apartment.

The two got by on about $11,000 a year in social assistance, plus what Betty made from working as a part-time teaching assistant. Terri's clothes often came from secondhand stores. Mould in the apartment made them sick.

Despite all of this, their intense mother-daughter bond kept them going. "My world was changing around me," says Terri, who considers her birth mother a big sister. "But in the end, we were always there for each other, and we were in it together."

The gift of music
The other constant in Terri's life was music. She was a child fiddling sensation, composing tunes and recording CDs by the age of 10. As a teen, she played at Carnegie Hall in New York with the New Brunswick Youth Orchestra and won the Governor General's Academic Medal. Now 23, she's working toward a master's degree at the Cleveland Institute of Music.

Betty recognized her adopted daughter's musical gift early and did all she could to nurture it. Terri attributes her success in music -- and in life -- to Betty. "She's always positive," Terri explains. "She doesn't see any point in letting things get you down. You've just got to keep plugging. And that's something that she definitely instilled in me."

Page 2 of 2 -- Discover the unbreakable bond between an aunt and a niece on page 3

Red-Haired Angel
More than 25 years ago, a six-year-old girl with sad hazel eyes sat frowning in the backseat of her aunt and uncle's car in Vancouver.

When her aunt asked what was wrong, the girl said, "I wish that I had a mom and dad like you and Uncle Wolf."

For that child, Candice Ferguson, life was dark and difficult. Her mother would frequently drink and use drugs. Candice would stay in her room drawing while her mother partied, and would usually have to get herself ready for school in the morning.

"It was really chaotic," says Candice, now a 35-year-old stay-at-home mother living near Winnipeg. "She would sometimes be so hungover that I would have to make sure there was food for her. It just makes you grow up way too fast."

Simple things

An angel with long red hair changed everything. Lorraine Bustin, the wife of Candice's Uncle Wolf, took care of the child for a few months. "I finally felt treasured and valued," Candice says. "She is the sweetest, most comforting person. Simple things like brushing my hair or doing a puzzle with me meant the world to me."

And that night in the car, when Candice was so sad and lost, Lorraine felt a rush of compassion and made a promise to the little girl. "Don't worry, Candice," she said. "I will always be here for you."

Mother figure

Decades later, the bond between Candice and her Aunty Lorraine is unbreakable. Lorraine even prepared a feast for Candice's wedding and helped out after her baby was born. "I think of her as my mother figure," says Candice, who now has little contact with her biological mother. "Anytime anything's going on in my life, she's the first one I phone."

Lorraine has kids of her own, but she considers Candice a daughter too. "I would do anything for her," she says. "I would be lost without her. I love her."

This story was originally titled "Redefining Mom" in the May 2012 issue.

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A mother by any other name