Stepping in to bring up a teenage grandchild is just one of the challenges that Lorraine Brooke-Anderson of Red Beach has taken in her stride. Her ‘can do’ attitude has also seen her deal with contracting polio, take on several jobs to keep her children at private school, attend university as an adult student, start her own business and play an active role in various community organisations. Now aged almost 80, Lorraine is perhaps best known as the founder of Hibiscus Coast Grandparents Parenting Grandchildren – an organisation she headed for 12 years. With Mothers’ Day just around the corner, Lorraine spoke to Terry Moore about supporting grandparents as they raise grandchildren and why she has to ‘call time’ on her involvement.
When I was three I got my foot caught in the spokes of a bike wheel and six weeks later got polio, (known in those days as infantile paralysis) in the 1936 epidemic. Those two things may have been related, but doctors are not sure. When I injured my ankle, our family doctor was going to a golf tournament, so he applied a temporary salve. Later a friend of the family took a look at it and made a splint with wood from a butter box. All the specialists said if something had been done straight away, the result could have been very different. I had many corrective operations, the last one was on my 13th birthday. Polio affected the sinews in my left ankle, causing a limp, and I also got breathing problems, but my father said “you only have a disability if you want one”, and so he instilled a positive attitude. I was an only child and both my parents were into sports – my mother ran at Jack Lovelock’s farewell meeting before the 1936 Olympics and she and dad were both involved with netball, or outdoor basketball as it was called then. I wanted to play basketball, and dad said I could be a good goal shoot provided I practised. Every day I shot 100 goals. It gets your eye in and once that happens, it’s hard to miss. I made rep teams and was a Thames Valley selector and umpire. I also trained teachers in various South Auckland schools when the new rules for netball came in.
I was born in the middle of the Depression, in Thames. Dad was a butcher by trade, delivering meat by horse and, later, bicycle, to customers. In the Depression he took a job with the local Council. Looking back it was hard for my parents. Mum worked in a retail job through my school years – they needed the money to take me to Auckland to see specialists; there was no tarseal on the Bombays then and it was a big journey from Thames. The main way the polio affected me was that people could be over protective. I wanted to be a nurse, but mum wouldn’t let me, so I started work in the Public Trust office and then went to work for Thames Borough Council. After I got married, we moved to Ngatea and one of my old teachers who was in charge of the secondary department at Ngatea District High School ask me to teach English and Geography and coach basketball. He really wanted me for my basketball coaching skills, but I found I enjoyed teaching and did that full time for around three years, then part time once we had children. I used to have to bike on a metal road to Ngatea - we used to bike everywhere in those days and I loved it.
Des and I had three children and all of them had private school education, which meant a huge financial effort. I was shown around Kings College during a visit to Auckland and was so moved by the beauty of the chapel that I thought ‘if something good doesn’t rub off on them here, nothing will’. We built a house in Papatoetoe. Later when the boys were accepted for Kings College and my daughter into St Cuthberts, to pay the school fees I cleaned houses and catered for dinner parties, making pavlova and Blitz Tortes until 2am until I was told by a specialist to get off my feet. But where there’s a will, there’s a way. To get off my feet, I did a secretarial course and accountancy exams. I got a job with a personnel consultancy firm, then set up my own business, Professional Staff Consultants. By this time my marriage had broken up and I was bringing up my daughter, on my own, I went to Auckland University and did Industrial and Social Psychology and Industrial Relations. These were subjects I was interested in, but one reason I did those papers was that the lecture times fitted in around my family. My business took off so I didn’t complete the degree, but it was a very proud moment when I passed my papers. My jobs have all been opportunities that have occurred and I seized the chance. My children are all hard workers, and all are gainfully employed. One of my grandsons has just completed his Masters degree and is now in research overseas and four granddaughters are at University. Another grandson has just returned from the Australian Institute of Sport.
My second husband, Bryce and I got full time care of our grandson when he was 12 years old. We used to have him most weekends and holidays and after staying with us he often said he didn’t want to go home again, which was an awful dilemma, when your daughter is his mother. As happens with so many grandparents who end up caring full time for their grandchildren, the two parents are so busy fighting each other they lose sight of the welfare of the children. The Council for Child, which is appointed when there are family issues in the court, asked whether our grandson could stay with us and I said yes – he was with us until he was 17. He then went back to his mum. The emotional strain of caring for a grandchild is enormous. As one of the grandparents in our group said, the hardest thing is having to stop being the loving granny and be the disciplinary parent again in a society that is so foreign to us. Things have moved on since we were parents. When we said ‘no’, we meant it, whereas now the young ones tell you why you can’t say ‘no’. Financially it was also a big challenge – as it is for all grandparents, most of whom are on a pension. We had to sell our home and had exorbitant legal fees to pay to keep our grandson safe. We have rented ever since.
I started Hibiscus Coast Grandparents Parenting Grandchildren in 2000, shortly after taking on my grandson full time. I didn’t even know there was a WINZ office in Orewa – I didn’t know where to go. We were dragged into the courts because of the parents fighting and needed help to see us through that. The organisation aims to provide support for all the grandparents, because without them these children would have nobody. It started with 10 members and we now have more than 70. Their average age is 71 when they take on a grandchild full time – whether it be a newborn or children in their tweens and teens. I’m on the board of Rodney Health Link, was a foundation member of Zonta Hibiscus Coast and on the National Council of Women as well as being a Vestry member of St Stephen’s Church. But being the president of Grandparents Parenting Grandchildren has been the most satisfying, and the hardest job I have had. It means time spent on the phone trying to raise money, and emergency help such as driving out to Gulf Harbour in the middle of the night with medicine for a family. These children arrive in what they stand up in and we have to get them into school within the next day or two. You hear lots of tragic stories as well as success stories. Some of the children will never go back to their parents because of violence or drugs in the home. I am privileged to a lot of confidential information and heartache, and at times it gets me down. Last year five of the grandparents in our group died within a short period of time, which was hard, especially when we know that 95 percent was because of stress.
Last year I got rear-ended going into Orewa. At first the most annoying thing was that the people who hit me gave me a false name and address. The doctor treated me for whiplash and on the second day I had double vision. Then shortly after I got a very sore finger. I felt silly going to the doctor about a sore finger, but it was so painful. This was the first symptom of what was later diagnosed as two vertebrae pressing on my spinal cord. Surgery isn’t an option. The injury is stable at the moment, however I have to use a walker for safety. That’s why I’m looking for a new president for Grandparents. We need to find someone because this group must continue. I can support and advise, but ideally we need someone who has walked in those shoes; you need empathy. These children are our future citizens and it is imperative that we support the Grans because these children have no one else to turn to.