Sunday, May 06, 2001

Three grandchildren thrive with Mom, Pop

By Mike Pulfer
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        When Enquirer readers peeked in on Bruce and Lana Cookingham a year ago, they got a fascinating look at five lives in transition.

        In a grueling series of developments, the Cookinghams, now 58 and 57 years old, had assumed temporary, then permanent custody of their three grandchildren, Clarissa, 6, Chelsea, 5, and Grayson “Tiggy” Cookingham Jr. 3. And they assumed the physical and emotional challenges that came with them.

        Today, “Well, we're all alive,” jokes Mrs. Cookingham, a St. Bernard resident.

[photo] Bruce Cookingham cuddles with his grandson GRayson.
(Enquirer photo)
| ZOOM |
        Clarissa, who “used to throw herself against walls because she didn't have the words to express herself,” is now finishing kindergarten. In professional language, she had been classified as “developmentally delayed with emotional problems.”

        Since she came to live with her grandparents, “she has done extremely well — academically and emotionally,” Mrs. Cookingham says.

        Chelsea, who had been malnourished in her first two years of life, has benefitted from occupational and speech therapy and a preschool operated by Mental Retardation and Developmental Disabilities (MRDD).

        Tiggy, who is deaf in both ears, has started to talk and sign.

        “I am thrilled with the kids,” Mrs. Cookingham said. “They seem to be handling the situation very well. It's been tough for them, too.”

        A typical daily schedule has the two grandparents — “Mom and Pop” to the kids — keeping up with as many as 10 appointments, all child-related.

        “Our schedule is so hectic,” Mrs. Cookingham said. “We're learning constantly.”

        The children haven't integrated with other neighborhood kids the way she would like, but, she says, “The problem isn't the children. The problem is us.” Younger mothers don't have a lot in common with the Cookinghams, and the Cookinghams don't have a lot of time to socialize.

        Baby sitters are few and far between. “These are not your average kids,” Mrs. Cookingham said. A sitter would have to be “very responsible.”

        Mr. and Mrs. Cookingham, a certified public accountant and a former junior high English teacher, respectively, had considered early retirement before they discovered Chelsea, at 19 months, was starving. They have given up on the notion.

        “There is no retirement,” Mrs. Cookingham said.

        “We are Mom and Pop,” she said proudly. “If you walk like a duck and you quack like a duck, you're a duck.

        “We are here for them . . . forever and ever and ever.”


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- Three grandchildren thrive with Mom, Pop
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