Doris Massey is 66, which is a bit young to be a great-grandmother and maybe a tad old to be a new mom.
That’s not stopping the Charlottean from trying, however, as she attends PTA meetings, parent-teacher conferences and chases school buses in her dual role as Massey family matriarch and foster mother to three great-grandchildren.
How this came to be is complicated and includes prison time for one of her four grandchildren, who got mixed up with the wrong crowd.
The bottom line is: Three children, ages 4, 5 and 7, are counting on Massey to be both their mother and father, and she doesn’t intend to let them down.
Massey recently registered them with the Salvation Army’s Christmas Bureau, which helps struggling parents get toys at Christmas. The program expects to give toys to 12,200 children this year, paid for in part by donations to the Charlotte Observer’s Empty Stocking Fund.
“There was no swallowing my pride to sign up. I knew I couldn’t buy toys myself, and I will not let these children suffer when help is out there,” Massey says. “I’ve lived my life, and now I’m here to make sure they get what they need.”
The adjustment from retiree to ringmaster hasn’t been easy, but it’s finances that have been the biggest challenge, she says. (Her Christmas wish is for a new set of tires.)
Massey, who is single, was laid off at the start of the recession by one of the city’s banks, where she had worked for 12 years. Bankruptcy and a home foreclosure followed not long after.
The great-grandchildren – Amilia, Shaniya and Collin – came into her life in October of 2010, after their mom, a single parent, went to prison.
Their mother will be released in a year, but Massey says she has permanent custody and expects it to stay that way. Otherwise, she fears they’ll go into the foster care system and be separated into different homes.
The three children appear to be flourishing in her two-bedroom apartment, sharing evenings of homework, rambunctious dinners and occasional after-school activities.
Collin, the oldest at 7, is focused on school and recently won a technology award. He’s also involved in the Big Brothers Big Sisters program and plays in a youth basketball program. Shaniya is part of that same sports program as a cheerleader and recently registered to be in Big Brothers Big Sisters, too.
As for Amilia, she’s in the Head Start program and picking up things fast, Massey says.
All three are in the Children’s Choir at her church, the Meeting Place.
The biggest blessing, Massey says, is that they’ve started to regain that blind trust in adults that only children have, before life robs them of innocence.
Early on, when she dropped them off at school or daycare, they would always ask the same question: “Are you coming back to get me?”
It would break her heart.
“I will never leave you,” she told them. “I will always be here. And if I’m not, just pick up the phone and call me, and I’ll come.”
They’ve stopped asking now, but she says it’s an answer that will never change.