By Emily Clark
Rosie nudges Clyde aside as she tries to cash in on the back rub and pokes her head above the gate and lets out a plaintive bark. Rosie’s human charges appear behind her and her attention is instantly directed toward the twins, while grandma settles herself at the kitchen table, smiling broadly at the two young souls who have made her life complete.
The twins are 11 – happy, normal kids, who talk about sleepover parties and hanging with their friends. It’s clear that Paula Kamenski has everything to do with that. She is their father’s mother, and has been in their lives since they were infants, when they visited her every weekend. Kamenski suffers from diabetes, fibromyalgia and being old enough to remember when her son wasn’t suffering from addictions that prevented him from caring for his seven children.
Kamenski has the twins. Her ex-husband, their grandfather, is caring for three of the children and two have been adopted. She had to fight for custody of these two, but Kamenski convinced the judge with a heartfelt plea.
Every time the children’s mother lost custody of a child because of her own addictions, she got pregnant again. It’s a cycle that has become all too familiar, and grandparents must often step up to the plate to save the day.
Kamenski has done such a stellar job in this role that “Grand” magazine has dubbed her Grandmother of the Year.
She is delighted with the honor, and said caring for her grandkids has been and continues to be a joy.
She’s also been rescuing abused and neglected Rottweilers for 30 years, as witness Rosie, Clyde and Emy, who vie lovingly for attention and look after the kids. It seems ironic, now, that the Department of Children and Families wouldn’t let Kamenski adopt her grandchildren unless she got rid of the dogs she had at the time – the same dogs the kids slept with and adored.
“These dogs got the kids through so much,” Kamenski explained. “I showed the judge the picture of Tucker sleeping with the kids. The female Rottweilers are so maternal. They loved the kids. If they wanted to take a nap, they’d go lie on a dog.”
The judge was convinced, finally, and calls from Senate President Therese Murray’s office seemed to help turn the tide and get the twins out of foster care and into their grandmother’s arms.
“I wrote a letter to the foster parents and put it in with the kids’ clothes,” Kamenski said. “The social workers wouldn’t have let her (the foster mother) see it.” The foster mother then contacted Kamenski, and the two became friends. The courts finally granted her request for custody in 2007, much to Kamenski’s relief.
Kamenski said it’s important for others in her shoes to know that it’s not their fault if their child is an addict. She strongly recommended attending a support group and stopping the guilt cycle.
She attends the Grandparents Raising Grandchildren support group at “The Nook,” Plymouth’s COA Senior Center.
“My son was an addict who was not fit to raise his children. It’s as simple as that,” she added.
Kamenski is a retired nurse who spent 15 years working in acute care, 10 of those at Jordan Hospital. She also worked as a dog placement coordinator for All Paws Rescue
She and the children attend Silver Lake Chapel, where Kamenski serves as a deacon. And when she’s not caring for the kids and a house full of dogs, a bunny, two birds, two rats and one fish, Kamenski cares for her 87-year-old parents, who live in town.
She stopped working to care for her many charges, she said, because she loves them all so much. The numerous pets teach the kids how to care for others and to be responsible. The twins do chores around the house and are known in school for being cooperative and helpful and for sticking up for he little guy, so to speak.
Kamenski said she wasn’t the parent she wished she had been to her own sons, and feels this is her second chance.
“I made a commitment that I was going to devote the rest of my life to these children,” she said. “ What energy I do have goes to taking care of these kids. I couldn’t imagine my life without them.”
The children had been with her for one year when they asked if they could call her “Mom.” Kamenski explained that she isn’t their mother, but the twins insisted.
“I was at a group session one day and realized I don’t have the luxury of being Grammy anymore. I am Mom and Dad,” she said.
Visit grandmagazine.com to learn more about Kamenski’s new title as Grandmother of the Year.
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