LONG BEACH ISLAND – Two youngsters raced through their grandparents’ Brighton Beach home and rushed outside to its dock directly on the Barnegat Bay. The early morning hours didn’t seem to faze them as the boy and girl grabbed nets to skim the water.
Many kids consider visiting grandma and grandpa’s house a fun break from their normal schedule. But, for Kianna Jester, age 9, and her seven-year-old brother, Kayden, it’s every day.
“We were in the midst of building this house seven years ago when we got the kids,” said Beth Jester, Kianna and Kayden’s grandmother. “We got them in June and made settlement in September.”
Beth recalled when she and her husband, John, decided to raise their two grandchildren. She described their daughter, Joclyn, as troubled from when she hit her mid-teens. After graduating high school, Joclyn moved out because she was unwilling to follow her parents’ rules.
The teen’s difficulties escalated once she was out on her own. Joclyn began using all types of drugs and ultimately turned to heroin when she became desperate. Although Joclyn preferred cocaine, heroin was cheaper and more available.
Devastated to see their beautiful daughter hooked on drugs, the Jesters signed up Joclyn for rehab in Florida. Joclyn met her children’s father, and the two prepared to start a life together.
“They were both clean for four years during Joclyn’s pregnancies and the birth of both kids,” Beth shared. “After Kayden was born, I think she had postpartum (depression) that led them both back to their comfort zone.”
Beth and John made regular trips to Florida to visit Joclyn and her family. Everything seemed okay until they received the call that changed everyone’s lives.
A close relative of the father’s family revealed the couple was back to using drugs. The woman said that she intended to call child services unless Beth and her husband came down to get the kids. The caller seemed confident the children would be taken by the state agency.
“We went down the next day,” Beth said. “We took the kids back with us and have had them ever since.”
Joclyn stayed in Florida and cycled downward for several years. When she came back to be closer to her family, Joclyn was in and out of at least a dozen local rehabs. Finally, Beth told her daughter that she would not allow her to move home until she went to a long-term facility and met with counselors.
“We didn’t let her see the kids for almost a year,” shared Beth. “We told her all along that we supported her and loved her, but also that the children were more important than her.”
Beth left her full time job working for an advocacy agency centered on mental health, substance abuse, and intellectual disabilities. Instead, her entire focus became on doing what was best for her grandchildren.
The Jesters have two adult sons and five other grandchildren in addition to Joclyn and her kids. While they continued to enjoy typical interactions with the rest of the family, Beth recognized she faced challenges with raising Kianna and Kayden.
“You sometimes forget the things you did when the kids were younger,” Beth admitted. “You’re back to diapering; you’re bathing them, putting them down for naps, reading bedtime stories and doing double laundry.”
The children’s father remains uninvolved in their lives, which resulted in questions. Grandma and Grandpa pick up the kids from school, which appears to be somewhat of an anomaly. Additionally, the fact that Kianna and Kayden are biracial brought on a sense of ugliness that Beth just wasn’t prepared for at all.
“Kayden has had two incidences that were mean and hurtful,” said Beth. “We had to explain certain words (racial slurs) to him that we weren’t ready to discuss but had no choice.”
A boy also told Kayden at recess he had to find another parent because he was the “wrong color.”
As she searched for resources about grandparents raising grandchildren, Beth found very little to help her. Beth’s frustration grew as she noticed the lack of children’s books on the subject. In her case, Beth hoped to find something to reassure her grandchildren that families come in all colors.
Beth doesn’t consider herself a writer but rather, a grandmother on a mission. She decided she’d tell the story as she knew it needed to be told. Beth wanted other children to understand that grand-families are still families and are not alone in how they’re raised.
“They look around, and they see many of their peers are not the same as them,” Beth said. “They know that many of their peers have a mother and a father and their lives are different.”
“We Live with Nana and Grandpa” is published by Covenant Books, written by Beth Jester, and illustrated by Rylan Fabryk and is available on Amazon.
The story begins with the grandfather taking Sophia and Aiden for a walk. Picture bubbles illustrate the different types of family relationships.
Beth said she chose the names for the story after doing research about popular ones. The most important premise of the book focuses on family love and the time everyone spends together. Sophia and Aiden are just three and five and enjoy things like riding bikes and playing with friends.
Kianna and Kayden know the book is about them but aren’t keen on discussing it. The two share an undeniable bond with one another. Nonetheless, like most siblings close in age, they sometimes get into spats. They’ve adjusted well and have now welcomed a critical person back into their lives.
A petite young woman, Joclyn, 31, looks more like the children’s sister than their mother. She stopped using drugs three and a half years ago and now lives with her parents and children.
According to Joclyn, it took some time for everyone to come to a good place. The most difficult part was for Joclyn to gain Kianna’s trust.
“She really remembers more and has more insecurities,” shared Joclyn. “Kayden doesn’t remember much at all. It’s taking time, but things are getting more comfortable.”
The Jester family does many things together and finds that being on the water brings a sense of peace to them. They’ve discovered many of LBI’s hidden gems and love things like the upcoming kite festival.
“Even in a paradise like LBI, there are grandparents raising grandchildren,” Beth reminded. “Families come in all different forms.”