By MICHAEL ALEXANDER, Staff Photographer | Published September 7, 2017
Since Grandparents Day is traditionally commemorated on the first Sunday after Labor Day, I thought it would be a good time to revisit a grandmother whose story was told in The Georgia Bulletin on Jan. 4, 2006 by then-staff writer Erika Anderson Redding.
In the initial story, Jeannie DeCarlo was a 53-year-old grandmother who, with her husband, Lou, was raising her toddler-age granddaughter, Ansley. DeCarlo also started the Grandparents Raising Grandchildren Support Group at Transfiguration Church in Marietta. Today DeCarlo continues to raise her granddaughter, who is now a 15-year-old sophomore at Hillgrove High School in Powder Springs.
Ansley has met her birth mother, but she doesn’t have a relationship with her, although DeCarlo says the door remains open if her mother wants it to happen. Ansley’s father, one of DeCarlo’s four sons, has struggled with the use of drugs since he was a teenager. After going to prison in April 2015 for illegally manufacturing and cultivating marijuana, he has served just over two years of a five-year sentence at the Clayton County Correctional Institute in Lovejoy. Ansley has the opportunity to speak with her father every week and she sees him every six weeks or so.
The 2010 U.S. Census indicates that 4.9 million children (7 percent) under the age of 18 reside in households headed by grandparents.
When Ansley first went to live with her grandparents, DeCarlo and her husband thought it would be temporary.
“Grandparents tend to live in a state of denial, in hopes that their adult child will clean up their lives and become a part of their own child’s life,” said DeCarlo. “We want to see the glass half full or a bed of roses. In our mind, parents are expected to raise their children.”
They finally accepted the fact that Ansley’s parents would not be a full-time part of her life, so after a heartfelt discussion, they adopted Ansley on Sept. 17, 2011. DeCarlo typically refers to Ansley as her “grandest child” because of their unique role as grandparents and parents.
“We decided it was God’s path for us. I wouldn’t say no to God, and I wouldn’t say no to our granddaughter either.”
The day of Ansley’s adoption, DeCarlo took her out of school for the morning. After the proceedings were completed at the Cobb County Superior Court judge’s chambers, they asked Ansley if she wanted to go out to lunch and celebrate, but Ansley responded by saying she needed to get back to school.
“Ansley is so well-adjusted,” said DeCarlo. “She treated the situation as a technicality that had to be worked out.”
DeCarlo said technology, cellphones and teen fashion make raising an adolescent very different from the years she raised her sons. Also, parenting a female creates an entirely different set of issues she never dealt with when she was rearing boys. Today, DeCarlo is concerned with matters like curfews, time on the computer and social life.
“I mean no disrespect to younger mothers, but I tell Ansley I’m an old mommy with old-fashioned values,” said DeCarlo. “I tell her some things like good character, a good heart, good manners and a good sense of spirituality never change.”
During football season you’ll find Ansley performing with her high school’s color guard at halftime with the marching band. From January to April she’s participating in winter guard, which is the competitive, indoor form of color guard. Those two activities keep one very busy, but in her spare time she likes riding horses and playing the piano. She also participates in the religious education program at Transfiguration Church. She’s hoping to go to college and then work in the equine industry, work with abused animals or go into psychology.
“I just hope Ansley continues to stay well-adjusted and makes good choices in life,” said DeCarlo.
Earlier this year DeCarlo stepped down from her leadership position in the Grandparents Raising Grandchildren Support Group at her parish. These days she volunteers at the St. Vincent de Paul Thrift Store in Kennesaw. She also participates in a mentoring program once a week, through Kids Hope USA, at Still Elementary School, Powder Springs. DeCarlo is also a member of Transfiguration Church’s hospitality ministry, which fits her warm and congenial personality perfectly.
Ansley values the bond she has with her grandparents. Ansley found that adoption changed her relationship very little with her grandparents.
“I had been living with them, so they were already like parents to me,” said Ansley. She calls her grandmother “mom” and her grandfather “papa.”
“I told Ansley that Jesus knew exactly where she needed to be—a place where she could be safe, cared for, guided and loved,” said DeCarlo.
Then & Now is an occasional series appearing in The Georgia Bulletin. The series features people who were captured in a newspaper photograph published nearly 10 or more years ago, along with current news about them.
For information about the Grandparents Raising Grandchildren Support Group, call George or Katrina Iacovacci at 770-406-6302. This support group meets the second Tuesday of each month at 7:30 p.m. at Transfiguration Church, 1815 Blackwell Road, Marietta, in room 103.