Grandma Takes the Place of a Damaged Mom

On the streets of Newark, N.J., parents are too often high on drugs, drifting in and out of their children's lives.

"My mommy is sick and my daddy is sick and sometimes they make me feel like they don't want to take care of me anymore," Ayesha, 12, told "Primetime Live."

The problem for Ayesha and her brother, Michael, 10, is not a mother who has abandoned them, but a mother who's too often a frightening presence.

Fortunately, they have their grandmother, Martha Spencer.

"They help me as much as I help them," Spencer said. "And that's why God give them to me, 'cause he knows I needed them as much as they needed me."

A Mother's Shadow

During Michael's last birthday, his mother, Tina, who is also mentally ill, showed up claiming she was not on drugs that night. But the pizza had hardly been finished when Tina got up to leave and head back to the streets.

Spencer tried to save the party by pulling her daughter aside and telling her, "Remember what you promised." Tina left.

Spencer consoled her granddaughter, telling her: "She'll be OK. She [is] going to get it together, Ayesha. It will take a little while, but she's going to get it together."

Ayesha knew better, but clung to the dream of a happy ending. "My perfect place would be living with my mom and dad. I would make them better," she said.

Fleeing for Safety

Years ago, Spencer, who is 66 years old, realized Michael and Ayesha could no longer live with their mother.

"I am at the point where when I see my daughter high that I feel like I am beginning to hate her, and I don't want that," she said, crying. "I can't take it any longer."

But they couldn't live with Spencer either. Her building was for seniors only and did not allow children. So Spencer hid Michael and Ayesha while she searched for a new place to live openly with them.

Spencer was asked what she thought now about how she had raised her children.

"I had to go wrong somewhere," she said. "I never used drugs. I've never smoked marijuana and I've always taught them against it. I had to do something wrong in order for them to go to drugs."

She said she had raised four children by herself, but all of them turned to drugs. "I couldn't believe it. I thought I was going to lose my mind," she said.

The other kids have straightened out their lives. But Spencer's struggles with Tina continued.

Highs and Lows

Spencer has done what she could to make her grandchildren's lives better. She found a mentor for Michael, and a special school that helps Ayesha with her reading and math.

When Ayesha graduated from 8th grade, Spencer attended, and invited their mother, Tina. "I think Tina is trying a bit harder to get her life back together," Spencer said hopefully.

But there are painful times too. Spencer said Ayesha was once walking home from school with her friends and her teacher when they saw her mother walking in the middle of the street, talking to herself.

Ayesha's teacher told the girls to ignore the woman, Spencer said. The teacher said the woman was an addict. Ayesha felt like she had to act like she didn't know her, and later wept about it.

A New Home

It took four years, but Spencer eventually found an apartment where she and her grandchildren could live together openly.

"Primetime Live" accompanied them as they entered the apartment for the first time. "We got a big stove," Spencer said. "We are going to have a nice dinner, a big ham!"

Michael, who once feared being assaulted by his mother, said he felt he didn't need to be afraid anymore. "I could close my door," he said.

Ayesha also got her own room. "I am happy because I can change my clothes in my room without my brother," she said.

"We're going to love it here, we are really going to love it," Spencer said.