"She has to realize and I'm being very serious," McGonegal said. "I'm eventually going to sell this house and get myself a small apartment. I cannot continue to be caregiver, because my own health is too fragile. I have too many things going on that no way am I going to take another child. I have to detach myself at this point."
"I can't do it," McGonegal told her granddaughter. "I love you. I love the baby, but I can't provide for you. I can't even provide for myself."
When things got especially difficult for McGonegal, she turned to Light. The two women met at a support group meeting in 1997, and they eventually decided to start their own support group for the state of Delaware, where an estimated 7,000 grandparents are caring for grandchildren. The support group, Grandparents United Delaware, holds meetings, lobbies state legislators for more rights and support, and publishes a newsletter.
In September, the women boarded a bus to Washington, D.C. There, they met up with thousands of other grandparents and relatives raising children, for a rally on the steps of the Capitol. The purpose was to urge states and the federal government to grant more rights and aid to a growing number of grand-families. Earlier this month, Sens. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., and Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, reintroduced the Kinship Caregiver Support Act, which, in previous attempts, has never made it out of the Senate Finance Committee.
Back in Delaware, 17-year-old Erika was about to give birth. Erika and her grandmother fixed up her room, and were ready for the new arrival. McGonegal went with Erika to the hospital, where Erika's daughter, Leah, was born this past Nov. 17, on McGonegal's 58th birthday.
But a few days later, without telling her grandmother, Erika left the hospital with Kiss, his mother and the baby. To gain custody of Leah, McGonegal would have to go to court, and says she is not ready to do that.
In another troubling twist, Lennon ended up back in prison, picked up for driving without a license, in an unregistered automobile, while intoxicated. He was offered a plea, with a year of home confinement, but he rejected the offer. He would have had to "concede that I'm a habitual criminal and plead to a felony, and I'm not ready to do that," he said.
In an interview from prison a few days ago, Lennon reflected on his life. "I feel like an outsider when I'm trying to participate in society. … When I'm running around with the people who are doing the things that I'm doing, I feel like a king." When he acts outside the law, he says, "I don't feel inadequate. I don't feel insecure. I don't feel any of those feelings that I feel when I'm trying to participate in society."
Lennon admitted he started to drink and take drugs to numb his pain and avoid responsibility. "My last three months, I wasn't even in my house. I didn't want to see anything that reminded me of what a failure I was." He blames himself for Erika's downward spiral.
"I haven't behaved like a father," he said. "I haven't been a role model for them to follow." Asked whether he felt guilty for leaving his mother to raise his children, he said, "I'm so guilty of everything … It's like, how full can a glass of water be if you keep pouring in it and just overflows? It can't get anymore full."