Victoria mother gladly starts over again at age 50
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The brief solitude behind a locked bathroom door is a precious escape for Claudette Rosales.
Even so, the few minutes to soak her tired bones and finally shave her legs don't compare to the joy of being a mother - again.
"Just because you're in your 20s or 30s, people think that's the only time you can be a parent," Claudette said. "To me, you're never too old to be a parent to a child who needs you."
Claudette, 50, became a mother for the first time 33 years ago. When she later adopted the title "grandmother," her three grown children never imagined someone new would call her "Mom."
This September, she and her husband, Rudy, 46, will celebrate two years with the newest family additions: Clayton, 10, Raylen, 3, and Clarresa, 2.
"I don't want anything for Mother's Day, I am the richest mother there is," Claudette said. "I have everything you could possibly want. My husband is my best friend. I have healthy children, beautiful grandchildren and a wonderful extended family. Why would you want anything else?"
As an adopted child herself, Claudette said she wants to help the children break the stereotypes.
"I don't want these children to feel like I felt growing up," she said. "I just want them to know that they are loved, that they will be somebody."
Her three grown children, from her first marriage, and eight young grandchildren have had a rough time adjusting, but Claudette and Rudy remain strong through the toll it has taken.
Their first Christmas together, there was some disharmony about the number of gifts the adopted children received over the grandchildren.
"I love my older kids, my younger kids, my grandkids," she said. "Some of them don't think we do now that we've taken on these children."
For her, the choices are simple, and she hopes her grown children will join her.
"It hurts now because we're not close, sometimes I think what if I hadn't taken on the kids," she said. "No, you can't second-guess yourself over something like this. These are adults, and some people are going to accept it and some aren't."
Claudette and Rudy met Clayton, Raylen and Clarresa in 2009 on a vacation to Arkansas.
They were in Louisiana visiting Claudette's adopted brother and heading to Arkansas to visit his grandchildren, whom Claudette and Rudy had never met. The summer vacation quickly took a life-changing turn.
"In walks their biological mother, big and pregnant, smoking a cigarette," Claudette said. "She was so strung out on drugs she couldn't even carry on a conversation with us."
The children, Claudette's great-nieces and nephews, had been split up and passed around the Arkansas foster system three times. It was clear they were not going back to their mother, Claudette said.
After meeting the children, Claudette laid awake thinking about them. "Those babies do not have a chance in the world."
Two weeks later, she and Rudy got a call from the children's grandmother. None of the immediate family wanted the children. No one would take them out of foster care.
Claudette knew she could use her experience to help them start over, and Rudy gave his support.
Within two weeks they started the adoption process, and by September, the three siblings were on their way to their new home in Victoria.
The first few days with the children, put Claudette's motherly instincts to the test. She stressed about buying the right size diapers and formula, and potty training the babies.
"I thought I'd be so rusty at this, where do I start?" she said. "When you look at those kids, when somebody needs you that bad, it automatically kicks in."
Their first night together, she slept in the living room with all three children in case one woke up and got scared.
They're the first children to call Rudy "Dad."
The children have their own personalities. As the oldest, Clayton is the leader of the bunch.
"I told the oldest, it's going to be hard on you because I know all the tricks in the book," she said. "You're going to get the short end of the stick, you're not going to be able to pull it over on me."
His brother, Raylen wants to be independent, and the youngest, Clarresa, is so silly, but so loving.
It had gotten to the point where Clarresa would not let Claudette or Rudy out of her sight without crying. To reassure Clarresa that she was safe, they let her sleep in their bed.
"She would touch us and kiss us and pat us, she would have a hand on me and a leg on him," Claudette said. "I don't think we slept for the first year we had her."
Claudette and Rudy took the children to therapists, psychiatrists, play therapy, tried everything everyone told them to do.
"One day I told my husband, I'm not doing this. We'll work this out right at this house," she said.
The process has not been easy. Each day comes with a new challenge, perfecting the children's medication dosages, dealing with their temper tantrums and continuing their adjustment to a stable home life, and balancing those needs with her grown children's and grandchildren's.
"This wasn't easy on us at this age, we were enjoying ourselves, doing things just Rudy and I on our days off," Claudette said. "It's hard, but people are so - they give us that look."
The criticism was unexpected. People told her she was crazy.
Since adopting the children, scolding looks from other adults has become commonplace. The tone is that because they are older, they cannot be parents to toddlers, because the children are not kin or share the same blood, they cannot be family.
For Claudette and Rudy, family is more than blood and parenting is more than age.
"To me, family is what you have (in your heart) to provide for somebody," she said. "When I say they're my children, that should be the end of it. We're all different colors, but we're all one family."
Before taking on the children, old age was the least of their worries.
People who are older and raising their grandkids do not deal with half the age-related criticism, Rudy said.
"They aren't grandkids, they are our kids," he said.
Claudette will be 66 when the youngest graduates from high school, Rudy will be 62.
"Sometimes I feel like people have already buried us," Claudette said. "Now I've had so much of this negativity, before I said, 'I hope I see my kids graduate, I hope I get to watch them get married and have kids.' Now it's, 'Let's get through kindergarten graduation, eighth grade graduation and high school graduation.'"
She said they just want a chance.
"Do you think the good Lord would bring those children into my life to take a mother away from them again?" Claudette said.
Any mother will tell you once a mother, always a mother, but Claudette jokes that she will never get a break from potty training or school-dance chaperoning.
"I'm proud to be a mom 100 times over ... I may be broke and poor, but on the inside, nobody knows how big this heart is," Claudette said. "If I could take on 100 kids in this world, I'd do it."