NOTE: The following is a feature story to celebrate African Heritage Month.
Viola Cain has gained a lot of wisdom from loving more than a hundred foster children.
For starters, she’s learned to cope with many different nicknames earned over the decades. The trick, she says, is simple. Just answer. Respond to them all.
A roll call of the most persistent names includes Nanny Viola, Auntie, the Big Vee and Auntie Blow How. Even her home in the African Nova Scotian community of North Preston is dubbed Nanny’s House.
From toddlers to teenagers, many children have traipsed across that threshold.
“As soon as they come to the door I tell them, it’s up to you what you call me,” she explains. “That’s so they don’t get mixed up with their own family.”
The 70-year-old is now taking care of three school-aged children, plus her adopted 33-year-old son, who has an intellectual disability.
Thanks to the children she feels at least 10 years younger. It helps to be constantly on the go.
Right now basketball is her main activity on Saturday.
“They are all playing and all on different teams,” she laughs. “It’s, c’mon nanny, everyone else has parents there. So out we go, all together.”
Saturdays include an early morning, a day of cheering on her teams, maybe a detour through McDonald’s, and by the evening, a chance to sit down back at home.
“I tell everyone that on Saturday, I’m an unfit mother,” she jokes. “On Saturdays, it’s eat what you can catch day.”
Viola believes that happiness comes from loving what you’re doing.
“I can’t wait for each morning to come. I rise at 5 a.m. and do my devotions until 6 a.m. Then the next time is devoted to my son and getting him ready. Then, there are the other children to get ready for school.”
Being well organized, and planning ahead, is ingrained in her.
Depending on the children’s ages, she either prepares or supervises lunches the night before.
“I know what kids do. You have to teach them responsibility. So I tell them. I don’t feed garbage cans. I feed stomachs. You eat your fruit when you come home from school. They do.”
On Saturday night she prepares a big meal for the next day. This frees up time to visit with former foster children who drop by with their children on Sunday afternoons.
She draws strength from her family and community at Saint Thomas Baptist Church, where she also teaches Sunday School.
“Sundays are a special day. We always have a big dinner after church. We sit down together as a family.”
“There’s a phone check here – no cellphones allowed up my stairs. They would even try to text and set the table at the same time. It’s not good for the kids to see that. So now we have our family chat time and that’s good.”
Viola is happy to share her experience and wisdom with others.
“We have to help young parents. I belong to a support group in the community.”
She would like to see more foster homes in African Nova Scotian communities.
“That would be the best thing that could happen, having more foster families. We’ll be gone – we need new blood. So I’ve been recruiting others already.”