“Just look at her” said North Hills resident Pam Meeker Stolz, holding her drowsy, 9-week-old granddaughter Misty in her arms. “If my son is out on the street, lost and out of control, at least I know that I’m doing something good for her.” For most of the children such as Misty who attended the Grandparents As Parents, or GAP’s, 19th annual holiday party, home is where their grandmothers and grandfathers live. Sudden death, mental illness, drugs, or a crime committed among their parents have forced nearly an estimated 625,000 children in California to live with grandparents, according to the 2000 census. It is a growing phenomenon, say the organizers, but it is still one attached to a stigma. “The problem these grandparents face is that society sees them as parents who have done something wrong,” said Madelyn Gordon, executive director for the 1,000 member strong GAP. NORTHRIDGE – They had expected to collect their Social Security checks, to retire to a life of leisure by now. Instead, they are filling an unexpected gap. For nearly 100 of the grandparents who gathered with their children’s children inside Skateland in Northridge on Sunday, life is about baby bottles and bibs, comforting the growing pains of adolescence, and poring over report cards – all over again. And most wouldn’t have it any other way. “But this situation happens across-the-board of society,” Gordon said. That is why support groups such as GAP play an important role, many grandparents say. “You need to be able to network, to know other families,” said one woman, who identified herself only as Carolyn. Carolyn said she was thrust into the role of caretaker of her 6-year-old grandson because her son became addicted to drugs and trouble spiraled. He has been charged with murder and is currently awaiting trial. And yet as she watches her grandson inline skate gracefully across the rink, Carolyn said somehow all that pain – an otherwise good son who somehow became lost in drugs when he went to college, and the loss of her daughter who died on Christmas Eve three years ago – momentarily dissolve. “He makes me just want to continue,” Carolyn said of her grandson. “That’s what these children do…they make you realize you have to continue.” In some cases, because grandparents are on fixed incomes, GAP helps them connect to other families who might be able to donate clothes and toys. Holiday parties such as the one held Sunday also allow the children to see that there are many others like them who are being raised by grandparents. Gustavo Bracamonte said his four grandchildren and one great-granddaughter call him “Pops,” and his wife, “Nana.” Some days are tougher than others, said the 69-year-old Reseda man. The children range in age from 3 to 17. “It’s tough to keep up with their schooling,” he said. “And many of my friends my age are not doing this, so it’s hard to go out and visit them.” But the thought of letting all the children go into foster care was not an option, he said. “They bring me life,” he said. “They keep me going and awake.”160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set!