It was my last day in Milwaukee visiting my first grandchild. For two weeks, my son and his wife had joined me in practicing with 18-month-old Elena how to say Abuela, or even Buela. I wanted my grandmother name to be in Spanish to reflect my culture. But over and over what Elena called me instead sounded exactly like “Bella,” or beautiful.
On the way to the airport, I laughed when Christopher looked over and said, “We can keep working on it, Mom, and she’ll get closer to Abuela. Or, you could just go with Bella!”
And so began my cherished role as Bella to my growing family tribe.
In the midst and thick of raising children, it feels as if it will go on forever. But—as my husband pointed out to me recently—in the course of our life, the total time we had our four children at home will soon be only 50 percent of our married life.
I thoroughly enjoyed my children, at least most of the time. So it was challenging for me after being so completely invested in their activities and lives to watch them go off to college and establish young adult lives away from us. In parenting, and certainly in mothering, as soon as you get used to the stage you are in, everything changes.
Being a grandparent is like nothing else.
The best way I can describe grandparenting is to say that it is the purest version of God’s love that I can experience this side of heaven. The minute Elena would spot me across a room, for example, she’d shriek with delight—arms and legs flinging—at just seeing my face.
My heart leaps for joy every time one of my grands runs to hug me squealing “Bella!” or joins me dancing in the kitchen, or stands by and leans into me, or giggles as they try to tell me one of their jokes. I feel loved for me, not because of anything I do or give them or say.
What did I do to deserve such goodness, kindness, and love? And the answer is, nothing! This is the perfect characterization of how God loves me. Their love is nothing less than a physical theology—a tangible manifestation of God in this world. It is God in the skin!
I pray that the reverse is also true.
When I look at them or listen to them, I pray that my grands feel and experience love, above all. I want to be an instrument of God’s love for them, that in my presence they may feel unique and special in all the world, because there is no one else like them.
I want my grandparenting to be deliberate and generous in time, love, energy. Not only as a help to my adult children in their parenting needs and tasks, but above all, because being their Bella is God’s gift to me and a special vocation that I take seriously.
I still very much enjoy my now-adult children, my awesome foursome—and the amazing spouses they have brought into our family. But the delight and joy that my grandchildren—all 13 of them!—bring to my life are blessings that continue to surprise and inspire me.