“Are you a grandma?” the first-grader asked me as she snuggled into my lap to watch a movie. I was visiting her classroom in a Catholic elementary school in Denver, Colorado, as part of a supervision visit when I was the director of Cabrini Mission Corps ten years ago.
“No, I am not a grandma,” I told the little girl.
“Oh,” she said, “You feel like a grandma.” What high praise, I thought.
I recalled that encounter when I was in Japan last Thanksgiving. One of the chaplains was at the USO dinner with his three children, including a toddler who reached out her arms to me. I picked her up and she wrapped her arms around my neck and snuggled into me.
A similar incident happened at church recently when a woman with her toddler sat behind me. He fidgeted some during Mass and at the end of Mass, she apologized. “No need to apologize,” I told her. I loved hearing him cooing and babbling. He then reached out his arms to me and transferred from his mother’s arms to mine. He, too, snuggled close and relaxed into me.
“He recognizes a good grandma when he meets one,” his mother said. I beamed.
I am still not a grandmother, but I did not tell her that.
I do, though, wonder at the significance of these events. These were all “third pane of the window” experiences for me—that pane through which people see something about me that I do not know about myself. Apparently to some children, I feel like a grandmother.
When I have these moments of insight, I try to step back and ask what invitation God is extending to me.
I wonder if it has to do with how I relate to God and if I feel that same sense of warmth and trustworthiness with God that these children have with me. Am I willing to hold my arms out to God and be picked up and held? Am I willing to relax into God’s embrace and to feel safe there? To bury my head into God’s shoulder and let God pat me on the back and whisper words of comfort?
And beyond spiritual consolation, am I willing to let God act through another person? Can I trust someone enough that I can allow myself to be held and cared for?
Or do these encounters point out a gift God has given me, and is God asking me to share this gift—maybe with children who have no grandmothers involved in their lives or children who are ill or abandoned.
Perhaps it is all of the above. Perhaps God is telling me that the capacity to give and receive love is not diminished by disappointment or age or loss—and that children can be the spark to rekindle love. Maybe the invitation is to love and trust, to give and receive—to say yes to the opportunities God presents me.