Cradling Joy Amidst Thorns: New Chapter Comes With a New Love Story

By Brenda Riojas, I Start Wondering Columnist



Brenda and her grandson
Brenda and her grandson

Transitions in our lives have a way of helping us embrace each moment before us. In March, with spring unfolding – the white gardenias blooming in Harlingen, Texas, the pink azaleas blooming farther up the Gulf Coast in Houston – I found myself at the beginning of a new love story.


Aquinas More Riojas, our grandson, arrived on March 26. As fast as we could, we all rushed to Houston to meet him, leaving all that was pending behind in Harlingen. He is the first grandchild on both sides of the family.


Since his arrival, we have relished every moment spent with this little human who has further bonded our families. The joy of meeting him soon after his birth, and the thrill of seeing him grow these first three months of his life, fills our hearts to new depths we did not know possible. To an extent, our grandson places us in a bubble of bliss that outside forces – the evil that permeates in the world – cannot penetrate while we are in his presence.


A Life of Roses and Thorns


Unfortunately, life gives us both roses and thorns. At the Benedictine Monastery of the Good Shepherd, before we end our monthly gatherings, we each share our joys and sorrows with which we must reckon. These moments allow us to grow together, celebrate, and

3 Generations
3 Generations

pray for one another, recognizing “If [one] part suffers, all the parts suffer with it; if one part is honored, all the parts share its joy” (1 Cor 12:26).


While the birth of my first grandson presents me with the gift of cradling joy in my arms, sorrows outside my window grow louder. Amidst the joys of his first months of life, we were confronted by the ongoing war in Ukraine and other senseless acts of violence in our nation – 19 children and two adults killed in Uvalde, Texas; 53 migrants found dead in a tractor-trailer in San Antonio, Texas; seven killed during a Fourth of July parade in Highland Park, Illinois. The headlines, a litany of sorrows. But we must not despair. We must hold tight to the joys in our days. Gather them all as armor against darkness and despair.


Balancing Two Loves

As I embrace my new role as a grandmother, I am learning useful lessons: to rebalance my days, to discover when to step up, and identify when to step back.


The word “grandmother” comes loaded with meaning, one with its own joys and sorrows. The joy of witnessing new life and the joy of connecting in a new way with the women in my family who have come before me. The sorrow too of getting older, of coming closer to the end of a pilgrimage. My mother died young at 50, two years after meeting my son, the only grandchild she ever met. I am 56. I pray I get to see Aquinas – and any brothers and sisters that may follow him – grow.



Brenda's Grandson's Baptism
Brenda's Grandson's Baptism

My sister and I both became grandmothers this year. My sister, who also loves her grandson, acknowledges without apology that she is not ready to be openly called “grandmother.” Together, we played with different renditions of what we want our grandchildren to call us. She is fine for them to call her by a nickname. I am open to ideas. Nana would be fine, as would Abuelita. We will see. I still have time before Aquinas starts talking.


Learning to rebalance requires a new focus on how I spend my hours, how I make time for work, other family commitments, home upkeep and maintenance, and my creative spirit.


The instant we met Aquinas, we wanted to spend as much time with him as possible. But how to balance work commitments and my desire to be closer to my grandson, who lives 330 miles away? As a child, I was fortunate to have my maternal grandmother, Mama Pepa, nearby, but my father’s mother, Mama Lucy, lived in Charleston. While she wrote often, I can count the number of times I saw her in person with one hand. I want a different story with Aquinas. I want to be more present.


After taking some vacation time to help where needed during his first week home, reality called me back to work. As we drove back to Harlingen, we considered the possibility of buying a home in Houston to be closer to him. But once back in the office, I recognized how much I also love the work I do, and I am not ready to step away.



This summer, my son and his wife blessed us by staying a month and a half in our home. This graced us with four generations living together, starting with the oldest Riojas, Aquinas’ great grandmother of 90 years, Pila, and ending with Aquinas himself, the youngest Riojas in the family. Together we celebrated new beginnings and, at the same time, navigated different transitions in our lives.


Among those transitions is knowing when to step up and when to step back. Stepping up is appreciated when help is needed or requested, as is stepping up to be present for each milestone and the day-to-day joys and challenges. Stepping back also is good to take in the moment, to delight as I witness my son embrace his role as a father and as a husband; it is also good to give him and his wife room to learn and grow as they raise their son.


As much as I want to be there for every stage of my grandson’s development, I know it is healthy to maintain a balance given all the other roles I am called to. For now, I will content myself with Facetime and the daily photos and videos my son and daughter-in-law send the “grandparents” message group. I will also find ways to see Aquinas in person throughout the year. I will cradle all these joys so that they may serve as beams of light to balance life’s sorrows.


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