By Barb Arland-Fye
The Catholic Messenger
DAVENPORT — Preschooler Eliza colors a picture with magic markers, seated at the long dining room table with her grandparents Bonnie and Randy Beyhl who are talking with a journalist about their role as grandparents. Eliza doesn’t appear to be listening to the conversation, but whispers something to her grandma. “Eliza wants you to know she’s 3 years old,” Bonnie tells the journalist.
The busy grandparents, members of Our Lady of Victory Parish in Davenport, sat down for an interview before National Grandparents Day, which is Sept. 10 this year. The event celebrates the connection between grandparents and grandchildren like Bonnie and Randy and their four grandchildren. The couple is among an estimated 70 million grandparents in the U.S. (legacyproject.org).
Two years ago, Pope Francis established the World Day for Grandparents and Elderly for the fourth Sunday of July, near the liturgical memorial of Saints Joachim and Anne, the grandparents of Jesus. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops transferred the celebration to the first weekend after Labor Day to make a connection with the U.S. holiday.
The Holy Spirit “blesses and accompanies every fruitful encounter between different generations: between grandparents and grandchildren, between young and old,” Pope Francis said in this year’s message for the Third World Day for Grandparents and the Elderly.”
Family and faith anchor the lives of Bonnie and Randy, parents of three grown children, two of whom have children of their own ranging in age from 3 to 15. The Pew Research Center says that most “Americans (83%) ages 65 and older say they have grandchildren,” and of “these grandparents, two-thirds (67%) say they have at least four grandchildren.” Bonnie, 68, and Randy, 70, mirror those statistics, with gratitude. They strive to model their faith through prayer, Sunday Mass and cherished traditions such as Sunday dinner.
The journey begins
Bonnie and Randy became grandparents 15 years ago, when their daughter and son-in-law, Emily and Jake Pries, adopted their first child, Asher. “Wasn’t he my birthday present?” Randy teases Bonnie. Asher was born Feb. 2. Randy’s birthday is Feb. 4. The new grandparents embraced their role instantly, making phone calls to share the good news with family and friends, painting the nursery and purchasing baby supplies. Four years later, they welcomed Adie, the second child that Emily and Jake adopted.
Nearly six years ago in December, Bonnie and Randy celebrated the arrival of their third grandchild, Oliver, the son of their daughter Ashley and son-in-law, Jared Rentmeester. Bonnie was present in the birthing room and Randy, who looks like Santa Claus, arrived in his Santa suit after performing that role for a business gathering. “I drove up to the hospital, grabbed a few candy canes, walked in and said, ‘I’m here to see Oliver.’” Oliver’s little sister arrived three years later, in November. Bonnie, again, was present in the birthing room. She and Randy, now both retired, are able to provide daycare for Oliver and Eliza.
They appreciate the uniqueness of each of their four grandchildren. “We recognize their interests and support them,” Randy said. They marvel at Asher’s creativity. He loves to make costumes and creates a variety of objects. “We’ve bought him supplies and made him his own little work area (in the house’s lower level),” Bonnie said.
“With Adie, we go to her soccer games. She likes us to be nonverbal,” Randy said, meaning, don’t give advice to the coaches and referees. That’s tough for Randy, who grew up participating in competitive sports. Adie also has a special work area and the younger grandkids have their own play area.
The greatest joy of being a grandparent, Bonnie says, is listening to “the things they say. I can appreciate those little moments because I’m not caught up with working and all the other things that went along with parenting.” Randy appreciates seeing glimpses of his children in each of their children, layered with the grandchildren’s own personalities.
Challenges and traditions
The biggest challenge of being a grandparent? “Keeping your mouth shut when you want to give your opinion,” Bonnie said, turning to Randy, as both started laughing. “There are times when we have to bite our tongue,” she added. A big challenge for Randy is teaching the grandkids to perform a task, such as mowing the lawn, the right way. “You learn from raising your own kids. You instruct your grandkids, you show them short cuts, techniques that help them to develop further,” he said. With grandkids, “You’re not as strict.”
One of their favorite family traditions — attending 11 a.m. Sunday Mass together at Our Lady of Victory, followed by dinner afterwards — has been interrupted because 5-1/2-year-old Oliver is fighting brain cancer. The treatment has been grueling but his parents, their siblings and grandparents have stepped up to the plate to provide support.
Bonnie chokes up as she reflects on their family’s ordeal. “It feels like when you wake up your heart is breaking every single day. I keep saying my rosary every morning. I say, ‘Thy will be done … Jesus, I trust in you.’ Some days, it’s not easy.” Randy takes each day one at a time, focusing on the good news in Oliver-the-Ninja-Warrior’s treatment and accepting the occasional setbacks.
They thank God for their faith community at Our Lady of Victory, which has been a part of their lives for decades. When Oliver was airlifted to Iowa City and his mom accompanied him, Bonnie drove to the hospital to be with them. Oliver’s dad flew back from a business trip in California. Father Jake Greiner, then pastor of Our Lady of Victory, had just returned from a meeting in Iowa City but headed back to pray with and provide support to the family. Later, just before Oliver underwent brain surgery, Father Jake returned to Iowa City to visit Oliver. The two had a water fight, using syringes! “He’s an amazing priest,” Bonnie said. “We have an amazing faith community. That’s the benefit of having a faith community.”
Faith and family support
As grandparents, Bonnie and Randy have always played a supporting role, but with this family crisis they have learned to accept support from others, which Bonnie says is a humbling experience. They continue to provide daycare for Oliver and Eliza, but it’s more complicated. Eliza (whose paternal grandparents live out of state) spends the night at her maternal grandparents’ house on the occasions when Oliver needs to make an unexpected trip to the hospital in Iowa City.
“Intergenerational support is essential to the healthy progress of all three generations — children, parents, and grandparents,” the Legacy Project reports. Randy and Bonnie and their family can attest to that fact.
“My parents Bonnie and Randy have supported Jake and me from the very beginning of our parenthood journey with their encouragement of us adopting our two children,” Emily Pries said. “They helped us navigate some difficult parenting situations when our kids were little and were absolutely part of our ‘village’ who helped advocate for our kids. Similar to how they were as my parents, they attend the activities of their grandkids … sports games, band concerts, etc.”
“It’s been more difficult to do these past months with Oliver’s cancer diagnosis, but one of our favorite traditions is the family dinner after 11 a.m. Mass,” Emily said. After Mass and dinner, “we spend some time together. Sometimes that’s the dads hauling things or cutting branches. Sometimes that is doing puzzles or playing games. But it’s good to be a family and they have instilled a lot of beautiful memories and experiences in our lives and the lives of our children.”
Ashley Rentmeester says, “My parents have helped raise and develop both Oliver and Eliza on an almost daily basis. My mom takes them to the library and park. They help with chores around the house. They play together and work on puzzles together. They get them back and forth to school.”
“Since March, when we found out Oliver had cancer, my parents have stepped up even more. They have to care for Eliza overnight or longer during the day. My mom has cleaned my house. My dad has made trips to Iowa City to take supplies. They travel to our house to take care of the kids when Oliver is home. So many little things that help reduce the stress just a little bit as we maneuver through this whole journey.”
Ideas for Grandparents Day
(Editor’s note: Trevor Pullinger, diocesan director of Faith Formation and Catechesis coordinator, provided some suggestions to celebrate Grandparents Day on Sept. 10 and beyond.)
• Adopt a grandparent. Families adopt elders without grandkids or whose grandkids live far away. Arrange a fun activity together.
• Parent formation day — parents have an opportunity to learn from elder members of the community about faith traditions, being raised in the faith and how faith is passed on.
• Intergenerational icon writing — learn to write an icon with your grandparent.
• Family game night — host a board game, card game night at the parish for all ages.
• Intergenerational silver screen night. Play classic movies such as “Song of Bernadette.” Include fun activities for young families and lots of SNACKS.
• Intergenerational parish garden. Share love for plants and gardens in a garden or parish setting. This might be an opportunity to beautify parish grounds.
• Intergenerational picnic day.
• Parish farmers market. Everyone brings the fruits of their garden to sell.
• Parish fishing derby. An opportunity to go fishing and invite grandparents to cast a reel.
• Parish history night. Elder parishioners share presentations about parish history.
• Parish family meal. Make a family-style meal to share with the whole parish.
• Chess tourney. Offer a chess competition for grandparents and young learners.
• Service project. Team up grandparents and youths to tackle a need in the community.
• Mini-golf tournament. Pair up older parishioners with younger members.
• Bowling league. Go bowling family style or offer a bowling party night for all ages.
• Cookie bake off and tasting contest.
• Story time. An older parishioner(s) reads stories to young children during faith formation or some other time.