Tea Party Challenges

“Grandma, I have a great  idea! You will just love it. Uh-huh, yup. Yes, you will,” says Ava, nodding her head so fast that it resembles a bouncing ball.

I lean in close to Ava, nose to nose. “What is this great idea of yours?” I ask.

“We. Are. Gonna.” Pause while Ava rests her hands on her hip. “Haveateaparty. It will be so wonderful. Yup. It will!”

We head to Ava’s closet in my writing room.  I take the princess tea set down from the top shelf, which is overloaded with boxes of tub toys, puzzles, arts and crafts projects, and anything else a grandmother might need at a moment’s notice to entertain a three-year-old. A puzzle flies off the shelf, nearly hitting me in the head.

“Grandma, that is too much stuff,” observes Ava. When I remind her that all that stuff is her toy collection, and then suggest we go through her toys to purge, she declares she needs all of it. I don’t know why I even bothered to ask her.

With the boxes precariously thrown back onto the closet shelves, Ava begins her customary tea time parade. She leads, balancing her tea set on its tray. I follow behind with our sheltie, Merlin. Our two cats, Terrapin and Joey, bring up the rear.  The cats weren’t officially invited, but the sound of tin cups rattling on a tin tray is as close to dinner as they will get at three in the afternoon.

“Come on, come on, everybody!” sings Ava. She plunks the tray on the living room table and marches off to the kitchen to peruse the cabinet. Pretzels or animal crackers? Popcorn or sugar cookies? I shoo the cats away from the tray and hear a chair scraping across the kitchen floor. Ava must have spied more interesting-looking snacks on the upper shelves of the cabinet.  I hurry into the kitchen before my afternoon turns into an emergency visit to the hospital. I help Ava off the chair and hand her the shortbread cookies she had been trying to reach.  While she attends to the cookies, I pour juice into the teapot.

Ava spreads out her princess plates and declares her spot at the table, not that I wouldn’t have been able to guess. Her plate has two whole cookies while the other three plates contain cookie pieces. And not many of them.

Ava pours the tea. She sits. She waits. She stares at me. “Grandma, where is everybody?”

“Did you invite anyone else?”

“Oh?!” Ava is thinking. Then, “Everybody, it’s time for a tea party.” The cats have not responded to her invitation, so she forces the issue, and tries to pick up eleven-pound Terrapin. Terrapin bursts from Ava’s arms and runs off. If the tea party doesn’t include turkey, spaghetti, or green peas, she wants no part of it.

“Grandma, her not want to come to my party.”

“Maybe Uni and Norman will come,” I tell Ava. 

Ava seems to consider her options.  She finds Joey, our yellow cat, hiding under the kitchen table. Terrapin switches her tail, watching from the top of the entertainment center, well out of Ava’s reach. 

With the cats out of consideration,  Ava heads down the hallway, and then returns pulling Uni, her pink unicorn, by the horn.

“Grandma, you gots to get Norman. He is a big, big guy.”

I gather Norman and find him a seat on the couch. Then I plop Uni on the rocking chair. Ava freezes. She frowns.

“Her in my chair,” she says, pointing at Uni.

I find another seat for Uni, and then sit on the couch next to Norman. I hope he won’t eat all the cookies. Norman is always hungry.

“Grandma, it is time to pour the tea.” Ava pours. We clink cups together. We drink.

“Hmm, this is good,” she says. Ava holds her tea-cup and studies our large painting in the living room.  “Grandma, that is beeauutiful.  Where did you get that?”

I look up at the painting. I look down at Ava, who is barely three years old. Surely she can’t be a shopaholic at this age.

“Kirklands,” I say.

“Oh. I want to go shopping there.”

Ava munches on her cookies, intently watching Uni. Her face is serious.  “Grandma, what is that word for . . . not real?”

“What do you mean?” I ask.

“Oh . . .”  She nibbles on her second cookie. “I remember . . . It is make-believe.  Grandma, Uni is make-believe.”

“Why do you say that?” I ask in bewilderment.

“Look at Uni! Her not eating anything. Her just sitting there. Doing nothing.”

I have to think quickly. Of course Uni is real.  She’s real to me, just as Norman is.  Why would we read stories to them if they weren’t real?

Childhood is magical, and I want the magic to stay as long as it can. So I look to Uni who is sitting on a rocking stool, and Ava is right, she is not eating or drinking anything.

What would you do?

Well, fast as I can, I stick my foot against the stool, shove Uni’s face into the plate and hide a bit of her cookie into my hand, all in a matter of seconds while Ava is busy pouring herself more juice.

“Ava, Uni is real.  Grandma believes she’s real.”

Ava looks up.  Uni is rocking back and forth, her nuzzle now covered in cookie crumbs. 

Ava smiles.  “Her is eating.  Her is real!”

Now if I could just figure out how to get Norman to drink from his very full tea cup without spilling all over his black fur.

I never realized how challenging a tea party could be.

Where Do Snowmen Go?


Normally rain brings a sense of excitement and wonder to my three-year-old granddaughter. But not today.  Ava does not jump up and down, begging  for her multi-colored child-size umbrella or her froggie boots or her unicorn raincoat. Nor does she plead with me to let her run outside so she can jump in every puddle she can find. 

Ava is worried about Bobby.

Today’s rain wipes away the snow–which appeared for Christmas this year–and washes away a snowman: Ava’s snowman. The one she had been yearning to build since the leaves changed colors in October.

The air outside is damp. Ava asks, once again, to visit Bobby, who resided in the front lawn where her great-grandparents live. I do not tell her that her snowman is now a pile of dingy mushy snow, even though I think she suspects this.

I dig through my selection of picture books to find an appropriate book. One which will help me in explaining the loss of Bobby.

Ava finds her own way to cope. She sits down and pulls books off her shelf. “Grandma . . . I know where Bobby is.”

“You do?” I flip through the pages of The Tenth Good Thing About Barney by Judith Viorst. Maybe that would work.

Ava taps my elbow. “Uh-huh, I do. I do, Grandma. Bobby is at The Rainbow. He is working there.”

Oh, that’s good. Bobby is not a pile of slush with his features floating away towards a drain.

“What does Bobby do at The Rainbow?” I ask, with much curiosity.

Ava beams, obviously proud of her wonderful imagination. “Bob–by–is workingatthe penguinplace.” She cups her hands to her mouth and whispers. “He feeds the penguins so he can stay cold and not melt.”

“Oh, that is a perfect job for Bobby,” I tell her.

 “Uh-huh, it is. It is just perfect, Grandma.”

With the knowledge of Bobby having grown up and gone out into the world to find a job, I see hope. My imagination begins to run. Ava hands me a pile of picture books to read to her. She snuggles next to me and pulls Norman, our gorilla, close to her side.

 “Me and Norman want stories, Grandma.”

And so I read and read and read, and in the spaces of time where she is turning the page or pausing to talk to Norman, I write notes in the small notebook I keep by my side.

 I write about Bobby.

Upcoming Library Appearance

My next appearance at the Groton Public Library will be on November 30th. 6:30 pm. The talented Barbara Harvey will join us. She is a guitarist and singer. Norman, my gorilla friend, is already planning what he will wear. My three-year-old granddaughter, Ava, has requested to have a seat up front, next to me. When I asked her about this, she said, “Decuz, Norman needs me.”


“Grandma, you are so silly! You tagots Norman is berry shy,” Ava said, “He needs me to hold his hand.”

At his last library appearance, Norman  danced with the kids, and Barbara let him use her guitar, while Ava watched from afar.

“Do you need to hold Norman’s hand?” I asked Ava.

“Yes, Grandma. I want to make friends with the other kids.”

During his years of working at the toy store, Norman helped many children who were shy. And even after retirement, I see that he continues to do this, wherever he goes.

“Ava, if you sit in the audience, you will be next to other children, and you can still be near Norman.”

She furrows her brow and walks over to Norman, who is sitting on our couch.  Ava whispers into his ear, and then presses her nose to his. “Okay, Norman?”

“Grandma, he says if he gets scared, you can hold his hand.”

“I will,” I say, winking at Norman.

For more information on the Lullaby Concert, click on the links below:

http://www.town.groton.ct.us/library/childrens/programs.asp   or   http://www.americantowns.com/ct/groton/news/november-lullaby-concert-at-the-groton-public-library-231188


How Life Works in the Mind of a Three-Year-Old

Last Friday, while I was driving to the park, my three-year-old granddaughter announced there would be a change in our weather conditions. “Grandma! Guess what! It is gonna snow tomoooorrooooow.”

“It is?!” I adjusted my rearview mirror so I could watch her facial expressions. She was obviously excited. The front passenger seat jiggled every time she danced her feet against it.

“Yes, Grandma. It is! Tomorrow!”

Being the middle of October, I was very curious. Especially since the temperature outside has stayed in the high fifties. Had I missed an emergency weather warning? “How do you know, Ava?” I asked.

“Decuz, I do.” More dancing feet. “And . . . we needs buttons.”

“Grandma has lots of buttons.”  I told her. More importantly, we needed milk and bread and eggs and anything else people rush off to buy at the first mention of an impending snowstorm. I changed the direction of the car and headed towards Stop and Shop, in an effort to beat the lines.

Ava picked up her two plastic horses and made them dance on her lap, up and down the straps on her car seat, and across the window. I hoped they weren’t scratching the glass. She stopped. “We needs to get carrots and raisins,” she told me.

“What for?”

“The snowman I am going to make. And the snow baby and the snow unicorn and the snow dog and the snow mommy and the snow daddy and the snow kitty and–”

I stopped at the red light, turned my head, and studied Ava. “Are you sure it will snow tomorrow?”


“How do you know this?” I asked.

Ava beamed. “Silly Grandma, it is gonna snow tomorrow . . . decuz I gots to make a snowman.”

The traffic light was now green. The person behind me honked their horn. I put my foot on the gas pedal and begin to laugh. Ava laughed, too.

“I guess we need to buy raisins and carrots at the store,” I said.

“Yes, Grandma. And a scarf and mittens. And bagels, cuz my tummy is saying it is berry, berry hungry.”

In the eight minutes it took us to get to the grocery store, I thought about her mind. How it worked. How she believed it would snow tomorrow, only because she needed to make a snowman. This is why–in addition to novels–I write for young children. Their world is marvelous and innocent. Rich in wonder and imagination and possibilities. A place in which the simplest of things can evoke pure joy. Rocks. Bird feathers. Pinwheels. Rainbows. Buttons and raisins and carrots and fresh snow, which together create a simple snowman.

And maybe it will snow in the middle of a warm October. If it does, I will make a snowman, too.

Ice Cream Island and a Pair of Berry Blue Wings

“Gotta go, gotta go to ice cream island, ice cream island,” sings my three-year-old granddaughter. She holds her Magic Mic against her lips. Her words are garbled, but I get the gist. And the sudden craving for ice cream.

Anyone who has children or grandchildren should own a Magic Mic. For less than five dollars, it echoes your voice, and comes in handy when you want to attempt to harmonize with songs on the radio (without knowing the actual words of the particular song or even the tune). Your children will find this particularly annoying, especially if they are over the age of ten and have friends in the car.  I had to put my Magic Mic away for years, until my granddaughter arrived. Now, I travel with two.

Ava is still singing. I try to harmonize, but she lowers her pitch to match mine.  They more we sing about ice cream island, the more I want to go. Now. Chocolate ice cream with marshmallow and peanut butter sauce is calling my name.  Yum!

The singing stops.  Ava has a look of deep concentration on her face. “Grandma, where are my wings?”

 Wings?  “What wings?” I ask.

 “My wings.  Where did you put them?” says Ava.

 Ahh . . . maybe the elusive Snickle has her wings.  Darn dragon.“Why do you need wings?” I prod.

“Decuz, I need to fly with the Pegasus and the dragon . . . up, up, up in the sky.”  She points at the window.  “I need to go now.”

“Oh . . .  What do your wings look like?”  Maybe if I have a visual?

 “They are blue and berry, berry big!”  She opens her arms wide to show me for comparison. “Grandma, GRANDMA, we gots to find them!”

I promise to conduct a full search after our library visit. We will need a flashlight, the dog, our magnifier, Norman, a bag of pretzels, a thermos of apple juice, our suntan lotion, Uni, and our lucky hats.

 “Thank you Grandma, thank you berry much,” says Ava, hugging Uni. She begins to sing again.  “Gotta go, gotta go to ice cream island, ice cream island.”

 If anyone knows a shortcut to this island, let me know.

Synopsis Struggles and The Snickle Search

5:05- I help our postmaster lock the door while someone else is putting the postmark on my envelope.  Ava is beaming with hopes of getting a lollipop.

I hope my headache will disappear as soon as the submission is out of my hands. 

I unwrap the lollipop, wave a thank-you, and head to the library in pursuit of the books:  How to Survive the Dreaded Synopsis Process and Don’t Flee from your Fears: Just write the Darn Thing.

At the library, Ava works on puzzles and then goes off in search of the book, Snickle and the Pickle.  It’s about a dragon and I’ve only started to write it.  She loves the title–as well as dragons–as long as they aren’t scary and are friends with the pegasus. The fact that I haven’t finished writing the story or gotten it published is beyond her understanding.

I search the computer for the Self-Help Synopsis Survival Guide.


I glance at Ava,who is happily pulling every picture book off the shelf. Piles are now scattered on the floor.  I hope the children’s librarian has left for the day. While I put the books back, Ava stares at me with a bewildered where’s-the-snickle-book look.  “Grandma, he not here,” says Ava. She continues to bemoan Snickle, while handing me books to shelve.  “Wait . . . Grandma, I have a great idea! You will love it!”

I hope her great idea involves a painless method of writing a synopsis. 

“We can go to Dunkin Donuts. Maybe Snickle is there,” she says, beaming. 

 If I can’t find the books I need, how am I going to pull Snickle out of the air? And–“Ava, Snickle loves to eat pickles, not donuts.”

I watch Ava’s face.  Her smile fades. She is obviously thinking about her next response. “Grandma, Uni loves donuts. Uh-huh! Her really loves them . . . and Grandma . . . you love coffee!”

Okay, so where is the logic between Uni and the donuts and Snickle and the pickles? And the fact that Uni (Ava’a beloved giant pink unicorn) is home playing Monopoly with Norman.

But then a caramel latte comes to mind.  And really, who needs logic when coffee is involved. “That’s sounds great, Ava!”

So off we go, in pursuit of chocolate donuts with rainbow sprinkles and a lime colored dragon with orange wings who happens to love eating pickles.

Perhaps, we may see him at Dunkin Donuts. You never know.

Be a Child

My inspirations for writing come from many sources: my dreams, the toy store where I work part-time, my observations of people and the world around me, my own childhood memories, memories of raising my two wonderful daughters and my experiences with my three-year-old granddaughter.

Yesterday, she came up with new ways to delay going to bed.

Betsy: “Ava, guess what! It’s bedtime.”

Ava: “I am NOT tired.”  SHe crosses her arms and juts her chin out, adding a “Hmph!”

Betsy: “Grandma is tired. VERY tired.”

Ava: “But, Grandma . . . we tagot (forgot) to read to Norman.”  Ava shakes her head up and down, beaming. Her eyes wide, as if she’s got me.

Betsy: “One story.”   We settle on the couch next to Norman and the dog.  Ava recites COPYCAT by Ruth Brown, which sets her into hysterics. Norman, too.  I, however, am not laughing.

Betsy: “Ava, I am putting on your quiet music so you can go to sleep.”

Ava: “Grandma,” she whispers. “I have a GREAT idea! You will just LOVE IT.”

The only thing I plan on loving right now is my pillow. Obviously, Ava has another idea aside from going to bed. She is pulling Norman down the hallway heading towards the front door. Merlin trots behind her, as well as our two indoor cats, who are obviously plotting an escape plan as soon as Ava tries to get Norman out the door.

Betsy: “Ava, Norman needs to sleep. Ava needs to sleep. Grandma really needs to sleep.”

Ava: “Grandma, you are too silly. You tagot something . . . We gots to go outside and catch fireflies . . . and slugs, decuz they are eating ALL your plants.”

Okay, she has me there. Ava and I leave Norman inside. We grab our flashlights and go on a slug hunt. Ava is very concerned that we make a nice home for them. She pulls leaves for the slugs to nibble on while I toss them into a plastic bag.  Hundreds of them. My plants all look like withered green swiss cheese.

Betsy: “Ava, we have enough slugs. Time for bed.”

Ava: “Grandma, why are you so silly? You tagot the fireflies.”

Okay, she has me there.

After we have captured and released four fireflies, Ava finally joins me in yawning.  We head to the house.

Ava: “Grandma, do you know how to be a firefly?”

Betsy: “No.”

Ava: “Silly Grandma, you have to make your butt light up! Like this!”

Ava runs across the lawn, holding her flashlight under the back of her shirt. She is laughing. I am laughing, too, as I hurry to catch up with her.

Ava: “Come on, come on, Grandma!”

Suddenly, I am no longer tired.

I am a child again.

I am a firefly.