Toddler Fun and Games



Setting up for a tea party at Nana’s house

You see them in the library, the grocery store and in the park – grandparents with a toddler in tow.


Though I have no factual basis for this, I believe that grandparents are stepping up in record numbers to help care for their grandchildren. I believe it because I’ve witnessed it firsthand: the grandfather sitting patiently with his grandson at a library computer; the grandmother in the supermarket, pushing her granddaughter in a cart; a grandmother and grandfather in the park strolling at a snail’s pace with their wobbly grandchild.

When we’re out with our grandkids we grandparents often exchange knowing smiles, aware of each other in public the same way kids and dogs are.

And then there all the grandparents at home with their grandkids, putting in long hours to help out their adult kids who’re holding down jobs.

When I first started taking care of my granddaughter she hadn’t even started walking yet. I wasn’t equipped, nor did I have clearance from my daughter-in-law yet, to take her anywhere.

I almost panicked at the prospect. She was too young to do some of the things I imagined doing with a granddaughter, like baking cookies, molding shapes with Play-Doh,  or even crayoning in a coloring book. When I started out, I had my grandbaby for the occasional full day while her mother drove to another town for a substitute teaching gig. In my mind, the hours loomed like an eternity. How was I going to fill them?

If you find yourself in a similar situation with a toddler, here are some activities that work for me, and they’re all low or no-cost. These ideas, which I’ve gathered from other parents and grandparents, keep me from relying too much on my TV and other electronic devices to entertain my grandchild. I save the Sesame Street video for when I’m utterly exhausted!

Things to do at home

  • elmo_from_sesame_streetRead read read! (My son used to chant that to me as he backed into my lap holding a book.) I love reading books to my granddaughter, as much as I loved reading to my boys when they were little. I’m glad that I kept a lot of books from that time. I also take advantage of the children’s section at the library. My toddler granddaughter loves books with flaps she can lift, as well as any book that features kittens or, God help me, Elmo. (It may just be me, but I’d rather read a book with Elmo in it than hear his squeaky voice on TV!)
  • Play ball. My granddaughter loves balls of all sizes. She holds them and chases after them like a puppy – she hasn’t figured out yet how to throw them. (My better sense tells me not to hurry that.) You can find big soft balls that are safe enough to play with inside the house, or even make a ball out of rubber bands – your grandkids will think you’re a wizard.
  • kid-1241833_960_720Bubbles! Kids love them. Bubbles do splatter, so I’ve found it best to play with them outside. You can use a commercial bubble wand and solution, or make your own bubble solution with dishwashing liquid (Joy works well). You can even craft an impressive bubble ring out of wire or a bent coat hanger. You’ll want to supervise this activity closely – a popped soap bubble near the eye can sting!
  • Tea parties. You can find a child’s tea set at a thrift store or assemble one yourself. You can set out toddler-friendly food like goldfish crackers or Cheerios, and we pour pretend tea out of an empty pot (you can use flavored water if you don’t mind the spills). And be sure to invite all the dolls and stuffed animals so no one feels left out. It’s extra fun if you can construct a canopy out of couch cushions, boxes, or blankets to give your tea party privacy.
  • Dance parties. Put on some music, grab your grandchild and dance. Bonus points for singing along. Carpool karaoke is fun, too, if you drive your grandkids around. Just watch the lyrics – remember how kids hear and repeat everything, usually at the most awkward times, too.
  • beans-2014062_960_720Scooping and sorting. My granddaughter loves it when I get a couple of buckets or tubs and fill one with dried beans or pasta. I give her my big spoons and measuring cups so she can transfer the contents of one tub to the other. You can use a variety of materials – rice, cornmeal, sand, and birdseed – or whatever you have on hand. A note of warning:  the smaller the material the bigger the mess it makes. I found this out the hard way when my granddaughter used her scoop to fling beans all over my kitchen.

Ideas for Inexpensive Outings

  • son-99746_960_720Go to your local library.  Libraries not only have shelves full of books you and your grandchild can browse and check out, but many libraries also have free group activities, and puzzles and toys for kids to play with, too. You and your toddler can easily enjoy an hour or more there.
  • Take a walk. If weather permits, go outside – bring the stroller but allow your grandkids to walk, too, to better experience their surroundings. Slow yourself down to toddler time and examine every leaf, bug, or rock you come across.
  • Find a park. Play equipment is a blast for kids, as good as Disneyland. You can hold them on a slide, or put them in a baby swing. Depending on the play equipment, you can even climb on it with them. Trust me, they’ll love it.boy-2013567_960_720
  • Explore the grocery store. A chore for you can be an amazing outing for your grandkids. Many of the markets where I live offer children under 12 a free piece of fruit. My granddaughter noshes on banana chunks while we go up and down the aisles, looking at the bins of colorful produce and rows of jars, cans, and boxes. Some stores even have fun carts for the kids to ride in. Thinking of these trips as outings, rather than a chance to get a lot of shopping done, helps me not get too frustrated when she’s had enough and it’s time to leave.
  • Tour a pet store. This is another fun destination, especially on a rainy day. Some of the big box pet stores are like mini-zoos, with birds, lizards, and hamsters in eye-level cages and walls of aquariums to wow your toddler. My friend’s granddaughters love to look through the windows of the grooming salon to watch dogs of all sizes get their fur trimmed.

Here’s a resource with more suggestions, some of which look curious, like squeezing wet sponges. But I’ll give it a go during some long afternoon – and my granddaughter will probably love it!

Another way to help keep grandkids entertained without busting your budget is to scour children’s resale shops and flea markets for games, toys, and books in good condition to keep at your house. Right now I’m collecting old hats, scarves, and purses for a dress-up box for my granddaughter when she’s a little older.

I can always use more ideas. What do you like to do with your grandchildren?


“Sick grandmothers” and other pinch-hitters

cold-1972619_960_720Are you the designated “Sick Grandmother” in your family?

Let me explain. While talking with a group of women the other day, many of whom happened to be grandmothers (funny how I’m constantly running into other grandparents these days) I mentioned that I care for my toddler granddaughter on a regular basis.

One of the women said, “I know how that goes. I’m the sick grandmother.”

At my look of surprise she went on to explain that in her family, whenever one of her grandkids gets sick at school, she gets the phone call from the school nurse to pick him or her up.

That makes sense. Working parents can find it nearly impossible to get time off on the spur of the moment when a kid gets sick at school. Families that have a grandmother or grandfather nearby who’s able and willing to perform that service are lucky indeed.

It got me to thinking that there must be other grandparents who pinch-hit for their working-parent children in other ways as well.

I’ll bet there are Snow Day Grandmas, Field Trip Chaperone Grandmas, and Soccer Practice Grandmas, just to name a few.

valentines-day-1947567_960_720So this Valentine’s Day, how about a shout-out to all the grandmothers and grandfathers that step up and step in for their adult kids when help is needed with the grandchildren? There’s no glamour in picking a kid up at school who’s just barfed all over the Quiet Rug (and yes, that child was me, once upon a time) but grandparents, like parents, do whatever needs to be done for the children in their lives.

Hillary Clinton once quoted an African proverb that says it takes a village to raise a child. Well, if you don’t have a village, an extended family, especially one with grandparents, can make a pretty good substitute.

What about you? Are you a sick grandmother? Or if you’re a parent, do you have a grandmother or grandfather who’s on call for emergencies, and how does that work out for you?

Taking Advantage of Grandma?

grandma-1421329_960_720Why is it that sometimes the people closest to you – friends and relatives – feel entitled to give you a hard time over your life choices, even when it doesn’t affect them at all?

Someone I know recently told me that by caring for my 21-month-old granddaughter I’m letting my son and his wife “take advantage of me.” After all, she argued, we raised our kids without any help from an on-call babysitter. Why should our grown-up children get a break from us with their families, when we had to soldier on by ourselves?

I know some of this talk comes from envy. This person has a grandchild who lives far away. I suspect she’d be singing a different tune if she had better access to her grandkid.

But even if that wasn’t the case, the “we raised our kids now it’s your turn” argument wouldn’t cut any ice with me. Sure, I’m happy to give my daughter-in-law a break from childcare two afternoons a week by caring for my granddaughter. But that’s not the only reason I do it.  

I take care of my granddaughter because I want to. And I benefit from the time she and I spend together as much as I hope she does.

It’s important to me to have a close personal relationship with my granddaughter and any other grandchildren I may have in the future. And a close relationship is not something you can turn on at Christmas, or some day when it’s convenient for you and your grandkids are more grown up, or potty-trained.

As you do with anyone, you earn a good relationship with your grandkids by simply putting in the time to be with them. You change diapers, get some baby furniture, buy raspberries because it’s their favorite food (which you know because you help out at mealtimes) soothe them when they’re fussy and play with them whenever you get a chance, even if playing with them just means stacking blocks for them to knock down. You take the grandkids to the park or the library when you can and their parents can’t because they’re too busy taking care of their children in other important ways.

My own parents were the epitome of “we raised our kids so don’t bother us with yours.” My parents had eight beautiful grandchildren, two of whom died young. My parents scarcely knew any of them. Once their four children left home at age 18, my parents proceeded with their lives as though they never had any kids, much less grandkids. They never offered to babysit any of their grandchildren, and expressed scorn for grandparents who did.

My parents had their own reasons for their actions, which I’ve tried to understand, but mostly I’m baffled. I felt abandoned by their lack of interest in my family, and it was especially rough when I was a young mother with two children.

My folks are gone now, and as near as I could tell from what they said and did they never regretted missing out on the experience of being grandparents. Well, that’s not me or my husband. We welcome the opportunity to support our children as much as we can in their roles as parents, and we’re grateful we do so.

Maybe, at times, we do overcompensate a bit for what we didn’t get. We know we need to set reasonable boundaries, for everybody’s sake. But those will be our boundaries, not the boundaries friends or relatives pressure us to impose.

We’re acutely aware that, God willing, our lives will overlap only a portion of our grandkids’ lives. That’s just the circle of life. We plan to enjoy being grandparents and watching our grandkids grow for as long as we can.

So, do I allow my son to take advantage of me? Should I say no when I get the chance to spend the afternoon one-on-one with my granddaughter?

No way. I feel lucky that my flexibility as a freelancer permits me to carve out time to be with my granddaughter.

If that’s being taken advantage of, then I guess I’m a fool.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a tea party to attend. It’s taking place on the living room floor at the foot of the sofa, and it’s by invitation only – me, my granddaughter, Dolly, Big Dog, Puppy Dog, Soft Kitty and Brown Bear are today’s lucky guests. We’ll be feasting on Cheerios and pretend tea.

And there’s nowhere else I’d rather be.

How about you other grandparents out there, reading this? Has anyone ever accused you of being taken advantage of? If so, how’d you respond?

Babyproofing Grandma’s pets

As regular readers of this blog know, I have a 20-month-old granddaughter. What I haven’t mentioned is that I also have a 55-lb, 10-year-old Sheltie dog and a big old cat (he’s at least 15 pounds of cat meat and fur, and since he’s a rescue his age is indeterminate).


Our Kitty Bear can easily hypnotize you with those eyes of his

My granddaughter is at an age where she’s all over the house and into everything (a subject I discussed in this post on babyproofing grandma’s house). I try to make my home safe for her to play in. Do I need to be concerned about my pets, too? Do pets need to be babyproofed?


Yes, and yes.

Now, as far as the cat goes, we’re pretty lucky. Unlike some felines, our big guy tolerates children pretty well. He’s greedy for affection and purrs whenever someone comes near. He even allows our toddler to use him as a model to name body parts. “Eyes” she says, pointing at his gold-green orbs. Our cat just blinks. She can practically sit on him and he won’t react. When he’s had enough of her he slips under the bed beyond her reach.

But the dog is a different matter. He’s a senior in dog years, and he’s always been a bit neurotic. He’s also deeply obsessed with squirrels. He spends the greater part of his waking moments barking at them, watching them cavort in our backyard and chasing them whenever he gets a chance. Sometimes I think he sees our granddaughter, especially when she’s running erratically around the house, as a big, hairless and tail-less squirrel.


Our Toby  searching for squirrels in the snow

Toby snaps when he’s irritated – he’s snapped at me and my husband. That makes him a decided hazard to our granddaughter. But even the best-tempered dog in the world can injure a child.


Last week, I had a conversation with another grandmother in a parking lot while I was lifting my granddaughter out of a shopping cart and buckling her into her car seat. I noticed the woman’s Golden Retriever waiting calmly in her car behind her as we talked.

This other grandma told me about her friend, whose family dog bit her grandkid. The child bothered the dog while the animal was eating, and it reacted instinctively. She told me that now she takes extra precautions with her Golden around her own grandkids, even though her gentle dog looks like he wouldn’t harm a flea.

Dog bites are serious. Most dogs’ mouths are face-level with a small child’s. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) reports that over 4.5 million people in the US are bitten by dogs each year and that approximately half of the 800,000 who see a doctor for their injuries are children. That’s 400,000 kids a year who are on record as being bitten by a dog. And there are probably a lot more bite injuries that aren’t reported.

The AAP provides some great tips on how to prevent dog bites and also explains what to do if your child is bitten.

The top prevention tip? Never leave a dog and a small child alone together.

It doesn’t matter if you’re talking about a beloved family Labrador or Grandma’s prized Pekingese. Any dog can bite, especially if it’s cornered, surprised or guarding its food bowl – all situations a child can easily stumble into.

My husband and I are paranoid on this subject, having witnessed a dog biting a child many years before we had grandchildren. So at our house, we avoid any risks by putting Toby in a separate room behind a baby gate when our granddaughter comes to visit. He doesn’t like it, but he gets treats and attention, especially after she leaves.

And our kitty? I monitor his interactions with our granddaughter as well. I never leave the two of them alone together. After all, he has sharp claws, and an almost-two-year-old could try the patience of a saint.

Perhaps a bird or a fish would be a safer pet to have around grandkids, but then, there are potential problems there, too. When our son was little he managed to find the knob on the back of the aquarium that controlled the heater, and before I knew what he was up to he’d poached a whole tankful of fish.

Sometimes our pets need to be protected from kids as much as kids need to be protected from them!

What steps do you take to childproof your pets for your kids or grandkids?

Children -Why?

questions-1922477_960_720I hear a lot of millennials who are either married or in committed relationships questioning the need or the sense in having children. Generations past, people didn’t think about things like that: babies just happened, like a two-day snowstorm or a power outage (coincidentally, two events that often result in the conception of children).

Nowadays, the growing tendency is to overthink everything, and the decision to have children is no exception. Here are my thoughts on five common concerns I’ve heard expressed:

  • Having kids is too expensive. Well, yes it does cost a lot. But so do a lot of things that won’t outlast you, like the latest iPhone or a trip to Tahiti.
  • Pregnancy will ruin my body. I wouldn’t say “ruin” exactly; more like remodel.
  • Kids really tie you down. So does anything you own that requires payments or getting a pet  (unless it’s a rat – you can just let that sucker loose in your basement and it will take care of itself). The point is, things or even an affectionate pet won’t give you hugs and kisses, or make you a birthday card covered with so much glitter that if it catches sunlight it could blind the orbiting space station.
  • Childbirth is painful. I don’t have any snappy comeback for that one, except thank God for drugs.
  • I’ll lose my freedom. A carefree lifestyle of partying, clubbing and spur-of-the-moment vacations will most likely go by the wayside after you have kids, unless you plan on being a terrible parent. But Nature has an answer for that. The older you get, and especially after you have kids, the less energy and interest you’ll have in partying, clubbing and taking spur-of-the-moment vacations. So, problem solved.

While I’d never try to convince an unwilling person to have a child (there are sadly already far too many unwanted children) here are five reasons to make the lifelong investment of having children, if you’re mulling it over:

  • It’s a chance for a do-over. Raising kids gives you a chance to relive your own childhood, and maybe even rewrite the script. Your parents never took you camping? You can make it a point to camp with your kids. (Of course, you may find that your kids hate camping, the same way your parents did, but that’s another story.)
  • You’ll see that magic is real. Participating in the growth of a child is a truly magical experience, and I don’t use that description lightly. Even the stunts in the Harry Potter stories seem pretty tame compared to the phenomenon of watching tiny human beings, in a mere two years, transform from a state of complete helplessness into little people who can smile, laugh, walk, talk, and say no like they mean it.
  • You can be the star of a real-life drama. No two childbirth stories are alike, and you have the right to embroider yours as much as you want to after your child is born. What may be a routine hospital procedure can become an epic tale of courage and nail-biting, edge-of-your-seat thriller if you tell it right. Just don’t share your highly embellished story to a young woman who hasn’t had kids yet. You may spook her, and her mother or mother-in-law won’t thank you for it.
  • You’ll get members-only benefits. Having children grants you an automatic entry to the biggest and yet most exclusive club in the world: parenthood. There’s no secret handshake, but on some level parents automatically understand each other, and what we all must go through for the sake of our children. All moms, whether they’re world leaders or housekeepers, have something in common, as do all dads who’re doing their best to raise kids in a world that often doesn’t support their efforts or affirm their sacrifices.

That’s four. Now, here’s the fifth and the best, which I’ve saved for last:

  • Grandchildren.

You won’t appreciate this reason until you’ve guided your kids through childhood and past the shoals of adolescence to the point where they’re ready to become parents themselves.

Being a grandparent allows you to experience the miracle of life all over again, without the full burden of parental responsibility. Grandchildren are a wonderful reward for all the years you spent parenting – the sleepless nights and apprehensive days, the worry and the joys that go hand-in-hand with raising a family.

Trust me on this.  And it’s worth noting that you can’t be a grandparent unless you’ve been a parent. That’s an absolute prerequisite.

todo-list-297195__340Many of us would reverse that order if we could – being a grandparent is way more fun than being a parent– but that’s impossible. And that’s just as well. I don’t think you can really appreciate grandchildren without having raised children first. It’s a layering of experience that can’t be duplicated or short-cut.

So here’s my admittedly unsolicited advice. If you’re considering having kids and are in a position to do so, make two lists, pro and con. Don’t be surprised if the cons outnumber the pros. Then rip up both your lists and have kids anyway. (A snowy night with no power may help things along.)

Don’t overthink it. It’s the only way you’ll get a shot at becoming a grandparent.

What about you? I’d love to hear your thoughts on the pros and cons of having kids.




Babyproofing Grandma’s house



Despite the pink ribbons, we don’t know yet if  our next grandbaby is a boy or girl


We’ve had some wonderful news – another grandchild is on the way, due this summer. Our first and currently only grandchild, who’ll be a big sister to her new sibling, is 20 months old.


I have the privilege and pleasure of taking care of our active granddaughter on a regular basis. I blush to say it, but my main strategy so far to keep her safe at our house involves me following her around constantly.

Now, that won’t cut it with two grandchildren. I know that just like when I was a mom raising two rambunctious boys,  I’ll get distracted and lose track of one kid or another occasionally, which can open the door to all kinds of mischief.

So I’ve realized that it’s time to get serious about childproofing Grandma and Grandpa’s house. No grandkid of mine is going to get hurt on my watch!

To get some help in the matter (hey, it’s been a long time since I had to hide the matches from my inquisitive two-year-old son) I did a search and found some good advice at Contractor Quotes. The site has some great tips from folks who build and remodel houses on the best ways to babyproof your home. They also sent me an article I want to share with you describing how to make your home safer for children, starting in the living room.

And if you want to be really thorough, as in “there’s no way these kids can get into trouble at my house now, no matter how hard they try” check out the infographic that follows the article. It covers the house inside and out. That should take care of your little darlings, or at least slow them down!

Spend Safer Quality Time with your Baby, by Contractor Quotes

You should spend as much quality time as you can with your baby in your home, and the best place to do so is in the living room. It’s probably the biggest area in your room and should have a lot of things that can help entertain the whole family.

However, most living rooms are not safe for children. This is because they were constructed and designed with adults’ needs and preferences in mind. Fortunately, this doesn’t mean that you cannot spend quality time with your child there. With the right babyproofing steps, it can be a safe place for your child, allowing the whole family to spend safe and fun quality time in there.

How to Baby Proof your Living Room

Here are the steps to take to baby proof your living room.

  • Get down on all fours and look around.

This may seem weird, but it’s really necessary so you can see what your child will see. Look around at this eye level and try to see what may attract your child so you can see if they’re safe for children or not. Look around to see potential dangers so you can take care of them.

  • Keep small objects out of reach. Include the things that can be toppled over.

Children love to grab on small objects. This can be dangerous because your child can put them in his mouth or break them. If it’s small enough to fit inside the toilet paper roll insert, then it’s a potential choking hazard.

Also, keep vases, lamps, picture frames and the like out of reach.

  • Secure the TV and other appliances and furniture with furniture straps or anchor bolts.

The TV can be easily toppled over, especially the latest models that are very thin. This is why you have to secure them with straps. You should also do the same with lighter furniture. For the heavier ones, you have to use anchor bolts.

  • Check your houseplants.

Your houseplants may be safe for adults, but some of them may be unsafe for kids. This is why you have to do your research to find out if your house plants are toxic for your kids. If they are, you have to get rid of them immediately.

  • Check your fireplace.

On a cold night, families love to spend some quality time in front of the fireplace. Make sure it’s safe for your kid. Start by installing a fireplace screen. The sharp edges of the fireplace have to be secured with edge bumpers. Make sure to keep fire starters out of reach.



Photo credit for stork image: janwillemsen via Visual hunt / CC BY-NC-SA

Sharing is caring – dealing with in-laws over the holidays

xmasart_69I chose “sharing is caring” as a title to this post about sharing kids and grandkids at Christmas with in-laws because it’s a higher, nobler sentiment than what I’m really feeling, which is more like this paraphrase of what Charlton Heston’s character said in Planet of the Apes: “Get your filthy paws off my family, you damn dirty apes.”

Yes, it’s hard to smile and take a step back at Christmas when you have married children and grandchildren. You want to see them as much as possible, especially your adult children who’re visiting from out of town. And, naturally, their in-laws feel the same way – especially if you all live in the same area.

The eyes say it all

I remember when our boys were little and we could enjoy all the holiday festivities together with them. With their marriages (to wonderful women, I must add) things have changed. I understand that our sons have their own families now, and need private time with them. I also get that they have to accommodate their wives’ families, and I don’t want to make things difficult for them with competing claims on their time.

But why is it that the paternal grandparents seem to do most of the compromising? Is it because of the old adage, “a son is a son till he takes a wife, but a daughter is a daughter for all her life”?  I hope not – as a mother of boys, I’ve always found that saying to be quite demoralizing.

I was still struggling with these grim thoughts when I happened upon an old movie on Turner Classic Movies (New Morals for Old, 1932), which touched on the subject of mothers and grown sons. It didn’t help – it just encouraged me to brood even more.

The movie featured a mother (played by Laura Hope Crews) who went into a good old-fashioned decline when her son (Robert Young) left home to try to find himself as a painter in Paris. After years of absence and career disappointment, the son finally came home and rushed to his mother’s sickroom, where she was reclining, weak but still lovely, in a rocker near a lace-curtained window (which bathed her in a flattering light – she was no dummy). He promised to never leave her again. In response, she smiled sweetly and died. That showed him!


By Christmas night our granddaughter may be feeling like this . . .


. . . or like this.

If it wasn’t for good friends who’ve invited us over on Christmas Eve, I’d feel more bereft and probably sink further into an abyss of self-pity.

Which is stupid, I know. You don’t have to tell me.

We’re lucky. Too many grandparents don’t get to see their kids and grandkids at all over the holidays, either because of distance or estrangement. And I know when our sons were young we worked hard to establish traditions for our own little family without the pressure of big family gatherings. That didn’t create any problems in our extended family because neither set of grandparents made much of a push to see us at holiday time.

But flash forward to now, and that’s no longer the case. During the holidays our kids, and especially our granddaughter, are like rock stars on tour. Everybody wants a piece of them.

So, I’ve decided that if it’s our lot to host an end-of-day Christmas celebration, it’ll be a fun one. We’ll have Christmas crackers and games and a delicious holiday buffet. I’ll do my best to be generous and respect the needs of our in-laws and the juggling our sons and daughters-in-law have to do with their time. After all, the folks in some countries celebrate 12 whole days of Christmas. We don’t have to cram all the jollity in on Christmas Eve.

Doesn’t that sound mature? Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go punch a Santa Claus.


Images courtesy of Pixabay