Toddler Fun and Games

 

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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?

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“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).

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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.

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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?

Ouch! The baby broke grandma.

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This photograph from a 1917 National Geographic Magazine illustrates exactly how I hurt my hip.

Carrying a baby around on your hip is fine when you’re a young mother. It’s a classic maneuver, convenient and comfortable for you and the kid.

But when you’re a grandmother of a certain age, hip-hauling a baby can be hazardous.

Especially when said baby is actually a 20-pound toddler and you’re carrying her through a throng of revelers at a Christmas tree-lighting ceremony, where you can’t safely put her down to toddle for at least an hour, and of course you forgot the stroller.

As your hip aches the next day and for many days after you may have to face the brutal fact that you’re not as young as you think you are. As Shakira says, “Hips Don’t Lie.”

 

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Yes, there were puppies like this at the tree-lighting ceremony, providing another reason for my granddaughter to try to squirm out of my arms

When I’ve thrown my hip out yet again (mopping the floor will do it, too, which I think is an excellent reason for me to retire my mop) I rely on the aptly-named yoga pose “Happy Baby.” This has got to be the most undignified exercise ever, and that’s saying a lot when you consider how other yoga poses look.

But Happy Baby works like a charm  – not just for my hips, but for my lower back as well.

In fact, ever since I started caring for my granddaughter on a regular basis I’ve been forced to create – and stick to – a morning exercise routine. It’s a simple matter of self-defense – grandkids can be murder on your joints.

I don’t dare skip my morning stretches: I used to stretch for fun but now I stretch for survival. Daily stretches are that only way I’ve got any hope of getting back up when I go down on my haunches to play with the baby.

 

In addition to Happy Baby, every morning I try to do a modified  Sun Salutation (it looks a little like this, but I don’t do it nearly as well), a gentle back bend and my favorite stretch, Child’s Pose, which is great for my knees. For a while, I toyed with adding the FiveTibetan Rites, which are much like yoga, but I haven’t really gotten into those yet. The first rite, which I call the Spinner (you turn in a circle) makes me dizzy. I guess it’s tougher than it looks to be a whirling dervish.

What about you? I’d like to hear from other grandparents of small children about how you stay flexible. Do you have any tips for keeping in shape for your grandkids?

And now, here’s our gal Shakira with some musical inspiration to help us keep our hips and other joints moving smoothly:

 

Images courtesy of Wikimedia Commons and Pixabay

 

A Grandmother by any other name . . .

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When the first grandchild arrives in a family, parents fret and deliberate over what to name the baby. But there’s another question on the table, too – what shall we call the grandparents?

I’m a recent recruit to the grandparent corps, and I love my new role. But there’s one thing bothering me. You see, “Grandma,” the default name for someone in my position, doesn’t seem like a good fit for me. It reminds me of too much of my own rather remote and austere grandmother.

I want a different kind of relationship with my grandchildren, and a name that reflects that difference. And I’ve discovered I’m not alone in my desire.

Unlike grandparents of the past, today’s grandparents can choose what to be called by the grandkids. Or so we’re told. Grandparents.com lists a raft of potential names, even sorting them into categories like “traditional” or “trendy.”

Here are some of the traditional monikers I’ve been mulling over:

Nana. I’ll give this one a pass. It was used by my mother, who, like her mother, didn’t exactly embrace the role of grandmother, either. I’d like to break that pattern, so a new name is important to me.

Nonni. This one is Scandinavian and off-limits for me, too, because my grandbaby’s other grandmother, who is of Swedish descent, has dibs on it.

MeeMaw. Cute, but it reminds me way too much of the old TV show “Hee-Haw.” Also, my husband’s definitely not a fan of the corresponding “PeePaw.”

Yaya. I got this name from My Big Fat Greek Wedding. It sounds like a rallying cry, and gets points in my book for enthusiasm. But can I use it if I’m not technically Greek?

Granny. Makes me want to climb into a rocking chair on top of a pick-up truck and head for Beverly Hills.

Grams. Too terse, and it’s also a unit of weight. I’d rather not go there.

Mimsey. A bubbly, fun one that evokes champagne cocktails, which isn’t a bad thing. But Mimsey could also be character in a cheesy play about snooty upper-crusters – “I say, Mimsey, did you enjoy watching the polo match?”

G or G-Ma. Both of these are text-friendly and well-suited to  babies of Millennial parents. But, given my druthers, I’d prefer my grandchildren make the effort to pronounce a whole word when they want to get my attention.

Jamma. Better suited to a grandmother with hip-hop tendencies, of which sadly I have none.

Here are some names from the trendy column to consider:

Lovey. Sweet, but Kris Jenner, matriarch of the Kardashian clan, uses this one with her grandchildren. I just can’t bring myself to copy Kris Jenner.

Pitty-Pat. This name makes me want to flee Atlanta, like Scarlett O’Hara’s Aunt Pittypat in Gone with the Wind.

Udder Mudder. I’m sorry, but I think it’s wrong to encourage children to mumble.

Twinkles or Tinkerbell. Either name could be potentially embarrassing in years to come on “Take Your Grandmother to Work” day.

Biggie Mom or More Momma. Does this name make me look fat?

Tootsie or Toots. Tootsie might be better suited to grandmas in drag, in honor of Dustin Hoffman’s movie role. And I’ll always think of all the old cartoons I watched with my boys where Donald Duck greets Daisy with “Hiya, Toots!”

Dooty. Seriously, does any grandmother yearn to be called Dooty? It sounds like something you’d reprimand your kids for saying.

In the long run, none of my deliberations may matter. You can try to pick your grandparent name, but sometimes it picks you. That’s how grandparents end up with names like Gee-Gaw.

And really,  it makes no difference what your grandchildren call you, as long as they call you.

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons