When May was an only child, she was easy to entertain. We would spend hours taking nature walks, doing special art projects involving glue, paint and paper, building tall towers with plastic cups and knocking them down with a Nerf ball, dressing up in funny hats that were often our own creations, and playing age appropriate board games. I would lift May to pick leaves from trees, fly her through the air like a bird, and carry her, endlessly carry her, up and down the stairs throughout our home. I often think back on those early years and ask myself, “Was I much younger and my body more agile two brief years ago?” For now, with May’s sister on the scene, I seem to lack the super-grandma energy that was part of my gene pool.
In the past, watching both granddaughters was a breeze. I would simply put Eloise in her Exersaucer, supply her with some Cheerios and occasionally draw her attention to one of the many figures surrounding her while playing close-by with May. May was happy. Eloise was happy! Grandma continued to shine.
Increasingly by degrees, Eloise began to emerge as a toddler who was no longer content to be an observer and as her interests developed, so too did her desire to become a part of whatever came May’s way. Gone were the days of the individualized attention May had come to know. True sibling rivalry was about to begin. I had anticipated that this day would come. What I hadn’t anticipated was that Eloise would become the greater offender and if I were to keep our visits enjoyable and memorable, I had to come up with some activities that would make both girls happy. Time for the great outdoors!
My garage contains a stockpile of odds and ends accumulated over the years that appeal to a child’s limited attention span. Various sized balls, Badminton birdies, rings for ring toss, bubbles, Frisbees made of material, foam planes, oversized colored chalk, and beanbags are kept in a large basket on one shelf. Badminton rackets, plastic golf clubs, large material covered baseball bats; nets and pegs for ring toss fill another shelf. Pull toys, a tricycle, rescue rider and hopscotch puzzle board are scattered around the floor. Many of the items were either purchased at flea markets, Christmas Tree Shops, or given to me by friends and relatives who wanted to clear out their garages. It’s good to have friends and family with growing children.
When May and Eloise arrive at my house, along with Mr. Woo their much-loved Pug, they immediately head towards the garage to select what they want for play. Mr. Woo happily sniffs out his well-worn tennis balls, May her rackets and birdies, and Eloise her riding toys as well as the basket filled with odds and ends. Initially everyone is happy with each of their choices, but after about four minutes it becomes apparent that May wants to regress and ride Eloise’s rescue rider. But that’s O.K. because Eloise wants to swing the racket that May has. And Mr. Woo? Well he wants me to throw the ball for his game of “fetch and hold.” Then, the circus starts all over again. Eloise wants her riding toy back or May realizes that having the racket was more fun or Mr. Woo incessantly barks for another go at chasing the ball. And, unfortunately, their wants and needs are never in sync with each other.
I used to run myself ragged trying to be all that I felt my granddaughters (and Mr. Woo) would want me to be, but then I had an epiphany. To my dismay, I realized that I had limitations; a true revelation for a grandma who rarely if ever uttered the words, “I can’t.” Tears and arguments (along with barking) replaced a once joy-filled playtime. Something had to be done. As a teacher, I always managed to avail myself to meet my students’ individualized needs. Surely I could work some magic with a toddler, her older sister and their beloved pup.
Out-of-doors, whenever possible, is the ideal milieu for bridging age differences. Using the materials from our garage, I created games that could be adapted for various skill levels and, at the same time, reduce rivalry. Removing the contents of my large basket and giving May and Eloise an opportunity to select their “special ball,” we played “Ground Basketball” where each of us (myself included) took turns tossing a ball into the basket. May had a line to stand on, my line was farther back and Eloise could toss it from wherever she stood, with May and my private understanding that “Eloise is a baby.” Knowing that children quickly grow tired of a game, I planned a few activities in advance, all of which allowed for flexible rules and all of which can be found on a “Fun With Grammy” entry to follow. In between turns, the girls and I would toss one of many balls to Mr. Woo, keeping him happy.
I now look forward to playing outdoors with my granddaughters as much as they do. When they arrive for a visit, I am quick to respond to their desire to enter the enchanted garage where a cache of child-friendly odds and ends await a metamorphosis into something new and exciting. The lifting, twirling and flying through the air may happen much less frequently than had happened in the past (lifting two is much harder on my weakened muscles and aging bones), but the laughter and excitement are doubled. Grandchildren provide a respite from all of the behavioral expectations of being a grown-up. Each time we are fortunate enough to enter their creative, imaginative, world; we are transported back to our own carefree days of yore. We can act silly, scream aloud, and jump for joy. Our senses revert back to less jaded days when the earth was filled with wonder. They are our very own “Fountain of Youth.”