Posted by: Betsy Devany | February 7, 2010

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.

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