by Janet Ostrowski, 06/15/2020, Suttons Bay, MI
I found myself unsurprisingly tense and anxious in the early COVID days, unable to focus on my usual calming measures like reading or meditating. Instead, I pulled into a tight little ball and confined myself to my sewing room, churning out face masks for the coming avalanche of hospital victims and essential personnel. Having chronic lung issues made it impossible for me to feel the least bit comfortable outside the house, so I stayed in and worried.
However, I found that I couldn’t sustain that high level of alert over the long weeks and started looking for another way to help besides sweating over a hot sewing machine. Meanwhile, my daughter and her husband had set up workstations in their Lansing basement and were dealing with a 3 year-old who was used to being creatively entertained all day long. I had found a new calling; I would amuse Zora for a few minutes each day and give her overworked parents a break. I felt up to the challenge, how hard could it be??
“Hi Grandma, can we have a tea party now?!” Separated by 200 miles and a life-threatening virus, my granddaughter and I have been holding tea parties on FaceTime. I’ve been rigging up these festive events with my mother-in-law’s old china teacup collection and gold-plated spoons, my mom’s flowered tablecloth, and a bag of leftover beanie babies from my own daughters’ childhoods.
I began by coming up with a storyline; each one different (and seemingly more involved) than the day before. Invited to the very first one were bobcat, beaver, and two timid mice that didn’t want to sit next to a scary bobcat (who spoke with a low and threatening British accent). “Mice for tea? How very quaint.”
I decided early on that these were not meant to be “teaching moments” like a Mr. Rogers conversation with blushing Daniel Tiger, even though this would have been a great medium for that kind of thing. They were just going to be pure fun; I so wanted to see Zora crack a smile. One of her favorite gags was the chipmunk who lived in the sugar bowl, who showed up EVERY TIME in the sugar bowl. Some civilized animal drinking tea was always outraged by that silly felted varmint. “CHIP, for heaven’s sake, get out of there, I can’t get my spoon in for some sugar!” Chip would reply, “Can’t you see I’m taking a nap in here; have some salt instead!” Zora loved deciding who got salt and who got pepper in their tea.
I was getting into it. One day, I dug out a piece of watery-looking fabric and immersed in it a pink octopus, an one-eyed red lobster, a teeny killer whale and a furry shark. There were seashells in a bowl acting as tasty “num-nums” and a crotchety crab who lived in a cookie canister. Subsequent teas became themed, “Birds Behaving Badly” included a robin nesting in a teacup. “Nutcracker Tea,” with my modest collection of wooden nutcracker figures I knew Z liked, gave me inspiration for a snow tea with quilt batting and baby Yeti, which led (naturally) to Santa and the Chicken Dance! I was off and running; I took pictures, I videotaped the action and put them on YouTube, hoping to ratchet up views because I mean, were these not the cutest, most creative things EVER?
I waited for my daughter to applaud my efforts, but she finally confided that Zora was really not that interested in watching these compelling dramas online because she could not interact with me… I was a bit crushed; I thought I was doing all this for HER (not to mention all those young viewers stuck at home around the globe). I realized I was really doing these little tableaus for ME instead, they got my creative juices flowing, kept me up at night making notes, made me see those old beanie babies in an entirely new light; but I knew I had to come up with something different to keep Zora engaged, since that was kind of the point.
So I did one last taped version, “Zora’s Tea Party No. 12: In Which We Have Tea In Space.” I scoured the house for props, it wasn’t hard, they’ were everywhere. I gotta say, it brought a tear to my eye to see the Klingon action figure sit down (rather stiffly since his legs didn’t bend well) with Quark the nasty Ferengi from Deep Space 9, and the Spock figurine from a Happy Meal (who was taking a nap in the sugar bowl, since Chip had been promoted to shuttlecraft pilot). Unfortunately, it didn’t end well with Quark stealing all of the gold-plated teaspoons, as is his money-grubbing way. I only wished I could have invited Captain Picard to the party, since we all know that a cup of Earl Grey is his favorite hot drink. Zora, on the other hand, just stared uncomprehending as it unfolded without her; it was, of course, all for me.
Months later, I’m still doing tea parties for Zora, at 6:00 pm pronto, so she can watch undistracted while confined to her dinner chair. She lectures me on the merits of olives, blueberries and pecans for dinner; num-nums all. I regale her with a made-to-order, one-showing-only tea party combined with a story (usually some fractured fairy tale I’ve cooked up based on “The Stinky Cheese Man and other Fairly Stupid Tales” by John Scieszka and Lane Smith). Yesterday’s was “The Princess and the Marble” since I didn’t have a pea…
One time, I added a game to the proceedings. I should have known better because now Zora insists on a new game every day, and although sometimes it’s a stretch for me to come up with something new, I always seem to. Tomorrow, I’m thinking about rounding up those Star Trek buds for a rousing session of “Duck, Duck, Goose”!