“If I had known grandchildren were so much fun, I would have had them first.”
If you are lucky enough to have grandchildren, you know this important truth. Grandchildren bring out the best in you. When you are in the grandparent zone, you are not concerned about the mammogram on the calendar. You do not feel anxious about the stack of unfinished paperwork on your desk. It is easy to ignore the meaningless noise from your phone. When in the zone, you have super grandparent energy! You can crawl on the floor, do somersaults, and perform circus tricks by spinning upside down tots around. Suddenly, you are building a skyscraper with blocks and rebuild tall towers every time your playmate knocks the architectural creation down. Grandparents in the zone are blissfully happy. We may be exhausted, but we sleep, take Motrin, and jump back into the fun with the knowledge of, “We are going home after lunch and I am getting a hot bath and taking a nap!”
Our three grandchildren live in West Virginia with my son and my amazing daughter-in-law, Kristin. Avery is five and has both her Mother’s and her Grandma’s sass! She can be in a princess dress playing in the mud while hunting for worms. Elliot, cuteness overload, has just turned three and is hysterical. He is actually “handsome” at three years old and the kid can work it! I have heard he charms the socks off the ladies in the nursery at church. I believe it. Oliver, our five month old grandson, is adorable in pictures and videos. Unfortunately, we have been unable to meet Oliver or see Avery and Elliot because of a virus called Covid-19. Oliver is not quite “immune” enough to take a chance. If Oliver’s Momma gets Covid-19, she will not be able to provide the natural nutrition babies need. My husband, Kevin, and I last saw the grandchildren at Christmas. We have known there is no way to predict when we will get to see them in person. I had to think of a way to interact with Avery and Elliot by FaceTime or Zoom. This is how “Tea with Grandma” started.
Since moving to Statesville, North Carolina I have fallen in love with the art of having tea. I call it an “art”, because there are many spoken and unspoken rules of etiquette, and the most important rule is “don’t take yourself too seriously”. Yes, it’s true. I have come to believe many women would like to be “ladies who take tea” but find the idea terrifying. I mean, who wants to make a major Faux Pas! It would be social suicide. Not really. I have decided unless I am invited to tea with Queen Elizabeth II, it’s okay to forget to put my napkin on my lap. However, I also believe it’s important to teach social graces to the next generation. I am a grandmother so I have children to teach. It works out rather well.
One wonderful thing I have discovered about having tea in my new hometown of Statesville, NC is little girls and boys are encouraged to dress up and come to tea with their Mother’s. In fact, “princess tea birthday parties” have become all the rage in our small southern town. My granddaughter, Avery and my grandson, Elliot have not only learned tea etiquette, they usually remember the rules better than I do.
After a little planning with my daughter-in-law, we had our first “Grandma Tea” in March. Avery was dressed in a purple dress with matching purple hat, and Elliot was adorned in a purple satin vest with matching bow tie, a fedora, and underwear. Hey, I was impressed! Before the first tea party, I sent a video to teach the children two rules of tea etiquette. When we started our FaceTime tea party, Avery was sitting up straight in her chair and immediately said, “Sorry, Grandma. I accidentally hit my spoon and made a noise on my cup.” I was in heaven. Yes. This was good. I could hear Kristin in the background whispering, “Ask Grandma how her day is going. Ask her about the weather!” Avery said, “How is your day going Grandma? How has the weather been?” Her five-year-old voice was so proper, I was convinced all children should learn tea etiquette at an early age.
My husband, Kevin, and I took the success of our first online activity and began coming up with creative ideas to engage with our grandkids. We did a scavenger hunt, a science experiment, read bedtime stories, taught the kids funny songs, and had more than one tea party. Avery hosted the second tea and did quite well! Kristin said, “I think they like the tea parties so much because they get to eat!” They take after my son.
I was so excited about the fun we were having with our grandchildren, I posted the events on my Facebook page and the response from other grandparents was amazing! They wanted to know more and shared how hard being separated from their grandchildren had been. One grandfather, our friend Don Underhill, has grandchildren living out of state and he was very inspired to find unique ways to interact with them. Don’s wife, Donna, has grandchildren living local, but together they have six grandkids, most of them the same age as ours. It only made sense to do a “proper tea party” with all the grandchildren. So, we ordered tea dresses, complete with petticoats and hats. I know I looked ridiculous walking down East Broad Street, but I didn’t care. Who hasn’t seen a grandma going to a virtual tea party?
We arrived at Don and Donna’s house, and like the best friend she is, Donna had a tablecloth, china, and a big display of goodies, straight from The Sharpe House’s “drive thru” tea party! Kevin was in tow, to be the official photographer. Don hid out on the porch as if he may spoil things if he came in. It took us a bit to get the table set up, and truthfully, we had no idea what we were doing. Kevin was reading instructions on how to set a proper tea table and we rushed to get it right. The grandchildren were ready and waiting!
I am happy to report, “Tea with Grandma” was a success! It was awesome to have the children get to see a “real” tea party with all the bells and whistles. I asked the grandchildren if they could name a tea party rule. Avery said, sit up straight and put your napkin in your lap.” Bravo! I could tell Donna was impressed. Elliot said, “Be nice and don’t chain saw anyone.” Okay, I had to give the kid credit. Chain sawing a person during tea would be a major faux pas!
We continued to have polite conversation while nibbling on the delectable goodies. Even Don came in, sat at the table, and met our son, Michael, and Kristin. Don grinned at the children, and I could see how much he missed his little ones. I do believe he was inspired, although he should probably teach gardening instead of tea. Doing what you know, and love is so important! No matter what you choose to do with your grandchildren, time spent interacting is priceless! They grow so fast and Covid-19 does not care. It may be gone tomorrow, or it may be here for a long time. Whatever the case, we will not miss our grandchildren growing up. I don’t have to tell a grandparent how fast they do grow!
We did not need to go to such lengths to have a tea party, and neither do you. We did this for you. To make you laugh and to inspire all grandparents to start interactive play with their grandkids. You don’t even have to be separated to read a bedtime story or teach something new. Our kids know how important their grandparents were to their growth and development. Grandparents have time to do things parents may not always have time to do. We have endless patience and our goal is to teach good character. I can see the difference grandparents have made in Michael and Kristin’s outlook on life. We recognize the influence our own grandparents had in our lives, and we will do our best to do the same. Cheers!
Francie has spent her career as a licensed psychotherapist. She is a freelance writer and has published in medical journals, magazines, and newspapers. She wrote for The Charlotte Observer while living in the Lake Norman area. Francie and her husband, Kevin, live on East Broad Street in Statesville, NC with their two dogs, Gypsy and Bella.