Writer’s note: I’m experimenting with fiction for kids. Let me know what you think, especially if you’re under 30.
The evening that my daughter asked me for help, I had not yet had a lot of experience being a grandfather. I blame geography. Distance had kept me away from my daughter and her daughter, my granddaughter.
Who can say no to a daughter, grown or not? She asked me to tell her little girl Mimsy, 5, a story.
I could immediately see why I had been enlisted. Mimsy, 5, was settling into bed after a tough day. She had scraped her knee in a bad soccer game. She couldn’t sleep. This was not going to be easy.
I had told many bedtime stories to my own kids, but that had been years and years ago. I worried I lost my touch. I thought hard.
I knew Mimsy was fussy tonight. What would keep her attention?
A monster maybe? Nah, too scary. A fantasy? Nah. Couldn’t be too complicated. Forget the big words.
I tried to remember how I used to do this.
“What’ the matter, grandpa? You look lost,” Mimsy said. “Momma said you used to be good at this. Where is Momma. My knee hurts.”
“Give me a minute, just getting revved up,” I said.
I decided to tell her a story about her own momma, when she was little, when she was a baby. She had soft chunky rolls, especially on her bottom and thighs, so we called her Bubba.
“OK, Mimsy, I have one. It’s called ‘Bubba in the yard.’ I think you’ll like it.”
“Is it going to be long, Granpa? I really need momma. Did she tell you I got hurt at soccer?”
“Shh. I’m telling a story. You’ll like it. I promise.
Uh-ho, now I was in for it. The pressure was on.
Once upon a time, your momma was a chubby baby.
And she loved the yard, even before she could crawl or talk.
Scooching around on her yellow-and-white blankie, she cooed and giggled. She seemed to be talking to the trees that swayed overhead, the soft grass that tickled her toes at her blankie’s edge, or the scarlet cardinals who sometimes landed close by.
She hardly ever cried when she played out there. It seemed to be her special spot, protected by the old, bent maple tree, not far from the swing set.
“Grandpa, I don’t have a swing set,” Mimsy interrupted. “Why don’t I have a swing set. Momma had a–”
I just stared at her, my finger to my lips. She pouted and pulled down the blanket to inspect the bandage on her knee.
Like I was saying.
Bubba loved that spot in the backyard, especially the shadows dancing over her blankie from the sun breaking through that maple tree.
Before setting her on the blankie, though, I paused. A rabbit ran from the wheelbarrow nearby. It was propped on the trunk of the oak tree, not far from the maple. Bubba must’ve seen her too. She shrieked and stared. I tried to figure out where the animal had run to.
We both looked for a few seconds and gave up. I laid her down and sat nearby, on the grass, reading. Bubba’s momma, your grandma Lynn. pulled weeds in the garden but she stopped when she saw us. She ran over to grab her baby’s toes and kiss her round cheeks.
She always did that.
“I miss grandma. Where is she?” Mimsy asked, sitting up in bed.
“She couldn’t visit this time but she can’t wait to see you, Mimsy. But, did I mention how she loves to hear me tell stories. Everybody loves my stories. They never, ever, ever interrupt.”
Mimsy, a precocious 5-year-old, rolled her eyes, pretended to zip her lip and throw away the key. I continued.
Lynn told me she needed to mow the grass on the side of house. She said she’d stay clear of us but would do the rest of the yard later. She grabbed the big machine with the loud motor and sharp blades from the shed. As she rolled it past Bubba and me, planning to start cutting out front, the baby shrieked again, this time in anger.
As Lynn disappeared around the lilac bush, Bubba cried, loud and louder. Then louder yet.
She probably missed grandma. Like I do,” Mimsy said, folding her arms on her chest and feigning anger. I just stared her back into silence and continued.
I didn’t know why Bubba was crying. This was her special spot. I picked her up, checked her diaper and gave her a hug and a bounce. Lynn heard her from all the way out front. She left the lawnmower there and rushed back. ‘Wassamatter Bubba?’ she asked, as she calmed the baby with her voice and some hugs.
Everything was fine for a few minutes. But, once Lynn headed back to the front yard and started the loud mower, Bubba restarted her tantrum.
She yelped. She crinkled up her eyes in either pain or anger. She held her breath.
Perplexed, I tried all my tricks: funny faces, juggling some acorns, motorboating her soft belly and, as a last resort, my specialty: I lay down on my back and balanced her in the air on my knees.
“Nothing worked …”
I paused for effect. Now, Mimsy was listening intently, grimacing while she tried to figure out what was wrong with the baby. She had an idea. She couldn’t stay quiet: “A bug bit her, I’ll bet. Or, did she get poked by a thorn?”
“Um, excuse me. That’s why it’s called a story. You have to listen to it to hear what happens,” I said, faking irritation as I did the zip-the-lip motion.
I stood and picked Bubba back up. I thought of calling to Lynn but I knew she wouldn’t hear over the mower. Bubba would not calm down. Worried now, I carried Bubba back out to momma, and my wife stopped the lawnmower to take hold of her wriggling, sobbing 6-month-old. Again, Bubba quieted, and Lynn gave me a look that said: ‘Can’t you take care of a kid for 10 minutes?’
Lynn walked back with us to the blanket as Bubba whimpered. My wife asked if she could have been bitten by a bug or stuck by a thorn.
Mimsy looked up at me smugly.
I told my wife that, of course, I had checked for both of those things already.
Back on the blanket, it was like a switch was thrown the other way. Bubba turned happy again. She giggled and pawed at my wife’s hand as Lynn for a fever.
After a quick hug (for the baby) and a shrug (to me), my wife told me she had to finish up the lawn.
I played patty-cake with Bubba and she was fine — until she heard her momma start the mower again.
I couldn’t figure it out. Bubba had certainly heard the mower before, even slept to its drone on at least one occasion. We were always careful to keep it far from her, realizing how it could kick up stones.
Bubba wailed, scooched and flopped on to her back, kicking her feet in anger. I tried to distract her. I pointed to a cardinal, to the maple’s branches caught by the sun; I asked her where the rabbit had gone, motioning toward the oak tree’s trunk.
The word “rabbit” got her attention for a second, and she stopped crying. She looked for the animal but she whimpered again when she saw it was not there. I was ready to give up, take her back into the house, maybe try a walk.
I rubbed my head, trying to figure out why her favorite backyard spot had lost its magic.
Mimsy interrupted again. “Was it bad magic? Was there a wizard? A goblin? A witch?”
I shushed her, and went on:
Bubba stared up at me, unblinking as she cried some more. I bent to pick her up but, suddenly she went silent. It seemed like she had just gotten a very good idea. Oddly, she moved both her tiny fists to her temples and unfolded only her pointer fingers. It was like she was making little ears on the top of her head.
I held my fists to my head and stared down at Mimsy until she did the same. I made my pointer fingers dance like my pretend ears were wiggling. She giggled and followed suit as I went back to the story.
I stood, bewildered, wondering if —
“Bewilliger? What’s that?” Mimsy asked.
“Bewildered. It means addled, perplex… nevermind. Let’s just say I stood up, wondering what the heck was going on. Now, let me finish. Don’t you wanna know what happens?”
Mimsy just nodded, sitting up in bed now to hear better.
Bubba kept her hands on her head until I knelt down closer. She had my attention so she stopped crying.
I noticed how red her chubby cheeks had gotten and wiped away a tear that was left on one. She cooed, as a gentle breeze rustled her blanket, not far from her feet. At least I thought it was a breeze. But, the blanket kept moving even when the wind stopped. I realized it was moving only in one small area, not far from Bubba’s big toe on her left foot.
Uh-oh. I gasped and scooped up the baby. I pulled up the blanket slowly, looking for a snake or mole or … who knows?
“A rat?” Mimsy shouted. “A monster?”
I ignored her.
The baby pointed to the spot, and she smiled. It wasn’t a snake. It wasn’t a mole, or a rat or any kind of monster. It was a nest! A rabbit’s nest, but the momma rabbit was nowhere nearby.
Made from dried grass and fluffy fur, the nest sat in a shallow hole in the yard. The six newborns wriggling around looked like a brown-and-white pinwheel, with their tiny heads near the center and their legs sticking out like spokes on a bicycle.
They still had their eyes closed.
I remembered how Bubba had crooked her fingers like bunny ears. Now she was smiling, then giggling. I set her back on the blanket and she gave a belly laugh, her little sausage toes stretched as if she was trying to reach the newborn bunnies.
Just then, by luck, Lynn returned to check on us. She knelt to see the bunnies, too, as I told her how Bubba had made little rabbit ears with her finger. We took a photo and gently placed a white laundry basket over the nest, so Lynn could finish cutting the grass but keep those sharp, low blades from damaging the nest.
“Wait. Wait. Wait a minute,” Mimsy said, jumping out of bed, forgetting to favor her sore knee. “Is that true? What, was my mom? Like a baby with super powers? A Super Baby? How did she know to protect the bunnies? Did you take any video? What happened to the bunnies? Did the mom come back? Did you put it on Facebook?”
“Whoa! Whoa! Not now,” I said firmly. “Only one story a night. These take a lot out of me. I’m old.”
“If you’re good tomorrow, I’ll tell you another. Yes, yes. OK. Your mom can be in it again.”
Mimsy grabbed her biggest doll, hugged it and, as I tucked her back into bed, told me thank you for the story. She also suggested one for the next night.
“I know. I know. How about Bubba and the bullies?”
Oh boy, I thought as I shut the door, this is not gonna be easy.