“Dammom, we need a tunnel.” “We need a tunnel, Dammom.” One morning, while sitting on the kitchen floor surrounded by toys, I studied the toddler’s serious expression over a FaceTime connection, and realized he was right. We needed a tunnel. I held my phone in front of me and we searched. Without a tunnel, how will the Little Guys travel through the moat from the Troll Castle to the Yellow House?
We built our respective Troll Castles together. “I have some blue bricks, Honey. Do you want me to use the blue bricks?” “Dammom, I have blue bricks, too. I’m building with MY blue bricks, Dammom.” He calls me “Dammom” because he can’t say, ‘Grandmom.” After using my handful of blue bricks, I ask, “Which color should we use next – red or green?” Without hesitation, he says, “I am building with MY red bricks, Dammom. “Okay. Red it is.” Red is his go-to color. I do not own too many bricks; I bought them last summer at a resale shop before my grandson’s visit. But I have enough to make a castle.
“How do you like the castle?” The colorful hollow rectangular shape has a tower. “Now put the Little Troll in it, Dammom.” These Trolls are decades old. The wild-white-haired, red-smocked miniature just fits inside my hollow Troll Castle. “What does the Troll want to do?” “He wants you to read a book.”
And so Grandmom reads to Little Troll and Grandson. It’s sweet. I cannot see my grandson on the screen, but I know he is nearby, carrying one of his Little Guys to his own colorful castle. I don’t worry if I can’t see him; every time I turn a page, he runs back to the phone to check out the illustration. I finish the story. My grandson wastes no time. “The Little Guys need to go through the tunnel, Dammom.”
These “Little Guys” are the original plastic people and doggie that came with the Yellow House that my kids played with years ago. They also include the Trolls and “Pola” Bears juggling toys, Minions, and any other little animal or people toys we happen to have in the house, old or new.
We put the Little Guys in our new-found “tunnel,” a Diet Coke 12-pack box, straight from the refrigerator. I have no idea what possessed me to open the fridge door during our search, but I’m glad I did. With the cardboard ends opened, I start driving the old Matchbox cars into it. The Trolls follow. My grandson reminds me that the original Little Guys have to go home to the Yellow House through the tunnel, too. Everybody is returning to the Yellow House except for Little Troll, who is napping in his castle. I ceremoniously place all the Little Guys into the tunnel box. Then, checking that the phone is properly centered, we count down from ten. “…3. 2. 1. GO!” Picking up the side of the box closest to me, all the contents slide down. Success. Everybody makes it back to the Yellow House through the tunnel, placed under the make-believe moat “watee.” “Dammom! We saved the day!” That’s his new expression.
“Do it again, Dammom.” We play “tunnel” over and over again, stuffing the box with cars and Little Guys, counting down and then cheering when everything falls to the floor. My grandson even dances as the items drop in a heap. I remind myself to find a “Plan B” tunnel; this box is nearing collapse.
Later that day, I tried perching the box open, but it was too flimsy. For Plan B, I cut the bottoms off a couple of plastic take-out soup containers and taped the containers together. Unfortunately, the have a “lip” that prohibits the cars from driving through this tunnel. For Plan C, the Matchbox cars did great driving through the wrapping paper tube, but the Little Guys did not fit, and my Grandson lost interest. A nearby store specializes in plastics. Their Home Page said to send an email, so I wasted no time. Responding immediately, the manager said they are open for essential business only. I think this is one of the companies supplying those clear safety shields at stores and restaurants. Important work.
I emailed back. “Please! Spending hours on FaceTime every day with my toddler grandson so my daughter and son-in-law can work from home is essential.” I unashamedly laid it on pretty thick. “Please, we need a tunnel. The Diet Coke box collapsed. The gift wrap roll was less than ideal. The cut and taped soup containers failed. Without a real tunnel, the cars won’t be able to drive under the moat “watee” to the Yellow House, and the Little Guys will be stuck at the Troll Castle forever.” This was fun. I wanted to add, “Help me Obi-Wan Kenobi. You’re my only hope.” I cannot believe I considered that “over the top.” My requests were specific: One or two pieces, shorter and longer, and two inches diameter. I signed my letter, “Frantic Grandmom.”
The manager took pity on me. He emailed, “We’ll cut some tubing for you.” I arrived, masked, and waved through the window. An employee unlocked the door. “I’m here for the tunnel,” I said. He gave me the thumbs-up sign.
The manager opened the front door a crack. He took out his phone and showed me a picture of his kid; he knew exactly how essential this was. He laughed when he saw my dilapidated box and sadly taped containers. I handed him a credit card, and then I tossed my failed attempts into the sidewalk trash bin. The manager returned, handing me two different lengths of clear two-inch diameter tubing. They had cut a six-foot piece into two lengths. My grandson and I could drive the cars and get most of the Little Guys through these. The tunnels were perfect, sturdy and beautiful.
I was ecstatic. I thanked “Obi-Wan.” He laughed. “It was the letter,” he said. While I was waiting on the sidewalk, two other people had knocked on the door. The masked employee explained through a partially opened door that customers needed to email their “essential” requests. I was humbled.
I know it only took them a short minute to cut the tubing. But I also know that they did not have to take this job, and probably should not have taken it. They gave me some sandpaper for smoothing out the cut edges. I thanked them profusely. While they were doing critical, essential work, my guess is they needed a quick break from the pandemic. I will be baking them some grandmotherly goodies as a thank you.
My grandson daily asks to play with the Yellow House and tunnel. The cars and Little Guys travel through the two-foot section between the Yellow House and the Troll Castle. We figured out that the larger Trolls and Minions enjoy walking on top of the tunnel, right through all the perilous moat “watee.” Sometimes, I take one end of the long four-foot section and position it in the doggie bed (sans doggie), and I perch the other end on a raised support I build with the plastic castle bricks. Counting backward from ten, I send cars and bouncy balls through the long tunnel, adjusting the phone so my grandson can watch the whole thing. My grandson cheers excitedly as the cars and balls careen out the lower end, landing in a heap on the dog’s pillow. The dog barks with excitement, my grandson dances and sings, I cheer, and we have ourselves a jubilant pandemonium.
I promised my grandson that the next time he visits, whenever that may be, we will go to the “Tunnel Store.” My grandson said, “Dammom, they saved the day.” They really did.
July 3, 2020