Dinner party

Seeing old candles in a new light

Last night, I was part of a little dinner party hosted by my friend’s cousin and his daughter, 2 and a half years old. I have a 2 year old niece and a 4 year old nephew, but they live a country’s length away in Seattle, so I see them only once or twice a year. Sure, we chat on the phone or FaceTime occasionally, but it’s not quite the same as an in-person interaction. My experience with children is limited to helping my nephew create a Lego helicopter one afternoon, to watching my niece dance (or rather run in circles) to the song Shoe Fly, to picking up my niece from her portable travel crib one early morning when she was wide awake and her parents were still asleep.

Needless to say, I was a little wary of having dinner with a young child. How would she react to me? How would I react to her? Would she be shy and hide behind her dad’s long legs? Would she allow me to interact with her? I had met her once before, so I remembered what she was like a little. But that was a brief afternoon in December at a Christmas party. I remembered her fine blond hair that curled at the ends like my niece’s soft, brown locks. I remembered her cherubic, smiling face that implored her dad to peel clementines for her. I remembered her energy as she ran back and forth between her dad on the couch and the bowl of clementines at the opposite side of the room. As I walked to her house, I remembered all of these things and wondered what she would be like tonight.

The first thing I noticed was her fine blond hair in two pony tails on either side of her head. They reminded me of my nieces’ hair fashioned in the same way by her mother, but eventually removed by her little destroyer hands. This little one didn’t seem bothered by her hair in that moment. She was not shy at all, but very vocal, speaking in full sentences. Her well-developed vocabulary and manner of speaking reminded me of my nephew when he was her age. To my surprise, she quickly engaged me in her world, introducing me to the colourful characters within in. There was Toucan, the bright orange and green stuffed bird, there was Baby Bunny, the brown bunny, there was Bear, the white polar bear and of course there was Elsa from Frozen, the sole traditional doll in the bunch. I found it amusing that the characters in her world were referred to simply by what they were and not given proper names, other than Elsa. In the beginning, she referred to me as her, before I repeated my name and she caught on.

She was full of energy, even more so than during her clementine runs at the Christmas party back in December. She ran to and fro and around in circles, making my head spin. I marveled at her sturdy little legs, covered in multi-coloured tights and wondered if she would pursue running when she got older. I suggested a game of hide-and-seek, something that my nephew loved to do, at least he did when he visited a few months ago. She seemed all game for that, but didn’t quite understand the concept of hiding; she made sure I knew where she was by screaming at the top of her lungs. That too, was amusing. The game worked a little better when I was the hider and she the seeker, though I made sure to hide in a fairly obvious place so that she could find me easily. Eventually, I got tired of the game and suggested we break for dinner, it being on the table; however, she was momentarily fixated on the game and insisted we play again.

Dinner finally won her over and she climbed on her high chair at the head of the table, overseeing the proceedings with curiosity. She pointed to the half-size, wine-coloured candles in tall, silver candle holders that her dad had just lit, asking what they were and why they were there. Her dad had some sort of explanation that their presence was for guests, that this was a dinner party. She looked at the candles with a fresh fascination that I envied. Her questions continued unabated. What were the candles sitting on? Her dad pointed out the candle and the candle stick, explaining its function. I tried to see the candles through new eyes and noticed the droplets of purple wax on the sides of them, frozen in time from previous uses. I noticed the flickering of the flames as if they were alive observers of our dinner, gracing it with their light and warmth.

Following the meal, she was taken upstairs by her dad to get ready for bed. I helped clean up the table and load the dishwasher, hoping she would make a final appearance to wish us good night. A homemade dessert that I’d made was waiting on the counter, but it wouldn’t taste the same without her. To my delight, she reappeared dressed in salmon-coloured pajamas that sported a ballerina monkey on the front. She explained the monkey’s attire, making sure to point out her shoes and tiara. She looked a like a little monkey herself in the pajamas. Banana-chocolate chip cake was ingested with enthusiasm, her fingers feeding chocolate to her face until she was a happy mess. If only adults could welcome mess into their lives with such ease.

Bedtime was a minor struggle and included a few tears on the stairway to her bedroom. We said goodnight through the railing, me fanning my fingers towards her, wondering if I would see her again. Her blonde hair and enthusiasm for life reminded me of the bright light of the candles. I hoped it would never dim.

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