Charlotte conked out in her car seat as we drove around town, looking at the Christmas lights on Sunday evening.
The ride was a ruse so Dear Charlotte would calm down before bedtime, and something we’ve never resorted to before. But then, she’s never had two birthday parties within 24 hours… or two cakes, two big groups of people, and the excitement all this brings.
Charlotte turned three this Sunday. A few months ago, she would tell us repeatedly that she “is a big girl.” She hasn’t done so lately, as her maturation is so plainly evident that words are not required. She’ll talk about all her friends at school and the “secret” plans they have; she’ll tell me my sweater is “cool,” and sigh that she doesn’t need my help because “I can do it by myself.” For the record, she always can!
What else do big girls do? They have birthday parties, of course. Once four friends were consistently named, the invites went into their cubbies and we awaited their replies. Lo and behold, four sweetly dressed little girls and their mothers (hooray!) arrived Saturday afternoon for two hours of birthday fun.
Of course it’s never that easy. Toddlers are at best, unpredictable, and as a first-time mom with undying respect for early childhood educations, I wasn’t quite sure how to entertain them for two hours. Outside of the cake-and-presents portion, I figured that we’d let them play free-range for a while as we moms got to know each other beyond saying “hi” in the daycare hallway. A kid-friendly Christmas craft was devised, inspired by the birthday girl’s love of stickers and all things sticky in general.
While there were a few emotional moments, Charlotte loved sharing her toys (as earlier cautioned/threatened to do); there were more than enough sprinkles so everyone could decorate their cupcakes as they wished, and enough purple glitter glue for the reindeer. We moms didn’t have to break into the emergency wine, and everyone eventually went home tired yet happy.
That evening, I made the second birthday cake, and come morning, the now three-year-old Charlotte helped me make the icing and decorate her cake (part of parenting is letting go of idealistic perfection, right?). A necessary bath, another pretty little outfit, and we were game for party number two.
Family and beloved friends set a different tone for this party; fewer self-inflicted great expectations for me, and different interactions for Charlotte. She and her school chums are only starting to play with each other instead of alongside each other, but with friends and relatives, Charlotte’s right in the mix… and often directing it.
Most people who meet Charlotte say she’s shy as she hides behind my legs or buries her face into my shoulder. But it’s a different story around her loved ones. It was hilarious to see her holding court from the head of the dining room table on Sunday afternoon, laughing at jokes she doesn’t understand and adding her own two cents (lately, ramblings about crocodiles, for some reason) when she deems it necessary.
Tired and pleased that the festivities had gone as planned, I watched her from a distance. She seemed so much older than her mere three years. Her speech and motor skills have vastly expanded over the past year but it’s her humane qualities that have developed the most. Now, Charlotte still thinks she’s the centre of the universe, but she’s aware that others orbit around her, and she’s learning how to interact in society, and how to be a pleasant little human being.
Her big milestones — walking, talking — were something to behold, but these understated milestones are just as thrilling. Watching her mature has been so rewarding… but I’m still glad she’s young enough that the old tricks still work!
Two birthday cakes, plus appetizers and the general glut of Christmas deliciousness, make me want to detox for a few days. Fresh and tangy fruits and veggies are the best way to go!
1 cup olive oil
1 heaping tsp. Dijon mustard, or to taste
1 tbsp. lemon juice
1 tbsp. honey
2 cups cored and shredded red cabbage
8 radishes, chopped
2 medium Granny Smith apples, cored and grated
1 red onion, chopped
Salt and pepper
½ cup chopped fresh parsley
Put the oil, mustard, lemon juice and honey in a large bowl and whisk together. Add the cabbage, apples, radishes and onion and toss until combined. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and refrigerate until ready to serve. (Let the slaw rest for at least an hour so flavours can mellow. It can sit even longer, up to a few hours, before the apples start to discolour; just drain the slaw before continuing). Just before serving, toss with parsley.