Can we do this every night?” asked our sleepy-eyed girl last week. It was all of 9 o’clock and the three of us had just enjoyed watching A Charlie Brown Christmas.
Andrew and I conceded that, while staying up late every night was an impossibility, we could maybe occasionally loosen our grip on her strict bedtime. Her extra bit of exhaustion the following day was worth it.
Barring family gatherings or illness, it was the first time we’ve let Charlotte stay up past her bedtime; if there is one parenting lesson we’ve memorized, it’s the importance of routine. But, as Andrew and I made plans to watch the crudely animated story of how that old Blockhead finds humanity in an ever-commercializing Christmas, we realized that Charlotte was now old enough to hopefully enjoy the program as well.
Her eyes lit up at the news that she’d be staying up late with us for a special Christmas “movie.” She suggested that we should have hot chocolate and popcorn for the occasion. She had her bath, we all donned our pyjamas, and sought out the television.
I asked our girl if she wanted to snuggle with us on the couch. To our amazement, she did. She is typically so independent and busy, and so protective of her personal space, that it actually felt strange to have her on my lap. It’s been a while since she’s sat on my lap; she felt wonderfully solid and heavy.
She watched intently, eventually smiling at Snoopy’s antics. Andrew and I also smiled; we’ve come full circle. Both of us watched the show as children — some 30 years ago — and it seemed antiquated even then. But we loved watching it regardless. It’s a strange feeling to realize that you’ve created a tradition of something as ephemeral as a television show.
But more importantly, we realized that this was the first time we’ve watched anything together as a family. Sure, Andrew and I have sat through hours of toddler programming at Charlotte’s insistence, but our hearts (and minds, and souls) certainly weren’t into it. And she’s never had the patience or generosity to willingly watch anything we’ve wanted. Until now.
Charlotte turned four on Monday. While we’ve moved past those monumental “firsts” like steps and words, witnessing the subtler firsts have been just as rewarding. She’s learning increasingly sophisticated skills such as reading and writing, arts and math. But she is also developing more intrinsic skills that contribute to her development as a human: empathy, sharing, concern, love and yes, patience and generosity.
Charlotte’s little soirée couldn’t have happened even a few months ago. To willingly share and enjoy any occasion at the request of another human being’s — sight unseen, and even if they are your parents — is a special skill. Not only did she learn this, Andrew and I learned to trust our girl just a little bit more.
The adage of how quickly children grow up is certainly true. But there is a magic in this rapid development. The older she is, the more developed her mind becomes, and the more we get to discover about her. She is in her formative years, but so much of her is already formed. It is up to us parents now to expose her eager mind to the world around her so she can appreciate it as she sees fit.
We may be rounding the corner to Christmas, but there is still plenty of squash available. Here’s an unusual take on the vegetable that doesn’t require roasting or steaming it first, and the hit of bitter mint is a welcome change at this time of year. It can even be served cold or at room temperature as a snack.
Fried Winter Squash with Mint
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
2 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
1 ½ pounds peeled, seeded winter squash, like kabocha or butternut, cut in slices 1/4 inch thick by 2 or 3 inches long
fresh ground pepper
2 to 3 tablespoons chopped fresh mint, plus additional leaves for garnish
Heat oil over medium-high heat in a large, heavy skillet. Add garlic and cook, stirring, until golden brown. Remove garlic from oil and discard.
Cook the squash slices in the hot oil, adding only one layer of slices at a time to the pan. Cook for about 3 minutes, until squash is lightly browned, then flip using a spatula or tongs. Cook until squash is lightly browned on the other side and tender all the way through. Season to taste with salt and pepper and transfer first to paper towels to drain, then to a platter. Sprinkle with chopped fresh mint, garnish with whole mint leaves, and serve. Makes four to six servings.