Penelope sat in a large room wearing her pajamas, surrounded by toys. Children ran around her, some wrestling, some playing with toys, and other watching “The Grinch Who Stole Christmas”. A tiny cash register accepting plastic tender wouldn’t open. She pushed a button, then another, and another. The drawer would not open. She didn’t get upset though. I walked over and looked at it with her. “Do you want to open it?” I asked.
She shook her head in the affirmative.
I showed her a crank on the side of the register and started to crank it. The drawer opened up with the three plastic coins inside. She grabbed them and started placing them in the color coded slots.
“This is great!” I thought. Last time I saw her play with it she was placing the coins in different slots. This time she recognized where they went and made no mistakes.
The joyful energy of children buzzed all around, invisible and alive. “And they haven’t even had dessert yet.” I wondered aloud.
Penelope moved to the large circular table and began coloring. Soon thereafter a tray with glasses of milk arrived, the precursor to a large table full of chocolates, butterscotch, lemon, and other treats. There was enough sugar on the table to fuel the children for several nights of celebration. Thankfully for all the parents this was an annual occurrence, not a monthly or weekly one.
The adults had picked their way through the treats, carefully choosing with the awareness of body chemistry our children have yet to develop. I picked up a graham cracker coated in a brown sugar/butter mixture, topped with chopped pecans. Heavenly. I moved around the table, grabbing another item. Butterscotch desserts were next, followed by a slice of chocolate cake. I finished with one of the iced lemon cookies Jenn and I made.
Penelope was back in the play room with Jenn, eating the few treats we allowed her. Jenn sat next to her, sipping tea and cheating on her strict sugar limit. One chocolate haystack followed another, chased by chocolate candies.
As the evening progressed Stephanie called all the children into the living room. She sat on the fireplace stoop and read “The Night Before Christmas”. I was in the kitchen boiling water for Jenn’s second cup of tea. Had to have something to move all that sugar through her system. I heard the sound of Penelope repeating some of the words from the story. She repeated “sleigh”, “tiny”, and “reindeer” with glee. She may not have understood the story but she clung to the words she knew, exclaiming them for the group so we could share in her jubilation.
Toward the end of the evening Stephanie grabbed a large “Children’s Place” box and placed it on the table. She took the top off and peeled back the layers of paper hiding a beautiful black and white dress and sparkly black shoes. Penelope’s Christmas dress for 2012! Everyone was excited and someone suggested she try it on. We took off Penelope’s pajamas and put the dress on. “Someone call the police!” Stephanie said. Jenn and I were taken with the outfit immediately. “Put on the sweater” someone said. A little white sweater with black bows was placed on our amused daughter. More “awwws” erupted from the onlookers.
May as well complete the outfit. I grabbed the shoes and put them on her tiny feet. She was stunning. One day I’ll be tearing my hair out while she gets dolled up to go on dates, looking so exquisite. I could see the young lady through the child and knew what all those comments about how “they grow up so fast” meant.
Before we left Penelope wanted to make a trip upstairs. At the top of the staircase she headed for Charlie’s bedroom. We knocked and asked if Penelope could see his room. Charlie let us in. Penelope explored, pointing at his bed and saying “Charlie sleep”. I picked her up and showed her a model of the solar system. We left the room and made our way down the stairs. “Wuv you Charlie” Penelope called up. I don’t think Charlie heard her but our hearts melted. She repeated it several times until we led her toward the door.
We left with a trunkful of amazing gifts for Penelope, courtesy of Stephanie. Jenn and I looked at the clock in the car and saw it was two hours past Penelope’s normal bedtime. She wouldn’t get to bed until 11. That’s what the holiday’s should be like though. A break from the routines and schedules we use to make it from day-to-day. A time to celebrate with friends and family. I’m thankful to be surrounded by so many wonderful people.