17. Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?

17. Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Merry Christmas!

Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?

Every child comes with the message that God is not yet discouraged of man.

~Rabindranath Tagore

It was three weeks before Christmas, and our group of close friends decided to celebrate with a progressive dinner. We had four couples involved, so we would have four courses: hors d’oeuvres, soup and salad, the main course, and dessert. I like baking, so I chose to have the desserts at our house.

The first glitch in this glorious plan came when my husband, John, and I found that none of our regular babysitters would be available on the big night. Fortunately, our friend Bill came to the rescue. His sister Mary would be coming home from college the afternoon of the dinner. She was an experienced babysitter and would be happy to help.

The show would go on! I did have a few misgivings, however, because although John and I had met Mary several times, our three-year-old, Michael, had not. I decided to overcome this hurdle by talking about her frequently, and thereby fully preparing Michael for his unfamiliar sitter.

Now, I could launch myself into the party preparations. I have to confess that I go a little crazy with things like this. We don’t have parties very often, and I go overboard with the cleaning, painting, and decorating. Fortunately, Michael was probably the most well behaved child ever, quietly entertaining himself with toys and books whenever Mom went bonkers.

I did slow down enough to make meals (thank goodness for hot dogs and pizza) and to make sure Michael went to bed at regular times. I periodically emphasized the fact that our friend Mary would be coming to take care of him while Papa and I went out to a party. I even reminded Michael to choose his favorite toys, books and food to share with Mary on that special night.

All in all, I felt I had done a pretty good job of juggling everything. By that Saturday morning, the house had been painted, dusted, and scrubbed so thoroughly that I think the walls lost about an inch of plaster. I kept a running list in my head of important, last minute jobs:

• Light the candles and blow them out (so they wouldn’t look brand-new)

• Put the wooden manger and figurines back in their assigned places on the coffee table (Michael kept rearranging them)

• Straighten the ruffles on all the curtains

• Tie red bows on the wax apples in the stoneware bowl

• Place sprigs of plastic holly around each picture frame and mirror

Michael had silently moved from room to room, lugging his toys with him, as I attacked each section of the house. Now, I proudly surveyed the results of my labors.

The seven-foot, ornament-laden Scotch Pine stood tall and straight in its water-filled stand, while fake packages lay artfully scattered across the emerald green tree skirt. Michael’s handmade red felt stocking hung precisely centered beneath the snow-flocked village atop the fireplace mantel. Cedar swags tied with giant red satin bows wound gracefully up the banister, and had not yet begun to shed — as long as no one breathed near them.

Now, the only tasks left were to bake and decorate the sugar cookies and set the table. This last job would require arranging the Battenberg lace tablecloth and napkins, Grandma Murray’s Limoges dessert plates, Mom’s sterling silver, our “first-time-out-of-the-box” wedding crystal, and Great Aunt Bessie’s brass candelabra.

I planned to finish by 4:00 p.m. so that John and I could get dressed for the party, which began at 6:00. In the midst of this final dash, I again reminded Michael that we would be going out, but that Mary would take good care of him.

Finally, amazingly, everything seemed ready. It was already 4:30 when I raced upstairs to change. Back downstairs by 4:55 p.m., I took a last look to make sure all the bows and baubles were still perfectly lined up in their respective locations. Michael, looking like a little blond cherub in his blue footie pajamas, was perusing his Winnie the Pooh picture book on the couch, his tiny body carefully curled up in the one small corner not filled with a symmetrical grouping of snowmen and Santa bears. Since Mary was due to arrive at 5:00, this was absolutely my last chance to go over the plans for the evening.

“Remember, Michael,” I said, as I gingerly perched beside him, trying not to upset the snowmen, “Papa and I are going out tonight, so Mary will be coming to stay with you. She will eat dinner with you and play and read you stories, and take you up to bed before we come home. In fact, Mary will be here in just a few minutes.”

While I recited all of this for the millionth time, Michael looked up at me with his big, serious blue eyes. When I was finished, he held my gaze for a long moment, and then finally asked, “Will she be bringing Joseph and the Baby Jesus with her?”

Well, it took me a second to realize what he meant, but then I laughed, cried and hugged him all at once. I had to explain to him that his babysitter wasn’t that Mary—although she would have been a great one. When they say “out of the mouths of babes,” nothing could be truer. While I was obsessing about plastic holly placement and perfectly blackened candlewicks, my little three-year-old had somehow managed to hold onto the true meaning of Christmas.

Nothing about the rest of that night sticks in my mind now, except that Mary really did turn out to be a terrific babysitter, and that John and I were late for the hors d’oeuvres because we spent a while enjoying more time with Michael before we left.

In the years since that memorable holiday, I can’t honestly say that I have become rational about entertaining. I still run around like a lunatic, sweeping and scrubbing and attempting to perfectly arrange bowls of fake fruit. But I do try to pause every now and then to think about what’s truly important.

~Mary Kay Bassier

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