Friday, February 6, 2009


The only time we do formal entertaining is when we invite my husband’s colleagues from work or school. By formal, I mean getting out the good dishes and setting the table. I’m usually the paper-plates, eat-on-the-floor, serve-yourself type.

I discovered last night, however, that any vestige of formality and dignified hospitality that may have existed in our home is long gone, thanks to a runny-nosed, curly-haired, squealing posse.

Sitting across them at the table, I watched miserably as they put up their greasy hands to show off how messy they could be, as they tossed their half-eaten drumsticks back on the chicken platter, as they munched noisily on puff pastry with open mouths, and as they scraped the tops of their pastries clean with their teeth and reached across the table to hand me the crust. Any attempt at conversation had to compete with requests and complaints by Moona and loud, wordless intonations by Buru.

“Look, I finished my rice!”
“Baba? Baba? Baba. Baba. Bab—“
“Can I have cake when I finish?”
“AA haa AA haaa? Aaaa aaaah.”
“Look what Buru did!”
“More cake!”

We ate cheesecake and honeydew melon on a table scattered with rice and dirty dishes because I didn’t have the energy to clear it. I figured it was a little pointless by then anyway.

But in lieu of a civilized hospitality, Moona and Buru devised their own. The girls screamed in excitement when the doorbell rang, very audible to anyone outside the house. They stared unabashedly for the first half-hour, but soon decided their father's co-worker was interesting enough and wondered why he didn’t speak Arabic. Buru asked him a very important question, using one of the only words, English or Arabic, she knew how to say,

“Cuyus Geoge?” The answer sent her scurrying promptly to the bookshelf.

After dinner, our guest was treated to a tiny, warm body curled up in his lap as he read “Curious George Goes to the Aquarium” and “Ten Little Ladybugs.” Moona watched over his shoulder, remarking sulkily after several books, “I don’t understand English.” And when it was time to leave, Buru clung to his pant leg and put on her shoes, ready to walk out the door with him. Moona watched the attachment with growing anxiety, moaning fearfully, convinced she was losing her sister forever.

Two lifted arms, outstretched, asking to be picked up and taken home—what a compliment!

Buru threw herself on the coffee table and sobbed, then stood at the window as our guest drove away. I watched as Moona put her arm on her sister’s shoulder.

“You can’t go with him,” said Moona. “He’s not your father, you know.”

It’s not perfect, but as long as their messy table manners still qualify as ‘cute’, I think their sense of hospitality beats mine.