Crème Brûlée for Dinner

For this I am either a terrible parent or a fantastic parent—I suppose the answer lies in who you ask.

Sophie ran errands with me all afternoon. We dropped off clothes I’ve been meaning to have dry cleaned for more than a year (I don’t have occasion to wear dry-clean-only clothes often) at Atlas Cleaners. We went to a gorgeous old Victorian way up in Hamilton so I could pick up a lot of milk glass I won on an estate sale auction site (I blame you, Danielle, for this). We had a nice, long visit with my parents. Next up, the mall. I had a birthday present to buy and an item to return, and Sophie and I were hungry. I had every intention of going to the food court. Instead we ended up at Maggiano’s. We sat on high, leather chairs at a high-top table next to a glossy black grand piano. I ordered us both crème brûlées (not knowing how big they were), white milk for Sophie and coffee for me—dinner.

Sophie was thrilled. She cracked into the crème brûlée and said how much she liked it. She carefully wiped her lips with a white cloth napkin. When she was stuffed from the richness of the dessert, she started scraping off the caramelized sugar and eating it alone. And then, the prom goers showed up. Sophie was beside herself, with the tall cup of white milk, the huge dessert (for dinner!) and the dozens of young women surrounding her in beautiful dresses (at one point I had to tell her to stop pointing and saying “gorgeous!” every time another prom goer walked through the front doors).

“This is like a princess world,” she said.

And, for a 4-year-old, it was.

We finished our dessert dinner, left the restaurant and purchased the birthday gift. We tried on sparkly, deeply discounted jewelry and laughed at ourselves in a floor-length mirror. We went to the Disney store and Sophie held every single princess gown in front of her, swirling in front of the triple mirror in the princess castle, waving wands and trying on tiaras. We left the Disney store and walked to the indoor fountain. She was so giddy. On sugar. On trying on sparkly jewelry. On pretending to be a princess.

She asked for a coin so that she could make a wish. As usual, I had none (they always go straight to my Paris Fund jar). I told her to simply close her eyes and make a wish—that it would still count.

And then, my stomach hurt. Maybe it was all that crème brûlée on an otherwise empty stomach. Maybe it was the number of shoppers swarming around us, arms filled with luxury goods from high-end stores. Maybe it was all the glitter in the Disney store. But I feared about what she was going to wish for. I feared about the decadence of the evening. That it was simply too much—allowing a 4-year-old to have dessert for dinner (and crème brûlée at that!). Trying on sparkly jewelry with her. Letting her spend 20 minutes in the Disney store pretending to be a princess. I feared she was going to wish for crème brûlée for dinner every night, or sparkly jewelry, or a princess gown, or anything from the Disney store for that matter.

But she didn’t.

She closed her eyes tightly, breathed in and opened her eyes.

“What did you wish for?” I asked.

“That a rainbow would appear,” she said.

And then she was off, skipping, taking care to follow the lines made by the fancy mall’s tile floor.

I immediately calmed.

We returned the item we needed to return and then walked through Nordstrom. I tried on some Coco Chanel parfum. She wanted to, too. I debated, and then remembered her wish for the rainbow. I spritzed some on her wrist. She inhaled, deeply, and smiled. “Now what?” she asked. I showed her how to rub her wrists together. She did. She inhaled again. She was deliriously happy.

We took a wrong turn when leaving the mall. It was chilly so I had her put on the Red Riding Hood-esque cape my mom made for her for her birthday. I had no idea where the van was. Sophie took charge of the situation, claiming her cape was magic and that it would find the car. We ran around the outside of Nordstrom, past entrance after entrance (seriously, how many entrances does a store need?), hoping to outrun the goblins that were after us, and the darkness that was upon us.

We eventually found the van (for which I was secretly extremely thankful for, as I have a terrible sense of direction and we could have very well wandered around the parking lot a good 20 more minutes before we found it) and she climbed in, exhausted, happy. Despite the decadence of the evening, I hadn’t bought her a thing, except the crème brûlée and milk that filled her belly. No princess dress. No tiara. No Coco Chanel parfum (which she did ask for, and which I immediately said no to, for many, many reasons).

I know some (most) of the evening was ridiculous in its extravagance. But I hope, when she thinks back to this evening (if she ever does) that it’s not the sparkly jewelry or the princess dresses or the expensive parfum she remembers. Rather it’s that we had crème brûlée for dinner, an unheard of treat. That she wished for a rainbow. That we outran goblins while trying to find our van (and that we did so, smelling awfully good).

“You live but once; you might as well be amusing.” —Coco Chanel