She started out with a zebra she found in the gift shop at the local zoo, and slowly acquired more and more. They came in one at a time–a cow, a chicken, a black and white cat, a Turkey, a flamingo, an elephant, a horse, and on and on. She also branched out into fauna and flower themes.
On Friday night and Saturday afternoon, when we typically hosted other families for Shabbat meals, she would insist on sifting through the napkin rings and choosing the right ones for the meal. We had meals with just birds, meals with non-kosher animals, and the ocassional meal with things that start with the letter “f”.
The genius of the napkin rings was that they kept the kids age 0-8 amused for a remarkably long time. They are essentially toys, and I lost count of the number of times I saw kids squabble over who got which animal. Typically, the kids would end up collecting everyone’s napkin rings and set up some sort of scene at their end of the table. This kept everyone at the table, and reasonably happy, for much longer than would otherwise be expected.
I was reminded of this on Sunday morning while out to brunch with my boyfriend and his two year old. She usually loves to eat, but when the waitress brought us our complimentary doughnuts (seriously! So delish!) all the kid was interested in was the mini shopping cart they were served in. The wait for our food was pretty long, but it was eased by the little shopping cart, which she loaded with spoons and pushed around the table.
It turns out, presentation really matters with kids, and having random fun objects on the table is my new trick for keeping young guests entertained. There are napkin rings, shopping carts, funny shaped tea pots , and other various whimsical objects that I will now be purchasing and putting away for guests with small kids, and/or later days when I have kids of my own.