I stopped making the recipes passed down from my female ancestors when we started on our food sensitivity odyssey. For five Christmases, I searched out gluten-free, dairy-free alternatives that didn’t leave me feeling awful, but which lacked the taste of tradition in Great-Grandma’s crumb cookies or Great-Aunt Eva’s toffee. I realized this year that, while I’m fairly comfortable picking and choosing my Christmas traditions and/or making things up as I go along, my children had never eaten a snickerdoodle, and that just seemed wrong.
This year I’m saying, “To heck with GF/CF desserts!” I’m making six different kinds of cookies, a gingerbread house, and fudge. My husband’s taking some to a potluck at work, we’re taking some to a celebration at music class tomorrow, some to church this Sunday, and the rest (except the gingerbread house) we’re packaging up and giving to friends and neighbors. I’m not eating sweets at all this year, so we need to do something with the dozens and dozens of cookies I want to make, and if that serves to help us build community and get to know our neighbors, all the better.
Today the kids and I started just after breakfast and baked two batches of cookies and the pieces of the gingerbread house, which we assembled after lunch and decorated just before dinner.
Based on our baking day today, there are a few lessons that I could apply to our next baking adventure, if I manage to think of them ahead of it (which has never happened before, but I remain hopeful):
1) Don’t try to do homeschool on a day I’m baking three batches of cookies and assembling a gingerbread house. (This one I knew before I started, although I did still momentarily suggest we do a math lesson instead of play outside while the base of the gingerbread house was setting up.)
2) Stop at one batch of cookies. While we cut out and baked the gingerbread house pieces this morning, we were all happy and joking and singing. When we made the sugar and spice cookies, my eye started to twitch when my son kept pretending to play the shell game with the dough balls my daughter was trying to arrange in a 3 by 4 array on the cookie sheet, and my daughter kept sneezing into her hands or picking her nose as soon as she came back from washing her hands. By the time the snickerdoodles were cooling and I got the kids outside to run off some of the sugar they’d been eating since breakfast, I’d yelled at my daughter and had to have extended huggle time with her to make things right. But I really enjoyed baking the first batch of cookies with my kids. It was nice, and I look forward to making one batch of cookies with them again.
3) Put the cookies up high to cool. None of our moods were helped by the sugar rush my children (and especially my two-year-old) experienced after yoinking a half-dozen cookies from the cooling racks. Four of those my son just licked the powdered sugar from the tops, which I kind of view as worse than actually eating the darned cookies.
4) Go outside. If I must bake multiple batches of cookies in a single day, for love of Mike, take the kids outside between batches. We could have avoided so much crying and gnashing of teeth if I’d just preemptively taken us outside rather than waiting for the “That’s it. I’ve had it. Everyone out” moment. It was amazing how much difference it made just hanging out in the sun throwing rocks into our bushes and breaking up the two-inches of ice on top of the sandbox cover. We did this just prior to decorating the gingerbread house and when we came back inside, and despite my son’s not-so-subtle pilfering of peanut-butter cups and chocolate kisses and his rather dramatic reaction to the cinnamon imperials he decided to try (“Need water!” he cried, dribbling red, sticky drool all down his front and onto the floor), the decorating went remarkably smoothly. If I’d had the foresight to kick us all out between each batch of cookies, it’s possible the whole thing might have gone more smoothly.
5) Arrange to find some item I thought was gone forever in the middle of a mommy-tantrum. We lost four picture books from the library two weeks ago. I’d looked everywhere for them, even going so far as to move the fridge out (twice). It was while I was muttering profanities to myself and clattering around in the skinny and impractical cupboard next to the stove looking for another cookie sheet that I saw the corner of a book. After 20 minutes of fishing with a yardstick and taking the flashlight back from my son, I stood triumphant, all four books now freed from their incredibly tight squeeze under the stove! If I could plan this kind of plot twist for every time I was in a surly mood, I’m certain I’d yell a lot less.
I still wish there were a quick-fix for my blasted temper, but in the end, the day turned out okay. While I was fixing dinner and the gingerbread house stood decorated, just daring the cats to lick it, my son sat on my daughter’s lap on the kitchen floor behind me while I chopped onions.
“You know, Mom,” my daughter said. “[Brother] and I aren’t just siblings; we’re life-long friends.”
It’s that kind of moment that gives me hope that, on the balance, the things I’m doing well as a mother will outweigh the things I’m doing embarrassingly poorly.
Maybe by the time I have grandkids, I’ll have this “creating treasured childhood memories” thing down a little better.
(If you’re interested in making your own gingerbread house (this was my very first ever gingerbread house, by the way), I used the recipe and instructions here, and was inspired by my friend Timbra’s annual tradition, described on her blog here (I have a feeling she yells at her girls less than I yell at my kids).)
As bonus, here are two in-process gingerbread house photos, just so it’s clear what exactly I undertook with my two kids today. And no, I will not be posting a photo of what my kitchen looks like right now.