it’s such a special thing, isn’t it? and by special, I mean I would be secretly taking nips of liquor under the table every few minutes while it was going on if I wasn’t pregnant. damn it all. I have to do this shit sober?
making Christmas cookies with kids is much like baking with young kids in general, except you have that added little something with it being Christmas time and, though normally, I would consider myself some kind of a hero if I managed to bake an entire batch of cookies with them on a normal day, at this time of year, it’s just one small thing on a huge to-do list, so it’s got that little extra bit of…what is that? cinnamon? oh, no. it’s stress.
joel’s job is to stir, which he’s really good at, which is not to say that he actually mixes the ingredients well, but that it at least keeps him busy and distracts him temporarily from more destructive endeavors, such as taking the dry ingredients by the handful and throwing them up into the air where they can rain down on the entire kitchen like a pleasant mist. wait, I’m getting ahead of myself.
let me first preface the actual start of the making of something with all of the pre-show leading up to the actual ingredients being put into the bowl. first, everyone must be on his/her usual chair. if anyone is standing on the wrong chair (on purpose or by accident) there will be a lot of high-pitched yelling first and foremost. my kids like to get into glass-shattering screech contests as a way to settle disputes. I can’t say it usually turns out well, and yes, my hearing is dulling. then, there will be snatching of the stirring implement from joel by ruth which will cause joel to crumple his face and cry and possibly lose it completely, crumbling into a sobbing pile on the floor. however, if the situation is salvageable, if joel doesn’t crumple into a heap on the floor, if I manage (without booze!) to keep it together through all of this, direct them to their proper chairs and intercept ruth from tearing everything away from joel or from getting her face in his face really close and muttering dire threats, if all of this can happen (unlikely) we can start making the cookies. hey, this is like a choose your own adventure book. if you decide to lose it on your kids, turn to page 81 where the story ends in a lot of yelling and tears and no cookies for anyone. if you decide to be zen and go with it all, or if you have booze, turn to page 54 where you peacefully begin to make the cookies with your family. this is kinda fun.
ok, so let’s say, I choose the latter route, and we begin the cookies, that’s when joel is the stirrer and ruth is the dumper and I am the measurer. this part usually starts out ok and somewhat organized. ruth is pretty good at helping these days, has much better hand-eye coordination than she used to, and can sort of understand the progression of the recipe and the shaping then baking of the cookies. the only complaint I have is that she is sort of a “control freak” if you will, and insists upon doing things that she really can’t or shouldn’t be doing quite yet, such as loading the full tray of cookies into the hot oven by herself. no, she didn’t burn herself, but she did accidentally dump an entire row of cookies off the end of the tray onto the door where I had to burn myself to pick them off again. in general, if I can keep my patience with ruth, we have a good time and she even learns a thing or two about measuring, baking, mixing.
joel, on the other hand, is the real loose canon. not only does he have terrible hand-eye coordination, but he has no concept of what the hell we are even doing or what the overall goal is at the end of all of this work. that’s probably why he thinks he’s helping when he starts throwing the cookie dough by large clumps onto the floor, where they become coated in dog fur and unusable (don’t think I didn’t try to dust those fudgers off). yes, where once he was content to stand by and watch, or to timidly try to imitate his sister and I, those days are gone. now, he is more bold and experimental and wants in on the action. while ruth and I were rolling balls of dough through nuts and placing them in rows on the tray, for instance, he was dipping into the flour container and smearing it all over the counter. that was alright, until he decided to try and climb up onto the counter and crawl around in all of the flour. at that point I had to take him down. but I have to be very careful. joel is very sensitive, you see, and if I reprimand him too harshly (who, me? the one with the nerves of steel? why would I do that?) he is liable to crumple as described before. then, not only am I the jerk who ruined Christmas cookies for my family, but he would need to be held, and you can’t make cookies and hold a 26 lb. large baby in your arms simultaneously.
I only have to fix the rows that ruth is creating on the tray a few dozen times to get them evenly spaced, then ruth uses her finger to poke the holes for the jelly. this is when I get out the jelly in preparation and mistakenly place it anywhere near joel. he starts reaching in with the measuring spoon and heaping it onto the floury counter, smearing it all together into a large messy, somewhat gory-looking portrait. “joel,” I said a little too impatiently, “please stop doing that!” and snatched away the spoon (now, I’m the snatcher). he looked at me with big eyes and I had to soften my reaction. “what did you make there? that is very creative, joel. you’re so experimental. and that’s why I love you.” he seemed to understand and relaxed into my hug. crisis averted. whew.
it’s important to remember what it’s all about, after all. not mass-producing cookies. but having an experience together, a holiday tradition, a celebration. all I can say is, good luck, all you parents out there, with keeping it together this season. and, you are not alone.