that left me alone with the three youngest. i eyeballed them all standing expectantly in my kitchen, a cloud of anticipation hovering over their eager faces. it was 7:45 and it had already been a very long day. i just wasn't sure i had it in me to push back bedtimes and pull out the rolling pin and measuring cups. "are you sure we can't do slice and bake? how about drop cookies? rice krispie treats? oreos?" i was reaching for simpler straws here, but my young ones, in their excitement, were already pulling out supplies and making plans and discussing decorating ideas. before i knew what hit me, the island countertop was covered in flour and i had a mixing spoon in my hand. my 11 year old daughter was calling out instructions to everyone. (she is like that). somehow my clean, post-dinner kitchen was being overtaken by small people and too many ingredients.
sugar cookies. does anyone have a really good recipe? because i don't. i would pay money for a good one. well, maybe not money, but i'd really, really like a good, fail-proof, simple, yet yummy recipe. do share! we mixed up the ingredients pretty quickly. my daughter did her Real World Math, her doubling and halving thing, and then it was time to roll out the dough --everyone's favorite part. for my kids, this is where all those years of working with playdough come in handy. they believe themselves to be experts because, for years, they have been doing this with multi-colored, manufactured, chemically altered playdough. playdough always works. real dough doesn't. real dough tastes a whole lot better, but it is difficult to manuever. there is a fine balance between adding more water or adding more flour. the dough can be too sticky or the dough can be too dry--it just depends. playdough is always playdough and it is perfect until some careless kids mixes the colors, leaves the lid off or smears it into the living room rug.
but good recipe or not, rolling out the dough isn't easy. at least in my kitchen it isn't easy. plus, i had to give everyone a chance to try. even bella insisted. there was no way she was missing out on this pre-bedtime fun. five minutes into the endeavor i was certain all of us would need to be bathed tonight. there was flour everywhere. even the dog, who had strategically positioned himself below us, was wearing a fine coat of white. i saw bedtime creeping further away from my weary-woman clutches. i don't know about you, but i need my children in bed at a reasonable hour, especially in a busy season like christmas. i had plans for tonight; christmas cards to address, teacher gifts to prepare, a few presents to wrap, (modern family to watch). but instead i was standing in my kitchen covered in baking flour and trying to keep three children from eating raw cookie dough.
with our lousy dough finally rolled out on the counter, it was time for the cookie cutters. it's not that i bake cookies all the time, but you'd think by the size of my cookie cutter collection, i ran a small business out of my kitchen. at the top of my pantry are two huge bins filled with cookie cutters. we have the entire alphabet, all the numbers possible, enough stars to light the nightitme sky and hearts of every size. we have leaves and trees and flowers and at least a couple dozen animals, including a kangaroo. a kangaroo? yes, a kangaroo. "i want to make christmas trees, mama." sarah declared, her head barely looking up from the too thin dough she was rolling. "please find me a christmas tree." i was right there with her. let's make this simple, let's just do one thing and do it well. we didn't need to use all 400 cookie cutters. oh no, we just needed to get in a groove, repeat a pattern, come up with a system--bake the cookies, and bed the children. bam! that was my plan---until i came across my grandma's christmas tree cookie cutter.
it was mixed in with the rest of the 400, like nothing special. except that it is. clearly old fashioned, there was nothing plastic or easy grip about this cutter. i pulled it out and held it in my flour-coated hand. and as i sat there on my dirty kitchen floor, i remembered, as a child, eating cookies exactly this shape. i remembered the simple green sugar grandma used to cover these trees. nothing extravagant, but beautiful to the eyes of a small girl. and delicious. i don't know if it is true, but my grandmother seemed to do a lot of baking, at least in comparison to me. growing up, for the first part of my childhood, we lived in a duplex with my grandparents. grandma's kitchen was just downstairs and it was quiet and clean and her dough was always perfect. every year we spent christmas eve downstairs at my grandma's. cousins came and christmas happened exactly the same way. we'd eat dinner and nibble on the christmas cookies, open presents and then head off to candlelight service at the exotic hour of eleven. i am sure i took all of it for granted. but there was something so special about this gathering repeated year after year at grandma's house.
we don't have that with our own children. sure we have two wonderful grandma's houses to visit, but they aren't just down the stairs or just down the street. they are 6 hours and 12 hours away, and so it is different. a couple of miles don't separate the kids from their cousins, but thousands of miles. we have cousins in ohio, new york, oregon and utah. too far to go for christmas cookies or candlelight church. and oh, can i tell you, this grieves me. probably one of my main regrets in life is all this distance between family. i know my siblings feel it too. and i am sure the grandparents feel it even worse. i grew up with grandparents involved in the tiniest intricacies of my life, with cousins who came to every birthday celebration, with summer cookouts, sunday afternoon visits and holiday meals. we never had to think about what we were doing or where we were doing it, at least from my young-girl perspective, it all seemed simple. there's not one sibling or cousin of mine that doesn't think of their birthday and not remember grandma's graham cracker cake with cream cheese frosting. she baked one for everyone's birthday each year -- young and old. i grew up on graham cracker cake. i think of it every single time i turn another year older.
and sitting on my kitchen floor with this christmas tree cookie cutter in hand, i thought again of grandma. i thought again of all those holidays with my extended family. it seemed almost too much for me at this late hour, with all these children, in all this baking mess, with all this bedtime still out ahead. there are times when even we mother's long to return to things simple and similar. times when we'd like to waltz down the stairs to christmas dinner and beautifully wrapped presents at grandmother's house. but we are the dinner cookers and present wrappers and cookie bakers and magic makers. we are the ones carefully creating special moments and lasting memories. and, oh, let me just say, this delights me to be so. i love this deeply. i love my role, my job, my calling, my mothering. as a little girl, i wanted nothing more then to grow up and have a home of my own and fill it with little ones and laughter and beauty. but sometimes we bake cookies late at night, with wild children, and dirty floors and sticky dough. and sometimes the magic feels a little dull and a little disappointing. because this is real life and real life is a little messier than our girl-dreams imagined. but then we find a treasure like grandma's christmas tree cookie cutter, and we remember. and though it takes a lot of work to bake the cookies and make the merry, it is worth it. every sticky, flour-covered piece of it.
and tired, but encouraged, i take the christmas tree cookie cutter from the box of 400 and tell my youngest three, "this belonged to my grandma, let me tell you about her..."
author's note: something new i learned this christmas -- age 43:
if you allow a 3 year old girl to play with too much flour, she will, undoubtedly, spill most of it on the floor. and the large golden retriever waiting patiently below will, undoubtedly, do his very best to lick it all up. except that his mad tongue licking will only accomplish dampening the flour on the floor. and when just the right amount of moisture is added to flour, it eventually turns into a rather substantial paste. a paste so substantial, it will require nothing short of multiple scalding hot water rinses and a razor blade to remove -- the next day.