As the flour gently settled onto the kitchen floor, table and every horizontal surface, I thought (not for the first time) maybe this hadn’t been such a good idea.
I’ve been making Christmas sugar cookies with kids/grandkids for nearly 30 years—and every year I’m optimistic that we can get through the experience with a minimal amount of crying, burned fingers, slobbery frosting and sprinkle explosions.
During each cookie making adventure, I adhere to those good Christian virtues detailed by the disciples in the New Testament (whom I’m sure never made holiday cookies with small children); virtues that are supposed to get me a heavenly mansion made of sugar.
Then reality sets in.
Hope: The grandchildren quietly enter my home. I picture a Norman Rockwell-esque scene with little girls in aprons, little boys in bowties and the puppy sitting gently at my side as I place the perfectly-formed cookies on the table.
Reality: As the little rugrats invade my kitchen, I drop the unidentifiable/burned cookies on the table while Ringo the Dog jumps up to get his share, scaring the smaller grandchildren and ruining two batches of cookies.
Patience: I move from child to child, helping them create an elaborate design for each Christmas cookie: piping white lines on gingerbread cookies, dotting yellow lights on Christmas trees and dusting silvery sugar on angel wings.
Reality: Each cookie is slathered with every color of frosting then weighed down with at least two inches of candy sprinkles. There is no identifying the cookie’s original holiday intention. (Angel or roadkill? Beats me.)
Turning Away Wrath: As my grandson becomes frustrated with his cookie decorating skills, I lovingly wipe away his tears with my perfectly starched apron and help him decorate the most beautiful cookie of all.
Reality: In frustration, my grandson stabs at me with his plastic knife covered in frosting and spit, leaving viral streaks of red and green across my forearms. I look like the Grinch Who Tried to Commit Suicide on Christmas.
Compassion: After carefully explaining that knives, fingers, palms, etc. cannot be licked between frosting applications, each child deliberately frosts their cookie with no saliva dripping from utensils or limbs. They each give me a great squeeze and thank me for keeping them healthy this holiday season.
Reality: Each child licks every surface of the knife, every finger, the back of each hand and the top of the sprinkle container before re-dipping the knife back into the frosting. I can honestly see swarms of virus (virii?) congealing on the surface of the frosting. I hand out vitamin C to each child as they leave.
Joy: The children place their beautiful cookies on Christmas plates and, with hearts overflowing, they gather around as we read Christmas stories, sing holiday songs and revel in the spirit of the season.
Reality: After breaking up several fights over who gets the last gingerbread man, the cookies are stacked on plates (ruining all decorating efforts) and the kids run screaming through the house, spreading chaos and fingerprints of frosting.
I think those jolly (probably childless) disciples left out an important virtue: humor. Without a healthy sense of humor and fun, no one would survive this joyous/stressful season.
Frosting, sprinkles and cookie crumbs are easily cleaned up (with the happy help of Ringo) and squabbles are soon forgotten. But making Christmas cookies with my grandkids is a wonderful tradition I plan to continue—if only to brush up on all those elusive virtues.
Baking Christmas cookies with the grandkids is a lesson in patience, hope and compassion. Sometimes I learn the lesson, sometimes I don’t.