Bridgette Gallagher is a high school English teacher in Saratoga Springs, NY. Her blog, Shortcut Girl, is her way of getting the general public to read her crazy (yet poignant) rants about parenting, making life easier, and laughing at yourself. You can follow her @shortcutgrrl or like her on Facebook.
I spent a lot of time in my childhood awaiting the season of my mother’s holiday cookie baking to commence. Sometimes it was a lazy Saturday, sometimes a late weekday evening, sometimes a long Sunday afternoon. But they were always there. Tupperware containers full of cookies stacked on the dining room table. Tightly sealed, delectable treats that released a smell of sweet butter and chocolate when you lifted up the cover, just a smidge, to grab one. Cookies that adorned platter after platter my Mom gave as gifts to neighbors, friends, and family alike. Christmas cookies were a fixture of the season. They were what brought me home from college, and what I asked for when my Mom came to visit me in my own home for Christmas. They were everything the holiday was– nostalgic, sweet, and comforting.
When you grow up, there are things you just think you’ll get better at. Baking and cooking was one of those things for me. I thought a switch would flip and eventually I would start to enjoy an evening spent at home, making five dozen cookies. Each Christmas I made excuses like, ‘When I have a home…’ Or ‘when I am married’ or ‘when I have kids’, yet I still just expected my Mom to make her cookies each year while I remained in grownup cookie purgatory – wanting the product without the work. Wanting the nostalgia without the flour-covered counter and buttered hands.
And now, married, with a home, two children and a whole lot of Christmas cheer, I still wait for some strike of Yuletide lightning to make me into my mother.
My husband called me out on this early in our relationship. We were invited to a cookie exchange and I, the ever practical and thrifty gal, made (gasp!) slice and bake cookies. He mocked me very sweetly, calling me ‘an old-fashioned kind of girl’. Much to my chagrin, my husband is known for his playful and often spot-on sarcasm. Thus, he also called my sad attempt at a personal touch ‘a drop of poo’. (I put a Hershey’s Kiss on cookies that were too hot and the kiss just melted into what looked like, well, poo.) This Christmas was just the first of many where I would realize I might not have what it takes to be a cookie-baking Mom. Tradition ruined. Forever.
Last year, in an attempt to circumvent my fate of being a not-so-old-fashioned kind of Mom, I made cut-out cookies with two toddlers, from scratch, in a small kitchen, with only one oven and two cookie cutters. On a weeknight, no less. I must say that cut-out cookies should come with a warning: This will take you more time than you might ever want to spend on preparing anything. Please proceed only if you are prepared to lose your patience, your sense of purpose in life, and your dignity. These cookies will zap any Christmas spirit you have left. And, if you have even a teeny bit of perfectionist in you, don’t. Just don’t do it.
“I was literally making cookies for three hours. I counted,” I exclaimed to a coworker the next day. And soon, I realized what all my well-intentioned Martha Stewart-ness had done. I had zapped the holiday spirit right out of something that is supposed to be full of nostalgia, sweetness, and comfort. I was singlehandedly sucking the love out of one of my mother’s favorite traditions. I had become a grouchy, harried, cookie-baking Grinch. I was not honoring my mother’s tradition, I was chore-ifying it.
I find myself doing this with other things at other holidays— carving pumpkins (That is a mess I cannot even stand!), making Valentines (Why did I write out twelve valentines for two-year-old children who I know will be handing them to their parents, who will, in turn, throw them in the trash, just as I do, right after the party?) And I find that I am doing it again, sucking the life out of something that is supposed to be fun and — about your kids. And that’s when I got it.
Never once, I mean, not even for one second of any day, at any time, did I ever wonder if my Mom, my sweet, loving, baking, hugging, kissing Mom, liked what she was doing for me and my Christmas memories. Never did I think that maybe she was tired, harried, haggard, or strung out on coffee at the end of a long week. Never did I think that she, ever, would not want to make the cookies that had built the very foundation of all of my holiday memories as a child. Never once did I think the act of baking Christmas cookies was a chore, rather than a gesture of pure love.
Because she never let me.
I expected to want to do all the things she did because she seemed like she wanted to. She never let a Christmas go by without those morsels of memory into which we’d sink our teeth. She never let a Christmas Eve go by without preparing a heaping platter and passing it around. She never missed a chance to pass me a bag of my favorite peanut butter candies to take home with me.
Recently, a bunch of girlfriends and I sat around talking about how we have now gotten to the point in motherhood where we call our husbands as “Daddy” when talking to our children. It’s something I always thought was a little obnoxious. My friend illuminated it when she said, “When you have kids, you talk about things from their point of view.”
That’s it. When I think about my mother and her cookies, and the memories that they created, I am taken back to when I was just a person who worried about herself and no one else. I didn’t know whether my mother was tired, frustrated, bored, sad, mad, or glad. I knew that she made cookies. And that was all I needed.
So, instead of allowing bloated nostalgia to dictate the cranberry stringing, the Christmas caroling, the ornament baking, the hot cider mulling, the snowman sculpting that you know your parents did, remember this: Kids will love whatever you do around Christmas. They will remember it, and it will become a part of their own bloated nostalgia down the road. You don’t need to sentence yourself to solitary cookie confinement or gingerbread house arrest in order to provide your kids with good holiday memories. Just do what works for you. That’s how they would remember it, anyway.
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