This Christmas, I thought it would be great if my 4-year-old son, Will, and I made fancy Christmas cookies to give as gifts to his teachers, friends and relatives.
I thought making something with his own hands to give to those important in his life would be a great holiday lesson and memory for Will.
I’ve seen pictures of some great cookies, and I knew we could produce lovely, hand-crafted cookies with childish decorations (by Will, of course) to warm the hearts of all who received them. So, I bought a lot of extra butter and lovely cellophane bags with snowflakes on them that I planned to tie with red ribbon for a lovely, heartfelt, edible Christmas gift.
Ah, yes, my young son (a budding chef, perhaps?) would work side-by-side with me in the kitchen, me gently showing him the intricacies of mixing ingredients, he carefully cutting the cookies into various shapes.
(I must digress a bit and give thanks for the blessed gaps between imagination and reality, because without them, no one would ever try anything out of the ordinary. Had the Wright brothers considered the folly of trying to fly, they never would have made it off the ground at Kitty Hawk. Had I realized what I was getting myself into, I may have purchased cookies at a bakery.)
Will and I toiled away in the kitchen, working hard — really, really hard — for two nights straight.
The first night, Will cracked eggs into the mixing bowl by first tapping them gently and then squeezing them with all his might, shooting egg into the air. I hovered over him, picking eggshells out of the bowl and wiping egg whites off the cupboards. I demonstrated the proper way to dump in cupfuls of flour. Will felt he had a better way to do it and we found ourselves laughing, standing in a cloud of flying flour that invaded every nook and cranny in the kitchen.
I was torn. Should I let this little man who insists on doing everything himself actually do it all in spite of his lack of skill? Or should I take control? I vacillated: Let it go; take control. Let it go; take control.
Then, I figured, what the heck. ’Tis the season to have a little fun. I stepped aside and watched this kid spin out of control in my kingdom, er, my kitchen, and smiled. Then, I joined the fun.
Flour flew. Eggs splattered. Measuring spoons clattered. Cookie cutters clanged. Christmas carols blared.
And each time there was a mess, Will leapt into action. “I’ll get it, momma,” he’d say, turning on the faucet, wetting the dishrag and flinging water about the room as he “cleaned.”
Then, he used the sink sprayer. Water mixed with flying flour, and, well, you can just imagine…
But little by little — with great hope in our hearts — we actually made cookie dough. Using our new holiday cookie cutters, Will pressed shapes from the dough. Before we plopped our Christmas trees, reindeer, stars and snowmen into the oven, Will took the leftover dough, slammed it back and forth between his hands, and fashioned it into a pointy lump he called his “volcano”; he put it on the cookie sheet, alongside the standard Christmas shapes.
The cookies emerged from the oven a bit hard, I thought, but we let them cool and stored them. The next night, we set about to decorate them. We spread icing on top of our cookies, and then, armed with tubes of colored gel, we set off to decorate. I learned, though a bit too late, that the colored gel in the tubes should first be mixed with icing for tinting, not used directly to decorate.
By the time I realized it, though, Will had become an abstract canvas of red, green and blue industrial strength food dye: it was on his hands, his arms, his face, his hair; his lips were a frightening, yet cheerful shade of bright, bright red.
His skin wasn’t the only decorating casualty. The cookies looked like props from “The Nightmare Before Christmas.” Rather than edible treats, the cookies seemed much more suited to holding open doors or anchoring small boats.
As we moved the cookies from the counter to the table, one fell onto the floor with a sound like a rocket, shattering into a million crumbs that flew about the room like Betty Crocker shrapnel.
We stood there, Will and I, covered in icing and food dye, in awe of the exploding cookie.
“What are you gonna tell daddy?” Will asked as we swept up the mess.
“The cookies can’t be that bad,” I said. “Let’s at least try one.” I held out a star to Will, who screwed up his Technicolor face and refused the taste-test.
“No, way, Momma,” he said, stepping away from the cookie. “I think we did it wrong.”
Will had a point. The cookies were huge, hard, ugly, and very likely dangerous.
But Will was wrong.
We did everything right.
Those two evenings turned out not to be about making lovely gifts; they were about spending time together. And I got the gift of a holiday memory of Will and the exploding cookie.
This column originally ran in the Dec. 24, 2003, issue of The Livingston County Daily Press & Argus.