Google+ Two-Wheeled Tourist: Accepting the way the cookie crumbles...

12.24.2012

Accepting the way the cookie crumbles...

Last week, I had the chance to participate in a Christmas activity for the first time in my life: festive cookie baking.

Now, I've baked mad stashes of cookies in the past, during various times of the year, but there's a charm to the special Christmas-only cookies that come with the season. Also, since I was staying in NE Ohio this weekend instead of making my weekly migration down to Columbus to see my husband, it gave me something to do that Saturday before he showed up.

M&M Candy Cookies and Butterballs! The powdered sugar on the Butterballs was all me.
What made this special was that I was creating treats from recipes that were several generations old, passed down from a grandmother who worked at a historical bakery in Cleveland and could whip up a dish regardless of what was in the pantry. Some additions have been made through the years, and as a guest I had the chance to indulge in a tradition with legendary concoctions that were many years in the making.

My first go at using a cookie press. I can say they came out quite well.
Preparing the Pinwheels for a trip through the oven.
The finished products! After posting this picture on Facebook, I was getting requests to send a number of these to California. Maybe I should quit my day job in December and just do this.
For me, the pleasantries of baking these goodies with the intention of packing them into decorative tins and giving them to others had me emotionally torn on two different fronts. One part of me is happy for the experience of creating these treats for many people, including myself and Matt, to enjoy. Another part of me is confused as to why this practice was frowned upon in my biological family because of its requirements to interact with the children in a playful manner.

Until I was about five years old, Christmas in my biological family's household was fun and involved a Christmas tree, presents, stockings, and other traditional things like that. After I passed that age, things changed. My parents stopped asking what me and my brother what we wanted for Christmas, and when they did get us anything, it was an object that we didn't ask for or something that was obviously from the bargain bin at the Pic-N-Save. I remember asking for a tree to come back one year, after we went several years without one, and instead of taking it down from the attic, my father went out and brought home a 2' tall fern from Target with the clearance labels still on it that was too flimsy to hold even the smallest Christmas lights.

Perhaps my parents got lazy about pulling the artificial one down from the attic, which was understandable, I guess...but they never asked me or my brother for help in putting the thing up or taking the thing down. I've asked if we could celebrate one year with a real tree, and they often answered with me with “it's too expensive” and “it would catch on fire and burn the house down.” (I begged to differ on the former excuse because my mother would usually get a new Dooney and Burke or Coach purse every year.)

I was so frustrated one year that I went to the extent of printing a picture of a tree on 8.5”x11” piece of paper, coloring lights on it, and taping it to the mirror in the living room. I was beaten for that, thankfully not very severely. There were times in my teenage years that I had even contemplated volunteering my time to help others during that season, but I wasn't allowed to go outside or travel without their permission. They even frowned upon the idea of doing any charitable work, because “it wasn't family.” I was very confused about that reasoning; I didn't feel I was actually in one, especially during the last couple months of the year.

It has been a struggle for years for me to get over the fact that my parents' definition and execution of parenting has been emotionally inadequate, procedural, and deliberately cold. As they spent most of their time trying to mold me into something worth bragging about, a trophy to show off to unimportant people, other important factors such as emotional growth, social interaction with other peers, and family activities and togetherness went out the window. And as a result, I find myself tortured in many an idle moment in memories that I wish I would never have to remember.

The whole problem goes far beyond what is deemed to be an American family tradition. It's a matter of actually acting like a caring family. It's choosing to spend time with your only daughter at Christmas instead of working that entire holiday for a straight decade and buying presents for yourself. It's cherishing the moments that you have with a family that you had struggled so hard to create. It's actually getting wish list contained in those letters to Santa correct instead of trying to find the cheapest alternative, not because you're broke but because we apparently weren't worth the effort. When fun things like sending out Christmas cards and putting up a tree are considered to be chores, and we were prevented from participating because it was either obtrusive or “dangerous,” the entire celebratory value of the season becomes worthless.

For most people, this is probably not the way one would analyze a baking excursion with a coworker who was so gracious to invite me to help out. If that's the case, then I am glad for you. This is not a conundrum that I would want to subject anybody to. It will be a long process for me to finally accept that there is nothing I can change. As painful as my past Christmases throughout my childhood have been, I am in control of how happy they can be now and in the future.

Now that I am married, very estranged from my biological relations, and very far away from that mess I used to consider as a “family,” I've been able to distance myself from the memories that have haunted me for years. Gift giving is fun again, and even when funds have been tight, I've been able to get creative. I've had the chance to drive around and see lights, attend Christmas parties, and yes, even find ways to do something nice for other people I don't even know.

For those out there reading this who have kids and actually care about them, please enjoy the holidays with them. Bake some cookies. Hell, bake tons of cookies and give them away! Drive to other neighborhoods to see the Christmas lights or walk around your own. Volunteer somewhere or start up your own food drive. Whatever it is, make it positive and memorable, so you'll have young adults in the future who will have memories to cherish rather than wish every day they could erase them.

I sincerely hope that this time of year is peaceful, full of memories worth keeping and cherishing, regardless of which holidays in the winter season you choose to celebrate. I also hope it's full of cookies. Lots and lots of cookies. And eat the mistakes. I've found from experience that they taste just as good as the perfect ones.