The Art of Baking Cookies


A Post by Beautiful -

Our boys are at an age where they are becoming exponentially more capable. They can make their own toast in the morning and bring a borrowed pan back to the neighbor’s house, they order their dinner at restaurants and can wink and say words like “dehydrated” or “dramatic” or “cattywompas” in a sentence correctly. I mostly feel like they could do anything and that James and I are merely observers to their ever-growing independence, occasionally reaching something out of their range or explaining the way something works, but mostly just supervising.

There are still a few things that my boys cannot do, though. Things that require patience and a certain art that comes from practice. This weekend I called my mom for her sugar cookie recipe and assembled the ingredients with the boys as my assistants. They added teaspoons of baking soda and vanilla and dumped cups full of flour into the bowl with careful precision. But then we rolled the cookies out on the dining room table and the boys pummeled their ball of dough, adding more and more flour until the cookie cutter-ed result on the baking sheet had the consistency of dried paper mache. I tried to guide the use of flour and explain that the cookies tasted better when the dough is soft. This had little effect.

I scooped a large hunk of dough out onto the floured table, rapidly rolled it out into a thick slab and cut cookies from the still soft dough.  I outpaced them with my cookies. As I did this, the memory of my mom doing this exact thing came to me. She would fill two pans with circle-shaped cookies cut with the rim of an inverted juice glass while we labored over a few intricate reindeer and angels. She let us participate and enjoy it while she knocked out the cookies we would eat later. We learned to make better, softer cookies as we grew up. I’m glad there are things that we learn this way. I’m glad everything doesn’t come from information or from ability. Some things come from a family recipe, and a feel for the dough and a mom who shows you the art of it until you know it yourself.

on tantrums then and now

There’s a story that my family tells about when I was a little girl and we were at a campground with my mom’s whole family and I threw an epic tantrum. The details vary based on who’s telling the story; sometimes it’s about the bubblegum I was chewing that dropped in the dirt or about not wanting to take a picture. But the fact is, I threw a big giant fit–one of many in my childhood–in front of everyone. And I didn’t care.

I used to be sort of proud of this story and others about tantrums I threw, like I was some defiant imp, a strong-willed child on my way to becoming a true blue strong woman who spoke her mind. But the truth is I was a brat–an irrational, short fused kid.

I can see this clearly today, one day after my three-year old threw an epic tantrum of his own. My sister, my mom, my brother-in-law, my two stunned nephews, my brand new baby niece and my oldest son watched as a difference of opinion progressed from reasoning to warnings to threats to yelling insults to physically pinning my youngest into a car seat while attempting to buckle the five point harness around him. His writhing, screaming body would not be buckled. 25 minutes later, we left. He had won.

I felt like throwing a tantrum myself. I had engaged in a war of wills with a three-year old in front of half my family and lost.  Sitting in the car, driving back to Portland, I listened to his sniffling, half-sobbing breaths regulate to normal. I felt bad for my mom those years ago.

I’m sure looking back now, she knows that there’s no winning with an irrational three-year old in the throes of a tantrum, that giving in doesn’t make you a terrible parent, that her kid wouldn’t turn out to be a horrible irrational adult, that everyone else knew exactly how she felt and had been there themselves with their own kids.

I’m sure I’ll know that too. For now, I feel like a terrible parent who has no control over my kid.

The Curious Case Of The BB Gun At Christmas

Surveying all the colorful packages under and around the tree one long rectangular package caught my eye. To Primo, From Santa read the tag and as I reached for the present that “Oh Shit” feeling came over me. This was the BB Gun that Papa and Grandma asked if they could get for Primo, the one I said yes to without talking to Beautiful, and the one he would open in a few minutes. I hurried to Beautiful and pulled her a side to tell her about the gun and to apologize for being an idiot.

The problem wasn’t the gun per se. While we aren’t much of a gun family, we don’t have one and likely never will, we aren’t militantly anti guns either. Just last month we enjoyed some Shepard’s pie made with the Venison from a Deer Papa shot with his hunting rifle and I look forward to the day that my boys and I join Papa on a hunting trip. A closer connection to the food we eat and the realities of where it comes from is important to us and hunting plays a big part. No the problem was my unilateral decision making on whether it was OK for our five-year old to have his first gun.

When you are alone with the kids there are any number of decisions to be made from things as small as what’s for lunch, to whether or not the boys can ride their bikes across the street with the neighbor girl. These decisions don’t need to be discussed with someone else so I get in the habit of being the decider. Along comes one of those bigger decisions and I just answer on impulse without talking to Beautiful. I think about how she would respond and make informed decisions but I don’t always include her in the discussion and answer. But “don’t always” I really mean “almost never”. There has been a time or two when made the right call and said “Let me talk to Beautiful about that first” but that is not a natural response for me.

When I cornered Beautiful to tell her about the gun she was OK with it as well, but teased me the rest of the day. She asked if there were any other big decisions I had made for the family that she should know about. It was playful and in good fun but I knew that I was wrong in not talking to her first before WE made a decision. It’s that “WE” part that is tough for me sometimes and it comes across as me not valuing my wife. When I make these unilateral decisions I am communicating that her thoughts, opinions, ideas, aren’t important and that is far from true. I told her how sorry I was and she could see I really was even if others there didn’t see what the big deal was. It was only a BB gun after all. But it wasn’t the gun, it was the relationship and the communication. Isn’t that always the case.

Wham! Pow!

The Justice League logos in playdough

This year for Christmas, all gifts for our children will revolve around Superheroes. Because our kids are obsessed with all things batman, superman, green lantern, wonderwoman and storm (the women are for my sake) and especially, inexplicably Aquaman and the Flash. This is strange for a number of reasons: Neither James nor I have ever been interested in Superheroes in our lives so have not encouraged this obsession in any way; as of about 2 months ago, our kids were fully in the throes of toy car obsession and had never even ventured into the superhero aisle at the toy store; and because this whole fascination has turned our kids into sound-effect-making, costume wearing, aggressive defenders facing unknown villains (their expertise hasn’t involved the bad guys yet).

We did not see this coming.

The whole thing came on so quickly in fact that James and I have not been able to keep up with their knowledge of this whole genre. Not that we had much to begin with but seriously, the oldest has started correcting me when I am roped into the superhero play. He’ll say things like “no! Superman is not faster than the Flash. He is stronger and can lift more but he isn’t faster”. Well, sorry…

Part of it, I love though. They are imaginative and expressive and the whole role playing part of it reminds me of how I used to play Barbies. They make up stories and run around the house and when they don’t have established superhero facts to explain things, they fill in with their own little boy experiences. Like when the youngest used a couch cushion as a submarine and explained that he was “fighting the dreams”. Or when the oldest described the shape of green lantern’s magical ring ray as, “fat as daddy’s belly and high as daddy is tall”.

We don’t know where it came from and we don’t exactly understand it, but we are enjoying this phase.

I Roar (a post from the working mom)

This weekend there were a number of things working against me. It was cold and rainy for the first time after a lovely but too-short summer; our dinner party was a raving success and so inevitably we are coming down into that post party-nothing-to-look-forward-to slump; the boys have converged in the most annoyingly simultaneous whiney stages; I have a really excellent book to read which I’ve waited patiently for along with the other 873 people who wanted to read it in the Multnomah county library system; I’ve been really busy at work; we haven’t been grocery shopping since before the dinner party so the fridge has only baggies full of bizarre foods like pâté and beets with goat cheese and ginger beer, which translates into unhappy kid meals.

Which is all to say that this weekend I was terrible to my kids.

The oldest wanted more water in the bathtub after letting the water out of the bathtub in successive gulps as a part of an elaborate game he plays with the tub drain stopper. I said no. He whined. I roared.

The youngest is perfectly capable of fitting his elastic laced shoes onto each of his chubby feet, mostly even on the right chubby feet. But this weekend (and mostly every other day) he did not want to put his own shoes on. I explained that he could and would put them on his own feet or else he wouldn’t be coming to dinner with us. He screamed. I screamed back.

James was not immune either. I yelled from the living room couch (where I was trying to read that very excellent book) for the youngest to stop yelling in the back yard. James asked me to stop yelling and then had an elaborate wrestling match with the boys to their very hysterical delight. I said he was just trying to make me look bad. He said to join them when my attitude changed. I read my book and sulked.

I know this is not acceptable, especially for the working parent who should have a surplus of patience. But I rarely have a surplus of patience. I feel like I often walk into or am minutes away from some kind of melt down from one of the kids and it’s sort of disappointing. I have this secret expectation that I will spend these quality hours after work with my well behaved, clean shirted kids, that this will be special time. And that somehow they should understand that this time should be special, non-whining, unmessy time spent with me–that they are supposed to be my ideal kids. But they do not realize this because they are 5 and 3 years old. I’m just an occasional accompaniment to their whiney, messy days. They are not ideal but these days, neither am I.