Each year during the holiday season, we host our family’s annual Christmas cookie baking day for Mom and Dad’s grandchildren and great-grandchildren. My mom started this tradition and my niece has continued it for her niece and nephews.
Twenty-three years ago, my brother married a woman with four small children. Their unstable lives had not been easy up to that point. But when they became part of our family, Mom embraced them with every ounce of love she had. She wanted to show them how to have fun and just be kids.
I remember Mom setting up the four kids and my older son around her kitchen table with all the ingredients for cookies. Together, they mixed flour and eggs and vanilla and all the other ingredients that make cookies so delicious. There was flour flying and they all had faces and clothes covered in white powder.
There were no restrictions on the kids. Mom insisted they could do whatever they wanted, and she didn’t give a second thought to the mess. Any small reprimand for flipping flour was immediately met with “Leave them alone!”
Fast forward about 15 or so years when my niece’s own nephew became old enough to play along. The cookie baking had taken a hiatus while my mom cared for her ailing mother, and then the kids got older and busy. But when the great-nephew was born, my niece wanted to facilitate that wonderful memory from her childhood. She says those cookie baking days were her happiest memories.
Because Mom was away, my niece decided to have cookie baking at my house and invited Mom to come play along. So each year since, we spread plastic down on the floor, pull out the baking sheets, don the kids in aprons, belly them up to the table, and let them have fun.
We have had some pretty odd-looking cookies loaded down with all the decorations: sprinkles, candy bits, icing of all colors. This gang doesn’t know what moderation is on the decoration front, but they have fun, and that’s all that matters. At the end of the day, each kid takes their creations home to their parents, and we even load up a few for Dad.
Each year Mom decorated a couple of cookies, but most of her time was spent watching the kids, sipping on a cup of coffee, smiling and chuckling every little bit. She studied them intently. We’d end the day with a group photo of Nana and the little ones.
Last year, we forgot to take the group photo.
So here we are, making plans for this year’s cookie baking day.
I asked my niece if she still wanted to do it this year. “Of course,” she said.
My heart aches knowing Mom won’t be there, but I rejoice in knowing that her fun spirit continues in the lives of her grandchildren and great-grandchildren. What may have seemed like a small gesture when Nana gathered the children around to make cookies has become an opportunity to have fun, to be together, and to honor a woman who impacted the lives of so many—a woman with a kind and happy spirit who just wanted the kids to be kids.
My plan is to focus more on the fun and less on the tears.
“The best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men…”