Last Christmas I told the kids to head to the kitchen. It was time to make sugar cookies. I like to make sugar cookies because they are easy and delicious. You mix the ingredients, put them in the fridge for a few hours, roll them out, cut them into shapes and decorate them.
I have very few rules for the sugar cookie making process. No matter the season, I get out all the cookie cutters. My goal in making the sugar cookies is to have fun and let the kids express their creativity. If they want to make a green and red jack-o-lantern at Christmas, that’s fine by me. Mutant Ninja Star of David? I love it. Vampire Santa? Let it roll. Again, my object here is to have fun.
And to get cookies.
When we make cookies I keep in mind that we are not making these cookies to give to the Wise Men to give to Jesus. We are not making them for the queen or the president. We are making them to have fun, so it does not matter how they turn out.
There is enough work involved in making sugar cookies that everyone has something to do, but sugar cookies are simple enough that no one person has too much to do—unless that one person is stuck cleaning up the mess.
Speaking of mess, making cookies is sometimes a thing we do when Mom is otherwise engaged. It isn’t that we don’t want Mom to help make cookies, it is just that it’s easier to manage the mess without Mom’s help.
This past Christmas my kids and I whipped up, chilled, and rolled out the dough (that could be a hip-hop song) same as ever. By the way, rolling out the dough is the hardest part of the whole process. I suggest you lay some parchment paper on the table and spread a bit of flour before you start to roll. If worse comes to worst and you can’t get the cut dough off the table, you can just lift the parchment paper onto the cookie sheet and cook the cookies on the paper. Keep all water away from the rolling pin. A little water on the rolling pin means sticky, sticky dough.
We had, of course, quite an array of cookie cutters. My daughter was focusing on Santa shapes and Christmas trees. My daughter likes to bake more than my son does. This is not a sexist comment or a political stance, it is just a fact. My son is older and I introduced him to making cookies before my daughter was ever born, but he hasn’t taken to it like she has. My daughter has an artistic flair and she greatly enjoys the decorating process. She will spend hours carefully administering colored sugar so that her Santas end up wearing tartan sweaters, argyle socks and plaid toy bags. She will separate the colored sprinkles to make sure her Christmas trees are top of the line.
My son was cutting out dozens of little stars and arranging them in a careful pattern on the cookie sheet.
“What’s that?” I asked.
“Orion, Taurus and the Pleiades,” he said.
This past year I decided to introduce icing into the whole process. I bought a tub of standard white icing. We stirred some sugar into the icing so that it glittered like real ice on the edges of our trees and on our snow men.
My daughter asked, “Can we add food coloring to this?”
Here is another reason it is sometimes best to make cookies when Mom is otherwise occupied: Kids and dads sometimes have good ideas which moms might frown on if they are forewarned. As soon as my daughter asked about food coloring, all three of us began to chuckle.
When Mom came to see how we were doing she was greeted by an army of glittering, icing smothered, yellow snowmen.
The thing about fun is that it is supposed to be fun. One reason I like making cookies is because there are no serious consequences if the process goes wrong or the cookies don’t turn out just right. We are not baking cookies to win a prize; we are baking cookies to spend time together. This is an important aspect to keep in mind when you are having fun. This is why I get out all the cookie cutters and let the kids make what they want to make. If they want to make a shape for which we have no cutter, I give them a knife. It is never too early to introduce cutlery into your child’s play time. Well, maybe that’s not completely true, but you know what I mean. I want them to have the power to express their creative sides and their senses of humor. That’s what the cookie process is all about.
The cookie baking process is also about teaching the kids about the kitchen, but I don’t mention that to them. I am not a chef, but I can cook the basics. A good way to learn your way around the kitchen is do something like baking cookies. It is an entertaining way to learn. You could take your kids on a tour of the kitchen, “Here’s the stove. This is how you turn it on. This is a cookie sheet. This is flour…” but that is boring and probably won’t stick. If you are cooking in the kitchen, then your kids are learning at least some survival skills. Imagine yourself saying to the kids, “You never know when you might end up stranded, alone, on a desert island with a full kitchen and a stocked pantry. You best know something about cooking so you don’t starve.”
Adults: If you are a parent then you have likely been angry with your children at some point in your parenting career. Having fun is about not getting angry. We often get all wrapped up in the right and wrong way to do things and thus we forget the fun way. We get all goal oriented. You don’t always need to be goal oriented when you are having fun. Let the goal to which you are oriented be having fun. Drop the whole concept of ‘good cookies’ or ‘correctly decorated cookies’ and let loose. Take a deep breath and just adjust. Drop the dough? Make some more (or just scrape off the part that hit the floor). Burn the cookies? Oh well. Get food coloring on your clothes? You shouldn’t be wearing your good clothes to begin with.
Kids: Your adults can get all uptight about the way things ought to be done. “Snowmen need to be white,” they will tell you, “Trees need to have brown bark, pumpkins are orange.” Bleck. You know, as kids, that the world can be any color you care to paint it. Tell your adults to ease up a bit. Challenge them to a contest. Tell them you want to see who can make the absolutely ugliest cookie. Tell them you want to make a story out of the cookies. Try getting them to help you make a scene from “Little Red Riding Hood.” Make the best ever Red Riding Hood cookie decked out in red sugar and cinnamon hearts. Then, proclaim yourself the wolf and eat Red. If your brother eats your dough or breaks your turkey? Don’t strike back, just laugh it off and make another.
Kids and adults have very different views of the world. Adults have been worn down by the burden of being several decades old. The worst thing that happens to adults is that we acquire logic and skepticism along the way. We forget that as a child all things are possible. Adults have these weird concepts of “the odds,” and “enough.” Kids look at the world and see “chances,” and “some.”
If you say to an adult, “I’m going to enter this contest and win a free trip to Egypt,” your adult will say, “Pfff, good luck. I bet a billion kids are entering that contest. Do you know the odds of you winning?”
As a kid, you do know your odds. They are pretty good. You are a good kid. You have a good chance of winning. That’s the way the world should be.
Recently I looked out the window and about eleven tiny snowflakes were falling from the sky. “Hey kids, it’s snowing,” I said.
My kids jumped for joy like it was the blizzard of ’78. “Let’s go sledding!” they yelled.
When I pointed out the snow to the kids I wasn’t saying, “Look, winter fun is on the way.” I was saying, “Children, the climatic conditions associated with winter have in fact created a small amount of the traditional wintertime frozen precipitation.”
It doesn’t matter what I meant. The kids saw snow and they were ready to go sledding. My argument of “There isn’t enough snow to go sledding,” fell on deaf ears because to a kid any snow is enough snow to go sledding. Again, kids don’t think about ‘enough.’ Kids think about ‘some.’ Some is enough to a kid—especially if you are talking about peas or broccoli.
As the adult you know sledding might be futile, but that is because you are thinking like an adult. Adults think in quantitative terms. The snow has to be so deep, the air so cold, the slope so steep… Think back to when you were a kid. Did you ever consider such things? As a child you did not go sledding, or biking, or swimming, or cookie baking with a specific set of requirements in mind for what would constitute quality fun. You just went and played.
Let it go, you knuckled-headed grown-up. Don’t bring your expectations to the fun. Honestly, adult person, the amount of fun you have isn’t quite as important as the amount of fun the child people with you have. Instead of making the kids play like you want them to, do as they do and play as they play. It’ll make your day better.
Finally, you, as the adult, know that sledding means about an hour of you gathering the winter gear, pulling on coats, shoving on boots, zipping zippers and tying laces so that you can go outside for fifteen minutes, slide down the hill twice, watch everybody get covered in mud and then do the laundry.
Don’t forget you still have to wash the dishes from the cookie baking, clean the table, sweep the floor, and put all the decorations away.
But look at those smiles.