It seems to be that time of year again—back-to-back holidays. Lately, I can’t cook dinner without hearing holiday music coming from commercials announcing that Christmas is fast approaching. Just as I think it is too early to see these commercials, I also think it might be a little too early to write about them. That being said, I am going to allow myself this moment of reflection on what is to come.
As much as I adore Christmas, it does cause the occasional bout of anxiety as it gets closer and closer. There are the obvious reasons for this: uncertainty over buying gifts, always wondering if they will be well-received by their recipients; logistical arrangements around time off from work, and getting a place to stay that will house our ever-growing family; the taking of the holiday photo that never seems to actually happen. The list would probably be longer if I allowed myself to dwell on all that makes me stress, but it’s only the beginning of November, so there is time yet to think of all those things. There is one thing that I do look forward to, and yet still somehow dread, each holiday season.
It started a few years ago. I love traditions, and I’ve tried to carry on one that I had as a child: baking cookies. It started first with my grandmother when I was really young, baking gingerbread men. Then as I got a little older, I would bake all sorts of cookies with my mother: gingerbread people, spritz sugar cookies, rum balls, peanut blossoms. So, when my daughter was six, I decided to start baking cookies with her. But, to make it our own tradition, I decided that it would be even more fun for her if she were to invite a friend . . . or so I thought.
Before I describe the joy my daughter experiences decorating cookies with her friends each year, I should probably mention how I have a tendency to micro-manage those around me. With decorating cookies, I’m no different. I like to lay out all of the sprinkles, icing, and other decorations neatly on the table, as I proceed to direct the girls on how to use each, a little at a time, trying to be as neat as possible. When they were six, even seven, this wasn’t that difficult to do. As they got older, however, they wanted to do it themselves. One year, when she was maybe nine or ten, she had two friends over to help bake cookies, along with her brother. This time, when I attempted to tell them how to decorate the gingerbread men—gumdrops for buttons, icing to outline the clothes, raisins for eyes—she would have none of it. They wanted to do it their way.
So, I took a step back, and watched.
They started with the sprinkles, twisting off each cap, and violently shaking them up and down, covering the cookies with random colors. As they worked their way through each bottle, I saw the array of colors begin to spread across the table, the floor, even their hair. I wanted to stop them, to tell them to stop making such a mess—I wanted them to see the giant mess they were making. I stood their with a scowl on my face, ready to pounce on them if I were to see one more gumdrop hit the floor. As I waited, I watched them laughing at each other’s creations, teasing each other about their gingerbread men’s crazy faces, and joking about how insane they were going to make their next cookies look. I realized that as their mess grew, their enjoyment grew along with it.
In that moment, I was forced to admit that maybe not all messes were in fact bad.
What I remembered that day was: childhood is messy—and it should be. Some of the best days in my youth were spent digging ditches, painting with my fingers, and eating ice cream cones that would dribble down my face and hands. My advice for my daughter is to enjoy the messy times when they arrive because when she is older she will probably spend too much time either cleaning things up, or trying to keep things neat and orderly.