How did she get herself into situations like this?
That wasn’t a rhetorical question.
She rolled over and squinted at the clock on the bedside table: 3:00 a.m. She sighed as she extricated herself from the tangled knot of toddler and Great Dane limbs and reached around for her robe and glasses. She shuffled into the kitchen and started the coffee pot, then yawned and blinked at the light from the open refrigerator while she fumbled around to find the gingerbread dough she’d left in there to chill a few hours ago. Two neat balls of dough wrapped in cellophane waited politely on the top shelf at the back in the coldest part of the refrigerator, ready to go.
Alright, then. Let’s do this.
She opened the Joy of Cooking to the spot she’d marked and found the next step in the instructions, shaking her fist momentarily at the inconspicuous line above: “let chill for at least 4 hours before handling,” which had escaped her notice in her first quick skim of the recipe. Sighing again, she got out the flour and prepared the rolling pin, unwrapped one ball of dough, and went to work.
It didn’t take long for her to get lost in the rhythm of the back and forth, over and over, checking the thickness, dusting with flour, rolling a few more times. She pulled out the shiny copper cookie cutter she’d bought that afternoon and placed it strategically across the rolled out dough. She carefully pulled up the bits of dough from the spaces between cut cookies, rolled them into a new ball and started again: back and forth, over and over, more flour, more work with the cutter. After she finished the first ball of dough, she transferred as many as she could fit on the waiting sheet of parchment paper and popped the baking pan in the oven. She made a mental note to buy an extra one soon. Having a second pan would have made this go a lot faster.
She drank her coffee during pauses and asked herself again how she ended up in these situations. It started simply enough, a conversation with another mom during pick up at the Montessori school where both their children spent their days “preparing snack” for their friends and declaring “This is my work!” over anything they didn’t want to share. The class Christmas celebration needed activity stations, and suddenly one casual mention of decorating gingerbread men turned into her committing to bring enough cookies and decorating supplies for half the class. Montessori classes are big—some function of that specific approach to education—so that meant she was responsible for 20 giant gingerbread men. The other mom casually mentioned that it was hard to find the 8” cookies, so it might be best to plan on baking them herself. She chirped back something like “That’s the best part!” as she and her daughter walked to the car. The celebration was a week away. How hard could it be to bake 20 giant gingerbread men?
The oven timer beeped, and she pulled out the baking sheet, took the baked ones off to cool and put in a new set. Looking at the finished ones on the cooling rack, she couldn’t help but feel some pride. They were lovely: evenly shaped, uniform thickness, delicious smell. Turns out it wasn’t especially hard to bake giant gingerbread men after all, and if she had realized sooner that the dough needed time to chill and not waited so late to get started, it would have been a pretty smooth process. Procrastination is a beast, kiddo. When will you ever learn to stop waiting to the last minute? When will you finally get it together?! She sighed and looked at her hands, covered in flour, as messy on the outside as she felt on the inside.
All at once she had one of those moments of thin space, where she could see herself in her eighties, some 60 years hence, rolling and turning and cutting and baking, the recipe committed to memory long ago, preparing “Gamma’s gingerbread men” for great grandchildren to decorate. Feeling things through the eyes of her 80ish self, she heard her current self say: “This moment is temporary, but this tradition can be timeless. You’ll do better next time.” It lingered in the deep morning quiet. She appreciated the reassurance.
One step at a time, one sheet at a time, roll, cut, bake, cool, stack on the platter for school. She finished the required 20 with four to spare in plenty of time to jump in the shower before waking up the munchkin and starting the day.
She laughed at her daughter’s face when the child saw one of the extra cookies on her plate for breakfast. (There were raspberries and bananas there, too, but the cookie was eaten first.) She hummed her favorite Christmas songs as they got dressed and packed up for the day. She wrapped the platter with the gingerbread men carefully and made sure the bag with the frosting, Red Hots, gumdrops, and sprinkles made it into the car.
Later at the party, she breathed in the steam from her mocha from Starbucks—her reward to herself for coming through with the gingerbread men—and smiled at the other mom manning the decorating station. Bleary-eyed from lack of sleep, glowing at the giggles of the children, trying not to think about how long it would be until she could take her daughter home and put both of them to bed for a nap, she remembered the thin space in the early hours of the morning while she waited for the gingerbread men to bake.
“This moment is temporary, but this tradition can be timeless. You’ll do better next time.”
Mother, photographer, writer. Expert in making things up as she goes and figuring things out along the way.