So it's Sunday afternoon, and the kids are getting crazy, and I'm looking for an activity to keep the busy for a couple of hours. I need to bake something for the United Way fundraiser at work the next day, so I think, Great, I'll get the kids to bake with me!
I decide on a couple of easy recipes (quick shortbread, chocolate chip cookies) and give them some minor tasks to do (pour in pre-measured ingredients, mix the cookie batter, etc.). I even give them their own pre-made gingerbread men to decorate while I'm working on the harder tasks. But it doesn't take long before they're fighting over who got more candy to decorate with, who is hogging the icing and who ate whose red candy (spoiler alert: it was the three-year-old).
I'm trying to resolve their issues and keep them away from the hot oven while also trying to actually get some baking done. So I get flustered and don't read the recipe properly and skip a step, and then I find I've added a teaspoon of salt instead of half a teaspoon...and finally, I end up saying, "Okay, kids! Thanks for your help! Now go find something else to do!"
And eventually, I sort everything out. But while I'm putting the last batch of cookies in the oven, I suddenly feel profoundly sad. Because this is one of those things my Mom would have done...but better.
I always find myself thinking of my mother around the holidays. Maybe it's because she died in January, four years ago now, during a cold snap (she hated the cold just as much as I do). Or maybe it's just because she was so good at holiday entertaining.
When we went over to my parents' place for Christmas, she'd have a full turkey dinner prepared with all of the accompaniments, including homemade stuffing. She was one of those mothers who would start baking months before and freeze everything in batches so that, come Christmas Day, she'd have a staggering array of goodies to set out—mostly from recipes she'd memorized or just made up herself. She would buy Christmas presents months in advance and stash them away (admittedly, sometimes forgetting where she hid them until the holidays had long passed. Getting Christmas presents in July was not uncommon in our house.)
If she had been here, baking with me, she would have found some way to get the girls involved without jeopardizing the results or getting flustered. She would have been calm and in control. And maybe I'm looking at it through the rosy glow of nostalgia...but I bet everything she made would have tasted delicious.
So why isn't she here to help me?
This is the futile question I ask myself every once in a while. When I'm struggling with my kids, my marriage, my work or other facets of my life. When my girls ask about her. When I find I'm not measuring up to my ideal of who I want to be, as a woman or as a mother, and I wish I could ask her for advice.
It's not an answerable question, and I'll never be the sort of mother she was. But my chocolate chip cookies? They tasted pretty damn good.