[Note from Tilly: Finding myself pregnant at Christmas for the third time, I’ve committed to do a short advent devotional each weekday of December . They will all be labeled by date and can be found together under the “Advent” subject category.]
2018 Advent Series – Day 5
“Do you remember what we’re going to do today, Norah?”
“We’re making the gingerbread house!”
Last year was my first year to make a gingerbread house from scratch out of hand drawn templates copied off of Pinterest. Last year, it turned out beautifully. But last year, I had a baby and a two-year-old, and if I let that two-year-old help with the gingerbread house, I can’t remember exactly what her role was. She might have put an M&M or two on the roof. It was pleasingly, Pinterestingly monochromatic last year, all delicate white icing and a charming roofline with just a pop of red and green in the form of perfect candy rows on the roof.
This year, I had plans to get even more ambitious.
“For the girls,” I told my husband when I mentioned the house. “They’ll love it!”
Somehow, I and both girls were all pleasantly involved in the mixing of the dough. Everything was everywhere, but this is something I’m used to because the two girls are often on chairs with me for baking. We do of course end up with flour and butter and sugar in places that they don’t belong (inside the front of Agnes’s diaper??), but the payoff is that both of my girls now know what shortening tastes like, taken neat at room temperature.
Two days after the mixing party, I got to work sketching designs. Norah was drawing and cutting castoff paper next to me. She was totally involved. Then we went into the kitchen during Agnes’s nap and got busy. The enormous amount of dough we’d mixed was only barely enough to cover the Georgian structure that began to emerge, one wall, one cookie sheet at a time. Norah was given scraps, which she studiously and destructively chopped and rolled and ate. She occasionally reached over and “patched” a 12-inch roof that I was arm-wrestling into submission, but was quickly reprimanded. Somehow, we remained generally at peace with one another even as I noticed that my side wall had developed an air bubble in the oven and that the two legs of the front portico were not even.
When all pieces were out of the oven, it was bed time. The kitchen, Justin pointed out, had never looked that way before. It was as if the Ghost of Christmas Present and Betty Crocker had hosted a party together that was exclusively attended by toddlers and had taken place on every available inch of counter and floor space.
“Tomorrow,” I told Norah with wide eyes, “we’ll go to the store and buy candy… and decorate!”
That night, I mixed the gluey icing and started erecting the structure. The cement would dry overnight and be ready for taking on weight by morning. Before bed, I ended up trimming and adding the roof without meaning to. The girls only care about decorating, after all, I thought. As I drifted off to sleep, I formed a plan for only buying the cooler shades of green candy–maybe mint M&M’s and green candy canes–to preserve the understated elegance of the architecture.
In the morning, I could tell that I had become attached. I woke up at 5 o’clock and was thinking only gingerbread thoughts.
“It’s so fun forming Christmas traditions… the girls do enjoy it,” I told Justin.
A few hours later, I was standing in the candy aisle with a 3-year-old and a 1-year-old. These two small people, turns out, have some strong opinions about candy for gingerbread houses. It also turns out that they don’t know the word monochromatic. It also turns out that they find those little round multicolored hard candies (99 cents at Fred’s) very attractive, and that they prefer multicolored candy canes to any other kind.
I prayed the brief prayer of a martyr and bought all the color available in 99-cent bags.
When we arrived home, I made another discovery: it’s hard to pipe delicate dots and swirls onto the walls of an enormous gingerbread house when you’ve misplaced your icing tips and there’s a 22-month-old trying to stuff hard candies into her cheeks in the chair next to you. I also learned that a 3-year-old has a decently steady hand but it becomes progressively less steady with each taste of a candy cane, especially when you play Bing Crosby Christmas music at high volume in the background.
“Maybe I’ll just do it myself later,” I started to say at one point. “It seems like decorating is a better job for mommies.” Then the absurdity hit me and something snapped, much like the snapping that occurs when you’re coloring with a small child and you realize you’re trying to take the picture from them so you can make sure Elsa’s dress ends up being the right shade of blue.
Perhaps it was time to let it go like Elsa and allow the joy of what we were doing lead us into tacky childish territory.
When Justin came home for lunch, the house was done. Wilting icicles dripped from the Georgian roof. Ugly, cheap, unevenly applied candies yelled out “NOT PINTEREST” from every roof surface. The front portico was leaning forward a bit, and none of the swirls on it looked like the ones from the picture I’d worked off of.
“Let’s show Daddy the house,” I said to the girls, and both of them cheered. Norah pointed out her favorite bits and he gave off the appropriate awe and admiration.
“I don’t mind doing these things… they enjoy it so much,” I said to him.