Once upon a time, I decided that we should celebrate Saint Patrick’s Day by making some festive cookies.
My son started it. Well, really, VeggieTales did. Their Sumo of the Opera DVD features an entertaining but informative story — featuring actual people (okay, they’re animated, but they’re not vegetables) — describing the life and work of Ireland’s Patron Saint. From the first time we saw it, my boy declared Saint Patrick’s Day to be his third favorite holiday…behind Christmas and Thanksgiving, but ahead of Easter, Independence Day, and even Halloween.
Because Saint Patrick really was a stellar character, and, moreover, because I love seeing my kids get enthusiastic about an honest-to-goodness learning opportunity, I opted to run with it.
As it turns out, having children limits one’s options regarding the celebration of St. Patrick’s Day. At the price of meat these days, I wasn’t prepared to buy a pound of corned beef only to discover that they hated it. I know my son well enough to be confident that he would detest Irish potatoes. As for the customary pint of Guinness…well…not just yet, anyway.
Where else does one turn when tradition fails? Cookies, of course. Green-frosted cookies shaped like shamrocks. Easy-peasy, right? Problem solved!
As it turns out, you really need to plan ahead if you want to make shamrock-shaped cookies. By which I mean, you should have shamrock-shaped cookie cutters in your house, and you shouldn’t wait until March 17th to confirm that, actually, you don’t.
I needn’t spell out for you whether or not I had any on March 17th.
Fortunately, I recalled seeing some instructions in The Joy of Cooking for people in my exact situation, and I found the page straightaway. It’s very simple, the book told me. Cut out a piece of cardboard in the shape you want for your cookies, lay it on your rolled-out cookie dough, and cut around it. Repeat indefinitely. As long as you grease your cutout from time to time, it won’t stick to the dough, and in no time you’ll have beautiful custom-made cookies!
As it turns out, the authors of The Joy of Cooking are more competent than I am. Or maybe they have higher-quality cardboard, or greasier butter, or more flour in their dough. Regardless, let’s just say that I did not experience the success promised by the cookbook. Despite prodigious greasing of the cardboard — and yes, I even used the shiny side — I was unable to use my cutout for a single shamrock beyond the first one. So I presently gave up and just freestyled some shamrocks with my paring knife. Which was harder than I expected, despite my not-abysmal drawing skills. Once I had about eight shamrocks that would get me blocked for life if I ever tried posting them on Pinterest, I decided I had a St. Patrick’s Day quorum.
“Hey kids, do you want to help make cookies?” I called. (They had lost interest long ago). “You can use any shape we have!”
We soon had two excited children and a festive assortment of shamrocks, hearts, butterflies, fish, and sailboats ready for the oven. All that remained was to cool and frost them…
I had briefly considered buying green icing, but just couldn’t bring myself to do it. After all, it doesn’t take that much longer to make it from scratch, and it sure is cheaper! In fact…see, I was out of confectioner’s sugar, but I’d read before that you could replace it with granulated sugar blended with cornstarch…well, I didn’t even buy confectioner’s sugar. In a burst of misplaced confidence, I opted to make the sugar from scratch as well as the icing. Look how resourceful I am!
As it turns out…the store-bought kind just has that certain je ne sais quoi that can’t be perfectly replicated at home. Not by me, and not on that day, anyway. Yes, I did make icing, using a recipe specifically entitled “icing for cookies,” but it wasn’t friendly. It dripped and spread out and generally didn’t behave as icing should behave when one hopes to frost variously-shaped cookies so that it comes out in just the right shape but with an even centimeter between the frosting and the perimeter of each and every blasted cookie.
You know what, though? The kids didn’t seem the least bit disappointed with the finished product (and given the fact that they ARE kids, they wouldn’t have attempted to hide any disappointment they did feel). They were eager to identify the cookies they had cut out, and to eat them while we watched the St. Patrick video again. And, despite some frustration with uncooperative baking products, I concluded I wasn’t disappointed either.
Just amused. Maybe slightly wiser. And not perfect.
But hey, I’d accepted my imperfection long before. And that day, it occurred to me that, really, my son shouldn’t have a perfect mother. What he should have — with time — is the ability to greet life with all of its flaws, its idiosyncracies, and its unmet expectations, and celebrate anyway…and, even more importantly, to accept the imperfections of other people and to celebrate them anyway.
Besides, someday he will probably get married. When that happens, I don’t want a daughter-in-law who constantly feels the burden of being compared with her mother-in-law…who dreads our times together because they remind her of how inadequate she feels compared with the “perfect mom” she keeps hearing about. Instead, I want her to feel welcome in our home, and comfortable having me and my husband in their home.
And when, inevitably, cookies burn, projects go awry, and plans fall through, I want my boy to hug his wife and say, “Sweetie, nobody’s perfect, but you’re perfect for me and that’s why I love you. Did my mom ever tell you about her Saint Patrick’s Day cookies?…”