Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Gingerbread Love

(Note:  Often I write about adoption issues.  I write about life as an adoptive parent, life as a single parent, and sometimes, simply parenting -- and the lengths we go to.  This is one of those times.)

The turkey’s bones are barely cold, but already my daughter is thinking ahead to Christmas. She wants to do another gingerbread house. I laugh thinking back to last year's debacle. How did I ever get in so deep?

* * * * *

We were standing before a Christmas display at the local grocery store and my daughter was looking at me with Bambi eyes. In less time than it takes to utter a merry "Ho! Ho! Ho!" I knew I was sunk.

We'd just come from the hospital. Another third grader had drop-kicked a ball on the playground and my daughter had stopped it at close range. With her face. I'd received the call from school explaining: a bloody nose, a gusher going strong after 20 minutes. The woman recommended a trip to the hospital. I was in the middle of a big project I'd been hoping to finish that day so, for a split second, I thought, Okay. Sure. Where do I sign? After a brief, awkward silence, I realized the woman’s point was that I was supposed to come and retrieve my daughter.

"Oh! Of course!" I replied. "I'll be right there!"

I arrived at the school office to see my sweet daughter rise from her seat clutching an enormous, bloodied wad of paper towel tight about her nose. With her eyes barely visible, she greeted me with a brave, if somewhat nasal, sheepish, "Hi Mo-b." Sure, I was worried -- but by the time we got a chance to see the doctor at the hospital, it was clear she was bruised, but unbowed. I figured she could handle a stop at the grocery store on our way home.

So there we were, only a few steps in, beyond the sliding doors, when I heard her gasp "Oh! Mom!" I turned and saw her staring at the pre-packaged gingerbread house kits with longing. My little craft-challenged heart tightened. My first reaction was not one I'm proud of:

Drat! It's that time of year again.

Now, I love Christmas. But while I can decorate our plastic, plug-in tree, deck the holly, and hang a wreath faster than you can say "Santa," the gingerbread house is, has always been, my nemesis. My sitter started this tradition with my daughter. But my sitter was gone and now it was up to me.

My daughter stood before me, hands clasped together with rapture. "Please Mom... Couldn't we please get a gingerbread house?"

She'd been such a good sport. And I had to admit I was grateful she was okay.  I crumbled.

"Sure honey. You were a trooper today."

She jumped up and down with elation.  This made me nervous.

"Now wait." I warned. "I can't promise you I can start on this tonight." I was thinking about my project. I still hoped to get back to it and make some headway after she was in bed. "You'll have to be patient."

"Oh Mom! That's okay. I can be patient. Maybe we could work on it this weekend?!"

"You'll have to be patient." I repeated as I picked out one of the sparkly, cellophane packages. It was surprisingly heavy. "The first step is to glue the walls together. Then you have to add the roof. It’s tricky. It all has to dry and harden -- or it will collapse."

"I know! I can be patient, Mom. I can be patient."

Yeah. Yeah. I thought.

We got home and unloaded the groceries. I noticed her eyes danced, her feet tapped, her body twitched, every time she looked at the package. It sat there on the counter, beckoning her, taunting me.

I softened again. Once we ate dinner, I cleared the dishes off by the sink, pulled out a large cookie sheet, spread aluminum foil across the bottom, and broke open the kit.

My daughter practically scaled the counter, leaning halfway across it in eager anticipation.

I held up my hands as if to ward off a tidal wave. "Let me glue it first." I said. "It's delicate."

"I know Mom. I know. Here's the glue!" she said, pulling out the bag of pre-mixed confectioners' sugar and water.

Pre-mixed, huh? It seemed watery. That should have been my first clue. But I figured the folks making these kits surely knew what they were doing.

I started with two sides of the house and applied the "glue" along the edges. Then I pressed two wall edges together.

"Now we wait." I said to my daughter.

"How long?" she asked.

"I don't know. Ten, maybe fifteen minutes." Ha. The optimism of the un-initiated.

I finished the dishes, then we checked our handiwork. The two walls held steady. So I took a gamble and glued the third side. My daughter noticed the problem first.

"Uh... Mom... Something's wrong ..."

I turned and saw all three walls listing to one side.

"Uuuurgh!" I mumbled.

I applied more glue. But this only seemed to make the whole thing more slick. My fingers were now a white, goo-ey mess. The walls fell over. "Shit!" I mumbled.

"What, Mom?"

"Don't talk to me now." I muttered.

"You shouldn't swear Mom!"

"Look! I'm trying to get this stupid Gingerbread house to stand up! Don't push me!"

"Sorry Mom. ....Can I help?"


She retreated. "Maybe this was a bad idea...."

"No, no, no..." I tried reassuring her. "It's okay. Really. Just give me a moment."

I looked up. The look of wonder and joy that once suffused her face had vanished, replaced with a wall of worry. My heart sank.

I suck… I thought.

I took a deep breath and re-grouped. "It's okay honey. Mom's just frustrated. I'll get it. You'll see. Then you can decorate it however you want."

She was quiet. Bambi eyes.

I struggled some more and swore -- very quietly -- beneath my breath. Finally, finally, using all the glue left in the bag and props that included drinking glasses, salt and pepper shakers, and the mustard, I got all four walls standing. There was still the roof, the two heaviest pieces. But for now, I had four walls glued and standing and that was progress.

As we climbed the stairs for my daughter to get ready for bed, I promised once the walls were dry, I'd set the roof.  We were close I told her. Really close. And maybe, just maybe, I thought to myself, with the roof glued, I'll have time to get to my project!

My daughter washed up, then brushed her teeth and hair.  I tucked her into bed and sat down beside her. I told her I was glad her nose was okay. That I was proud of how she'd handled herself. That she might consider ducking next time. We chuckled together, then I kissed her good night and headed downstairs  renewed, recharged, ready for battle.

The four walls were still standing!  Gaining confidence, I threw together a quick homegrown mix of confectioners sugar and a teaspoon of water.  I glued on the roof.


Sponging down the counters, my thoughts turned with relish to the final details of my project. I turned to admire my handiwork and, as if to punish my hubris, as if the gods were lying in wait, as if in slow motion, the walls, the roof, all six pieces in tandem, at will, folded in on themselves.

I wanted to cry.

But I remembered my daughter's face and I thought, If it takes me all night, if I only get four walls standing, I will do this.

Going in to battle was clearly the wrong metaphor. I reset my expectations and assumed a Zen-like posture.  Oooohhhhhhm....

I turned on the tv, selected a reality show, and slowly, carefully rebuilt our storybook structure. By the time I finished, my neck and shoulders hurt, my feet, my back, my whole body, ached. But the walls were up and the roof was in place. I turned the kitchen lights out and retreated beaten and bruised to the living room.

Wow... I thought. I'm a wreck. Over a gingerbread house? I'll just sit and chill for a bit.

I thought back to my daughter's face in the grocery store. The joy, the anticipation when I gave her the nod. My mind wandered. She was safe. I was grateful... How I loved that kid...

Through the blur of my thoughts, I heard something in the kitchen. A faint: "Tink. Tink... tink."

What next?  I thought blearily.  Mice perhaps?

I was too tired to check. But then the phone rang so, reluctantly, I rose. I returned to the kitchen, flicked on the lights, and answered the call, a friend checking in.

"How are you?" he asked.

I stood there mute, staring in disbelief at the gingerbread house. All six pieces, the roof, the walls, lay flat -- in a single, sugary heap -- in the center of my tin foil covered cookie sheet.

I let out a slow: "Merry $#%*&! Christmas!"

I tried to explain I was in the midst of a crisis, enduring a new, totally original form of torture: death by gingerbread. Soon though I was laughing through my tears as I explained how things had gone from bad to worse. Mice? What was I thinking?! 

I vowed I'd never eat gingerbread anything, ever again.

I hung up the phone, and -- fleetingly -- pined for plumbers' cement. I fantasized about super glue and industrial strength epoxy. But, lacking any of these, I returned with stoic resolve. Pulling the last of the confectioners' sugar from the shelf, I added the tiniest amount of water, drop by drop.

I was up past midnight. But, by the following morning, lo and behold, my daughter had her gingerbread house. We celebrated, brainstorming all the ways she might decorate. Her face, once again, was suffused with joy.

So this year, my daughter is asking, "Can we do another gingerbread house, Mom?!"

I smile knowingly. All I can think is, Ho, ho, ho....


Martha said...

Ho ho ho--indeed! I loved this piece, Lisa, because you make the gingerbread house into a wonderful metaphor for how very determined you are to make the "walls" of your life together with your daughter stick. And they do, even if they're sloping to one side, because you're the kind of mom who grits her teeth and curses under her breath and makes it work.

We have our own gingerbread traditions at our house, which mostly involve icing lumpy home-made cookies in very unartistic ways. But they are fabulous nonetheless.

I've also made a gingerbread house by baking the walls and roof myself (yes, this "tradition" was started by another babysitter). The finished product was homely as heck, and only managed to stand upright with the liberal use of industrial-strength frosting, but my son still loved decorating it. Best of all, our relative enjoyed *eating* it.

Word to the wise: those pre-made houses are a pain. I'm just saying.

Lisa @ Pack of Three said...

Oh Martha!

You saw the metaphor with far greater insight and clarity than I did. But you hit the nail on the head. You are so, so right. I read your comment and my first reaction was, "Oh my Gosh! Yes! That's it *exactly*!"

Thank you. :)


Sybil said...

Wow - I completely missed the metaphor. Too busy laughing about the house - we just finished our gingerbread house last night after working on it for 5 days.