It’s a family tradition at our house, the week of Thanksgiving: the annual holiday cookie baking. We start on Tuesday night, when my youngest sister usually arrives. We end sometime on Saturday. Of course, we take time off for feasting-and shopping and ice skating, too. But, pretty much, we dedicate ourselves to baking cookies.
Our three kids -- almost 15, 13, and 8 -- are here. Their many friends are in and out all week. After one guest free night on Thursday, our brood was clamoring for their favorite activity: "the massive sleep over." Eight teenagers slept over -- and incredibly, the boys asked to be awakened at 8 a.m.
"The girls are coming -- maybe even at 9 a.m.," they explained. I admit to thinking we should have girls come over more often. They got up, showered, brushed teeth, ate breakfast, emptied the dishwasher, did their chores AND cleaned up the family room where they had all crashed.
I’m not sure I actually know how many teenagers were here on Saturday in the end. Due to sport schedules and various family commitments, they were arriving and leaving at various times. It didn’t really matter though: The fun was constant.
Although cookie decorating with all of them was not really in my master plan for the week, I have learned that my role now is to roll with whatever comes. So, my sister and I make the frosting and get out the toppings. We set up the aluminum foil. We put out the knives. We divvy up the sugar cookies.
Then, we stand back to watch.
Our nearly 2-year-old niece sits at the end of the long counter top, as if surveying her minions. The rest of them start on the excitement of decorating. They top their cookies with frosting, add bits of candy, load on the colored sugar, and play artist with the exact placement of each decorative touch. They laugh, they joke, they display their creations proudly to each other.
It is short-lived-maybe 30 minutes of everyone gathered in one place. Suddenly, they are putting on shoes and running outside for a game of "capture the flag" ... grabbing soccer balls and lacrosse sticks from the garage ... picking up the Styrofoam swimming "noodles" and preparing to whack someone over the head ... slamming the house door on their way to their next adventure.
The 2-year-old became the center of attention. No matter what any of them are doing, her wish is their demand. She yells out one of their names -- and these emerging giants of men crouch down in front of her. Their needs are completely and utterly subjugated to hers, as they cater to her every whim. A mere bat of the eyelash, and at least two of these kids are at her side, ready to take care of anything she needed. They carry her. They hold her hand. They bring her in to get more mittens. They pass her between her newest, most adored friends. They smile, she laughs, they laugh, she laughs harder. It’s a virtual love fest.
I continue to decorate the sugar cookies, and I quietly marvel in the magic that has unfolded in this big group. These young men-for they are truly no longer boys -- stand at the threshold of adulthood, literally growing overnight. These girls unknowingly skirt the fine lines between joyful naiveté and innocence, and maturity.
They come in-they are unprepared for the chill that December has brought them. They tumble over each other, throw coats and shoes in massive heaps that barely allow the next person to get around, and pass through the kitchen in a blur, politely confirming which cookies they can eat as they snatch up the sugary treats, and hurry by, munching happily.
I know that the cookies were just an excuse to have a reason to "hang out," to call over the many friends that are swirling around me. The cookies themselves clearly held their attention for only a brief time.
I package tin after tin of the cookies, putting them together for our friends, for the kids’ teachers, for the bus driver, for the neighbors we don’t see nearly often enough ... Normally, this is a family activity, with each of my own children carefully selecting which cookies would be perfect in each box. We usually laugh and joke, and go around and around and around the table piled high with the many buckets of cookies.
This year, I do it alone. My children are still being hosts. There is one group in the kitchen, completely engrossed in their phones, sharing tips on how to better some game. Another is sprawled out on recliners in front of the fire in the living room. A couple more have disappeared to the basement, in front of the Xbox. Two more are in front of the computer in the loft.
Briefly, I consider breaking in on their time, and insisting that tradition be upheld, and that they help me with the final ends of the great cookie marathon fest.
But, I don’t. I leave them all with their friends.
It seems a fair exchange on my part for witnessing a glimpse into their world.
Jill Stahl Tyler is a parent to three children involved in the local schools-now at the high school, middle school and elementary school levels. She firmly believes in all education, and currently sits on the board for the Brattleboro School Endowment, the Brattleboro Town School Board and the Early Education Services policy council.