Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Cigarettes : Prison :: Tollhouse Cookies : My Life

My mother loved breakfast, every bit of it. I could tell that she felt highly virtuous when she prepared a breakfast for me that she thought was especially fabulous.  I remember her placing a plate of French Toast in front of me when I was little; you could practically see the thought bubble over her head – “I am a Great Mom.”

Of course, in the obstinate way of children everywhere, I hated breakfast, every bit of it. I’d never met a fried egg or a waffle that I liked, even remotely. As soon as I could break free of the tyranny of French Toast, I gravitated to microwaved baked potatoes, turkey sandwiches and reheated leftovers.  

I thought of this recently when I was home one afternoon, churning out sheet after sheet of Tollhouse cookies from the oven. The girls had friends over, and, the friends being teenaged boys, they were delighted beyond measure at the appearance of warm, home-baked cookies.  “This is great!” one of them burbled to me. “Are you a chef or something?” I noticed a raised eyebrow from one of the girls. In their minds, there is nothing remotely cheflike about me. They stopped eating my cookies a long time ago. Like me, they understand the cookies to be currency in mommyworld, a place crowded with carpoolers who take on late night shifts, friends who invite us to their cabins, librarians who help us search for missing books and countless other souls who could benefit from a bit of grease for their wheels.  

I use cookies the way prisoners use cigarettes, and I distribute them as often as possible. The only secret to my recipe is consistency over creativity. I always have a batch about to be cooked, recently baked or heading to the freezer. 

Since my kids stopped paying attention long ago, they always seem surprised when friends, like those boys the other day, show interest in the cookies as something other than a method of barter. 
I still remember a summer afternoon several years ago, when Mary Katherine and her best friend Olivia were preschoolers.  They were finishing lunch at the kitchen table, and Mary Katherine, never one to linger over a meal when something really fun could be happening instead, nibbled the last bit of her bagel and said, “Let’s go back downstairs to play.” (A beautiful summer day, for these two, was always the perfect chance to hole up in the basement for an epic session of Barbies.) “I’ve got some cookies in the oven,” I said, “and if you can wait, they’ll be ready in just a couple minutes.”

“No,” Mary Katherine replied firmly, unwilling to be delayed another moment. “We have to get going.”

“I’d like a cookie,” said Olivia, softly, and her statement was accompanied by a little wince, as if she expected trouble.

From Mary Katherine, a deep, aggrieved sigh. She leaned against the wall, tiny arms crossed and teeny foot tapping, while her poor friend showed the bad judgment of waiting for a freshly baked cookie to emerge from the oven.

Olivia, the pig, finally ate her one cookie, displaying the sort of guilt one sees on the faces of nurses puffing away on Virginia Slims outside hospital entrances. They headed off to Barbieland, and I got back to work with the dough.

I’ve never fooled myself, as my mother used to believe about the French Toast, that being the sort of person who makes cookies qualifies me for Good Mom status. Kids bring their own yardsticks to the game, and they’re the ones who do the measuring. 

I’m sure the beautiful, well-groomed mothers hear about the friends whose moms are fabulous cooks; the homey types are tortured with tales of the highly accomplished. No matter what the measurement, I understand that I’ve got a limited range. I’ll never be a fashion plate, a career diva or even a decent driver. All I can do is all I can do, and, most days, all I can do is bake Tollhouse cookies.

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