Years ago, this was my first step in the adventure of cooking with kids:
Joshua is the Cookie King in our house. He drags a kitchen chair over to the counter and takes up his post in front of the mixer. I hand him each ingredient and he carefully dumps it into the mixing bowl. He meticulously oversees the mixing and scraping, even reminding me to turn on the oven.
After the dough is all mixed and the beaters and spatulas are licked, Josh buckles down to his favorite part: getting the cookie dough arranged on the cookie sheet. We don’t make regular round cookies; we make bears. Each bear should have a medium-sized ball for his head, a big one for his body, and four small ones for his arms and legs. They don’t always.
Now, up to this point I am generally able to remain quite seraphic about baking with a toddler. I find myself reflecting on what Quality Time Together we are spending, what a Naturally Occurring Educational Experience, what a Teachable Moment!
But then, inevitably, it is time to make the cookies themselves. Baking with a toddler drives me crazy. My own perfectionism makes the entire experience stressful to the nth degree.
This best-loved recipe for molasses cookies calls for the dough balls to be rolled in sugar before they go on the cookie sheet. It bothers me that Joshua frequently doesn’t get the dough balls completely and evenly coated with sugar. Does it matter? Of course not! But the perfectionist in me says that these things need to be done right.
The discomfort from my own perfectionism reaches crisis proportions when it’s time for Josh to assemble the bears on the cookie sheet. Some bears end up with two heads, some have all four limbs on one side of the body, some bears end up with so many body sections that they resemble giant insects. Creative bear anatomy bothers me…a lot!
I’ve spent a lot of time mulling over the absurdity and futility of striving for perfection–especially in the molasses cookie bear business. I don’t like being a perfectionist–if I knew how to stop I would. I can only (imperfectly) try not to encourage my son to be one.
So yesterday I resolved to relax and let Josh do his own thing with the cookie dough. (Fortunately this does not include some of the more creative applications that toddlers can dream up for cookie dough.)
I amazed myself. When the dough balls weren’t completely and evenly sugarcoated, I told myself that it didn’t matter…and it didn’t! And when Josh formed the bears, I told myself that if they weren’t perfect, it didn’t matter…and it didn’t…much. I only fixed three. Creative bear anatomy still bothered me…a little.
Still, I felt like I’d made progress. I felt relaxed.
We baked the bears and I set them on a brown paper bag on the counter to cool.
That afternoon a favorite uncle, Kirk, dropped by to visit. Josh grabbed his hand and dragged him over to show off his cookies. My hard-earned progress flew out the window as I automatically started to apologize for the dubious anatomy of those cookie bears.
Before I could even get the words out, Kirk turned to Joshua and exclaimed with delight, “Why Josh, these bears are dancing !! All except for these three here. Your mom must have made those.”
Josh nodded proudly in accomplishment as I sneaked a quick look. Sure enough, all those absurdly placed limbs did make the bears appear to be dancing. No, those bears weren’t perfect; they were somehow, magically, wonderfully, better than perfect!
And then I remembered.
Our Heavenly Father could have outlined and detailed what a perfect act of worship looked like. He could have mandated a perfectly presented gift of love. He could have prescribed, in painstaking detail, exactly how our praise should be expressed. He could have given explicit instructions on exactly what words our prayers should contain.
But, wonderfully, joyfully, He didn’t. Our loving God looks at our clumsy, flawed, childish gifts of praise and prayer and worship…and miraculously He sees dancing cookie bears. Hallelujah!