Each ginger bear has two round currant eyes and a round currant mouth, so they all look a little surprised. Q says the tray of ginger doves I'm about to put in the oven may actually be ducks, so I quickly pinch each bill into a sharp beak. They may have been ducks once, but they're doves now, I tell him, and into the oven they go.
While he eats desert, I experiment with using the cookie press as a cake decorator -- I want to give the bears white buttons down their tummies -- and the results look like something Mrs. Smith's fourth grade might have worked very hard on. Ah, well. I cover the bells messily with white icing and attempt to smooth it out with a wet knife. I intend to paint designs on them with a toothpick dipped in food coloring. The results are not too bad, but I know Martha wouldn't put it on the cover of the magazine.
I have maybe three dozen spritz cookies in one box, three dozen ginger cutout cookies in another and dough for another four dozen in the icebox. I have two dozen walnut cookies in my white casserole dish. That's a lot of cookies, and I am not finished: I haven't made the rum balls yet, and they need to ripen a bit, so I'd better get on the ball with them.
I'm not sure why I'm making all these cookies -- nobody in the family is coming here for Christmas. For the first time since the girls left home, they're not coming back for Christmas. We're all going to Corinna's house instead. Makes sense.
You don't think it means they never liked coming home, do you? I ask Q while he cooks dinner and I cut out ginger ducks and pinch their bills to turn them into doves.
No, it doesn't mean that at all, he says. It means they like having their own homes. They like being adults.
I don't want to mean Christmas to my kids. I don't want my death to suck all the joy out of it for them, don't want its delight to depart with me when I leave. I don't want this house, much as I love it, to be essential to them. I want them to be able to carry home with them in their hearts, wherever they go. I want the memories of us here to be more than the consciousness of loss.
For as long as my mother lived, I returned home for Christmas. Packed the kids and all the presents and all the cookies I had made and made the trip -- past the Quaker cemetery, past the frozen pond, past the stone gateposts that led to Eileen's farm, past the Grange Hall, past the filling station and the Nativity scene and the Christmas tree on the tiny village green, past my old school and the Methodist church and into their drive. I could not more imagine not being with her at Christmas than I could imagine not being myself. I could not imagine life without her.
She died just a month before my ordination, and soon it was Advent. I had other Christmas duties to attend to now, in my first parish, to help me ignore how much I missed her. And children who missed their Grandma to make Christmas for, now. Got it all done, somehow. Made all the cookies. Got the tree up. Managed it all fine, didn't even notice my broken heart. And I came to enjoy being the doyenne of it all, as the years passed.
But I am suddenly not that, any more. I am not essential to it. They can have Christmas on their own, plan it and let me know how we fit in. This is jarring. But at least I didn't have to wait until I died to relinquish my Christmas throne.