The note in his backpack says the students can bring valentines. Participation is not mandatory, but you must choose everyone or no one. Bug grabs the paper and gives it the once-over. “I don’t want to.” He starts to hand it back then notices the small postscript: Students may bring a small treat to share.
Now he’s interested.
“We could make teeny-tiny slices of chocolate cake,” he says. I picture his teacher trying to pass out 25 wobbling mounds of frosted pastry.
“That might be a little hard for Mrs. C to serve.”
“Cupcakes!” He says. “With icing!”
It is already 6 pm. We don’t have cupcake cups or a carrier. What we do have is reading, homework, dinner, bath. CVS sells sticker cards and the store is just two blocks from where we’re sitting in traffic. “How about just writing out valentines? We could go get some.” My offer is tepid and he knows it. He grunts. “Okay then,” I say. “Brownies. They’re just like chocolate cake, right?”
He sits on this. We’re turning onto our street and he’s in the back trying to get the dog to poke her nose out the window. Evening is sliding fast into night night and it’s been one hell of a week at work. “You know,” I say. “You don’t have to do anything. It did say no one — ”
“Oh! I know!” he cries, “GINGER SNAPS!”
I take a breath . . .The things I can. . . and urge a smile into my voice. “Okay, ginger snaps.”
With this “yes,” I’ve signed the contract.
After dinner and reading and homework but before bath, we pull out our supplies. Bowls, flour, eggs, cookie sheets. Even from scratch, ginger snaps are the easy baking project, the one my mother used to leave to my sister and me when we were home after school. The butter would be out softening on the counter, the stained recipe card leaning against the floral tin box. Mix the “wets” with the “dries,” form into balls the size of walnuts and roll in sugar. When Bug outgrew a half dozen quasi-food allergies around age 4, he fell in love with ginger snaps. He used to call them the “black cookies,” for reasons I never figured out. We made them together every few weeks. Standing on a stool next to me, he would hit the sweet spot between creative focus and sugar mania, plunging himself elbow-deep in the mess.
I didn’t realize he held a fond memory — or any memory, for that matter — of ginger snaps. We have something of an unspoken cookie ban in this house. I haven’t eaten a cookie in over two years and haven’t made one in even longer.
Even so, this recipe is printed right into my hands.
And although the stool is no longer part of the set, Bug is as thrilled as that long-ago preschooler to bring this delicious idea to life.
The kid wants to measure, pushing brown sugar deep into the cup. He wants to crack the eggs, taking one careful whack at a time. I ask him if he remembers the spices that go into the recipe. “Cinnamon,” he says. “And, um. . . oh! Ginger!” I let him sniff at the cloves to identify the third, and he says, “I know that one from the botanical gardens.” In early winter, he and I wandered through the sunny spice exhibit together, trying to identify and describe cumin, onion, vanilla, fennel.
He fits the beaters into the mixer and whips up a tornado that melts into a pungent batter the color of café au lait. Because it’s only Thursday, we decide to refrigerate the sugary mush and bake it tomorrow so the cookies will be fresh on Friday. He unties his apron and bounces down the hall to his waiting bath.
It’s late now, well past bedtime. I’ll be grumpy in the morning. Even so, I leave the heap of dishes and follow him to the bathroom, rolling up my trousers so I can soak my feet as he jabbers away in the bubbles. He’s well past baking now and is on to square roots and number lines.
I pour water down his hair and back. He hums and curls into the cascade, head tilted back, eyes closed.
There’s a good chance this boy will someday have a sweetie. There’s a good chance that she or he will drive Bug bonkers as he tries to figure out how to do the love stuff. No doubt I’ll be cringing on the sidelines, complying with the semi-permanent gag order he will have issued at puberty.
Tonight, right here and now, may be my only chance to have a say.
On any given February 12th, when Bug smacks his head and realizes he didn’t make the reservations or buy the tickets, he can always take a deep breath. Wander into his kitchen. Open the cabinets. Begin.