Flour power helps heal resistance to holiday merriment

"ME AND GRANNY made Christmas cookies!" my 3-year-old daughter announced as she emerged from my mother's car.

Granny followed, helping Stephanie balance a large tin in her arms.

"Stephanie got covered with flour," she said, laughing. "I had to give her a bath."

"And Granny got flour on her cheek!" Stephanie chimed in.

When we got into the house, Stephanie put the tin on the kitchen table and my mother opened it so they could show me their cookies. They giggled together as they talked about rolling out the dough and shaping each star, Christmas tree, and stocking with cookie cutters.

"When did you get Christmas cookie cutters?" I asked my mother.

"I've had them since you were Stephanie's age," she reminded me. "We used to make Christmas cookies. Don't you remember?"

"Sure, I remember," I said, as I unsuccessfully searched my mind for memories of Christmas cookies.

I had a younger sister who was born on Christmas Day in 1969. Five years later, she died - on the day after Easter. From then on, I didn't like holidays. Sure, I thought when I was younger, it was nice to get Christmas presents and Easter candy, and I liked having vacations from school.

But I was never really happy during the holidays. And I knew my parents weren't, either. They decorated the house and made things fun for me, and we made our annual visit to church on Christmas Eve. But none of our hearts were in it.

As an adult, I would have been content to ignore the holidays. My husband, Jack, made a big deal about getting a tree each year and wrapping presents, but I didn't have much interest.

Easter was no better for me, and I was always relieved when each holiday season ended.

Even when our daughter was born - just two weeks before Christmas - I continued just going through the motions. That first year, Jack put Stephanie in her baby seat while he decorated the tree. I listened to him telling her how wonderful Christmas was, and that there were other special holidays we would celebrate, too. I rolled my eyes.

Stephanie can be a grinch just like me, I thought.

I continued thinking that way for two more Christmases and two more Easters - even when I saw how much Stephanie loved putting the angel on top of the tree, listening to Christmas music, and - a few months later - hopping around like an Easter bunny.

I kept wishing our family could just forget about the holidays.

Then Stephanie and my mother made Christmas cookies. As I looked at my mother - still with flour in her hair - I wondered what had gotten into her. She's not supposed to like Christmas either, I thought.

When they finished showing me their creations, it was time for my mother to go home. She scooped Stephanie up in her arms. "How much does Granny love Stephanie?" she asked, holding her close.

"More than anything in the whole world!" Stephanie said, and kissed Granny's cheek.

At that moment, I saw that my mother had put her own feelings about the holidays aside, to make them special for my child - and she even had fun doing it.

Maybe it wouldn't be too horrible for me to help Jack and Stephanie decorate, or leave cookies out for "Santa," I thought, as I vowed to try to have a fun holiday season with my family.

And I did.

To surprise her dad, Stephanie and I decorated the house while he was at work. The three of us wrapped presents together. I even held Stephanie up so she could put the angel on top of the tree.

The week before Christmas, Stephanie spent another day with my mother. When I picked her up, they were at the kitchen table surrounded by rolling pins, cookie cutters, and more flour than I had ever seen.

They both looked so happy. They were talking about making Valentine cookies, St. Patrick's Day cookies, and even Easter cookies.

I saw my mother's camera on the counter. "I took a bunch of pictures of Stephanie baking," she said with a laugh.

"Mommy, take a picture of me and Granny baking!" Stephanie's face lit up.

I looked at them through the lens. They put their arms around each other and said, "Cheese!" and "Merry Christmas!"

I smiled and said, "Merry Christmas," too. The camera in front of my eyes hid my tears as I took their picture.

It was going to be a very special Christmas.

Carol Sjostrom Miller lives with her family in Clermont, N.J.

Parents: To submit a first-person essay on your own parenting experiences, send an e-mail to home@csps.com.

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