At 41, I was a Cookie Exchange virgin. Sure, I had been invited to them in the past, but I never went because who has time to bake all those extra cookies? So, how did I end up going to one this morning?
Well, on Thursday night, I went to dinner with friends and by pure chance sat next to Pilar. As soon as my butt hit the chair, she asked, “Why aren’t you coming to my cookie exchange? Do you know how much work I’ve put into planning it?”
“I appreciate the invitation. I really do. But we are so busy this weekend that I can’t imagine finding time to bake all those cookies,” I explained.
“Find time? What kind of sorry excuse is that? Go to the store, buy some of that slice and bake stuff, and put it in the oven. Who doesn’t have time for that?”
Oooooooh, I thought all the cookies had to be made from scratch. I thought I had to flip through a dozen cookbooks looking for the perfect recipe. I thought I needed to make a list of obscure ingredients and spend a day going from store to store hoping to find macadamia nut oil or Madagascar honey. Pilar, however, was telling me to please come to her cookie exchange. I could cheat if I had to, but my attendance was more important than baking the perfect cookie.
So, last night, I spent just a few minutes scooping unbaked, pre-made cookie dough from a plastic tub, plopping it onto a baking stone and putting it in the oven. Cheating was painless.
I recall a Christmas years ago when I was in my mid-twenties and newly married to my now ex-husband. Although I had a full-time job that kept me very busy during the holiday season, I decided that I would “create a Christmas like no other.” Inspired by a photo spread in Martha Stewart Living, I chose a gold and silver seashell theme, and I sprayed conch shells, starfish, scallop shells, oyster shells and sanddollars with gold and silver paint. The huge conches became a centerpiece and mantle piece. The smaller shells became tree ornaments.
I bought seashell stencils and made my own cards and coordinating wrapping paper. I used some of the shells to create candle holders that I gave away as gifts to friends. I also made and jarred Kahlua that I gave as gifts—both Kahlua and candle holders were presented in gold or silver giftbags stenciled with the trademark shells.
I bought seashell cookie cutters, made gingerbread and sugar cookies from scratch and bought gold and silver pastry glitter from a specialty confectioner’s shop. I had planned to use it to decorate my cookies. On Christmas morning at 4 a.m., however, I burnt a batch of cookies. I was exhausted having stayed up all night creating a perfect Christmas, and now, it was ruined by burnt cookies!
As I sobbed, my husband came into the kitchen, looked at me, shook his head, and said, “I don’t know why you are so upset. It’s not like anyone else cares.”
At the time, his reaction seemed insensitive. I accused him of not having any Christmas spirit.
Years later, I realized his comment was spot-on. Sure, on Christmas Day when my in-laws arrived at our house, they admired all the homemade ornaments. They were impressed by the beauty of the tree, the dinner table, and our mantle. They enjoyed the home-cooked meal, but within a day or two, they didn’t really remember it in the vivid detail I had created. And by that same token, they didn’t remember that the last batch of cookies was a little darker than the rest.
That one Christmas served as a turning point for me. Slowly, I was coming to realize that being called a perfectionist was not a compliment and that being a control freak was not an asset. People would rather be in the company of someone who screws up and admits it than someone who is freaking out over all the little things that will so soon be forgotten. The tendency to obsess about all the things that really don’t matter won’t win you a popularity contest. Instead, you will drive people away.
Now, when I hear a person say, “I’m such the perfectionist” with pride, I marvel at the stupidity of the statement. Why not confess “I’m such an alcoholic” with the same cockiness? Why not proudly proclaim, “I’m a bed-wetter?” Honestly, if you were a kleptomaniac or a compulsive liar and you recognized the problem, you would seek help. How is being a “control freak” any different?
I’m glad that I got over my perfectionist tendencies before my daughter was born. She has the benefit of being raised by someone who expects to make mistakes and recognizes that the vast, vast, VAST majority of mistakes are like cookies left in the oven one minute too long—no one notices, no one cares, and no negative consequences exist beyond the mind of the person who forgot to set the timer. I’m sure it’s an easier life for her than being the daughter of a control freak.
Still, I sometimes forget that my imperfect company is more important than cookies made from scratch, and I’m thankful to the Pilars of the world for reminding me.
(I wrote this piece a few years ago and recently came across it. It seemed timely–so, I posted it.)