Don’t Try This at Home

gingerbread house

Decorating gingerbread houses always seems like fun at this time of year.  Seems being the operative word.  Because what appears in one’s mind as an idyllic scene made of sugar plums and candy-coated memories quickly turns into me rueing the day I walked into Williams-Sonoma and bought the Gingerbread Making Kit that seemed like it was going to make itself.

It turns out, making a gingerbread house is much harder than it appears on the box.  Because it’s not just decorating the thing that you need to accomplish.  In gingerbread imaginings, this is all that has to happen.  But in gingerbread reality, you have to make the damn house.  As in, construct it from heavy cookies with icing intended as glue, but which, really, is just icing (which is what?  Sugar and water?).  So, well before we’ve ever placed a bit of candy onto said house, it starts to topple in on itself.

Which is a fabulous time to figure out what your child looks like when his dreams cave in on themselves.  My four year-old displayed just such a reaction today as we attempted this feat.  He wailed like his dog had died for roughly ten minutes as wall after wall caved under the weight of itself; the candy that had already been affixed rolling onto the ground in tired lumps.  My already exhausted self began to psychologically crumble as I realized that I wasn’t up to the task of constructing an enticing home made out of glorified graham crackers.  As my son screamed, “It’s all your fault!” I tried to figure out how we had ended up back at this place, even though precisely one year ago today, we had the exact same experience, in which I began to feel entirely unworthy as a graham architect.

collapsed gingerbread house

Fortunately, we had bought two kits.  Because the first ended in tattered crumbs, a mess of walls and icing piled on top of each other in a heap, giving nary an inkling that it was meant to be a decorative home.

So, we tried again.  I felt completely nervous.  Was it even worth trying again?  Had I learned anything from the first go-round that would ensure that this second set of heavy walls would be held together by the sugar water?  Would we erect it only to have it fall under its own weight once candy was applied?

Miraculously, it stood.  No, it doesn’t have any right angles, as homes should.  The walls are all cocked at odd angles to each other, and there are mysterious gaps between cookies, which I tried to fill with as much icing as I could ooze into them.  There is only one set of shutters because they were looking terrible, and I just gave up.  The icing I drew onto the roof to affix candy to is in weirdly positioned lines that I felt bad for even drawing.  I had given up on replicating the meticulous loops drawn on the gingerbread house on the box, though I had drawn them on the first (now defunct) house.

Nonetheless, somehow it defied the law of gravity and bore witness to our endeavor.  And my kids spent quite a long time adding piece after piece of candy where they could.  It looks awful; like a kid made it, though, in fact, my adult self spent a good long time on it.  Not enough, perhaps you could argue.  Or maybe I should have brushed up on geometry (or physics) before I did it.

But we did it.  And, chances are, we’ll do it again next year.  Because, as with the memory of birth, somehow memories of what happens when you construct gingerbread houses gets erased with time.  And, roughly eleven months from now, I have a feeling it’ll start seeming like a good idea again.

(But if you have any suggestions, I’d love to hear them . . . . Ooh, like maybe using a gingerbread house that comes pre-assembled, and you just get to decorate it!)


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