The Gingerbread House

The decorating and Maya and Robert’s cocktail party weren’t my only responsibilities for the Christmas season: I also had to worry about keeping the boys busy over Christmas vacation. I was hoping that I’d be able to take them someplace while they were on break, but once the omicron variant struck, the writing was on the wall, and Maya wanted the boys staying home as much as possible. So much for getting them to go to Disneyland or something like that. (I’m sure Disneyland is real crowded when the kids are out of school, but I bet they fix the park up real nice for the holidays.)

So the result was that I had two weeks of time to fill up with activities to keep the boys busy…two weeks of mostly cold weather when we definitely weren’t going to be able to spend time hanging out by the pool…or even doing a whole lot of other outside activities. Both Matteo and Jacob are ‘soft’ So Cal boys who think it’s ‘freezing’ if it gets to be 60°. So even Jacob started ‘shivering’ the first day we tried to work on baseball in the ‘cold’…and it’s not like I had him out there in shorts or anything. (Y’all can imagine just how into it Matteo was if Jacob was already complaining about the weather lol.)

Actually, to me it felt like good football weather, so I tried to get the boys interested in that. Jacob knows his way around a football, but Matteo doesn’t even know how to throw one. Well…now he does, and he can throw a football far for a kid his age and with pretty good accuracy. He can also catch one…as long as he doesn’t have to move to get it. But I think the three of us were having some fun, and at least it got the boys out of the house and running around outside.

“But we worked on boxing in the gym this morning!,” whined Matteo one day when I said he should go put on something he wouldn’t mind getting dirty since it was gonna be a football afternoon. (I was going to show them the rudiments of tackling, mostly because knowing how to get tackled is an all-around valuable skill.)

“Dude, don’t whine!,” I said. “Do anything…but don’t whine. If you wanna say something, say it.”

“Ok, Hunter. I don’t want to go outside in the cold and run around and end up getting dirty.”

“I don’t want you getting cabin fever just sitting in your room and playing video games.”

“I’m not just playing video games. I’m reading, too.”

I’ve been working with Matteo for well over a year now, and I’m afraid I still can’t get him to get excited about running around outside. It sucks…since I’ve been working at it so hard. He usually goes along with what I ask him to do, and sometimes I get the feeling he even is enjoying it…but don’t expect him to say that he’s having a good time.

Then we got into some rainy weather and I really needed some honest-to-goodness rainy day activities.

We all had presents to wrap, so that took up one afternoon, even if Armenian Christmas isn’t until January 6th. Joyce taught me how to make bows out of real ribbon, so I passed the secret along to the boys. That was actually pretty fun, and they had some of the nicest packages under the tree by the time they were done. We already made all the popsicle stick snowmen we needed last year, so I asked Joyce if she could come up with some kind of arts and crafts project that would keep everyone busy, and I gotta hand it to her, she really came through with some good ideas that really did keep us all engaged. All I could come up with was stringing popcorn and cranberries…and Matteo spoiled that by saying that his teacher said it was politically incorrect to use food for decorations when people were starving.

Lucky for all of us, the political correctness didn’t extend to gingerbread houses, which Joyce thought would be a great project for three of us. Joyce admitted that she’d never done a gingerbread house before, but she was willing to figure out how to make one and then walk us through the process.

Joyce had us do all the work ourselves, starting with going to the supermarket and a couple other stores to track down the kinds of candies we wanted for decorations. I’ve never been to a supermarket with two kids; it was kinda interesting. I was wondering whether Matteo would make me load the cart up with cookies and junk food, but the most he did was ask me to buy a box of Nilla wafers (Matteo: “I really like them and Mom never gets them.”) I haven’t written anything about Matteo’s diet in a long time because, I’m glad to report, there’s been nothing to report. He’s been maintaining his goal weight (factoring in a couple pounds he’s been allowed to gain because he’s growing) and has been eating normally. He gets to have a small dessert with dinner, but he seems ok with just that. We’re still working in the gym three times a week, but that includes boxing practice, which Matteo seems to enjoy.

So after we did the shopping (the boys thought it would be fun to use self-checkout; I didn’t get into telling them that I thought self-checkout was unamerican because it got rid of jobs), we stopped off at Michael’s to get a whole list of pans and spatulas and shit that Joyce said we’d need. I gotta admit it was all pretty baffling to me, since I know nothing about cooking once we’re past breakfast, but I was trusting Joyce’s instructions and, therefore, following them to the letter.

When we got back, I think Belen thought we’d gone crazy. She’s baked cookies and stuff with the boys over the years, but I think she’s from a culture in which men don’t cook, and so the idea of, not only the boys, but me cooking struck her as pretty weirdass.

Hey, it was this or more popsicle stick snowmen lol.

We were going to need Belen’s assistance when it came to making the actual dough, since we had to use her big mixer, and she can get kind of possessive about her kitchen equipment. She helped us make a big sticky lump of gingerbread, and then let us loose on the counter to roll it out and put into the molds we’d bought…and of course we had a floury messy disaster on our hands. Belen came back to see how we were doing, said something that I’m sure means ‘I knew this would happen’ in Spanish, and told me to get out of the way so she could show us how to roll dough. Once we had it in the pans and ready for the oven, Belen put us to work cleaning up the mess we made on the floor. (I suddenly understood what Lucinda must have thought after Mrs. LaSalle tried rolling out pie crust lol.) Actually it was pretty cool that she put us to work: I’m sure there are a lot of housekeepers who would just have cleaned up the rich kids’ mess, but that’s not how things work around the Sharpmans’. It’s not like the boys have a ton of chores, but they still do have to make their own beds in the morning and put their dishes in the dishwasher. It actually timed out just right: no sooner were we done with the cleaning job that the gingerbread was ready to come out of the oven.

The real work on the gingerbread house came the next day. Joyce said she didn’t trust us making our own cardboard templates for cutting out the different pieces of gingerbread for the walls and the roof and shit. That actually was a big relief, since I don’t think we could have made templates as neat as the ones Joyce made for us, and we had enough trouble cutting the gingerbread. I think Joyce was right when she said none of us could be trusted with an xacto knife lol.

We did ‘lose’ one wall that came apart – I was the doofus who fucked up lol – but we baked extra gingerbread, reckoning that something like that would happen with kids involved. (Joyce also wanted us to have extra gingerbread so the boys could taste it without having to eat the house. Jacob said he really didn’t like the way it tasted – too much molasses for a Yankee boy, I think – but Matteo seemed to like it. I liked it a lot, but then frosted molasses cookies were among my favorites growing up.)

Belen did lend a hand again when it came to making what Joyce called ‘royal icing’ – the stuff that’s the glue that holds gingerbread houses together. It seems to be just egg whites and powdered sugar…but I don’t think Belen was trusting us with the powdered sugar after the mess we made with the flour the day before.

Putting the house together we did by ourselves. The templates were a huge help and all the pieces fit together once we cut them out. And it’s not like I did all the work: the boys’ smaller hands turned out to be extremely useful when it came to holding the walls in place while we were applying the glue…I mean the royal icing. I wasn’t sure that it was all going to hold together and stand up, but it actually did.

Then came the fun part – the decorating. That’s where Joyce left the boys (and, I reckon, me) to use our imaginations. She gave us a list of different candies to get and told us to arrange them the way we thought would look best. I asked what to do about snow, and Joyce suggested that we use crushed candy canes (so I got to use a hammer and recover some of the toxic masculinity I’d lost by baking lol.) We even bought some cotton candy, so there’s ‘smoke’ coming out of the chimney. There were some disagreements between the boys about how exactly to decorate, but I think I divided up the house right (Hunter shows the Wisdom of Solomon lol) and let them each decorate half. Yeah, you can tell that two pair of hands were at work on it, but, honestly, it looked pretty dang awesome when we were done.

Plus it took up two days I had to fill with some kind of activity. We were all very proud of our work, and waited with the last two peppermint candies for Ethan and the camera to come in and film the boys finishing their first gingerbread house. It’s the kind of thing I knew was gonna look great on TV, especially as the boys were all smiles when they were done.

“But when are we gonna eat it?,” asked Jacob, who’d been helping himself generously to the candy we stuck onto the house.

“Oh…never!,” said Matteo. “We worked so hard on it!”

“We can always make a new one next year,” I said, wondering whether Joyce knew of some kind of shellac we could put on the gingerbread house so we could take it out next year…just in case Matteo got too sentimental about the house and was gonna be triggered if someone took a big bite out of it.

“We’ll wait until after Armenian Christmas,” I said. “Then we can decide what to do with it. For the moment, we should just enjoy it. We need to find it a place of honor. What do y’all say to putting it in the dining room?” I knew that there was room on the sideboard.

“But then we won’t get to see it,” protested Matteo.

“How about in the middle of the kitchen table then?,” I suggested.

The boys liked the idea, and Belen agreed to be extra careful around it. So it’s in the middle of our kitchen table now. Lucky it’s a big table, so it’s not really in the way. And I gotta admit I’m as proud of the house as the boys are.

And I’m super thankful that I’ve got a crafty girlfriend who was able to figure out how to make a gingerbread house. I’d have been totally lost without Joyce.

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