My childhood memories are, for the most part, happy ones. Skating on a freezing cold pond in Minnesota, then warming up with hot chocolate from a Thermos. Dancing with my mom and siblings around our living room, while The Beatles and Three Dog Night records played on our Hi-Fi and we laughed and laughed. I remember camping in the Arizona mountains, where my dad taught me how to shoot tin cans with a rifle, and where - after ditching our family tent in favor of sleeping on a boulder under the stars - I once awoke at dawn to find a squirrel sitting on my chest, eating a pine cone.
Of course, I have a couple of not-so-happy memories, too. One in particular stuck with me over the years. I was about 6 or 7 years old, I think, and my parents had taken us out to Baskin Robbins for ice cream. It was busy. As we waited for our turn, I remember trying to get a peek through the crowd at the big tubs of ice cream, then feeling a little overwhelmed by the grownups blocking my view. Without looking, I instinctively leaned against my dad, hooking my arm around his leg. A voice said, "Oh, hi there," and I looked up to find that I was hugging not my dad, but a strange man, who was smiling kindly down at me. I backed away, panicking for a second, then heard my dad laugh as he realized my mistake and gently pulled me close to him. Dad held my hand, and a few minutes later I was happily eating my single scoop on a sugar cone. Thinking back, it wasn't really anything so terrible. It was just a mix up, a fleeting moment. I was never in any danger. But in that exact moment, I learned what it was to feel fear.
That memory came back to me a few weekends ago. My kids and I had just finished grabbing some frozen yogurt, followed by a quick trip to the grocery store, where we were waiting to check out. While the cashier bagged our pasta sauce and tea, my Little Man wandered a few feet ahead of me, stretching his jacket up over his head, just looking around. I turned back to get my receipt, grabbed our grocery bag, and headed out with the kids to the car.
As we drove home, I noticed my Little Man was quieter than usual. "Everything okay, buddy?" I asked. He caught my eye in the rearview mirror, a strange look on his face. "I guess so," he answered. Then, "Mommy? When we were at the store, someone... touched me." My hands tightened on the steering wheel. "Who touched you, baby? Where?" He answered in a small voice, "A man. He touched my stomach." Apparently some idiot jackass pervert stranger thought it was, what - funny? harmless? something worse? - to poke a little boy's tummy as he innocently stretched his arms overhead in a grocery store. I hope, really hope, that this man had no ill intentions; that he meant it as a harmless joke. But you know what? That doesn't make it okay. Because he took away a little piece of my son's carefree childhood that day. And because it is never, ever okay to touch a child you don't know.
A storm of emotions engulfed me: fear, confusion, anger. I took a deep breath, tried to calm myself. I quietly said, "Oh, sweetie. I'm so sorry. Are you okay?" And my Little Man - my sweet boy who makes Origami bunnies for his sisters and writes essays expressing his wishes for a better world "where no one smokes and everyone is nice to each other" - bravely nodded his head as tears welled up in his eyes. My heart ached.
I reached back to hold his hand for a moment. I reassured him. As we drove on, we talked a little about how it's not okay for a stranger to touch a kid. I told my Little Man and his sisters what to do if someone ever tried to touch any of them again -- and we made a game of shouting "Stop it!" and "Leave me alone!" We were almost home when my Little Man asked me what I would do if someone tried to grab him or his sisters. One of my daughters chimed in, "What if someone tried to take us away?" The smile left my face. I don't think of myself as a violent person, but I answered in all seriousness, "I would karate chop him. I would kick him and hit him as hard as I could. I would never let anyone hurt you, and I would never let anyone take you away from me." My Little Man smiled. "Thanks, Mommy."
Suzanne's "Better than Sharon's" Sugar Cookie Recipe
Yes, I realize it's February and my photos are of Christmas cookies. From 2009. And no, I have no idea who Sharon is. (Years ago, my dear friend Suzanne baked and iced dozens of beautiful cookies to give as favors at her wedding, and when I asked for the recipe, that was what she had typed at the top.) These cookies hold their shape well, but remain relatively soft to the bite. As such, they are great for decorating. Because the recipe bakes up perfectly as written, I haven't yet tried any modifications, so I can't suggest substitutions for the shortening-averse (although I am curious to try coconut butter in its place). I can, however, suggest that you make some with your kids, as soon as possible... no need to wait for a holiday. They'll love cutting the dough and smearing the icing almost as much as you'll love watching them do so. And everyone will love eating the results.
Use organic ingredients whenever possible.
1/2 cup vegetable shortening
1/4 cup butter
1 cup sugar
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 1/2 cups unbleached all purpose flour
1teaspoon baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons Kosher salt (or 1 teaspoon table salt)
Mix shortening, butter, sugar, eggs and vanilla together. In a separate bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder and salt. Stir dry ingredients into wet mixture just until dough comes together. (Do not overmix or your cookies will be tough.)
Form dough into a disk, wrap in plastic and refrigerate at least 1 hour.
Preheat oven to 400 F. On a lightly floured surface, roll out portions of dough to about 1/4 inch thickness. Cut out desired shapes with a cookie cutter that has been lightly dipped in flour. Place cookies 1 inch apart on an ungreased baking sheet. Bake 6-10 minutes, depending on size, until cookies are just beginning to brown on the edges.
Remove from oven. Cool cookies completely on a wire rack. Store in an air-tight container at room temperature for up to 1 week, or freeze (well-wrapped) for up to a month.
Makes approx. 20 - 38 cookies, depending on size (1-3").
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