Multiple parents came up to me and said I was “muito animada”, a very fun-loving, party-throwing person. I realized that by throwing a fun children’s party, I had completely misrepresented myself to them. I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to lie. The fact is I’m not a creative, crafty mom who saves egg cartons to make earthworm condos for the compost pile. My perfect Sunday afternoon is sitting quietly with a good a book and cup of coffee. Ideally on the beach and without people unable to wipe their own bottoms.
So why did I throw a class Halloween party?
Because they don’t traditionally celebrate Halloween in Brazil. I loved Halloween as a kid, and if I don’t throw the party, my Brazilian daughter won’t know one of my favorite childhood traditions.
Why did I make such an effort on the crafts and decorations?
Because the day after I announced my intention to have a party, one of the moms came up to me at school and told me she’d always dreamed of going to a real Halloween party. To which I thought “Oh crap! I’m fulfilling someone’s dream of Halloween? I don’t want that kind of responsibility!” But I accepted it. And that brings us to the last and really most revealing question.
How was I able to come up with such creative and age-appropriate themed snacks and crafts if I’m not a creative crafty mommy?
I’m an intelligent and highly-organized, type-A personality with access to the Internet and a working knowledge of Pinterest. That’s it. That’s the real me. If I take on the responsibility of a project, it will be done well. Even if it’s something I usually avoid.
Let me tell you about the cookie baking.
While in Atlanta in August, I found Halloween themed cookie cutters and decorating supplies. Bat, ghost, and pumpkin cutters. Black, orange, and green slime icing. The kids could decorate cookies! It would be awesome.
I knew I was going to have to make the dough from scratch. Shortly after arriving in Brazil, I tried to bake a pecan pie for reasons again related to culture sharing. I asked my husband where I could buy the crust. He stared at me brow furrowed. “Buy the crust? You mean the ingredients?” I laughed. Ha. Ha. Good joke. I’m not making my crust from scratch. Not even my South-Georgia raised, preserve-making grandmother makes her own crust anymore. Nobody does. “Uh, they do in Brazil.” Oh.
So I knew I was going to have to make sugar cookie dough from scratch and having baked maybe four times in my life, I knew I’d need a practice run. I planned out every day of the week leading up to the party. Saturday I went online and found a simple and well-rated sugar cookie recipe. Sunday I bought the ingredients. Tuesday was the baking run-through.
After my experience with the pie crust, I brought measuring cups back from the US because I’d learned I’m a victim of the US education system and can’t think in metric. Also, the Brazilian versions of recipes often call for “tea cups” which is not a standardized form of measurement! I find baking stressful enough without vague instructions, so American measurements and tools it is.
Recipe. Ingredients. Measuring cups and spoons. I thought I was prepared.
Preheat the oven to 350 F. My oven only has a line decreasing in thickness and the numbers 1 through 5, but my plan was to pick a number and once the first batch was in check them every minute and figure out the right amount of time at that setting. First problem solved.
Mix dry ingredients. Easy.
Cream butter and sugar. That’s when I realized I had a handheld beater with no beaters. They had been lost somewhere between a school project and kitchen renovation. Ok. People were obviously baking before electricity, so I decided to mix by hand. If I had known I would be creaming butter three times in a week, I would have gone out and bought a damn beater right then. But I didn’t.
Fifteen minutes and two sore arms later…mix in dry ingredients.
Two quivering arms and one sore back later…put dough on cookie sheet. Looking at the dough, I could tell using the cutters was out the question. The dough stuck to everything. I could have wallpapered with it. I went ahead and baked globs of it to test the flavor but knew I was going to have to address the stickiness.
One minute of internet research later, I’d learned the dough must be refrigerated for at least an hour before attempting to cut out cookies. Great! I had learned a valuable lesson. This is why test runs are important.
Friday morning I made the dough for a second time, breaking a sweat mixing by hand. I left it in the fridge all afternoon. I was going to bake the cookies after my daughter was asleep, but on a whim I decided to do one batch before I picked her up from school.
Within minutes I learned that firm dough doesn’t stay that way for long in an 85 degree kitchen. Central air conditioning in the kitchen would have been a big help, but I shrugged it off. People baked without air conditioning for most of human history. No big deal. I simply raced, hunched over my kitchen table, to roll out, cut, and dump cookies onto to the baking tray before the dough softened into a gooey mess.
I put cats, bats, and witches’ hats into oven and pulled out 8 amoebas. Son of a bitch.
I collapsed in a chair. Beads of sweat dripped down my back and forehead. My shoulders ached. And the prospect of mixing another batch of dough by hand loomed before me and crushed my soul.
I hate cooking. No matter how much I research and prepare, I feel I always, always, end up facing a dozen unexpected challenges that keep the results from being perfect. And perfect is the end goal, people. And it should be achievable with good planning and organization. That doesn’t seems to be the case with cooking, which is why I hate it.
The silver lining is that by making that test batch before I picked up my daughter, I was able to swing by the store and get more flour and butter for a third batch. Because I was making the cookies. My daughter had already found the cookie cutters and asked for a cat to decorate. I had brought the icing and spider sprinkles from the United States. I was making those damn cookies.
At the party the next afternoon, a mom asked my husband where I bought the cookies. He told her I had baked them. She exclaimed “Really? Oh, those creative moms.”
That’s why I want to apologize to her and the other moms because I’m not the person the cookies make me out to be. I don’t get a thrill from making my daughter’s birthday cupcakes. I get stress knots above my shoulder blades. I don’t jump at every chance to throw a party. I cringe remembering the mess after the last one. I wish my Portuguese was better, then maybe I could translate my sarcasm when I talk about the joys of crafting.
I may have given my daughter wonderful Halloween memories and successfully represented a piece of my culture abroad, but I misrepresented myself in the process.
Which could be true for a lot party hosts. Maybe behind every Pinterest image, there’s a sweaty person popping painkillers and muttering obscenities at a tray of cookies.