It’s the first day of school today. Both children are finally at the same school, since Jamie is now a freshman. I say “finally” with some celebration, but really, it makes me a bit melancholy. They’re simply growing up way too fast, and I find it hard to believe the tradition of baking snickerdoodles on the first day of school, which began when Oakley started kindergarten, has continued as she begins her senior year. Every first and last day of school, I bake snickerdoodles to welcome the kids home. But senior year and freshman year? Just last week they were in elementary school. What happened?
I vividly remember Oakley’s first day of kindergarten. Holding the pudgy, squidgy hand of three-year-old Jamie, my ex-husband and I walked Oakley to school. She had a brand new backpack, new light-up sneakers, new clothes. As a recently divorced mom, I was determined to make new traditions and shelter my precious babies from any post-divorce fall out. So when Jamie and I walked home alone after the first morning drop off, I thought hard about what I wanted to do to mark the occasion. With Jamie intently playing with his Thomas trains, I reflected on my own time in kindergarten.
We lived with my grandmother, my mom’s mother, while my dad was in Vietnam. And I remember the comfort I felt when I’d return to my grandmother’s kitchen at the end of the school day to find her waiting for my brother and me, with two tall glasses of milk and a small stack of Fig Newtons. We’d tell her about our adventures and she’d listen intently. She wasn’t an overly sentimental woman, but we felt the warmth of her love as we ate our cookies and drank our milk. The sticky sweetness of the Fig Newtons stayed with me and I can’t eat them without thinking of those afternoons in her kitchen. So it was to be cookies. Homemade cookies.
I wanted the perfect cookie recipe, nothing less would do. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with store-bought cookies, but I was holding onto a lot of mommy guilt after the divorce, and wanted to offer my kids my best, as a sort of apology for not having their dad around much. I looked at recipes I’d clipped and sifted through my cookbooks (this was pre-Pinterest, if you can imagine such a time). Finally, I settled on snickerdoodles, a delightfully plain cookie rolled in cinnamon sugar. Simple, not too sweet, completely unpretentious. Something Jamie could easily do with me. Perfect.
I made the dough and Jamie and I rolled it into lots of little balls, then rolled those in a cinnamon sugar mixture before placing them on the baking sheet. We squished them down with the base of a juice glass then popped them in the oven. Jamie loved it and I loved making something special for my Big Kid in kindergarten. When Oakley came home to a house smelling of cinnamon and all good things, she was delighted. She babbled about every little detail in between chomps and swallows. A tradition was born.
And then, before I knew it, Jamie was starting kindergarten and I was walking home alone after school drop off. It was bittersweet, making the snickerdoodles by myself. Soon, though, I learned to embrace the time alone, comforted by the knowledge that my kids would come home full of anticipation for mom’s attention and the cookies that had become synonymous with new beginnings.
Over the years I’ve asked the kids if they’d like me to make something different, perhaps chocolate chunk or peanut butter or whatever else they might fancy. But each year, they opt for snickerdoodles. They love them and they love the tradition. Perhaps the lightly-sweet cinnamon sugar cookie is just as comforting to them as the figgy cake-like Fig Newton was to me. And I know from experience, when you find something that works, you don’t need to switch it up. My kids still come home anticipating mom’s attention and special treats, but now, as typical teenagers, they’re much less inclined to talk about their adventures. Nowadays, when I ask how the day went, I can barely get a cursory “fine.” But at least I know, with every bite of their beloved snickerdoodle, they are reassured and comforted by the familiar, simple cookie, and a house that smells of cinnamon and all things good.
And I am comforted and reassured by the simple joy of baking for my kids and welcoming them home from school with snickerdoodles and glasses of milk.
If you’d like to make this delightful cookie, here’s the recipe I’ve always used. Now, it should be said, there is some controversy around the use of cream of tartar in a snickerdoodle recipe. Some snobby people may tell you that a cookie is ONLY a snickerdoodle if the recipe contains cream of tartar. I say bollocks to that. My kids don’t like the slightly “weird” taste the cream of tartar imparts to the cookie, so we leave it out. But if you like it, by all means, keep it in! But the recipe below omits it. I should also note that I double the recipe. As it is written, it only makes about 16.
1/2 cup butter, softened
3/4 cup sugar
1 medium egg
t teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 2/3 cups flour
2 1/2 tablespoons sugar mixed with 1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Combine butter and sugar in large bowl. Add egg and beat until creamy. Add baking powder, salt, and flour. Stir until mixture forms thick dough. Put cinnamon sugar mixture in a small bowl. Shape dough into 1-inch balls. Roll in cinnamon sugar mixture and place on greased cookie sheet. Using bottom of a cup, press balls to flatten slightly. Bake for 10 minutes. ENJOY!