Making Ninjabreadmen

When my boys were younger, near the middle of December you’d find them gathered around the kitchen table, their fingers and lips covered in multiple hues of icing, hovered over a plate of sugar cookies.

But as they got older, I had to resort to some really sneaky tricks to get them interested in spending time decorating cookies with their old men.

For years, every Christmas, my sons and I decorated Christmas cookies. I’d bake up a batch of sugar cookies and we’d make a day of it, always somehow eating our mistakes. Sometimes, they’d even invite their friends over to help cover Santas and angles and reindeer in frosting.

One year, in our little house on the Little Miami River, all of the neighbor kids came to the house and we had a gingerbread house decorating contest. Everything was going along great until one of the kids decided his house was a black reindeer shed, and all of the kids decided to follow suit and turn their cute little houses into the most disgusting thing they could think of.

Kids are gross. Just saying.

But as the years went by, the boys lost interest in spending time in the kitchen with mom. There was basketball practice to go to and video games that were begging to be played. Mom’s love of family bonding kind of fell by the wayside. And the idea of making cookies, that was definitely a girl thing to do, and not exactly at the top of their to do list.

I found though, that if I let them eat the cookies as we decorated them, they found that particular holiday tradition a little easier to swallow. Also, it seemed, withholding holiday peanut butter fudge was a perfectly acceptable way to “encourage” participation.

It wasn’t until they had girlfriends that I was able to pique their interest again. I asked them to bring over the girls so I could meet them, promising to serve cookies and hot cocoa.

It was the girls, then, that would see me with all the cookies laid out, and all the decorations waiting to go on the cookies who would decide that decorating was a cool idea.

The girls would come around the table and ooh and ahh, and the boys, noting an opportunity to look cool and do something fun with their girlfriends, would join them.

It didn’t seem fair though to force them to do something they didn’t want to do. I felt like I needed to find a way for them to be interested in cookie decorating for Christmas on their own accord. Enter ninjabread men and ugly sweaters. Along with the traditional cookies, I cut out a few flying ninjas in mid-karate kick, and a few sweaters.

Like I always had, I lined the tables with wax paper, put out bowls of icing and several different kinds of sprinkles, and baked up a batch of cookies. Then I made five ninjas with different colored belts, and two of the ugliest Christmas sweaters I could devise.

When the four of them arrived, I was in full decorating mode – something neither girl had ever done before. Just seeing the ninjabreadmen and ugly sweaters was enough to reel the boys in with or without the girls. They couldn’t wait to try their hand at decorating. Within minutes, the boys and their dates were busy creating some pretty ugly sweaters and decorating ninjas for stealthy combat.

This year, when I asked if they wanted to decorate cookies with them, it didn’t take any time at all for them to say yes. There was no eye rolling. There were no deep sighs or protests. There was just “Sure, mom. We’d love to.” My youngest and I will head in the kitchen later on tonight, and we’ll have a blast until its time to watch some holiday television.

For a while, I didn’t think I’d be able to get the boys back to the decorating table. I knew they were growing out of love with stuff that was too mom-ish, and not action-filled enough. But now, it’s a tradition that we all treasure – ugly sweaters, flying karate kicks and all.

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