Sunday, November 21, 2010

Cookies and Dinners

I've always felt like I was a square peg forcing itself into a round hole. But to be fair, I've felt this way both in and out of the church. Very much so within, though. And since this blog deals mostly with religion:

The other day, Kiley over at We Were Going to Be Queens sought for some help regarding how to comfort suffering friends from a distance since she no longer found "I'm praying for you" to be neither honest nor sufficient.

Totally get it. Been on my mind as well.

One of my suggestions? Give her a gift certificate for a restaurant so they don't have to worry about dinner one night.

Kiley was really gracious, noting that she felt it was a good idea but also reminded me how Mormony this sounded. Dinners solve everything! So I laughed with both embarrassment and frustration that this had stayed with me--also that I still feel it's a good idea when necessary. It is nice to not have to worry about that when times are tough.

But gawwwwwwwwwd.

And you know, they are nice. I guess. I always hated bringing them because what if the receiver doesn't like what I make? And I always hated receiving them because what if I hate it? I'm a terrible actress and hardly a gracious one, wearing damn near everything on my sleeve. And let's not forget the annoyances of getting your tupperware back or returning them. So I never asked and never received unless I had just given birth and they were just given.

That was kind of our mode d'emploi with anything regarding our "need" for service. We felt we needed to balance out the people who took full advantage--you know "Hi, I know it's 8 a.m. on a Saturday and it's the only day of the week you have to get yr shit done around the house and the only time your family will see you but we are moving today and need some help could you help?"

And then, then! to discover that the moving family hadn't even bothered to fucking pack.

No, we could handle our own. We had family. We were able.

Dinners and everything just seemed like so much work. That said, we had more than one recipe added to our list after a few dinners were brought over. Sweet and sour chicken is among my favorites. The others are unavailable to us now that Eric has accepted his lactose intolerance, but still. And offering dinners yet remains a go to fantasy idea when I don't know what else to do because anything more personal is just too scary.

Then there are the cookies.

Cookies are the ever universal ice-breaker and offering of friendship. I did this, you did this, we all did this. If you can't get your foot in the door without cookies, you sure as hell should be able to with them. And they're also the great intercessory offering when you don't really want to interact with the person. Just drop 'em off at the door when you know they're not home or pretend you have to split for whatever reason.

I don't like giving gifts when the other person is there to receive. Maybe it is because I am so insecure or so ungraceful myself when I receive--I don't know how to read reactions, especially within the church where cookies are just the norm and fake smiles and thank-yous run rampant. When I give things, I generally do so rather genuinely and if the other person is there, I often allow my insecurity to find signs of annoyance or ungratefulness in the recipient even if such signs weren't there.

"Thank you so much!" could easily, by virtue of tone alone, be interpreted as "Oh...a fruitcake. How, uhm, nice. I'll put it with the others."

Also, the more ornate the packaging the better. A paper plate wrapped in plastic wrap is acceptable in a moment of desperation, but colorful cellophane is better. Tupperware is good, but a pretty basket with a card is better.

After I had Joseph, I had decided to learn to bake because it was the one thing I liked to do that other women in the church liked to do. And I knew I could be good at it. I was. I am.

Bake cookies.

But it's not as if many people in my ward knew about it--family did. Eric's co-workers certainly did, but ward members? Naw. I've never been all that proactive about these things. I made a batch for a missionary dinner, some for a really cool family who actually befriended us, but it didn't work for me, not in the way I'd hoped. I was putting a little part of me out there and got nothing in return. And I think that was the problem: I gave in the hopes of receiving--and isn't that the idea of cookies in the church?

Years before I did make snickerdoodles for my non-member neighbors who, i'll have you know, did not also receive some lame pamphlet or video or card or any bullshit like that. Not my style. Because nothing says "Hi I'm a nice person let's be friendly neighbors" than "Have some conditional friendship cookies because i'm a mormon and therefore nice YOU SHOULD BE MORMON (would you like to meet with the mishies?)"

Anyway. I baked cookies.

And I still want to give them out, but the desire is going away. Mostly because I'm lazy and a horrific procrastinator--but also because it and the dinner thing makes me feel all too Mormon. Because I feel desperate when I do. Like me please please! See? I'm just like you, I make cookies! And also because I hate cellophane (it's pretty and crinkly but terrible for the environment) and the feeling that I'm just not creative or feminine enough to make a proper plating of holiday cookies--how will my presentation be judged? I'm still learning the balance between the redneck simplicity of my youth with the self-aggrandizing basket of "goodies" for whoever, and how either makes me feel as a person.

I agree with Kiley in that these aren't necessarily bad things--cookies and dinner--but motherfuck. They make me feel dirty.


  1. I was serious about it being a good idea!!! I actually purchased a giftcard to Olive Garden and dropped it in the mail... Not all Mormony ideas are bad! LOL.

    Sometimes I think the baked goods and stuff are in some ways a peace-offering. "We won't just chat over a cup of coffee like normal neighbors because coffee is evil... But we are trying to build a bridge..."

    I love your posts.

  2. :D

    I just wrote an exceptionally long response, but I'll keep it to another post. I'm on a roll.

    This described a kneejerk reaction, but I know it's not all bad. A lot of it is culture, and the culture is seemingly shallow without totally meaning to be. A group of people who want to try but dunno how. I'm just cynical at heart, but I do need to give the benefit of the doubt.

    And thank you <3

  3. I tend to be a gift-y person when people are on hard times, or sick -- I'll usually bring homemade soup or a personal tea blend and I wouldn't think of visiting someone's home without a jar of pickles or something from my garden -- and Jeremy always says this is very Relief Society of me. But if you think about it in terms of living in a COMMUNITY, not being so goddamned hyper-individualistic, it's really just common courtesy to express kindnesses in this way.

  4. I know, and being the girl who second-guesses everything she says, I've thought a lot about what this post sounds like I'm saying, and it is quickly becoming one I'm not so sure I wanted to post.

    It's a fantastic way to express care--and I continue to want to do this and by all means probably will--but for me there's just the aftertaste of obligation and lack of intimacy that bothers me, here. Like it was assigned and/or just my way of getting my VT stuff done without actually trying because I was scared and unsure and really disinterested and disenchanted with the program.

    I'm beginning to think of alternatives. A seasonal fruit/nut basket laced with chocolates. A bottle of champagne. Hot cocoa/coffee bags with a bow. Cookies are still good--snickerdoodles and chocolate crackles are kind of a tradition for me this time of year and lack the stigma (for me) that RS brought.

    And I still STILL need to make truffles for a good friend who brought me home 100% genuine dutch chocolate from Holland (i know i can get it here but CRAP it's expensive)

    I just want to change it so it doesn't feel like it used to feel. You know? Or maybe I just need to get over it and trust my own motivations which are pretty much always good when it comes to these sorts of things.

  5. I would TOTALLY love someone to bring me some homemade cookies. Chewy gingersnaps made with real butter and whole grain flours ... mmmm ... if anyone is taking requests. Although I will be slightly disappointed chocolate chip cookies will not be turned away.

  6. Homemade cookies and a bottle of Baily's. The perfect gift combination to smooth over any tension with rational neighbors ;-)

    Teasing aside, I get what you're saying, and I've never had a neighbor/friend/postman/dentist turn down (or be unhappy with) a good plate of cookies, Mormon or not.