So the kids are off to school by now. Or most of them anyway. And I know what you all are thinking. “Slow down, Time! You’re moving too fast.”
But as each new first day of school picture comes floating by, we know the truth.
We can’t slow down time.
We can squeal and sigh over remember-when moments as we scroll through our social media feeds (the baby books of the 21st century, let's be honest.)
We can hug those littles each night secretly wishing their bodies to not grow for just one more sleep (they will.)
We can follow the advice of the old lady in the grocery store with the same rote “cherish-every-moment-it-goes-by-so-fast” mantra (Although I might advice not doing that. There are many a moment in parenthood I will NOT be cherishing.)
But we can not slow down time.
Babies will walk. And eventually they will walk themselves right out of your arms and onto that school bus.
And while you may not be able to stop them from growing and marching on, you might be able to slow down the pace just a bit by marking the moments as noteworthy and special.
You can do this with a ritual.
Rituals are those little activities we repeat sometimes alone, often with others. Sometimes daily but more likely seasonally. It’s a little moment that everyone comes to expect and by participating in the ritual it somehow stands out ahead of the mundane and even chaotic routines of life. It is marked as special.
I am one who creates rituals constantly. I love to celebrate and establishing traditions as a family is something I have taken seriously. Birthdays, holidays, even doctor’s visits come with their own rituals. But also, I find I am constantly adjusting those traditions as our family grows and changes. With this being our first year in the traditional schooling with a kindergartner in our house, I was nearly giddy, and admittedly a bit anxious, about creating just the right rituals to mark our school year and the end of summer. There were the haircuts and the new shoes. The night before picnic on the beach followed by ice cream. And of course, the picture by the front door on the way out to school.
I’ll bet you have some rituals of your own too, those things you do on the regular that make the moment feel, well, less regular. These are such important rhythms to creating a family. But for the sake of your expectations, I must urge you to guard your heart.
Hold that ritual in the palm of your hand the way you hold a fragile egg or a new baby chick or your little ones hand as they grow up and grow on. Loosely, gently, with room to let it move, or move on.
For while celebrating rituals reminds both our children and ourselves that this is something special, it’s the experience that is special, not the effort. It’s the chocolate cake with the vanilla icing and rainbow sprinkles on the birthday that matters, not what recipe you use or how the cake photographs. It’s the picnic on the beach the night before school that lasts in the memories, not the ratio of organic to processed to locally sourced of the food on the blanket.
And it’s the chocolate chip cookies dunked into milk as the after school snack on their first day home from school that marks the new ritual in our home. A ritual that I am well aware might change just a bit from year to year, depending on energy levels or interest. I am cherishing this ritual but I am still holding it gently.
It actually wasn’t my idea to make chocolate chip cookies. It was her request. But it was one that suddenly spoke “ritual” to me, and one I was all too pleased to oblige.
Chocolate chip cookies feels like a celebration, like something special, like home.
This is how I want to celebrate the first day of school, that moment when they come rushing into home, backpacks piled high at the door with the eagerness to share all the day’s events. This year I pulled the two of them onto the counter to eat their cookies while I prepped dinner. When she wasn’t taking bites, her mouth was moving. What was her favorite part (lunch. It was DELICIOUS!) Who did she sit next to (a girl but also loooooots of boys.) Did they read any books (Proceeds to recite book report.)
This year, as a part of my nervous distraction, I made the cookies from scratch from one of my most favorite recipes. But I did this with full awareness and granted permission that some years, a box of cookies will be sufficient. Maybe even the pre-made dough. And maybe some day this little cookie ritual happens after dinner or not even on the first day. Second days are good too. Even third.
The point is, a ritual is a way to mark a time in history as special. It forces a pause in the day, in the year, in the lifetime of a child, allowing everyone to take notice. This is good. This will be remembered. Life isn’t moving too fast because today, we have this ritual.
I encourage you to find your rituals that remind you and your family to pause and draw close. Or perhaps, you already have a ritual that you didn’t even notice was such. Take note of it, share it with the family, make it special not just for you but to each member. And please, please dear friend, remember, a ritual is not meant to add more to your life. It is only meant to make what you already have special. Be good to yourself. Buy the day old donuts the night before. Pick up carry out on your way home from work. Or light a candle, read a poem or prayer, and call it good. That is a ritual if you declare it so.
I am sharing my most favorite chocolate chip cookie recipe with you because I don’t think we can ever have too many. I love this one because it seems to dirty fewer dishes then most baking recipes: only one measuring cup (1/2 cup), only one measuring spoon (1/4 teaspoon), only two mixing bowls (And technically you only need to wash one. The other just had flour and can be wiped out with a towel), only one spatula, one beater, and only one large baking sheet. Yes. That’s right. The cookies will fit onto ONE baking sheet, if you use the most amazing sheet pans that ever were created. And if you put parchment paper on it as I do you don’t even need TO WASH IT! (It’s funny I am so excited about all this because we all know that I am not the dishwasher in my house. But you might be so I am excited for you. And for my very wonderful dishwasher/spouse.)
Also, the butter doesn’t have to be softened so you can just start making cookies as soon as you want to make cookies!
The three secret ingredients in these cookies are whole wheat flour (a delicious nuttiness to the cookie), mini chocolate chips (that you barely have to put any in to make go a really long way) and flaky sea salt on the top. This last one might seem like one of those annoying foodie things you might just ignore. But I really believe everyone should have flaky sea salt in their pantry. It finishes any dish, particularly every roasted vegetable that ever existed, with perfect salty goodness. And you can get it anywhere you buy salt. Accept for maybe the convenience stores. I don’t think they sell flaky sea salt. But they should.
Make and share these cookies with the ones you love. And tell me, what are your favorite new or old rituals?
A Really Good Chocolate Chip Cookie
Adapted from Good to the Grain by Kim Boyce
1 1/2 cup whole wheat flour
3/4 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
4 ounces cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1/2 cup dark brown sugar
1/2 cup sugar
1 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
Handful of mini chocolate chips, about 1/4 cup or to your liking
Flakey Sea Salt
1 Preheat oven to 350°F. Line one baking sheet pan with parchment. Although you can butter the sheets instead, parchment is useful for these cookies because the chocolate can stick to the pan.
2 Sift the dry ingredients into a large bowl or whisk to incorporate air.
3 Add the butter and the sugars to the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with a paddle attachment. With the mixer on low speed, mix just until the butter and sugars are blended, about 2 minutes. Use a spatula to scrape down the sides of the bowl. Add the eggs one at a time, mixing until each is combined. Mix in the vanilla. Add the flour mixture to the bowl and blend on low speed until the flour is barely combined, about 30 seconds. Scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl.
4 Add the chocolate all at once to the batter. Mix on low speed until the chocolate is evenly combined. Use a spatula to scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl, then scrape the batter out onto a work surface, and use your hands to fully incorporate all the ingredients.
5 Scoop mounds of dough about 2 tablespoons in size onto the baking sheet. You should be able to make about 2 dozen cookies
6 Bake the cookies for 12 to 15 minutes until the cookies are evenly dark brown. Transfer the cookies, still on the parchment, to the counter to cool. These cookies are best eaten warm from the oven or later that same day. They'll keep in an airtight container for up to 3 days, but they will probably be gone before that.