After a recent conversation with a friend I started to think about self-perception. We were chatting about a project she’d taken on at work when she said, “You know me. I’m a workaholic.” I almost spit out my tall skim latte with an extra shot. I can’t tell you how close I came to saying, “Yes, I know you, but do you know you?” This woman leaves work every day at 5pm, takes all of her vacation and personal days and doesn’t check her emails after quitting time. There is nothing wrong with her attempt at keeping her work/personal life in balance but let’s not get carried away; putting in an honest day’s work does not a workaholic make. Clearly along her life’s path someone must have told her what a hard worker she is, how she goes above and beyond and has an overdeveloped sense of responsibility. And she believed it.
What about all of the things we are told about ourselves throughout our own lives? Are they always right? I suppose the voices we hear the loudest are our parents first, then teachers and employers. I wonder what assessments stick with us, becoming part of our sense of self, and what fall away as our experiences prove them wrong.
There are so many things I was told about myself when I was young. I’ll stick to the more superficial since it’s the holidays and who wants to get heavy, especially if you’re about to spend a week in close quarters with extended family where a bomb is sure to go off at some point? And in fact, it’s when you’re spending time with people who knew you when that you are most likely to fall back into the role you played back in the day. Like so many little girls I was enthralled by things that were “fancy.” I remember specifically begging for ankle socks with lace trim to wear with my mary janes when the occasion called for a party dress.
“No, sweetie, it’s too much. You look better in tailored things.”
It was explained to me that because I had lots of curly locks and a small face there was already enough going on so I should be styled simply. My abundant hair was controlled by two braids or low fastened pigtails (never high up at my temple) held in place only by Goody covered rubber band and never by the looped elastics with the interlocking colored plastic balls. I did win one battle though. Insisting I looked like a boy whenever my mother pulled my hair back into a single ponytail, I got her to tie a velvet ribbon around it for birthday parties. Dresses could have rickrack but not ruffles and dark blue, red and dark green was the palette thought to suit my complexion the best. On the occasion I would lobby for a ruffled, pink dress and the verboten lace anklets I was told,
“No sweetie, it’s too much. You’ll look like someone named Ronni Sue.”
I had no idea what that meant, knew no one named Ronni Sue, and ultimately gave up and surrendered to the tailored, where I have stayed for 40 years.
I just confronted my inner Plain Jane when I was getting ready for a party. I’ve been so brainwashed with Fear of the Overdone that the only accessories I wear are a simple pair of stud earrings and a watch. It’s no wonder my jewelry box stays closed most of the time. All of them gifts, rings are tangled with necklaces, earrings poke through the links of bracelets and a fancy watch that has needed a new battery for four years rests on top of the shiny mess. But deciding to be festive, I fished out a pair of gold hoop earrings (probably the circumference of a quarter) and wound up feeling like I was in a gypsy costume all night. They are back in their little bag, which is where they will stay. So as you can see, what I was told to be the truth about myself has stuck. I do look and feel better when I keep it simple.
And yet that statement does not apply to Niece One, the girl who reminds me of myself more often than not. We both like things the way we like them, get really quiet and focused when immersed in something, boss our respective younger sisters around, and, as she likes to say, both have “hair that gets golden in the summer.” (The hair thing was a nice bond until my sister decided to share with her daughter that it wasn’t the sun making her aunt’s hair golden. Leave it to a little sister.) But where we diverge is on the subject of accessorizing. Coco Chanel would not approve of the way Niece One leaves the house; heaven protect the person who suggests she remove one of the many accessories draped from her tiny frame. She likes her bling. If it is sparkles she is all over it and if it’s pink and sparkles? Get out of her way. But what is really nice is that for the most part my sister lets her be her. Even when she skirts just a little too close to the Ronni Sue edge.
It should come as no surprise then that when I brought The Nieces gingerbread cookies to decorate for their Christmas tree the sweet and spicy boys and girls went from plain to bedazzled in minutes. Colored sugars added shimmer to a “skirt,” silver dragees became a necklace, pink jelly beans were transformed into coat buttons. These cookies were showing little skin.
When I suggested that maybe some could stay naked Niece One shot me a look I can only describe as one I have given others who suggest I go a day without straightening my previously mentioned curly locks. And I backed off, knowing two plain and tailored ginger people were sitting in my cookie jar waiting for me to come home. Just the way I like them.
NOTE: If you’ve ever been scared to roll and cut cookies, this recipe will convert you. It is so easy to work with and a pleasure to roll out. They have just the right spice for less experienced palates and held up beautifully while a four year old and a six year old gussied them up like drag queens.
Accessorizing Gingerbread Cookies
from The Good Housekeeping Cookbook, 2001 Hearst Communications, Inc.
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1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup light molasses
1 1/2 teaspoons ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground allspice
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground cloves
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 stick unsalted butter
1 large egg, beaten
3 1/2 cups all purpose flour
In 3 quart saucepan, combine sugar, molasses, ginger, allspice, cinnamon, and cloves; heat to boiling over medium heat, stirring occasionally with wooden spoon.
Remove from heat; stir in baking soda (mixture will foam up). Stir in butter until melted. Stir in egg, then flour.
On floured surface, knead dough until thoroughly blended. Divide dough in half; wrap one piece in plastic wrap and set aside.
Preheat oven to 325.
Bake until brown around edges, about 12 minutes, rotating cookie sheets between upper and lower oven racks halfway through baking. With wide spatula, transfer cookies to wire racks to cool completely. Repeat with remaining dough and trimmings.
When cookies are thoroughly cool, bedazzle as desired. We used golden syrup as "glue" for candy, raisins and colored sugars. Or enjoy them plain, as I do.
Yield: about 3 dozen cookies