“Mom!” I yelled from the kitchen of my parents’ house, my voice still too small to carry all the way to her upstairs bedroom. “Mooommmmm!”
I reached to press the switch that would turn on the light inside the oven. It didn’t look good. “Mooommm!” I yelled again, this time taking matters into my own hands, pulling at the handle of the shiny black door.
“Amanda, be careful!” said my mom as she came up from behind me, grabbing a hot pad and pulling a silver pan of cookies that smelled mostly like peanut butter, but a little like something else.
“Oh no!” I whined. “They’re burnt.”
My mom didn’t miss a beat as she grabbed the spatula and moved the cookies from their sizzling silver sheet to the rows of paper towels lined up along the counter. “It’s okay,” she said. “Dad will eat them. He likes the burnt cookies.”
Somehow this made everything better, knowing that we had not only saved the cookies from the flames of the oven, but that they would still be consumed, even enjoyed by my father.
I hadn’t thought of this for years, but the other day I was taking a break from my writing and decided to have a snack. I tossed an oatmeal raisin cookie into my toaster oven (if you’ve never toasted cookies, you really ought to try it) and put on the kettle. I was measuring out tea leaves when the kitchen began to smell of cinnamon and honey. “Oh crap,” I thought. “My cookie.”
I pulled it from the toaster oven, a little charred, but still salvageable. As I flaked the carbonized bits of black into the kitchen sink I thought of my dad and wondered if he really did like burnt cookies.
I had never questioned it, not in the 18 years I spent living under the same roof, watching him nibble on my less-than-perfect culinary creations: the cream-cheese stuffed tomato boats, Ritz cracker appetizers, underdone lasagna and over baked peanut butter blossoms. My cooking—for better or worse—was my gift.
And he accepted it that way, with all of its burnt edges and imperfections. The way he’s always accepted me. Video-taping two-hour dance shows in our backyard that mostly consisted of my running back and forth in various leotards. Sitting patiently through plotless plays set in our unfinished basement every birthday and holiday. Listening to improvisational clarinet recitals from the corner of my lacy pink bedroom. Helping me wash and strip and sauté my first bunch of kale the summer he visited me in Kansas City, then watching it go brown when I added the vinegar too soon. Placing my hand-decorated “Love Notes for Daddy” jar on the top of his bedroom dresser and then letting it stay there for the next 18 years, even after the puff paint began to peal.
It is the way all of us ought to accept one another. Unconditionally and with grace.
There are times, I suppose, when correction is necessary. When we should be aware of the ideal (e.g. the perfect cookie) so that we can strive to attain it. But when it comes to receiving, a gift is a gift. Even when it is poorly wrapped or imperfectly given. Even when the writing is smeared or the edges are crispy.
If our gifts are not accepted—are not treated kindly and affirmed for their mere existence—we might very well cease the act of creating, the one thing we have been made to do since the beginning of time. Accepting a creation tells the creator (especially the young one) that it is okay for her to create. That she should go on painting those pictures, writing those stories, building that space ship, baking those cookies. It’s okay if she isn’t always the best. It’s okay if the circle isn’t quite round or she sings the song a little off key. It’s okay if the cookies are burnt. Dad will eat them.