A lesson on Cookie Day

Today is Cookie Day. Each year, in the weeks before Christmas, my wife invites her niece over to bake and decorate sugar cookies and construct a gingerbread house. It’s one of our traditions. Holidays are meant for this sort of thing. We’ve been doing it for several years now, and with each passing year Ryanne, now 11, is able to participate in more and more of the baking tasks.

That’s why children are such a vital element in traditions. Even though we don’t have children of our own, Cookie Day wouldn’t be worthwhile if we didn’t involve Ryanne. Although we see her frequently, Cookie Day is a yearly opportunity to catch up with her life, to observe how much she’s changed since last year, and how the dynamic of the tradition changes each year as she grows up.

Traditions are often thought of as links to the past, but I see them more as planting seeds for the future. If we do our job right, someday Ryanne will have Cookie Day with her own children or nieces and nephews. We give her the tools to create her own traditions. And each year she, and we, learn something; about baking, decorating, construction techniques (in the case of the gingerbread house), and each other.

This year, in the midst of the activity, I was dispatched to the grocery store for additional supplies. The weather was nasty, cold and wet, and a fresh layer of slushy snow lay everywhere. I parked my car at the store and walked up to the entrance. Anyone who attempts to enter or leave a store in the month of December is used to being accosted by people asking for donations or selling something, and this was no exception. A cute young girl, maybe six or seven, was holding a box of chocolate covered raisins and giving me the “big eyes” treatment. Behind her stood her chaperone, presumably her mother. An older man was there as well. It appeared that he had just made a purchase from the girl and was chatting with them.

As I approached, the woman caught my eye and smiled. “Would you like to buy our last item?” she asked.

Well. It was miserably cold, and I certainly felt sorry for anyone forced to stand outside on a day like this. The little girl smiled hopefully.

“Your last item?” I said. “Well, sure.”

The older man exhorted me unnecessarily. “Come on,” he said cheerily. “Go for it. Help them out.”

“Of course,” I said. To the girl, “How much is the candy?”

“Six dollars,” she replied.

I took the box and handed her the money. Both the girl and the woman thanked me profusely. “You’re welcome,” I said. “Now go inside and get warm.”

I entered the store and searched for a reasonably dry shopping cart, which took about fifteen seconds. As I steered my cart into the store, another person exited past me, and I heard the woman’s voice through the open door.

“Hi! Would you like to buy our last item?”

I stopped in my tracks just for a second, then continued on, chuckling. “Okay, you got me,” I thought to myself, my momentary feeling of generosity quickly reverting back to my usual cynicism.

But as I walked the aisles, ticking off the items on my list, I thought about this whole notion of the holidays and tradition and teaching our children. What was that little girl being taught? What was the lesson here?

“Whatever it takes to get the sale, kid. Say anything. It’s okay if you lie a little bit.”

Sure, a lot of us learn that lesson later in life. But at the age of six? Can you really explain to a child that it’s okay to lie some times and not others? God help that woman if her cute little ingenue learns her lesson well and becomes a teenager someday. I don’t make a habit of quoting the Bible, but “As you sow, so shall you reap” certainly seems to apply here.

I paid for my groceries and exited via the same door. I wondered if I would find the same little girl and her mother outside the door. How would they handle having their lie exposed? Would they just ignore me?

As it turned out, there had been a shift change. A different young girl, this one with a male chaperone, was stationed outside. As I came outside, the girl smiled brightly, holding two metal canisters in her arms.

“Would you like to buy our last item?” she asked.

“Sorry,” I replied. “I bought something coming in.”

Her chaperone chuckled, much like I had earlier. There was a knowingness to his laugh, as if to say, “Well, we used a line on you, and you used the right blocking response on us.”

He can think that if he wants to, I said to myself as I climbed into my car. I pulled the box of raisins from my grocery bag. Near the bottom of the box were the words, “Thank you for supporting the Girl Scouts.”

Part of the “Promise,” the oath taken by Girl Scouts, is to “live by the Girl Scout Law.” The first half of the Girl Scout Law reads as follows: “I will do my best to be honest and fair, friendly and helpful, considerate and caring, courageous and strong, and responsible for what I say and do.”

I actually like chocolate covered raisins, but I don’t think I’m going to eat them. I’m going to give them to Ryanne. At least that way, one child may benefit from this transaction.

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