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Cookies, Crayons, and Cookbooks

Welcome to our series on special needs parenting. Writer and special needs mom Keri Horon offers stories about parenting her son who is non-speaking. With honesty and empathy, Keri shares what it's like to parent a young man with pervasive needs living at home.

As a special needs parent, you just want to get it right. You won't hit it out of the park all the time. But when you do, it sure feels good. When you go from idea to reality and the outcome brings sheer joy to your child, there's nothing that compares.

So you know those beautifully decorated sugar cookies? The ones that look so pretty in the glass case at the bakery? The frosting is even and smooth. The details of the design are sheer perfection. Perfect little pearl drops...symmetrical smiley faces...each cookie seems like a work of art.

I wanted my son with special needs to have a box of iced cookies for Christmas. My family is gluten and dairy free, so, "safe" frosted sugar cookies are hard to come by. I like to cook, but baking is a different animal. I didn't realize there were different measuring cups for wet and dry ingredients until a few years ago. Really.

So I decided to hunt around for a bakery that could make glazed cookies for him. I'd give the baker a list of unsafe ingredients, and we'd go from there. I was determined to make his stomach and his soul happy.

(I knew he liked these cookies years ago when we stumbled on a dedicated GFCF bakery in southern California; one dozen iced cookies were turned into crumbs in 2 minutes flat. I called that bakery first, but they went out of business).

Eventually, I connected with a woman 40 miles away willing to make the cookies without grain, milk, butter, etc. She ran a business from her home, fulfilling orders for baked goods for people with food allergies. I ordered two dozen while picturing the joy on his sweet face when he opened the white bakery boxes.

The woman was so backed up with orders that it took almost five weeks before she texted. My husband picked up the boxes right away, making an 80-mile round trip on a Saturday afternoon.

We gently laid the boxes on the kitchen counter. I didn't want a single dent or crack in any cookie. With my son in another room, I slid my finger under the tape and opened box #1. My eyes popped.

Okay...well...not the bakery-style, perfectly iced cookies I thought they'd be. The frosting looked more like wet cotton balls smeared on top of rather chunky round cookies with uneven tops and edges. My heart sank a bit.

I looked for three of the "best" ones. The frosting wasn’t smooth on any of them. There wasn’t precision in the design. The decorations kind of looked like they were done in the back of a moving pick-up truck.

I put them on a pretty plate, thinking the taste would override the appearance. They didn't resemble the gorgeous bakery cookies he once devoured, but these could be just as yummy.

"Zach! Come see what's in the kitchen!" In he toe-walked and spotted the plate. Get the camera ready! There’s gonna be a wide smile! I suddenly realized I left all 24 sitting in the boxes on the counter. Could we stop him from downing all 24??

My heart beat faster as I anticipated my son turning into Cookie Monster. I was sure he craved those frosted GFCF cookies from the past, and here I was: the mom who would make his day with a scrumptious treat.

He stopped in his tracks. “Look at THAT!” Dad exclaimed. I was poised for a photo.

Zach leaned over and examined the plate like a scientist. He put his nose within a half inch of the frosting and inhaled. And there it was - repulsion.

He quickly stood upright and pushed the plate away. I said, “Zach, do you want to try a cookie? Just try one.”

He vigorously shook his head no. His nose was scrunched in disgust. He fled the kitchen.

I stood there for a moment staring at the plate. I had to admit that by sight, they looked pretty horrible. But I hadn't smelled or tasted them. I picked up one cookie and sniffed. Ew.

I took a small bite and chewed. Double ew.

It was unlike any other cookie I had ever tasted. "Try this," I urged my husband. He did the same thing and had the same response.

"Um, yeah. Not that good."

Twenty-four custom-made, gluten-free, dairy-free, frosted sugar cookies sat in the kitchen all day. No one nibbled.

For a moment, I felt like a failure. I wanted to see the joy that those frosted cookies brought him, and my attempt failed big time.

Later, I realized it wasn't actually my attempt. I didn't bake them.

And, I also realized that I was counting on the feeling I would get from seeing him enjoy the cookies. If he didn’t like the cookies, so be it! He wasn’t disappointing me. I imagined him saying that’s okay, Mom, thanks anyway.

It’s the effort that counts, isn’t it? So the idea became reality, and not a very good reality this time. So what? Move on.

It has inspired me to give baking another try. If my frosting looks (and tastes) like wet cotton balls, I'll dump it and try again. And in the meantime, I will keep looking for ways to bring my son more joy. There's always crayons.

The reality is, you don’t hit the bullseye 100% of the time. And that’s okay.

Now, back to my cookbooks…

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