It’s Not All Mary Poppins

Tantalus lives: We make gingerbread houses

Remember your Greek myths?

(What? You didn’t spend long hours as a child curled into a comfy chair with philandering Zeus, pissed-off Hera, horny Aphrodite and the drunken Bacchus? What were your parents thinking?)

Tantalus, for those of you who may not remember was the poor unfortunate soul sentenced to spend the afterlife submerged in water up to his neck, that dipped away when he tried to quench his thirst, and surrounded by bunches of grapes that retreated out of reach when he tried to satiate his hunger. Can’t remember why. Possibly he tried to diddle one of Zeus’s floozies.

I did something similar to the daycare tots this week. NOT the diddling! Honest to pete. Eeew. No, the Tantalus thing — from which we get, obviously, the word “tantalize”.

First, I set onto the dining room table five of these:


Graham crackers welded together with royal icing, made a few days prior. Food, in other words. Food which they were NOT to eat.

They were not entirely successful.
“Emily! Emily, lovie, don’t eat that!” Of course, this is (almost) entirely my fault. I had moved the houses to the dining room table when I needed a little more space in the kitchen and forgotten to move them back. “No, lovie. Not now. We’re going to decorate them later.”

Nigel looks at me with his huge blue soulful eyes. “But we’re hungry, Mary!”

It is 10:03. Snacktime is 10:00. Ah, those 100% accurate tummy clocks. It’s a good thought, though: fill them up with something nutritious, and maybe they won’t eat the gingerbread fixings before they get on the houses.

Though those are some very appealing fixings …


In fact, they do remarkably well. Once we get started, they are engrossed in the process of gluing the candies to the icing.

It takes Nigel a little longer than the others to get started.

“Nigel, don’t eat the candy. Put it on the house.”
“Nigel. The candy goes on the house.”
“Nigel. If you eat one more piece of candy, you will have to leave the table until I can watch just you.”
It’s really bizarre. It’s as if his hand and mouth are working independently of his brain. He knows it’s forbidden, yet even as he and I maintain eye contact, the jellybean goes in the mouth. Weird.
“Okay, Nigel. Away you go. You can make yours later, when I can help you more.”
Nigel’s eyes widen in shocked horror. (Whic is also bizarre. He knows by now I follow through. Always. Usually his reaction to the follow-through is resignation. Oh, well.)

He leaves the table in a soggy pool of self-sorry tears.

I let him languish on the couch for three minutes or so, then call him back. And now he gets it. Without a second’s hesitation, the candies make it from tray to house with nary a pitstop at mouth. Well done, Nigel!
It’s engrossing. It’s tricky. It’s just the right balance of fine motor control and fun.
They work in focussed silence for a good 10 or 15 minutes. Timmy goes a full half hour, long after the others have left the table. And the results? Bright and sticky architectural sweetness! A little primitive, but no less appealing for all that.
And the mommies and daddies? They LOVED it!

December 20, 2007 Posted by | Christmas, crafts, food | 10 Comments