a moment of awful parenting, and a recipe: mexican chocolate shortbread cookies

In a moment of brilliant motherhood earlier this week, I threatened to cancel my son’s seventh birthday.

I said this to him as I walked him and his sister into school on Tuesday morning. He likes me to walk him in, and I know this well. But that morning, I couldn’t find parking spot on my first drive through the school’s parking lot. Or on the second. By the third pass, as I slowed every 90 seconds to allow moms and dads and their backpack-laden children to cross the parking lot, I could hear my pulse pounding in my ears. I was growing ever more frustrated and annoyed. My limit had been reached.

“We’re doing drop off today, guys,” I said, with finality.

I had suggested doing drop off on parking lot lap number one. On lap two, I threatened it. On lap three, my hands gripped the steering wheel tightly, and I unclenched my jaws briefly enough to declare that we were doing drop off, and THAT was THAT.

mexican chocolate shortbread cookies | the merry gourmet

Once during last school year, when Oliver was in kindergarten, I dropped the kids off at the drop off line, rather than walking them in. It was raining hard that day, and I didn’t want to get wet. He refused to get out of the car and immediately burst into tears. After I forced him out of my car, he was so distraught that he just stood there on the sidewalk, sobbing, seemingly paralyzed with anguish. A couple of teachers rushed over to him and held his shoulders gently. I drove off, wanting to move on so the parents in the minivans behind me could drop their own (happier) children off. I felt like a complete jerk. But I hadn’t gotten wet. There was that.

So on this past Tuesday morning, after proclaiming my plans to do drop off, I glared at Oliver in the back seat. His eyes were already watering and his lower lip quivered as he struggled to hold back the tears.

And so I caved. I circled the lot again, fuming. I was furious with Oliver for not letting me get my way with this. It was his fault that I would be late to work. When my patients had to wait on me, he was to blame. I was angry with him for insisting that I walk with him. Why couldn’t he be like the other kids, the ones who love getting dropped off? I finally found a far spot in the corner of the lot, farthest from the school entry, and I hurried them out of the minivan.

As we walked to the school, I declared that Oliver would not be having a birthday cake for his birthday, and, in fact, I thought it best if we just cancelled the ENTIRE THING.

He looked up at me, his vivid blue eyes solemn, and he nodded.

At that moment, my heart sank. What was I doing?

I was being mean and spiteful. I had threatened to do something that I never had any intention of following through on. My behavior was atrocious, perfectly hateful. Instead of cherishing the fact that my son wants me to walk with him, to hold his hand on the way to his classroom, I let the fact that I was being inconvenienced take over my emotions.

I was being an awful mother.

I’ve thought of little else since then.

And now I’m in New Orleans for work, and I still feel terrible about what I did. I return home on Friday, the day of Oliver’s birthday. I will pick up that cake from Publix on my way home from the airport. We will have a family dinner together – he’ll get to choose what we have – and then he’ll open his presents. We’ll celebrate with slices of marbled vanilla-and-chocolate cake with buttercream frosting.

Mostly, I’ll seek out every opportunity to hug him tightly. And I’ll promise to do better next time.

mexican chocolate shortbread cookies | the merry gourmet

*   *   *   *   *

I baked these cookies last weekend, much to the delight of the kids. They made a wonderful lunchbox treat, and I’ve been asked to make them again.

Chances are, I will. They make a pretty good “I’m sorry” cookie.

Mexican Chocolate Shortbread Cookies


1-1/2 cup (188 grams) all-purpose flour
1/2 cup (55 grams) unsweetened cocoa
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 pinch chili powder (optional)
1/2 pound (2 sticks; 227 grams) unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 cup (100 grams) granulated sugar


Whisk together flour, cocoa powder, salt, cinnamon, and chili powder (if using) in a small bowl.

Using the bowl of a stand mixer, or using an electric mixer, beat butter on medium speed until fluffy, about 3 to 5 minutes. Add sugar and beat until pale in color, about 2 minutes. Add the flour mixture and beat on low speed until the flour is just incorporated and the dough sticks together with fingers.

Dump the dough out onto a sheet of wax paper and press into a log of about 12 inches in length. Roll up in the wax paper and chill for at least one hour or until firm.

Preheat oven to 325 degrees and place rack in middle position.

Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper. Remove wax paper from dough and slice into 1/4 inch thick slices. Bake in a single layer until firm, about 22 to 24 minutes. Cool completely on a wire rack. Cookies can be stored in an airtight container for 3 weeks.

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17 Responses to “a moment of awful parenting, and a recipe: mexican chocolate shortbread cookies”

  1. 1
    Wendi @ Bon Appetit Hon — October 2, 2013 @ 7:32 pm

    We’ve all been in that moment…whether with a child, a spouse, friend, or parent. I hope that you find it in your heart to forgive yourself.

    And please send some of these cookies my way.

  2. 2
    Steph — October 2, 2013 @ 7:35 pm

    Oh, you are human! I have a 1.5 y/o daughter and 3 y/o son, who just started preschool. It’s maddening most days.
    You are a fabulous mom, don’t believe anything else. It’s all so difficult! And guilt-laden…and a lot of other wonderful things.

    I am in the boat of those who had no career before motherhood. Sure, I have a degree! But that and $5 will get me a decent latte somewhere these days.

    I admire moms with meaningful work outside the home. I aspire to it someday. Soon.

    I admire YOU. Who could do all that you do? It’s got to be hard. Hard at work, hard at home…but you just keep putting one foot in front of the other and somehow it all carries on. You are an inspiration and I apologize if this all sounds so scattered. I have a lot of distractions. 😉

  3. 3
    Erin — October 2, 2013 @ 10:37 pm

    Been there, done that. I cancelled Christmas one year. My youngest is now 14 and here is what I wish someone had told me: Don’t miss the opportunity to talk to him about what you wish you had done instead. He will see that even moms make mistakes and mistakes are ok if we learn from them. P.S. I didn’t actually cancel Christmas, but I hurt feelings with the threat and I don’t think I ever made that right.

  4. 4
    Paula — October 2, 2013 @ 11:39 pm

    When you hug your Oliver and say that you are sorry, be sure to hug yourself and accept your own apology. No matter what you may have said, you still love your son unconditionally and he you. Happy Birthday to him, he’s a wonderful normal little boy with a wonderful normal Mom. XO

  5. 5

    MJ, you are a fabulous mum – who’s human. That makes you even more endearing. Please hug Mr Oliver for me too XO

  6. 6
    Carlinne @Cook with 2 Chicks — October 3, 2013 @ 8:53 am

    I always admire and appreciate your honest writing. All moms can relate to moments like you describe. Parenting is difficult and constant. We are bound to mess up once in a while. It’s how we handle it that matters most. We have a similar recipe for these cookies; they are a big hit with the kids AND adults!

  7. 7
    Theresa — October 3, 2013 @ 10:17 am

    You’re not a awful mom, you’re human! A beautifully, perfectly flawed human. We all are and I think we’ve all lost our shit over trivial things, taking it out on people who didn’t deserve it. But I know you’re not an awful mom because you realize your mistake and you’ll do everything in your power to make it right. Forgive yourself, then give Oliver a big hug when you get home and tell him that sometimes Moms have bad days too. Like Erin said, if you talk to him about how you’re sorry and what you would have done differently, it can be a teaching moment for him too. Because some day he will do the same thing to someone he loves, but he’ll think back to that day and remember how his Mom taught him that it’s OK to be human 🙂

  8. 8
    Windy P. — October 3, 2013 @ 11:02 am

    Just remember, moms are just people, too. We make mistakes. We do things we regret. Give him a hug, explain that you acted in frustration and you regret it. Not that it excuses it, not that you’ll never ever do anything like it again…we’re human right? Every day brings new challenges. My guess is just knowing that you’ve thought about it, you did something when you were frustrated and now you regret that and how it made him feel, he’ll “get it.” Kids are a lot more perceptive and able to understand what we think of as “adult feelings” than we often give them credit for in my book.

    And chin up mom. You’re only human. 🙂

  9. 9
    Meagan @ Scarletta Bakes — October 3, 2013 @ 12:23 pm

    Omigosh please don’t be so hard on yourself! You are a wonderful mother and, as the other comments have suggested, you’re HUMAN! I consider these little moments when we find that we may wish that we handled things differently to be opportunities. I also think they’re what make us better people. And I love these cookies. You were a great Mom before, but you’ll be even more so for serving some delicious I’m Sorry Shortbreads.

  10. 10
    Cherie — October 3, 2013 @ 12:30 pm

    We all have those moments.

    And they are a WONDERFUL opportunity to teach our children that no one is perfect, how to apologize sincerely, and to model for them the moment where things went wrong in our own head and how we would like to do it in the future.

    Very valuable and worth doing. But they don’t make you feel much better unfortunately – we’re always hardest on ourselves!

    Sending a hug – safe travels and enjoy that birthday

  11. 11
    Macaroni Mama — October 3, 2013 @ 6:02 pm


  12. 12
    Sarah Lasry — October 3, 2013 @ 8:30 pm

    Isn’t it amazing how there is never a moment as mothers we wouldn’t sacrifice ourselves for our kids…we love them more than anything. But the hectic days that is our lives, sometimes makes us so crazy with frustration ..that we threaten to cancel birthday parties…or in my case ….threaten my kid to tears, with calling Dr. Doomstien (an evil scary cartoon character) when she insisted on tying her own shoes by herself (6 attempts & 10 long min) & making me late for a coffee date.
    When she started crying I realized … What the heck is wrong with me? I should be excited & proud she is so independent & at almost 4 can tie her own shoelaces -& not be so wrapped up in my own “schedule” & agenda – that I don’t stop to appreciate why I do everything I do…for exactly this moment – to see my little baby girl growing up.

    & Granted it was a coffee date & not sick patients) but the reason I am commenting is simple. You are normal & so not a mean mommy (ok a little smidgen mean about the cake – but I am sure you will make it up to him 1000x over!)
    & that I for one am guilty like you. & actually admire you tremendously for not only sharing this story, but in general I am amazed at everything you do (doc, mom, wife, daughter, blogger…)

    Must try this cookie recipe.
    Wishing you an easier week & a fun birthday weekend!
    Sarah (thepatchkeprincess.com)

  13. 13
    Sally — October 4, 2013 @ 5:25 pm

    We’ve all done that at one time or another. Forgive yourself and move on.

    I was planning on making biscotti this weekend, but I think these cookies might be my treat instead. They sound delicious!

  14. 14
    Nutmeg Nanny — October 6, 2013 @ 7:45 pm

    Every parent has their struggles and has their bad moments. Most people don’t let other people know about it though, I love that you admit it, it happens!
    These cookies, YUM!! I can’t wait for a plateful of them 🙂

  15. 15
    Jen @ My Kitchen Addiction — October 7, 2013 @ 11:08 pm

    Your writing is always so inspiring for me, since I find the writing part of being a blogger to be the hardest. Go figure, right? I always appreciate your honesty.

    I have learned in my 11 short months of being a parent that we all have our “mom of the year” moments from time to time. I know you well enough to know that you’re an amazing mom. Go easy on yourself! I’m sure your little guy thinks the world of you.

    Of course, baking an extra batch of cookies never hurts, right? These look fabulous. 🙂

  16. 16
    Amy @ The Nifty Foodie — October 12, 2013 @ 4:42 pm

    Oh no. 🙁 I know I’m commenting late on this, but you’re only human. We all have trying moments. You’re a wonderful mother, and I’m sure he had an awesome birthday once you got home. 🙂

  17. 17
    Lucy — October 28, 2013 @ 2:58 pm

    MJ…I don’t often comment, but just wanted to say that your story was touching. I could just see Oliver’s big eyes as he pondered cancelling his birthday. And you know what? If that’s the worst thing you ever do or say as a mom–and I promise you it won’t be–you’re doing great. Mine are all grown now, with the youngest 19, a Marine serving in the Reserves and going to college. When they were toddlers, they could drive me batty and then once they were teenagers, although they were great kids and never got into any real trouble, they were still teenagers and periodically drove me right over the edge. The thing is, no matter how mad I got, or how horribly I sometimes talked to them, they knew how much they were loved and cherished. And yours will too. That is the most important and enduring lesson you will give them…the rest will mostly fade away…except for the parts they hang on to just so they can tease and torment you with it later. Once, I was driving my oldest son and his friend, 7th graders, to a football game. I don’t remember what they were talking about but they were being obnoxious boys. I admonished them several times to change the subject or stop talking or whatever. They pretty much ignored me. I got madder and madder and ultimately yelled, “Will you two just shut the F*** up!!!” Silence reigned and two shocked faces stared at me, mouths dropped. And you know what? They did shut up, at least for a little while. But it’s now more than ten years later, and they love to tease, “Mom, do we need to shut the F up?” “Miss Rebecca, do you want us to just shut the F up now?” The moment has become family lore. And of course, that was certainly NOT even my WORST moment! So don’t worry. You’re a great mom and you’re doing a great job. And occasionally, you’re just giving your kids future material. They will love you for that too.

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