I often have to think deeply about when to let go. It is my challenge as a parent: Can I let go of anxieties and concerns that only stand in the way of the growth of my children? Sometimes it’s so hard.
When my son, Sam 7, decided it would be interesting to develop his own recipe for pancakes, his brother, Josh, 4½, needed to follow suit.
For many parents, this would have presented no challenge at all. Some would have categorically said “no,” while others uttered an unhesitating “yes.” I am somewhere in the middle. When confronted with their enthusiasm, I knew that I had to choose sides.
The entire proposition made me nervous. How could I be expected to supervise a cooking project while I was IN THE MIDDLE OF PREPARING DINNER? Would they make a huge mess? Could they/I/we cope with the lack of eggs in the house? Shouldn’t pancakes be made WITH EGGS? And worst of all, would they be wasting food?
It took me a minute but I realized this was a wonderful opportunity to get over myself.
OK, I was in the middle of making dinner. But they didn’t seem at all interested in having me take over or even tell them what to do. As a matter of fact, they were expressing their creativity, showing initiative and independence. They were telling me what they were going to do, not asking what should be done.
Next, I considered the disaster area the kitchen would become if they were allowed unrestrained access to flour, milk and oil. I knew that this batter and all the ingredients would get all over the floor, the counters and the children. Did I really need to clean more stuff up? I’m tired. It’s been a long day.
But, then I thought: Life and learning are messy.
And as for the egg dilemma, who says eggs have to be in the batter? What happens if we don’t put eggs in? Would the whole world fall apart? Would it work? Wasn’t I just relying on tradition, prejudice and lack of imagination to guide my actions by insisting on eggs in pancakes? Batter without eggs may be delicious and satisfying. Perhaps, I just needed to give this radical idea a chance.
Wasting food…ah, that was a tough one. It is a delicate issue. Surely pancake batters without eggs would be horrible and unfit for human consumption. They would never eat those pancakes and the whole mess would be thrown in the garbage. I wasn’t sure I could face that. Surely a significant portion of the flour, milk and oil would end up on the floor, if not in the batter, wouldn’t it?
However I looked at it, I knew that I had to get over the fact that this project would involve waste and decide that the food would really not be “wasted,” since my children were learning something.
Most important, I realized it was my issue and not theirs. Was it a waste for them to learn how to cook? What if one of my boys had a master chef lurking in his heart or the potential to be a culinary artist? What would I be teaching them if I responded to their initiative to cook pancakes by calling it a waste of food?
They mixed their goo with earnestness and dedication. They were truly committed to the task at hand and concentrated. They even accepted help when the consistency of the batter was closer to bread dough.
After putting up with the annoying distraction of eating the dinner I prepared, the kids were eager to get to the next step of their project: Cooking the pancakes. For me, this was the final test: How do I express enthusiasm for a product whose success I seriously doubted?
We pressed on. I bit my lip, greased the pan and poured the batter.
Once made, the kids dressed the pancakes up with whipped cream and strawberries. There was excitement, exuberance and satisfaction as they ate up the fruits of their labor. They were pleased, powerful and in control. It was priceless and I was grateful.
So was I left with the dishes? Was there flour on the floor? On the kids? Of course. I am still wiping off the flour dust that seems to have gotten into every nook and cranny of the kitchen and I haven’t necessarily been cheerful about cleaning it up.
But I still am thrilled about their success. The next step is to learn the joys of sharing clean-up responsibilities. We can work on that on another day.
Millie Rey is a writer and mom living in Chicago.