The Joy of Cooking

My wife, Mattie, and I know it’s important to teach our nine-year-old daughter, Jessie, life skills. We encourage Jessie to ask and answer questions during family walks around our neighborhood. We coach her through experiences to build her communication and people skills. She also tackles a few household chores and takes care of the dog.

However, I’ve always wanted Jessie to enjoy her childhood to the fullest. She has the rest of her life to be an adult, so I tend to perform a lot of chores myself rather than wasting Jessie’s time. Okay, I admit it, sometimes it’s easier to do the task myself, without the extra mess, questions, and time it takes for a teachable moment. One area where this shows up most is my reluctance to teach Jessie to cook. I don’t particularly enjoy cooking, and having a partner who wants to make everything a grand and messy experiment doesn’t make it any more fun.

Now, that’s not to say we haven’t spent happy moments in the kitchen, because we have. Jessie’s flipped pancakes since age three. I’ve cleaned slimy egg running off the kitchen counter and down the cabinets more times than I can count. On one occasion, Jessie dropped the hand mixer, running at full speed, into cake batter, hurtling sticky globules to the far reaches of the kitchen. At times like that, a young assistant adds extra mess and time to a task I could complete more efficiently on my own.

“Overprotective Dad” also limited Jessie’s use of knives until I felt comfortable that bandages or a trip to the emergency room wouldn’t be needed before Jessie had the potatoes peeled or apples sliced. Parents give responsibilities at different timeframes. When my four-year-old niece peeled potatoes for a meal at her parents’ house, I worried so much I thought I’d need a doctor even if she didn’t. However, she did an excellent job with no bandages required.

I’ll be the first to admit I haven’t felt a sense of urgency to rush Jessie into the kitchen, even though we’ve had some great times in it, and she knows how to do a lot. Once, she made yellow rice and black beans for her mom and me. She filled our water glasses and wrapped the silverware in paper towels taped so securely we had to rip the paper to remove the utensils. She even went outside and cut a yellow mum and put it into a vase. Then she closed the blinds and turned out all the lights to create a romantic ambience.

We complimented her on the meal and her efforts. It didn’t matter that a good amount of rice stuck to the bottom of the pan.

One of the things that makes Jessie’s cooking more stressful is her “Please don’t look” policy. She likes to surprise us and tries to comfort us with, “I know where the fire extinguisher is.” It’s hard to find that comforting, so we’ve emphasized that use of the fire extinguisher is not the goal.

On that note, let’s get Jessie’s perspective.

    Jessie, Age 9
    I love to cook. My dad is an ok cook, but he does not want to teach me. I have a billion recipes I really want to try!!! Why won’t he teach me? This is what I know how to do: make a quesadilla, bake cookies out of a bag, mix Kool-Aid, and heat food out of a can. Also, I can make pancakes and blueberry muffins out of a box. Now, let’s get back to Daddy’s perspective on cooking.

“Why won’t he teach me?” Wow, that hurts like a slap in the face with a hot, flipped pancake. I don’t want to drop the ball as a parent, even though I have thought – okay, said outright – “You and Grandmommy can cook together,” as her grandmother’s talents in the kitchen and tolerance for messes far outweigh mine.

I realize it’s now time to give Jessie more responsibilities in the kitchen. Still, I find it easier to teach other life skills than to watch her slice oranges with sharp knives.

But whether Mattie and I enjoy a romantic dinner Jessie prepares or bandage a cut she sustains while learning, one thing is certain ’tween daughter and dad, I love my girl and my girl loves me.

Until next month, remember to cherish the moments. Happy Mother’s Day to all the hard-working moms. Thank you for the important role you play as teachers.

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