Coming in the door after a long day at the office used to be a bittersweet moment for me. On the one hand I was glad to be relieved of the hustle and bustle of office life, but on the other, it simply meant I was left to face the home life’s version of hustle. The particularly difficult moment was when I had to separate myself yet again from my 2-year-old daughter, Elli, to fix supper. Believe me, I tried to lessen the impact of that moment, attempting all the tricks that cooks and parenting magazines recommend: cooking ahead of time, fixing only the 30-minutes-or-less meals, letting your husband take over one night a week. Still, the choice of daughter or cooking was not removed.
Then, as has happened with nearly all my parenting epiphanies, a fortuitous accident led to a solution.
All I was trying to do was entertain my daughter one afternoon by having her “help” me make brownies. Between the stirring, the aroma, the taste of batter and, not least of all, attention from me, she was hooked.
I asked myself, Why was I trying so hard to keep separate two things that have natural kinship?
I decided to experiment with my new discovery, perform a little cost-benefit analysis, if you will, of having Elli help me cook supper. Yes, cooking times are increased to account for a toddler’s underdeveloped skills, aim and ability to keep her fingers out of the sauce. True, well-honed multitasking skills are a prerequisite. And, oh believe it, it does make for one tremendous mess at times. But our cooking adventures continue to surprise me by how much they benefit us both.
For instance, I realized that I do not have to play down to a toddler in terms of which recipes to use. In other words, instead of looking for a recipe for Elli, I looked for Elli in the recipe. I read a recipe and identify which parts of it she can help me with and, equally important, which parts of the recipe lend themselves to me teaching Elli.
One recipe I chose called for tomatoes and green peppers and yellow cornbread mix, so I used it to work on colors with Elli. Inevitably she labeled everything red -- she still does, in fact – but it helps lay the groundwork for that day when she wows her art teacher with her hue perception.
Other recipes work great for lessons on textures, sizes, shapes. Still others help me teach her about taking turns (Mommy stirs, Elli stirs), manners (we made sugar cookies that spelled “Thank you” for a generous neighbor), doing things for others (we made Daddy a homemade pizza of his choice for his birthday), and other moral lessons I want her to learn early. All the recipes are great ways to work on vocabulary too (wisk, bowl, spoon, pan, pot, onion, pepper, etc.). Of course, there may also be some beginner chemistry and nutrition lessons in there too.