“Can I help?” is the question that I love and dread from my kids when it comes to cooking.
On the one hand, I want my children to help prepare meals, to discover and investigate new foods and to slowly become culinarily independent. I also want to create “cooking with mom” memories that will accompany them for the rest of their lives, both in terms of the recipe and the sentiment.
On the other hand, the mess! The time! The patience required and the often less-than-perfect result. It is so much easier to do it all on my own. But then there’s that disappointed face, the lost opportunity to teach and, more than that, to connect.
Pancakes were the first things that my three kids were interested in cooking. They started when they were toddlers, fetching the ingredients, emptying cups of milk and flour into the bowl, sifting and stirring, then progressed in the early school years to measuring and cracking eggs, and finally graduated in grade school to the complicated business of frying and tossing.
Through years of Saturday morning pancake-a-thons, however, the one who has learned the most is me.
“Oops,” says my daughter when the sugar mountain spills over the top of the cup onto the counter, joining the splashed oil and the overflow of flour, eggshell and salt, and creating a paste rivaling super glue. I bite my tongue to stop myself from asking her to be careful again. I have learned it is worth reining in my control freak tendencies in favor of accepting that my 7-year-old is learning about mass, volume and coordination.
“Let’s add peanut butter chips,” she suggests, and I make a grand effort not to screw my nose up and suggest we stick with my own more classic approach to flavoring in order not to crush her creativity and confidence.
“I got shell in it,” she confesses after we’ve already stirred in the eggs, and we giggle together over the thought of that crunchy pancake as I acknowledge that mistakes happen, and this is a process with stops and starts and successes and fails.
“Pancakes, pancakes,” she sings happily as she stirs with great gusto, and I resist telling her that a gentle approach in this instance will give the best results, the better to prolong her childish enjoyment and unchecked enthusiasm.
“Can I do that with the oven mitts on?” she asks when frying for the first time, and I respect her choice, though the cumbersome mitts make the task almost impossible.
“I’m tired,” she frowns when it comes time to clean up, so I race her to see who can return the most ingredients to the cupboard and plop dirty dishes in the sink. In doing so, I discover that kids will happily do even the most mundane jobs if you make them fun.
It turns out that the simple joy of making pancakes with my daughter is, in fact, one of the ways in which I am helping to shape her character. My choices are steering her away from perfectionism and nurturing her independence, creativity and self-esteem.
For her part, my daughter is teaching me to let go, ignore the mess in favor of fun, concentrate on the process rather than the result and let her be her authentic self. I hope, too, that we really are making memories together, the kind that last a lifetime.
Parenting pro tip: Although inaccurately measured ingredients, overly vigorous stirring, eggshell and peanut butter chips do not actually produce a tasty pancake, maple syrup and Nutella make just about anything palatable. Enjoy.