I am a foodie. Or a bakie, more precisely. When I was pregnant with N, I would stand over a pot of spaghetti sauce and envision by toddler helping me taste-test and stir the noodles. In my romantic vision, we would be baking buddies – he would grow up with warm memories of laughing while we baked cookies together and would know the names of each spice on the rack. It would be beautiful! A little culinary partnership with me as the patient teacher.
The dream basically came to fruition. N loves to help me cook. Only, it looks a little less Hallmark Channel and a little more like this:
I put the ingredients on the counter, pull up a stool, and invite N to join me in making cookies/bread/rice crispie treats.
N goes immediately for the eggs, which he begs to “hatch.” I spend the next five minutes moving things strategically out of his reach so that the eggs don’t get hatched on the floor.
While I am doing this rearranging, N finds a spoon and the bag of sugar. I move the sugar and remind him not to touch anything. As I reach for a measuring cup, he grabs a stick of butter and smooshes it in his hand.
I wipe N off and we reset. I remind him not to touch any of the ingredients. I get out a spoon and start to stir. N asks fora turn, and I give him the spoon. He stirs…wildly, so that things slosh up over the edge of the bowl and all over the counter.
But it’s okay. I’m the patient teacher, remember? We press on. I ask him to stir a little more carefully so that we have some ingredients left in the actual bowl. And he does, for a minute. I tell him it’s my turn to stir again, finish whipping up whatever it is, and take a deep breath. Put it in the oven, and let N lick the spoon.
It only took me a year or so of baking with N to realize that neither of us were having much of the endearing experience I was imagining we would have. In fact, I was spicing up most of our cooking attempts with a side of shaming and a splash of huffiness. Turns out, those things make for a bitter result.
Which brings me to a big problem I have in my mommy life…expectations. Expectations of what the result of my experience would look like, without enough of N in the plan. This has happened to us with crafts, games, park time, you name it. I have to check myself and remember I’m not playing at the park for me, I’m doing it for N. If he doesn’t want to cover his coffee filter in watercolor to make a butterfly, and I have to nag him the entire time so that I can present a nice gift to his grandma, why can’t I just say, “Okay? Paint it like you want, and Grandma will love it because you made it.” Or, even, “That’s fine, play with the paints, and we’ll do a gift for Grandma later.”
Instead, I find myself whining in that ugly, shamey voice, “Okayy. Paint it like you want. I guess you won’t have a butterfly to give to Grandma.” Gross. Which one is the three-year-old here? Who’s losing here? N. N, N, and only N. My mom doesn’t give a shit what the butterfly looks like, or if N gives her a half-painted piece of coffee filter for Mother’s Day. If he had fun and got to experiment with something new like watercolor, that should be the part that counts, right?
So, why is this so hard for me? Why put so much pressure on myself to have a picture-perfect craft/baking/play time with my kids that I can’t even enjoy or let them just enjoy the process? Who the hell knows.
But, I’m getting there. An egg hatches on the floor? We can wipe it up and get out another one! N would much rather eat the cookie dough than roll it out and cut the cookies? Have some cookie dough while I cut the cookies. Because it really doesn’t matter as long as we laugh a lot and spend the time together. Plus, I don’t end up with that sour taste of guilt on my tongue each time I bite into a cookie I bitched N into baking.