Cooking and Connecting (Part 2)

Almost a year ago, I blogged about the first time my mother and I cooked together, an experience made somewhat awkward by the fact that it had taken 24 years to try it out. I made myself a promise to share the kitchen experience with my son, so that cooking and baking with me was something he experienced often, and treated as the norm.

Sadly, I haven’t repeated the experience with my own mother. But I have kept that latter promise. And never more so than this week. As I join the rest of the UK in a snow induced lock-in of tremendous cabin fever, I’m sure I’m not the only one who has turned to the scales and bake ware. And even with the following points, I’m sure you all agree it’s pretty adorable.
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Let me share with you my new expectations of cooking with toddlers.

Don’t expect to keep to a recipe.

It’s pretty funny exploring a kid’s version of ‘just a bit more’ when you are trying to weigh ingredients. My son anyway, just tips whatever he is holding upside down. If you are someone who really cares about precise measurements in your baking efforts, I would recommend pre-weighing everything like you are making a YouTube video. Even then, you will probably have broken glass in the batter at some point. And a lot more washing up. My thoughts? Let them tip it all in, because after all….

…Don’t expect to be able to eat anything

It’s really fun for kids to be involved in preparation for meals and treats. And obviously we can do our best to make food as hygienic as possible by washing hands beforehand etc etc. But let me tell you a secret. Do you know how long a two year olds hands stay clean for after you’ve washed them? About 3 seconds. I cant even lift R off the kitchen step from the sink without noticing his fingers down his trousers / up his nose / in the plug hole / picking something questionable up off the floor. If by some miracle their hands are moderately clean and stay away from the ingredients, you can bet your life that you will turn away for 2 seconds to get the vanilla essence, and turn round to their head stuck entirely in the bowl, tongue out.

Don’t expect to maintain a normal level of mess

If you’re one of those ‘clean up as you go’ types.. Good luck. If you can even see through the icing sugar cloud to move the used utensils closer to the sink, you’re doing really well. Expect everything to be covered in flour and oddly sticky even if the ingredients aren’t. Personally, I count the session a successful activity if I manage to keep the eggs unbroken and off the floor. (Why has no one invented a way to clean up a broken egg in less than twenty minutes and without making you contemplate suicide?)
As your kids get older, they will be able to ‘help’ clean up more and more, (and then less and less as they become teenagers as far as I’m aware. What age is the peak of help and cleanliness you will ever receive? 9? 11? More experienced mums, do tell.) but for me anyway, I prefer to do without the so called ‘help’ of even more things being spilled and spread everywhere and just let him lick out the bowl hoping to heaven he stays in one place until I can get the chocolate-y creature that used to be my baby into the bathroom. (Why is it so far away from the kitchen? Arms up, hands in the air! Arms up!)

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Don’t expect to keep it healthy

Most children I know think cooking is fun regardless of what you are making. But most recipes aren’t appropriate before the age of about 6 or 7 at the earliest. Tweens and teens and even younger kids love peeling, chopping, blending and reading our recipes. And generally don’t randomly spit in the bowl for giggles. But when your kid is under three, they may well shove a handful of whatever you are making in their mouths, making anything main-course-like a tad off limits, (raw meatballs anyone?) and are obviously unable to help with preparing of veg for soups and the like. Coupled with their belief in their divine right to lick the bowl / spoon(s) / counter-top, that pretty much leaves dessert as your main option. Alright as a one off, but with 4 days of snow behind us, and no end in sight, pretty soon I may have to lend R my hula hoop.

 
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The Building Blocks of Life.. Literally.

Today I’m going to be making a deep point about lego. Well, to be more accurate-Megablocks.

As a side point, I wonder how many more kinds of lego are going to be patented. It’s actually shocking that in a world where no one has invented a truly leak-proof nappy, or a vest with poppers that fits a child older than 2, or a device which gets your kids up and dressed in the morning, (preferably activated by parents snoring) that we have about 18 dozen forms of connect-able block.

Anyway. My son has recently started enjoying mega blocks. He excitedly brings me the bag to unzip, and empties them out onto the carpet. He rifles through the assorted sizes and colours, hand picking the ones he wants, and is now truly adept at putting them together and pulling them apart. The last few weeks he is even building complex constructions and skyscrapers galore. It’s amazing.

However (and this may be a shock to some). My son has neither an engineering nor an architecture degree. And at the ripe old age of 1 and three quarters, he has very little concept of foundation or structure. So lego and its peers are very much a supervised activity, with parental help as and when.

Which brings me to my point. How much help is too much help?

I have 3 options. (In lego at least.)

  1. I help him build his tower, replacing pieces in his hands when I can see he is making a poor choice, trying to explain why, making the whole thing pretty much a formal learning game. In other words, let’s call option one, Sucking all the Fun Out of Life. 
  2. I secretly rebuild the tower as we go, waiting until he turns to get another piece before rearranging the four pronger from on top of the one pronger etc, and remaking the foundations until I don’t have to hold it secretly between my own hands to get it to stay upright. Let’s give this one the ever catchy Lying to our Kids title.
  3. I let him make his own mistakes, letting the tower fall to the ground every time he places another brick, and hope he starts to work it out for himself instead of the far more likely options of him getting very angry and/or giving up. Let’s give this the optimistic heading of Embrace the Tantrum.  


I doubt I need to explain the metaphor. There is so much that my son is on the cusp of understanding and doing himself. Every day he is trying to learn new things. But he is a baby. And the combination of easily frustrated and not very good at stuff is not exactly a match made in heaven. To avoid the seventeen episodes a day which range from mild whining to full blown tantrum-ing (I know sweetheart, it’s because the square doesn’t fit in the triangle hole.. Overreaction much?) I either have to do something for him, basically taking away his independence and causing a different whining episode, or make it look like he’s in control, when really he isn’t. (In which case-how is he ever going to learn?)

Like so much of parenting, it’s a balancing act. A lot of over-forced happy sounding “Oh dear!”‘s and “Let’s build it again!” and trying not to get frustrated audibly or noticeably with my own adult shortcomings, thus setting a bad example for how to deal with failure.

But part of me is waxing nostalgic over the days when play time was a simple trying to chew the head off a plastic dinosaur.

The lego guy never gets to go out with his friends…