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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Big Kids Don’t Cry

All children cry. Obviously some more than others, and for varied reasons, but crying is a natural and normal part of a kids life. For babies and often toddlers who are pre-speech, it is the only way they can express how they are feeling, or tell you that something is wrong. For older kids, who have not yet learned to control their emotions, even ‘small’ events can push them to tears, especially if helped along by over-tiredness or unusual circumstances. Crying in older children can also be seen as useful as it leads to helping behaviour from adults and peers.

Apparently, until adolescence, no difference in crying behaviour is found between men and women, which suggests that it is at that point that people start discouraging tears. “Come on, don’t cry” “Cheer up” “Be a man” etc. With that in mind, as a definite adult, I feel a slight twinge of embarassment to admit the following.

I cry all the time. I’m not saying this to elicit any particular sympathy, and let me assure you that my life is pretty awesome most of the time. To make this clearer, I can remember at least three crying episodes induced by potatoes of varied kinds. There’s not much empathy to be had there is there? [Unless of course, you are an Irish farmer.] I cry like a toddler does, simply because I am sad about something, and generally over-tired most of the time.

With this in mind, when I read the somehow scientifically agreed fact that “women cry on average between 30 and 64 times a year” I have to tell you the following substantiated fact about myself. “If I didn’t cry yesterday I will probably do so tomorrow.” That makes my magic number about 182.5.

Shocking!

No need to call me up tomorrow friends to make sure I’m okay, because I most definitely cried yesterday. At soft play of all places.

I was playing with R in the under 5’s area, and was pleased as punch because he was showing some independence climbing up the steps, through the tunnel, over the bridge, (dont forget to hit the dangly foam bits) and up to the slide. At that point he would look with trepidation at the slide, shake his head and follow his previous route back the way he came, over the bridge, (hit the dangly foam bits) through the tunnel, down the steps (dont worry about other kids climbing up-just power through) and starting the whole process again.

Up until now at this particular soft play, I have done the course along with him, putting him on my lap for the slide part, and helping him ‘man up’ to become more and more able to go it alone. This was the first day where he ran ahead to climb up without a backwards glance. [nope, I didn’t well up from the emotion of it all. Stop guessing.]

Right by the tunnel, are a few larger than average steps, with harder than average mats on them, supposedly for older kids who are braver than necessary for the regular connected log steps. When standing, a toddler cannot fall, as the gap is too small, but when sitting …

R was sitting facing away from the gap by the tunnel, too cowardly to push past the other kids, and waiting for his own turn to go through the tunnel, much like a tentative early driver might let masses of cars into his lane, too scared to push forward. As I watched from below, in slow motion he shuffled himself backwards, and I knew what would happen before it did. He fell backwards in one movement, landing on his back on the next step, glasses askew and screaming with all his might at the shock. As I took the log steps two at a time, I watched him struggle upwards, causing him to fall again onto the next one! I grabbed at his hand, desperate for it to not happen for a third time, trying to squeeze myself into the toddler sized gap to get to my baby boy. (Imagine if this had happened a year ago, I would still be wedged in this evening. ;)) The look on my face must have been pretty freaked out.

And then it happened. All the mums started doing the worst possible thing they could do. Laughing? Shouting at me? Throwing ball pond balls at me? No such luck. They began to be…Nice.

“Oh don’t worry, he’s fine!”
“He just got a shock, he’s okay darling!”
“Oh poor you, here are his glasses, should I get him some juice?”

And here come the waterworks. I really think I could have held it together without all the kind words and sympathetic glances. But my own shock, mixed with his tears and fear, and off I went like Niagra falls.

And I can’t help it. It was all over with a packet of Florida Naturals and a kiss and a cuddle, (R calmed down pretty quickly too..) certainly forgotten about by the time we got to the car. But  when something upsets me, I cry!

I’m not sure what event in adolescence I missed out on that was supposed to teach me how to save my tears for the bi-monthly saddest situations in my year, but I pretty much meet my quota from watching Grey’s Anatomy.

Men on the other hand open the floodgates between 6 and 17 times a year. Given that R can pretty much reach that target by lunchtime, I guess he has some work to do to be considered a ‘real man’ by adolescence.

Eek, a spider! Will someone call my husband?

Not to stamp all over feminism or anything, but…

The following crises have occured in the past 36 hours since my husband left for his business trip.

Problem #1: We ran out of toilet paper and I have no idea where it is kept.
Solution: I had a really good search, and got R involved also, emptying cupboards and the like, but luckily on moving a pile of clothes in the bathroom, I discovered that C had anticipated the problem and left a spare. Phew. I was about ten mins away from going out to buy more. Fortunately I know where we keep the local Tesco’s.

Problem #2: The changing table has collapsed.
Clarification: Not so much the changing part, which is seemingly fine, (famous last words) but more the drawers part, which have collapsed in onto each other, meaning they all open simultaneously and precariously. I can therefore not access vests, nappy cream, any medicines and most of R’s socks and trousers.
Solution:
Thus far I have survived on what is in the changing bag, and R has gone to sleep tonight without a vest. It’s warm, I’m not concerned. I will however, need a new solution by the morning when he has no socks or vest to leave the house in. Hrm..

Problem #3: I got a phone call that normally C would deal with.
Clarification: Er.. I hate dealing with things.
Solution: I’m not proud of the fact that my first impulse was to call C in Holland and cry. I’m even less proud that I acted upon it. A compromise was found where I texted a reply and have now turned my phone on silent and hidden it. Why are texts so much less scary than phone calls? However, dealt with by myself. A win in my book.

Problem #4: I’m alone looking after my son.
Clarification: Once again, hats off to single parents (or parents whose spouse travels a lot…) -I dont know how you do it. Just the knowledge that no one is going to come and save you from the frustration of endless whining and looking after, is enough to make even the smallest difficulties a million times worse. My son is such a good boy, and yet 3 days with him by myself? Likely to make me break something.
Solution: Baby Einstein, and OH so many packets of raisins.

So far so good then, I’m practically an independent female.

Oh who am I kidding? Only 1680 minutes until the hubby is back again…

And just to appease all you feminists out there who think I’m taking ‘the cause’ back 50 years.. here’s some billboard grafitti which I found hilarious. (Yes, even though I’m married.)