A few weeks ago I let my eight year old son cook dinner. Really cook dinner. He’s been re-heating things and making sandwiches for a while, but when he said he wanted to work in the kitchen, I told him I had purchased ingredients for a recipe I found on Pinterest (Fish Taco Bowls from The Live-In Kitchen) and if he wanted to cook, he had to make that recipe. “All right,” he said with a shrug of his shoulders. Hmmm, that wasn’t the response I was expecting. I thought he would say never mind, my kitchen would be spared the certain disaster that was about to befall it, my patience would be spared the certain test that would accompany the process, and our relationship would be spared another sledgehammer blow .
My son and I have attempted cooking together before. Where he has a tremendous amount of enthusiasm for cooking and doing things his own way, even when he has no idea what he is doing, I have a tremendous amount of enthusiasm for following rules and perfection. The resulting combination is like a ticking time bomb, counting down the seconds to a fiery explosion. Unfortunately, as I am starting to recognize in my own life, nothing kills enthusiasm like the fear of doing something wrong or of not measuring up.
So in a moment of inspired self-awareness, I decided to just let him go.
“Go ahead kiddo, the kitchen is yours,” I told him.
“What? You mean you aren’t going to help me?”
“Nope. I don’t think you need my help, but I will be sitting right here in case you get stuck or need something.”
With a grin as wide as the Empire State building is tall, he grabbed his custom embroidered red and white striped chef’s apron from its hook and proceeded with his prep work. Within moments, I was certain a hurricane had passed through my kitchen. Contents of the refrigerator and pantry were strewn across what little countertop space the kitchen offers. Overflow items were balancing on stools, pots and pans were lining the floor, and I sat in our little eating nook, just a few feet away, simultaneously watching it all and trying to pretend it wasn’t happening.
About 10 minutes in, my husband arrived home. Our eyes met as he crossed the threshold into our entryway and I gave him a look in an attempt to warn him, prepare yourself, but he clearly didn’t get the signal. As he moved further into the apartment where the kitchen finally comes into view, his eyes grew wide like Bugsy, the pet hamster in the movie Bedtime Stories, the vein in his upper right temple bulged out, and his chest visibly expanded with the force of the breath he was willing himself to muster. To his credit, he calmly looked back at me and said, “Um, is everything ok in here?”
“Yep, the kiddo is cooking dinner tonight,” I responded with a smile and a look that told him not to say another word.
So he sat down across from me and we watched our eight year old go. He measured and combined the spices for the spice blend (thankfully stopping to confirm the difference between a teaspoon and tablespoon). He chopped peppers and thawed corn. He oiled and preheated pans. He unwrapped, rinsed and portioned fish (with a little help from me). The only thing that really tripped him up was the onions. As he was chopping away, his eyes started to burn and tears started flowing. “I can’t do this anymore mom, I need to stop,” he cried.
“It’s ok bud take a break and let me show you a trick.” (For once, he actually let me show him.) “Did you know that if you rinse the onion under cold water it will help get rid of the chemicals in the onion that are making your eyes burn?”
“That’s cool, but my eyes still hurt. I just want to stop,” he responded.
“How about we do this? I’ll finish chopping the onion and get it in the pan while you let your eyes rest. When I’m finished, you can have the kitchen back to start putting everything together and chopping the avocados that go on top.”
“Ok,” he smiled.
Unlike so many times before, instead or giving up or losing interest in a project halfway through, he took a short break, recharged his batteries and kept going. The finished product was amazing. It was delicious and beautiful, not in spite of, but because of the youthful exuberance he brought to the dish. So my kitchen needed to be fumigated when he finished, who cares? He was tired and proud and confident after seeing the end result of his hard work. He was beaming. It was well worth the time I spent cleaning up after him (I figured I would save the cleaning up lesson for the next time around), and the spilled jar of chili powder that was, amazingly, our only casualty of the evening.
And the best part?
When he finally sat down after all the work was done, he turned to me and said, “That was hard work. I can’t believe you do that every day.”