Last week, my oldest daughter turned eight. We had a small celebration at home. We’ll have a party for some friends after the baby comes and we all get settled again. For our family celebration, we baked a birthday cake to have after dinner.
Baking in a small, galley-style kitchen can be a challenge when you’re 8 and a half months pregnant, and roughly the size of a river barge. Add four children who want to help to the mix, and you have a situation brewing that’s likely to make you lose your mind!
These experiences, helping Mom or Dad in the kitchen are so important for young children. They need to learn how to help…and actually be helpful! They need to learn how to clean up once the job is done. They need to learn how to read a recipe…and it’s a great way to teach fractions, too! So, how can you, as a parent, help them to learn all these things while not losing your mind? You want it to be an enjoyable experience for you all! You want your children to look back with fond memories of baking in the kitchen with you.
I have to admit, before my kids started getting old enough to help, I had very unrealistic expectations of how these cooperative cooking experiences would proceed. We would have pretty, matching mother and child aprons. I would look like June Cleaver, with high heels and perfect hair pulling cookies out of the oven with a giant smile on my face (as if anyone can really smile while wearing high heels!). We would carefully measure, and stir, taking turns nicely while nary a drop was ever spilled. There would be no flour explosions in our perfect kitchen! Never an egg shell dropped in the wrong spot!
Oh, how foolish the expectations of a young mother can sometimes be!!!
Well, I’m certainly no June Cleaver, and cooking with even one child is a mess. Cooking with four is nothing short of a natural disaster of the proportion that deserves its own name! But, if I let it, cooking together can also be a hugely rewarding experience…both for me, and for the children.
Bear is old enough now that she is actually quite a help. She knows how to read a recipe, how to measure ingredients, and how to make sure she gets those ingredients (completely) into the mixing bowl. Lizard is learning, but still needs a lot of help. On Sunday, she was helping her Daddy make hamburger patties, and managed to squirt raw meat juice all over both their faces! But, hey…at least she’s excited to get her hands in there and get things done. Monkey tries-but he still needs very careful oversight! Rhino…well…he can’t really be trusted not to eat all the flour!
If I had never let Bear into the kitchen in the first place, she wouldn’t ever have learned as much as she has so far. If I don’t let Lizard try to measure and pour by herself, she’ll never figure out how to do it without spilling. Now, does that mean I don’t offer correction when she makes a mistake? Absolutely not! I try to patiently show her a better way, then, let her try it for herself (hopefully without the raw meat juice!).
Patience is not a virtue I possess naturally. It is something I have to constantly practice and work on. Sometimes, I have to just stop, take a deep breath, and remind myself that they goal isn’t a perfect cake. The goal is teaching my children enjoyment of an important life skill: cooking. When I can keep that goal in mind, it’s much easier to make cooking with my children a fun, relaxed experience…and that’s better for us all!
Here is the finished product for Bear’s birthday cake. She frosted and decorated it herself, too. It’s a dinosaur in a field of flowers, in case you’re wondering. She has never been so proud of a cake! I’m so proud of her. She’s growing up so fast.