I struggle with perfectionism. To be fair, I’ve come a long way. Having three little kids will tend to do that to a person. Just the other day, I even put mismatched shoes on the baby and left the house like that. True story.
One way I’ve dealt with my perfectionism is learning to reframe things. Instead of cajoling the kids into cleaning up their toys because it’s making me crazy, I focus on teaching them to pick up after themselves because it’s a valuable life skill. When I make this distinction, I’m much more likely to be calm about attempting to enforce it. Because I will survive if (not if, when) the house is messy.
Before I get completely sidetracked by my philosophy on toys and mess, let me get to my point. The kitchen. The kids and me in the kitchen. Doing things together. And enjoying it.
I like baking. I find it calming, meditative. You have a list, instructions, clear starting and stopping points. Not like, say, potty training. No, baking is clear-cut, unambiguous, and at the end you can get perfectly-shaped cookies (a melon baller is great for that, btw).
When I’m in the kitchen, so are my kids. They want to be with me, almost all the time, and it’s so sweet, and I love that they want to spend time with me. Despite this love, letting them help in the kitchen has been an exercise in Herculean amounts of patience.
Inviting them to bake with me is letting them right into my zen area. My calming station. Instead of the steady rhythm of measuring and mixing, I’m facing the fidgety pace of two excited little boys.
Yes, the easy choice would be to not let them help, to just bake when they’re at school or sleeping. That would simplify things. But sometimes choosing the more difficult path leads to great rewards.
Instead of being a disaster, usually our family cooking activity ends up very sweetly, actually. In the smooth scenario, the boys both stand on the top of our step-stool while I measure out an ingredient. I’ll hand the teaspoon/cup/pitcher to whichever boy is up to bat, and he will gleefully dump it in. Ear-to-ear grins all around.
We’ve had some surprise hits, like how much they love checking eggs for blood spots (’cause there’s a Jewish thing about not eating blood). I’ll crack an egg into my clear measuring cup, and after we peek in from the top they will loudly declare, “No blood spots!” Then we lift up the cup to check the bottom and they yell out again, “No blood spots!” I don’t think they’re actually looking, but, let me tell you, they love the yelling. When we actually do find a blood spot they barely know what to do with themselves, they get so excited.
I thought they would get a kick out of the food processor, but apparently it’s too loud, and thus, terrifying. My three-year-old will get down off the step stool and exit the kitchen completely when I tell him that I’m going to use it.
When we bake, they learn about taking turns, following instructions, measuring, and organization. They learn about ingredients and they get to help make their own food. Really, how cool is that? They love it, and they usually eat whatever they help me make (unless it has something completely repellent in it, like, heaven forbid, vegetables!! The horror!!).
It’s been a process, and I’ve learned that if I’m under stress, or under the weather, or just not feeling up to it, family baking isn’t the best activity. I want to create happy memories of sticky batter, not of Mommy losing her cool because someone dumped the entire container of baking soda into the bowl.
Despite the bickering in the middle of a recipe, and even though it takes far, faaaaaaar longer to bake with my little helpers, I’m so glad that I sometimes ste outside of my comfort zone to include them. Because when it comes down to it, spending time with them and creating these memories is far more important than having perfectly shaped cookies.