When school let out this year, I announced to my perfectly capable 11- and 13-year-olds that for the duration of the summer, they would each be planning and making dinner for the family one night each week. I delivered this decree with calm cheerfulness, but in my head I was seeing this:
The thing is, one of the results of having grown up extremely self-sufficient by necessity is that—and I know this is going to come as a complete shock—sometimes I kind of baby my kids. I KNOW. I mean, it’s crazy, because I’m such a complete hardass in so many other ways. But I am sometimes slow to get my kids on the self-sufficiency train, as evidenced by the time my lovely daughter and I faced off and I decreed she should pack her own school lunch for a week, and she completely melted down. At 12. Because packing her own lunch seemed such a terrible punishment. (I did not tell her that I packed my own lunch from kindergarten onward. Because I am nice.)
The kids sometimes do this learned helplessness thing that pokes at my tender pink inner child and causes me to rush in and fix it for them instead of saying, “Huh. That’s interesting. Good luck!”
But the dinner thing, I stood firm. They’re plenty old enough to cook. Both of them enjoy helping me in the kitchen. And I know people whose kids have been cooking entire meals since they were younger than my kids are now, so clearly it’s time for my kids to GET WITH THE PROGRAM.
The news of this new responsibility was met with… mixed feelings. Monkey panicked; he doesn’t know how to cook things! Where is he supposed to even figure that out? CAN WE HAVE CEREAL FOR DINNER? I talked him off the ledge by assuring him that I would be his willing sous chef, and he could start with foods we already eat regularly, and then—if he liked—we could branch out to some new recipes. He calmed down. Chickadee, meanwhile, announced that she would be making eggs. Just eggs. Every week. When it was suggested that she might take this opportunity to expand her repertoire, she agreed to occasionally switch it up with pancakes.
I was ready for a long summer.
But funny things started happening.
The night we sat down to eat Monkey’s first creation—shrimp and gluten-free pasta in a tomato basil cream sauce—his chest puffed up from our compliments and he ate three platefuls.
Chickadee spent several hours making the world’s largest vat of fruit salad, one week, which we all ate morning, noon and night until it was gone, and this week she came shopping with me to pick out more fruit so that she can do it again.
Monkey pulled out a few of my cookbooks, yesterday, and asked if he’s allowed to use the grill. (Answer: No. You must be THIS HIGH to work with an open flame, kid. But if you want to prep everything to go on the grill, we’ll call that good.)
Chickadee got up early today and baked a pan of brownies (“I figured I’d run the oven before it got really hot in here”), and while they were in the oven she unloaded the clean dishes from the dishwasher and loaded in the dirty ones.
The first kid-cooking night I mentioned Monkey’s success on Facebook and someone asked me to write about how we were doing this, and I thought “Um, that would be a really short entry. How we’re doing it is that I told them ‘pick a night, give me your shopping list, cook something.'” It didn’t seem too involved to me, really.
But what I’m realizing is that the key isn’t the cookbooks or the willingness to take direction from the youngest member of our household as he commands me to “squeeze that garlic in the thing, because it makes my hands hurt when I do it.”
The key is simply acting like I know they can handle it. And I’m not going to lie, the first few weeks, I WAS ACTING. But now I’m not, because they can.
Also, fortunately, no one has tried to make turtle soup out of a muppet turtle. So there’s that.