The Chef, by unknown Spanish master. 17th century.
Occasionally it comes upon me with a great panic: the children are growing up. Sooner than I think they’ll be flying the coop, circling the barn, and cresting the clouds somewhere over the pond. With these thoughts the tears rise hard and fast.
Boy one’s shoes look like we could use them as canoes this summer. I feel already his eventual loss. In his most irritating moments, nostalgia morphs into longing for the clock to tick double time, but lately he isn’t irritating me enough. This put me in need of a list. A list of things I still need to teach him in the two and a half, tiny, little, puny, minuscule years before he graduates from high school.
It turned out tobe a long list, which was good. It gave me something else to worry about. I decided there was no time like the present to start working with the others on departure preparedness. Which is why I instituted weekly cooking nights for the months of January and February. Each child has a night to cook with me. Making it to the end of February earns me a gold star. Further commitment, for now, is not required.
As expected, cooking so regularly with sous-chefs has taken the smooth out of dinner preparations, but otherwise I like it. Boy one started with a chicken chili. He learned about peeling garlic cloves, while I assured him he was still in the game on that one since I didn’t know you could get garlic, without ordering it in butter on bread at a restaurant, until after I left home.
“I want to know how to make soup,” announced Boy two. “Can you make sure I learn how to make soup?” We boiled our bones the night before and went to work when he got home from school. Even the leftovers thrilled him. Girl one began with curried chicken (see a meat theme anyone?) and Girl two’s first go was a stir fry (pork!).
The kids have been in the kitchen a million times but their cooking nights feel different. Smelling spices together, cutting up vegetables, and discussing substitutions, I walk them through the secret passages of my castle. Girl two made buttermilk with the usual mix of vinegar and milk. Nothing special, but to her, the knowledge was an invitation to magic. Boy two cried the usual tears as he chopped an onion. It felt like super powers to hand him a piece of bread, tell him to hold it in his mouth, then watch his amazement as his eyes returned to normal.
Wrapped up in these simple things lies the heart and soul of our loving and being. Without food, we die. To prepare a meal well is to reverence life: not wasting what we have, blessing those who partake. To give someone food says I wish you to live. And with good food, I wish you to live well and long and happy.
Inspired by the, “what we are learning,” newsletter from the new school. What we are learning:
Girl one is learning to make a roux and a white sauce. The goal is homemade macaroni and cheese from scratch so she will know how to make a favourite dish. She is also learning by default the pleasure of not being the one assigned to the hard lessons. (Thanks to me, her father also had reason to revisit this pleasant educational state.)
Girl two is learning that no one finds it funny when you take a sharp metal object and scratch large designs on the piano bench. In fact, they are still mad at you every time they walk by. She is also learning how to fake sincere apologies by closing her eyes, and nodding her head with her lips squished together.
Boy one is learning to clean a toilet properly. He has also had his first run at final exams and the concept of extensive studying. Results still to come, he is sure he did brilliantly. He has not yet learned how to fake sincere apologies. We look forward with longing to the day he decides to try.
Boy two is learning that when you fake being sick because you want the a day off to read (while your father is very sick with the stomach flu) your mother does not forgive you for a tiny apology and an offer of $10. A compliment from another adult that would have melted her a week ago (you’re doing well with your French) fails to impress. Maternal ears appear immune to your sweetness, and most uninterested in compliments of any kind in reference to you.
My lesson plans were as follows:
First, when my husband missed the bus that boy one takes to school (because he stopped for gas before dropping him off) the obvious lesson was that late people merit frustrating outcomes. I can’t remember if I shared my insights. Probably not. The lesson was too self evident.
It turns out the lesson was actually that it would happen to me too (undeserving and timely, though I am) if I similarly stop for gas before dropping off. For reasons that are dull (no cell phone, faker sick boy, real sick husband, etc.) my little failure to get the lesson when someone else was learning it cost me the better part of an hour and a half to get everyone to where they needed to be. Husband was empathetic, and warmed to the cockles of his toes.
I also learned about metal cans. I.e. cutting yourself on metal can lids is not hard to do. Even though I cut myself badly on a peach can lid two years ago and swore to never to make that mistake again. In fact, while fighting with a useless can opener, it was possible to cut with even more gusto, deeper and longer on the edge of a massive ketchup can lid.