My son is a pleaser. He always has been and always will be. He loves to make people happy, especially, without a doubt, his mommy (he's 8 years old and still calls me mommy... I'm trying to hold on to it as long as I can before gently requiring him to give it up for his own personal social reasons.) So it shouldn't come as a surprise to me that he praises my cooking every chance he gets ("salmon?! I LOVE salmon!!" "what are you making mommy? it smells so good it makes me want to dance!") Maybe a little over the top at times but he's only trying to make me happy. Who wouldn't be proud of that?
He has also developed a love for the kitchen and a desire to bake and cook. And as he gets older, his desire for independence has increased immensely. One day not too long ago we awoke one Sunday morning, took our time getting out of bed and came downstairs to realize Brendan had "made" us all breakfast. He took the liberty of pouring the cereals he thought we each would like, setting the table, and even pouring the milk. When Joe came down and began to chastise him for pouring the milk when he didn't know how long it would take us to come downstairs, starting in on an explanation about soggy cereal, I interrupted when I saw B fighting back tears. "He had just poured it when we walked down" I said, "he was just trying to be nice..." And when he got up from the table to pour us all a glass of milk Joe said "oh no thanks Buddy, I'm good." (cue another disappointed look from the boy.) So even though I wouldn't normally have a glass of milk with breakfast I said "I'll have one sweetheart, and I'll even drink Daddy's." He smiled.
It was after this incident that I started thinking I should involve him in food prep more often. It's a passion of mine and it warms my heart that it's something he longs to enjoy alongside me. I was planning my ham and navy bean soup for Wednesday night and I traditionally make a batch of homemade cornbread to go with it. How hard could that be? He's 8, he can measure, I'll supervise, it's the perfect first solo baking attempt. So I suggested it and he was thrilled. I typed up the recipe (here several of you are wondering why I didn't just use a boxed mix... I have a tried and true recipe from my mama, it's easy, it's amazing... I don't do boxes.) I sat at the counter and let him go to work. I gave him gentle direction but, per his insistence, I didn't touch a thing. It was when we got to the cornmeal that we hit a minor roadblock. He poured what was left of the box in the pantry and it measured 1/4 of the entire 1 cup that he needed. I texted frantically, no neighbors had it on hand either. I decided to take Violet next door to continue the hunt. We had come this far, most of the ingredients had been measured, I couldn't back out on him now! So I left him to continue (minus the cornmeal for now) after showing him the salt and explaining teaspoons vs tablespoons (little t... big T.) But the hunt turned up nothing (come on people! who doesn't have cornmeal as a staple in their pantry?!) so we packed up all three kids and headed to Albertson's for a quick in-and-out stop for cornmeal. We headed back home, he finished up the recipe, stirred like a champ (when I stepped forward saying "here buddy, let me show you how to-" and he cut me off with a sharp "NO! Don't show me, just tell me!") It was his work, he wanted to be proud. He poured it into the prepared pan, put it in the oven and set the timer. It baked up puffy and golden brown along the edges, it looked perfect.
We sat down to dinner. We all ate half a bowl of ham and beans and our salad before cutting into the bread. It felt like a christening of sorts. It smelled heavenly. I served my family. A piece for Brendan, a piece for Aubrey, a piece for Daddy, even a piece cut up for Violet. I heard Joe say "mmm... pretty good buddy" as I cut my own piece. He sat at the table with eager anticipation. He wanted so bad to hear me sing his praises. So I can't tell you why I said what I did other than that I was shocked and I spoke before I could think.
I sunk my teeth in, wrinkled up my nose, nearly spit the piece out, chewed it slowly instead and said "oh... oh no..." as I looked at Joe who was reprimanding me with his eyes.
"Salt?" Joe asked so calmly and nicely.
"Um... yeah... oh wow... way too much salt... I think maybe he mixed up teaspoons for tablespoons" (in which case he put three times the amount of salt that was called for.) Joe put his piece down, I gently pushed mine away and discreetly reached over and swiped Violet's piece from her tray. And then came the tears (his... not mine.) I looked over and he was devastated. Full. On. Tears. I tried everything I could to take back what I had done.
"Buddy, I've made mistakes too. It happens all the time! One time Daddy made a cake without baking powder and it didn't even rise! Think about how awesome the cornbread looks... it wasn't a bad mistake. Aubrey's eating it!" (yes we let her finish her piece... I figured if the taste didn't throw her off, I owed it to her brother to let her finish her piece and be the one to exclaim "I think it tastes good!")
But he was clearly hurt by my words and I couldn't take it back. We put the kids to bed and I moped into the kitchen. As soon as Joe came down I started in on him.
"You could have warned me! You took a bite and told him it was good!"
"I was trying to be nice" he scolded, "YOU were mean!"
I had to make things right. I texted my friends and told them what had happened and one texted back with a suggestion "just go cuddle up to him in bed and whisper in his ear 'you didn't mean to.. Mommy was just a bit surprised.'" So that's exactly what I did.
He was lying in the dark with his arms wrapped around his teddy. I laid down next to him. "Can I snuggle you?" I whispered. I wrapped my arms around him and he started to cry. "I'm sorry for what I said sweetheart. I'm so proud of you for trying and you did such an amazing job. It's easy to make a mistake like that. Not everything I make turns out perfect."
"Yes it does!" he countered, "your food is ALWAYS good!"
Well OK then... we will not argue.
"It hasn't always been that way buddy. I learned from my mom too and it took years and years of practice. I love that you want to cook and it makes me proud that you love something that I enjoy too. It made me so happy to see you trying your best. And I hope you'll try again."
I could see him smiling in the dark.
"Can you forgive me?" I asked "I love you so much."
He nodded his affirmation. "I love you too Mommy."
My heart was full, his hurt was healed. "I fixed it" I told Joe as I sunk into the couch.
Our kitchen adventures commence!