“I can do it!” Outside of, say, “Daddy, my head’s bleeding,” are there any four words more dreaded by the modern parent?
Trimming her toenails? “I can do it.” Buckling her seatbelt? “I can do it.” Pushing the shopping cart? “I can do it.” Flambéing bananas Foster? “I CAN DO IT.”
As the ultimate decider about who actually gets to “do it,” you could slowly go insane with worry and frustration as even the most menial tasks become drawn-out trench warfare. But in the end, nobody wants to stifle their kid in an ivory tower of “no,” so at some point you have to unfurrow your brow and lean into the chaos of “yes.” Sure, maybe your child can’t actually parallel-park the pickup like he says he can, but the kitchen? Now there’s a relatively harmless (and easily disinfected) arena for testing the confidence-building boundaries of “I can do it.”
Our first attempt at letting our Little E “cook” for us was before a recent family road trip from Portland to central Oregon. Her mom and I were preparing snacks for the three hour drive and we figured it would be a nice distraction-slash-learning experience to let E make her own food.
She was making a horrendous mess, but she was also helping, learning, and—most importantly—doing it herself.
As her mom and I do-si-do’d from the fridge, to the counter, to the stove, and back again, E stood atop her pink stool rummaging through our kitchen like it was an “everything must go” sale: apple peels, mustard, tiny boxes of raisins, chip crumbs, Kool-Aid packets… Every bit of forgotten kitchen ephemera was in play. Mom rinsed vegetables and mixed salad dressing; E tossed a decade-old brick of seaweed into a bowl. I sliced cheese and turkey; E took a meat tenderizer to a hot dog. Yup, she was making a horrendous mess, but she was also helping (kind of!), learning, and—most importantly—doing it herself.
An hour into the drive, we were cruising through a gauntlet of pines, snow-tipped mountains, and bustling streams. Our shoulders began to unclench. I rolled the windows down and turned the stereo up. The time was right for a snack.
As my wife reached into the cooler and pulled out our normal human food, from the rearview I watched E rifle through her Moana backpack and wrestle out her misshapen, slightly oozing Franken-sandwich. And then I noticed she was handing it to me.
“Here you go, Dad,” big blue eyes moistening on cue. “Eat it.”
“Eat it, Dad,” she said. “I love you and I made it and you have to eat it.”
Her logic was flawless. I smiled condescendingly and aped taking a giant bite from her lovingly prepared monstrosity of goo and gristle.
“No,” she said sternly. “Eat it…for reals.”
Outflanked by a five-year-old (again).
E’s mom is the smart one, I’m the comic relief—these are our roles and there is no changing of lanes, especially when it comes to putting gross things in your mouth. So I stepped up and accepted the offering. With one hand on the steering wheel and the other trying to hold the sopping combo of bread and garbage together, I took a deep breath and dug into my daughter’s creation.
It smelled like a mildewed rag and had the mouthfeel of pond scum and wet belly button lint. Raisins, stale chips, and ketchup—and is that a cocktail toothpick fringe?—collided on my tongue. No matter how much I chewed, my brain couldn’t convince my throat to swallow.
In the rearview, I watched E beaming with pride.
“Delicious,” I lied, licking my lips for effect.
When we pulled over at the next rest stop, I told E it was so the dogs could stretch their legs. In fact, it was so I could go to the men’s room and return E’s snack to the bowels of hell from whence it came.
But hey, Le Bernardin wasn’t built in a day. Her next sandwich will be better. I bet it won’t even make me puke.
She can do it.
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