“Daddy, can I help?”
She says it with such hope and eagerness, her four year-old voice and toddler accent preceding her from the other room.
When I’m home, my kid is attached to me. We play, we read, we go to Shop Rite. And we cook.
My wife gets home before me during the week, so she cooks those days and I’ll take the lead on weekends. Not just breakfast, but often dinner, especially on Sunday, as my newest tradition is to experiment with a new slow cooker recipe for the final meal of the weekend.
Any time I’m in the kitchen preparing a meal, she asks – begs – to help.
That is fantastic, not only because she needs to learn, but also because we get to spend time together and she sees how a household functions.
It’s also the worst.
Deadspin’s Drew Magary explains it perfectly:
“One of the hardest things about being a parent is letting kids help. I want my kids to help with everything. I need them to. It’s essential to them becoming responsible and self-reliant citizens. By, by god, they fuck up EVERYTHING. It’s exhausting.”
Letting your kid cook with you is a gift and a curse.
The other night, I was making the nine minute one-pan pasta and she was sitting on the counter, acting as my apprentice, my very own sous chef. I broke the pasta in half and let her break some. I cut up the cherry tomatoes and let her dump them in. She chose and pulled off the basil leaves. She was more mature than I’d ever seen her.
Then came the onion.
As I was cutting the onion, my eyes began watering, and she began getting upset. She’s seen me cry before – many times – like when something emotional happens or when we watch the part in Inside Out when Bing Bong disappears, but this time she opened the cabinet doors so that I was blocked from her field of vision. She refused to close them until I stopped crying.
When mixing ingredients or preparing seasoning, she’ll pull out anything and everything and will pretend to add all sorts of “tweats” to the meal, from chocolate candy bars to juice to blueberries, strawberries, and watermelon.
It’s adorable and endearing and one of my favorite things about cooking together.
She’s already an expert at cracking eggs.
Being the educated coastal liberal elites that we are, we buy organic, and the eggs don’t break nearly as cleanly as regular eggs. So the first few times it was a minor disaster. One time, she dropped both yolk and broken shell into the bowl. Another time, she wasn’t looking and missed the bowl, dropping the yolk on the counter, which then slid down the cabinet all the way to the floor like an eel. A few times, she crushed it in her hand like a villain in a bad action film. But now she’s good. If I ever have to dig a shell out of the yolk, they are tiny pieces and as she keeps saying, “Sowwy, Daddy,” I have to reassure her and explain that she’s already far ahead of others, especially me.
Over the summer, my brother mentioned how he really got close with our mom when they would be preparing dinner together. But I never really had that experience. I rarely helped my mother in the kitchen. I want to say it’s because she would swear she didn’t need help unless she called to us – something that continues to this day – but it’s probably more because I was so wrapped up in my own selfish world that I wanted to watch what I wanted to watch or listen to what I wanted to listen to until the meal was ready, which I could then eat and go back to my own thing.
I’m not sure how it happened, but I didn’t do dishes growing up. I had plenty of other chores, but cleaning up after dinner wasn’t one of them. Ironic, considering that I now spend at least an hour every evening washing dishes, loading/unloading the dishwasher, making lunches, and preparing coffee for the next morning.
I didn’t truly learn how to cook until after the age of 25. That’s far too late and I’m happy that it seems my daughter will be a quicker study than I was. We’ve already had discussions about the differences between vegetable, canola, and olive oil.
Still, it can be incredibly frustrating.
When kids help, they don’t always listen or take precaution. They get their fingers too close to cutting knives. They stand next to a pot of boiling water. They ask to eat the excess batter oozing out of the side of the waffle maker while it’s still on. They touch chili powder and then immediately touch their eyes. It’s like they’re playing their own miniature version of Fear Factor.
Moreover, as is the case with almost anything involving teaching, it is excruciatingly slow. If Rachel Ray had a kid helping her on her Food Network show, it would’ve been called 120 Minute Meals. They always want to do everything even though they have no clue what they’re doing or why they’re doing it. They insist on putting in the salt by themselves, then dump in a pound of it and ask if that’s okay. They follow you around, asking incredibly complex questions and then lose interest the moment the question leaves their mouth, already onto the next topic. They go to the pantry and pull out something you haven’t seen in years and ask if that’s what you need.
And yet, it’s wonderful. We never have enough free time, so when we cook together, we spend time together and connect on a deeper level, just like my brother said he did with our own mother. It’s fun and frustrating, but most of all it’s special. There’s no one I’d rather have helping me in the kitchen.
Well, except Beyoncé.
Christopher Pierznik’s eight books are available in paperback and Kindle. His work has appeared on XXL, Cuepoint, Business Insider, The Cauldron, Medium, Hip Hop Golden Age, and many more. Subscribe to his monthly reading review newsletter or follow him on Facebook or Twitter.