To Serve Your Parents

This summer, an awful lot of my friends are teaching their kids to cook -- or, even more amazingly, they are making their kids teach themselves to cook.  These enterprising kiddies are preparing no mere sandwiches or cereal for a casual lunch, but they are planning and preparing three-course meals for their entire families, while mom and dad lounge on the back deck, sipping sangria and waiting for the dinner bell.

Late afternoon finds me, on the other hand, slaving over a hot Facebook page, gorging on a smorgasbord of tantalizing photos with captions like: "Here is my 8-year-old carefully chopping the chives she grew in her little garden! This is the second time this week she's made pork medallions herbs de provence, but we're not complaining, as long as her little brother provides those scrumptious grilled peaches with caramel bourbon sauce for dessert! They are so cute with their aprons. <3 <3 <3"

Yes, well. I believe in equipping a child for independent living, and if that education makes life a little easier for mom at the same time, all the better. At the same time, we're talking about kids who sometimes miss their target while putting their own pants on. I'm not showing them where the knife sharpener is.

But every once in a while, when the day has already been foul enough anyway, I do let them cook. This is what I've learned:

They cook like kids. Okay, yes, I will openly admit that I haven't made a huge, concerted effort to train them, starting in utero, so that their palates can discern and revel in the natural sweetness of things like almond hulls and kefir sweat. So sue me, my kids like the taste of sugar, which we consider a treat, but not a huge luxury or a forbidden dietary menace. So when they want something to taste good, they try and figure out how many different kinds of sweetness they can cram into it. So for mother's day, for instance, I know I'm going to face the ultimate test of my unconditional love for them, and will be required not to gag while downing a tall glass of milk with white and brown sugar and maple syrup and grape jelly stirred into it, served with a pixie stick as a garnish.

They will definitely kill themselves. I asked my ten-year-old son for some ideas for this post, because he actually likes cooking and has a knack for it.  He launched into a long description of the blister he got while making scrambled eggs. Was this a whisk-related injury? I didn't ask. I like to think of it this way: I have done such a good job encouraging my kids to be confident and assertive that they aren't prey to crippling worries about things like fire or knives. They look at a KitchenAid dough hook whirling around at 700 miles an hour and think, "I could stick my hand in there." This is because I am a good mother, and have not quashed them.

They assume you're holding out on them. My kids approach the kitchen -- especially the higher cabinets -- with the zeal and glee of the Israelites finally reaching the promised land, even though the milk and honey ran out on Thursday and shopping day isn't until Saturday. I don't know who's in charge of shopping, but all she ever brings home is a bunch of, like, meat and rice and raisins and junk. Nothing good. Kids are sure that there is good stuff in there somewhere, and any ingredient they don't see regularly is some kind of delicacy the adults have been hogging for themselves. Thus are born tragic recipes like "Toast ala Unsweetened Baker's Chocolate" or "Peanut Butter and Knox Gelatin sandwiches." The only time this works out well is when . . . nah, this never turns out well.

Their standards of cleanliness are not your standards of cleanliness. I'm not exactly a tidy person, and I don't have the patience to wash and wipe as I go like my mother used to do. I do, however, do things like take the trouble to place used pans on the counter, rather than letting them just kind of slither onto the floor because I don't need them anymore. I mop up spills. I close the oven door. I CLOSE THE REFRIGERATOR DOOR. And if I do happen to cut myself, I don't deliberately bleed on as many surfaces as possible so as to be impressive.

Nutritional value is relative. Popcorn is a whole grain. It totally is, and we totally have an air popper that even a half-witted cat could operate. If you don't believe me, look it up. I'm busy teaching my kids the fine art of getting me another beer.