Before we start, yes, I know that I should appreciate that the kids want to spend time with me because they won’t always.
And no, I’m not fun at parties.
Shall we begin?
We don’t have a lot of activities that all five of us enjoy. It’s damned near impossible to find a movie we all like. Board games rarely straddle the age gap between the kids, never mind interest both me and my husband. I
tolerate am happy sitting and watching them play, but that’s not as interesting (or as good parenting) as actually participating.
Incidentally, they feel this way about swimming, too. I like swimming. I do not like swimming with them. “Swimming” with them means watching them do handstands and/or goofy jumps off the diving board, or getting splashed, or being pulled into never-ending races across the pool. Most often, though, swimming with them means being used as a flotation device. In the base case, swimming is not so much a group activity as it is an unwieldy location in which to perform Stupid Human Tricks while surreptitiously picking bathing suits out of our various crevices. (Each picking one’s own suit out of one’s own crevices, pleaseandthankyou.)
But we do occasionally find ways to spend time together that don’t involve me forcing everyone to do their chores.
Because I’ve announced my impending spontaneous combustion if I had to listen to one more kid show, we’ve all bonded over mini-marathons of various Food Network shows.
Sometimes it’s Chopped. We try to predict who will be victorious while simultaneously trying to determine what we’d do with that accursed mystery basket. (My typical answer: throw it out and order a pizza.)
Sometimes it’s Bobby Flay in some competition or another. That’s pretty much what he does. The man has racked up thousands of hours of competition experience. It’s a real edge.
We talk about that
“He loves competing that much,” my husband said. “Wouldn’t you?”
I would not. That’s why I’m not an Iron Chef. That and I can’t cook geoduck 10 ways.
We noted Flay’s ubiquitous presence on Food Network, his confidence, his ability to truly respect his opponents without knocking them down (unless they trashed talked him excessively, in which case he was more sensei than anything else.) It was fun to see how he put his “spin” on things and how he would take a mistake or a miscalculation and make it work.
We turned that into various life lessons, which, as I’m sure you can guess, went over with the kids like a big ol’ plate of geoduck.
But some of the Lessons from Food Network stuck – mostly newly acquired vocabulary. My kids now critique their dinners. Terms like “Flavor profile” and “Balance” and “Presentation” and “Not enough acidity” all bandied about over their plates of chicken nuggets.
But. BUT – the other day, we went out for dinner, and the Son who never met a plate of macaroni he didn’t choose over all other options –
ordered a burger…with a fried egg on top.
Then. THEN, guys…
When we got home, he asked to cook with me – this is tenuous, of course, because when kids ask to “help” that usually means “do something for 3 seconds, make a mess, then leave and take credit.”
He wanted to make pot roast. Pot. Roast.
I purchased the meat. He seasoned it (“More salt!” I insisted. He was stunned, but listened.) He watched me brown the meat. He prepped the vegetables. I taught him how to dice them (“evenly”) using a sharp knife (“carefully!”)
He sautéed the carrots and celery and potatoes. He added the tomatoes.
We didn’t have a dutch oven, so we used our crock pot. I worried about the timing so I gave it an extra 30 minutes which was, it turns out, was 30 minutes too long. I didn’t say anything about how overdone the center was (I swear to God, I am the only person alive who can overcook something in the crockpot.) However, my husband, i.e., Sir Meats-a-Lot, mentioned gave a nice Ted Talk on the proper cooking time and temperature of all meats ever.
As one does.
To celebrate Son’s first real culinary achievement, he asked if we can eat while watching a movie, so we dined a la tv tray.
Arguments about the movie started. Their vocabulary for that is almost as sophisticated as their newly acquired Words That Express How Gross My Cooking Is. “I don’t want to watch that. It’s stupid,” met “I don’t want to watch that, it’s boring.”
It’s like the jury panel for Cannes, n’est-ce pas?
We decided on – wait for it –
The Food Network.
The pot roast was good. Not in the “oh, my child, Precious Be He, made this,” but good on its own. For purposes of humor, it would be funnier if it had been better than anything I cooked. Even funnier if it were awful. It was neither. It was solid. Which means praise had to be carefully meted out because this child is convinced the world blows smoke up kids’ asses. Which it does, right or wrong, all too often. (See: participation trophy.)
He was quiet. If a person could lurk from a couch behind a tv tray, he would have been. Watching. Tracking how many times we went back for reloads. (A lot, as it were. We like to eat and it was better than a lot of the crap I’d been making the last few weeks because I’m too tired to do much beyond unwrapping things.)
He didn’t look happy.
“You ok?” I asked. That’s my “What’s Wrong” 2.0. The old version too often glitched and got an automated “Nothing” response no matter how often or gently I input it.
“Yeah.” He always says yeah. It takes a parent of unusual skill to determine the underlying meaning. In this case, his eye roll, sigh, and angry voice were subtle clues that actually was not ok.
I obviously have a participation trophy in parenting.
I waited. I’ve learned any noise from me will startle the confession back into its hidey-hole.
He spoke. “I didn’t do much.”
Sweet boy has been equating cooking, “real” cooking, with panicky, fast-paced, intense, beat-the-clock, chop-til-you-drop movements and unusual ingredients and stress.
He wanted to cook until he was exhausted and sweaty, then have us be his panel of judges.
If only the Food Network had a show “Clean My Room with Bobby Flay!”