The other day, my ten-year old volunteered to make me a snack. Normally, when your kid offers to cook, you should jump all over it. And I mean with 100%, absolute, “cook anything you want as long as you don’t burn down the house or set the cat of fire” kind of enthusiasm. After all, how many years have you played short order cook? Let them have a turn. Shout requests from the couch, demand that the crusts be cut off and then leave your dirty dishes on the table.
The only hitch for me is that, lately, my kids have been watching the the popular Food Network show, “Chopped.” If you’re not familiar with the show, contestants are given a basket of random ingredients, usually involving things like Mexican Long-Nosed Bat and cotton candy. Because most of the contestants are trained chefs, they proceed to make gourmet meals out of otherwise inedible ingredients. In my case, the “chef” is a child who once survived an entire year by eating nothing but bananas.
On this particular day, when she asked me to pick out ingredients for a “Chopped”-inspired dish, I was tired. I had been up until 2am the night before working on a deadline, then back up at 6am and running hard all day. My hair was unwashed, my t-shirt stained and the laundry HAD to be done because at this point the only clean underwear I had was from c.1999. I had exactly 2 ½ hours left to take care of these issues before her dad picked her up for the weekend, after which which I would need go to the grocery store, rush to my oldest daughter’s school play, then drive 1 ½ hours to spend the weekend with some old friends. My ETA was already 10pm at the earliest and I was done.
As usual when confronted with a long to-do list, I decided that I needed to sleep, so I told her, “Not right now. I am going to lie down for 30 minutes.” 30 minutes. That’s all I wanted. 30 minutes with my eyes closed and the covers pulled over my head. 30 minutes where the phone wouldn’t ring, the deadlines were no more and the little people could entertain themselves.
So, what did she do? She gave it to me. For 30 beautiful, wonderful, magical minutes, I lay in my bed – alone. I slept for only about four minutes (give or take 30 seconds) before the alarm went off. But that’s all I needed.
When I stumbled downstairs, oddly refreshed, there in a pretty little serving bowl on the counter was a snack. My daughter stood nearby, her excitement palpable.
All I could see as far as ingredients went was a tomato slice with something or “things” underneath. Considering the effort that had gone in to her creation, the least I could do was try it. As she watched, I dug in. She excitedly informed me that she had made a “layered” dish consisting of tomatoes, soft flour tortillas, chopped peanuts, hot sauce and chocolate chips. Oh, but wait, there more.
“You have to try the dipping sauce, mom,” she piped up. “That’s the best part. I really tried to balance the flavors.”
“Ok, good,” I thought, “there’s a best part.” Turns out the dipping sauce was balsamic vinaigrette and sriracha. It was NOT the best part.
But I finished it. Mostly. Then I congratulated her on what a great job she had done, all the while thinking about what an awesome mom I was. Here I was tired, but taking time to eat a snack made with the dregs of my pantry. And I controlled my gag reflex, because I’m unselfish like that. I know that my kids need my praise and encouragement and I give it to them. After all, that’s what we do for the people we love. We eat their disgusting snacks and smile at their pride. Right?
Really, parenting is part instinct, part conscious action that stems from love. A mother bear will fight to protect her young, but I seriously doubt she would drive to WalMart at midnight to finish making a costume for the school play. In the end, it’s our ability to feel and act from love that sets apart from animals. We do things for our kids because we love them, not because we have to.
But as I was telling the story to my friends later that night, I realized that it’s a two-way street, this thing called love. Sure, I ate her snack and made her feel like a celebrity chef in the process, but that’s what moms do out of love for our kids. She, on the other hand, could have been playing or watching TV, but she took time to create something just for me. She, too, did something, not out of instinct, but out of love.
Like most of us, I do a lot for my kids – things that I never would have thought possible. I live, breathe and bleed for them daily. Yet in all that “doing,”, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed and underappreciated.
Salvation comes when we stop and take in their love in return. It may not appear in the form of great personal sacrifice, instead, it’s there every day in the little things. It shows up when they let me rest if I’m tired. I feel it when they hold my hand in a moment of vulnerability. I see it when they draw pictures that I can hang on my bathroom mirror. But most of all, I am reminded of how very much I matter every time they look over their shoulder to make sure I’m still watching.
It’s simple really. This little bit of lovely I call my own is going to grow up really soon. She’s doing it right in front of my very eyes. Last week, she couldn’t find her own shoes in the closet, today she is making layered dishes with dipping sauce and “balanced flavors.”
Soon enough she will lose her innocence and realize that balsamic-sriracha does, in fact, taste mildly like feet. But I won’t be the one to tell her. I will be the one smiling on the sidelines with a mouth full of dipping sauce raving about how her creativity astounds me. But in the midst of it all, I will also remember to sit quietly for a moment and bask in her love – even when it come in the form of soggy tortillas covered in peanuts.