Family bonding can take place anywhere, but when it takes place in the kitchen, something magical happens.
Besides rearranging furniture, some of my son Jackson’s other favorite “toys” are the rice maker, a four-cup coffeemaker (without the glass pot), the salad spinner, and of course the universal childhood favorite, pots and pans.
At fifteen months old, he likes to drag his coffeemaker around by the cord from room to room, like a puppy on a leash, and assemble and disassemble the rice maker and salad spinner . . . over and over and over again. He opens up the great big drawer near my oven with every pot, pan, and lid I own and proceeds to take out every single one. He’s gotten surprisingly good at matching the right lid with the right pot.
Cooking with him around is like cooking on an obstacle course: Chop the onions with a twenty-pound kid hanging on your leg. Drag said kid along as you locate the pan you need (it could have “migrated” anywhere in the house). Hop over an appliance while balancing a cutting board full of diced onions on your way from the island to the stove top. Sauté the onions while dodging lids skidding across the floor at your feet. And that’s just step one. I’m pretty sure I burn all my calories while cooking, which is convenient for me, since I haven’t stepped into a gym in more than a year.
I thought about putting locks on the cabinets. I even emptied a cabinet and filled it with various kitchen items just for Jackson. I showed him his very own space with much enthusiasm. He was bored with it in minutes. In the end, I decided to leave the cabinets unlocked, simply moving anything too delicate out of his reach.
Yes, my kitchen gets turned upside down with every meal I cook. Yes, all of my Tupperware and pots and pans have been glided across my dirty floors.
But cooking makes me happy, and if giving him reign over my cabinets is what he needs to stay in his happy place while I am in my happy place, then may the innards of my cabinets overfloweth onto my floors.
Casseroles and apple crisps need baking.
For Jackson’s first birthday, I splurged on a FunPod, a rather pricey European contraption that safely elevates him to counter height. It looks like a chair with four walls and an adjustable platform.
Best. Purchase. Ever.
Not only does this contraption keep him out of my pots and pans (for a little while at least), but it buys me even more time in the kitchen. This makes me happy. While I cook, I hand him bits and pieces of ingredients to play with and taste.
One day, while I was tearing up kale leaves to add to a stew, I gave Jackson a few leaves to occupy him. I was busily cooking at the stove when I turned around and saw him in his FunPod methodically tearing the leaves into bite-sized pieces and putting them in a bowl. My boy was making his first salad.
It is my proudest parenting moment thus far.
He watches me in the kitchen, and he’s learning — about more than just food. He uses all his senses “helping” me cook. He touches different textures as he reaches into a gooey batter or crumbles up stale bread. He smells the difference between sweet lavender sugar cookies baking, warm pumpkin spice cobbler bubbling, and enticing garlic bread crisping under the broiler. He sees steam rising from the boiling pasta water and makes the connection. “Awwwt” (hot), he tells me, pointing to the steam. He sees deep shades of purple in an eggplant cut open to reveal the contrast of its white spongy flesh. No box of colors can capture that or the shades of dark olive green on the tough bumpy skin of an avocado and its soft green creamy insides. He bites into an unpeeled banana. It’s bitter and tough. He learns. The outside is “yucky, yucky,” but, “mmmm,” the inside is sweet and easy to chew.
Letting young kids in the kitchen doubles both your cooking and cleaning time, but it’s not just about getting food on the table quickly. It’s a time to teach and to be taught. To be taught to slow down. To pay attention to details as you point out colors and shapes and make taste-memories with each other.
Like caramelizing onions, cooking with kids takes patience and tenderness. A bitter raw onion cooked low and slow turns so sweet you could puree it and eat as jam on your morning toast. Patience is sweetly rewarded in the kitchen.
What are some of your favorite family bonding moments that have occurred in your kitchen? Did it involve making a special family recipe? Or did it just come about as you all laughed over cooking mishap? We’d love to hear about your memories!