Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Scrapbooks and Cooking Lessons

"Have you ever been to the wild, wild west?" Ethan asked me recently. I'm not sure why he is calling the west the "wild, wild west" but I'm pretty sure the reference came from a book or TV show. I told him yes, I loved the west, and had been out there several times.

"I even have scrapbooks full of pictures. You can look at them if you want," I said hopefully.

Here's the thing: I am a really sentimental person. I save stuff (as in, too much stuff, and I really need to get rid of it). But it's hard. I love the collection of postcards from my grandmother's travels, my pile of newspapers documenting most major news events spanning from about 1988 to 9/11, my magazines commemorating the Red Sox and Patriots' first championship wins. And then there are my scrapbooks of all the fun trips Dan and I took before having kids.

I love my stuff, but so far no one else in my family has appeared to be the type who likes to browse and reminisce. They could care less. I have the feeling I'm totally doing the baby books for me. They'll probably end up trashing them someday. The kids barely care about looking at their own baby photos.

So here we were, at a moment of opportunity. Ethan kind of shrugged and we went back to watching an old, old rerun of The Amazing Race on Netflix.

But the next morning -- joy of joys! -- he asked to see my scrapbook. I raced to get it out before he lost interest. I grabbed the one of our trip to Wyoming/Montana because I thought he'd like the picture of the grizzly bear we'd snapped at Yellowstone.

We spent a good 15 minutes flipping through the pages. I showed him the "Beware of Poisonous Snakes" sign I'd snapped in South Dakota. He especially liked, as I knew he would, the pictures of highway signs for routes he'd never heard of. I showed him the elk, the deer, the Badlands, the waterfalls.

And then, then, when we'd closed the book shut and I mentioned I wanted to make pancakes for breakfast, he asked, "Can I watch you make the pancakes?"

No big deal, right? Most kids have sat in the kitchen or stood at the counter and watched their parents cook. Only -- with Ethan this has been like pulling teeth. After a while, I gave up. His idea of helping cook is to quickly dump some sugar in the bowl and then beg to lick the spoon. He has not once sat to watch the steps of how you actually make something. He just hasn't had the focus.

Side note: I explained to him that each time you make another four pancakes in the pan it's called a "batch." Not long after I heard him asking when I was going to do another batch of laundry, and then I had to explain with laundry it's called a load. But then I wondered why it couldn't be called a batch. This kid always keeps me thinking.

And so, we started from the beginning. He read the recipe and I got out the ingredients. We talked about improvising when ingredients are missing (darn, even today I still haven't bought the baking powder!). He witnessed butter melting in the pan for the first time. He saw what goes into the batter, and how batter turns into a pancake. He barely ate the pancakes, but that's okay. They weren't that good (too much baking soda to compensate for not enough baking powder).

While I was getting breakfast ready he asked to cook dinner. "I've never done that before, and Riley is eight," he said, referring to the youngest contestant on the most recent Master Chef Junior. He insisted on flipping through the Better Homes & Gardens cookbook and picking out a recipe that sounded, well, eh, but I didn't dare say a word. I promised him: Monday night we'd cook, after I'd gone to the store and picked up some of the (questionable) ingredients.

And then I glanced up at the heavens, as if to ask, "Seriously?" We were having so much fun.

We all have these moments. You know them. You know, when you push and push your kids and then just let it go because you know pushing is not going to do anything. And then you can be going along perfectly fine and satisfied when out of the blue, they decide they're ready. And maybe they're ready to tackle more than one thing. And they're happy and proud of themselves and it didn't take all of this striving and stressing, and you weren't even asking for it.

This, I know. This is what grace is. Blessings undeserved. This time it took the form of pancakes and pictures. Oh, how I give thanks.

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