I have always loved to cook. Cooking restores a sense of order to my incredibly chaotic life. Because to me, cooking makes sense. If my soup is too salty, I know that the odds are good that too much salt was added to it. Too spicy? There is probably too much chili powder or cayenne or something like that. Burnt? Yup, more than likely, I cooked it too long. Undercooked? Well I might surmise that it was not cooked long enough. Too oniony? Probably I added too many onions. Hmm, how about that time I made cold seafood salad that tasted like garbage? Old seafood could have been part of the problem. Fresh seafood is probably better.
So I can take that information and make a note to self: next time, make sure seafood is fresh. Or, next time add less salt. And eventually, after a few tries, I nail it. I cook it the right amount of time, with the right ingredients, and the right thing comes out. When I pour in a, mix up b, and bake c, x comes out. If x does not come out, it is a simple backward journey to the point of error. And then, the problem is solved. Over time, the outcome of the studied meal becomes precisely what I set out to accomplish–precisely what I intended.
That is a rare phenomenon in any life, but it is particularly rare in the world of a stay-at-home parent.
More times than I care to count, my day is punctuated by some exceptionally unreasonable event that is also unpredictable, annoying, and distinctly unrewarding. And worse, there is usually no information in any present situation to inform a decision going forward. See, we adults like to learn. We like to problem-solve. It is in our DNA. Evolve, adapt, improve.
So when my son eats meatballs with gusto, I decide to make those same meatballs a week later. He LOVED those, I figure. GREAT, I think excitedly, I have a meal he’ll eat now! Or, do I? Of course not. In the second meatball round, my son looks at those very same meatballs he once so adored, and inexplicably begins to weep. “I HATE meatballs!!” he declares passionately. “They are HORRIBLE!” Here he has done exactly the opposite of what I intended or expected. So now what? Never make them again? Make them again? Who knows? There is no real information provided in the whole interaction.
When my youngest asks to color, I provide her with a (washable) marker and paper. She takes the marker and takes a step away from the paper to scribble directly on the coffee table. Not only does this make no sense, it was not even within the range of outcomes I would have imagined (stupid of me though it may have been). Hm, next time…don’t give her paper? HUH?
Recently, when I respectfully told my son to get off my lap because my legs hurt he proceeded to roll around, crying on the ground in a very public setting, and whimpering, “YOU DON’T LOVE ME ANYMORE!!!” I was really quite unpleasantly surprised. Needless to say, that was not the outcome I expected or intended. Next time I’ll….wha?
One of my favorite moments as a parent was watching my daughter push her face into her brother’s hands as hard as she could while insisting that he stop pushing her. I remember thinking that day, OK, where’s the camera? This is a joke. It’s a joke right? I live in a CRAZY world!! Surely she grasps the fact that if she stopped shoving her face into his hands he would not have to push her? Surely she can understand that simple concept?
Reason has a way of falling by the wayside when we continually inhabit the realm of the child. The things we put in, and what we expect to get out almost never match up with reality. We are forced to converse on terms that make almost no sense at all. But we do it because we love our children.
But the love we pour into our children doesn’t always bubble up in a thick tasty gravy, easily accessed and delicious. It can suddenly vaporize and float away or freeze into impenetrable, inextricable blocks of feeling and emotion. You never quite know what you’ll get. So you have no choice but to put your best foot forward despite the unavoidable speed bumps along the way.
But, oh, how ordered the universe becomes when food follows the laws of physics. How fair, reasonable and rational food is. Its simplicity is a refuge.
So of course, it is no coincedance that we parents look to restore the natural balance and order of the logical and orderly world through hobbies. We find order in cooking, in gardening, in jogging or training for marathons, in photography, in crafting, knitting, or in music. Our hobbies allow us to participate in a world that makes sense, if only for a moment; that is, until you hear the screaming from the next room and you realize your moment of order is over. But hey, at least it was there. And this time you remembered to add less salt.