When she woke up this morning, I asked my three-and-a-half-year-old daughter what she wanted to do today. Her initial reply was one of standard toddler contrarianism: “Nothing!” But a moment later her eyes lit up as she declared, “Mommy, I want to make brownies today!” For multiple reasons, this was the best thing I’ve heard in a long time.
After a relatively solid breakfast and a little more than 30 minutes of Special Agent Oso, my little lady decided she was ready to bake. She heaped herself up on to a bar stool while I set out the baking pan and mixing bowl. She positioned her little body over her knees and politely asked, “How do we start?”
Perhaps it was the charming timbre of her little voice, or the way the sun seemed to radiate off of her freshly brushed hair, halo-style, or maybe it was just my relative lack of adult existential conversations lately. Whatever the case, I took her simple question to mean so much more than a request for baking instructions. I determined in that instant that I had an opportunity to teach my impressionable young daughter a few life lessons:
1) Start by washing your hands. One should never underestimate the importance of going into a project clean and clear in body and mind. Wash your hands when you wake up in the morning, before you go to sleep and anytime you’re switching from one set of tasks to another. It may sound silly, but I find the feeling of water flowing over my hands to be an effective reset point. It’s my way of washing away the psychological debris that tends to collect over the course of a conversation or burst of productivity. So few things in life have the power to both soothe and invigorate. Water is one of those things.
2) Read and follow the instructions. This one is particularly applicable when baking or assembling furniture from IKEA. Measurements matter; order of operations makes a huge difference. That’s not to say you should always ignore the innate assumption that you have the power to figure something out on your own, but nobody can know it all and one of the most desirable character traits is the ability to admit that. Once you’ve followed the directions, take the time to double-check your work. It’s good practice for all the math tests you’ll take in your lifetime.
3) Don’t be afraid to eat a few finger-fulls of batter. I mean seriously, what’s more tempting than a bowl full of glistening, chocolatey brownie batter? I sure ate my share of the stuff as a kid and, though we know a little more about the potential drawbacks of consuming raw eggs, I won’t deny my children the same joy. Hand-in-hand with this lesson is a perfect illustration of the benefits of self-control. When you stop at just a few bites of batter, you probably won’t get salmonella AND you’ll have warm, gooey brownies to devour in about 45 minutes (counting cooling time).
4) Clean up after yourself. This nugget of knowledge is closely related to the oft-repeated quote that we should endeavor to leave the world better than when we found it. If the kitchen sink if full of dirty dishes, don’t stop after taking care of the mixing bowl and measuring implements. I find it particularly gratifying to spruce up the whole kitchen so that, once baked, the brownies can take their place on the cooling rack with zero clutter or mess surrounding them; looking as royal and irresistible as possible. Even if you’re not driven to go quite this far, the worst thing you could do is leave a mess for someone else to clean up.
When my daughter and I finished our baking/kitchen-as-classroom session, I realized how much I had learned about her in that short time. For instance, she thinks about herself in super hero terms, which is super okay with me. She told me she could definitely stir the brownie batter because she has “really, really, rEEAALLy strong muscles,” and she used her “super power fingers” to peel the wrapper off the stick of butter. It thrills me to know that she believes she is strong and powerful, especially within the context of everyday tasks.
Finally, and this was a big one, I learned with absolute certainty that my daughter loves chocolate. I know I was there when she was born and all, but her active adoration of the cocoa bean makes our relationship feel just that much more official.