Baking With My Kids Reminds Me Life Is Messy But Wonderful, Too
I’ve never been a baker, but cookies are becoming our cure for the quarantine blahs.
My four-year-old son loves to fill out his calendar at the start of each month. But, boy, filling out April was depressing. The coronavirus pandemic meant no school, no birthday parties, no playdates. Nada. As the month of empty boxes loomed before me, I realized it would be up to me—now not just the mom, but the home school teacher—to shake things up.
On a whim, I grabbed my son's marker and scribbled 'Sweet Treat Friday.'
This might not seem crazy to you, but let me explain. I don’t bake. The way I see it, there are moms who bake birthday cakes from scratch, and there are moms who buy cakes at Costco. I’m the latter. But with an endless quarantine, I liked what baking had to offer: an activity that could entertain both my 4-year-old son and almost 2-year-old daughter. And the most miraculous part: no screen time necessary. (Well, except for me checking the recipe on my phone every two seconds!)
Nervous about a long-term commitment to baking, I wrote it on the first Friday only. “We’ll try it out and see,” I explained. If my 4-year-old were old enough to roll his eyes at me, he would have.
Week 1: Chocolate Chip Cookies—and the First Bright Day
On the first Friday of April, my son woke up squealing “cookies!” We’d recently escaped our Brooklyn, NY, apartment for a relative’s home in Cape Cod, and luckily the pantry was stocked with flour and chocolate chips. Great, I thought, I’ll start with the basics: chocolate chip cookies.
Ditching the back-of-the-package recipe that called for two sticks of butter (these are times of scarcity, my friends!), I found a recipe online that halved the butter and began hauling ingredients from the pantry to the kitchen island.
After settling disputes about who would stand on the step stool (4-year-old) and who would sit on the granite counter (2-year-old), we set to work. But “we” is a generous word. How do you let kids contribute when you barely know what you’re doing yourself? Fortunately, my son was content to scoop, my daughter was happy to pour, both loved holding the electric mixer, and I tried not to think about all the brown sugar I’d have to sweep off the floor.
Between sneaking chocolate chips and sampling cookies, the 2-year-old unraveled in a sugar crash meltdown. But it was the first bright day that stood out among the dreary rest. In a time of uncertainty, I could at least add certainty here — not just for my children, but for me too. When my son asked if we could bake again next Friday, I easily said yes.
Week 2: Oatmeal Raisin Chocolate Chip Cookies—and Never Giving Up
I know what you’re thinking: I basically made the same thing but added oats and raisins. Well, you’re right. But the first batch went over so well, why ruin a good thing?
Except somehow I did. This time, the batter didn’t blend quite right, and when my son and I began to roll the dough into balls, it stuck to our hands like crazy glue and refused to form.
“Help!” my son whined, shaking his hands and flinging globs of dough around the kitchen.
I encouraged him by cursing under my breath and looking miserably at my own messy hands. Those other baker moms would know how to fix this, I grumbled. Were the cookies ruined? Then I had an idea.
“Life is messy,” I told him. “If we run into a problem, we find a solution.”
Perhaps given my previous behavior, my son didn’t buy it.
“Not me,” he shouted. “I’m giving up!”
“We don’t give up,” I said firmly.
My own need to impart this lesson to my young son must have awakened some bakerly instinct because I grabbed the bag of oats and sprinkled some into the batter. I put a small clump of dough in my son’s hand, and a clump into my own.
Then something amazing happened. The balls began to form. Smiling proudly, my son handed me his lumpy ball of a cookie, ready to be placed on the baking sheet. And I smiled as if I knew all along that baking would teach us about learning, trying, failing, growing—as if it wasn’t a total surprise to me, too.
Week 3: Blueberry Muffins—and Flexibility
The following Friday, I did something bad.
We ran out of flour, two grocery stores didn’t have any, and, to be honest, I was too burned out on home school and hiking trails to muster the energy to bake.
I wondered how my son would react. I knew he loved the tradition of 'Sweet Treat Fridays'. But in a new house, in a new state, with his whole world upended, how dependent on it had he grown? It was hard to know, and this would be the first test.
“Honey, what if instead of baking today, we make muffins tomorrow morning?” I asked. “It can be ‘Sweet Treat Saturday!’”
He thought it over: “Can they be blueberry muffins?”
I nodded, delighting in how easy it would be for the kids to dot some frozen blueberries into the Jiffy mix I’d spotted in the pantry. But would he go for it?
“Sure, Mom,” he said, running off to build legos, content that our new tradition was not canceled, just postponed—perhaps the way we should think of our lives right now too. While remembering that even in the most bitter time, it’s okay to savor something sweet, and be all the more grateful for it.