She wasn't happy about this arrangement, however, and latched on to the idea that pestering is effective (which, of course, it is) and asked me when she could help me cook. Today? Today? Today? Finally one day I sat down and wrote her out a fourteen-point child's version of the cornbread recipe I memorized years ago. Step one: Turn on the oven to 425 degrees. Step two: get out the four-cup glass measuring cup.
I assigned Kathleen to read the recipe to her ("Mom, it was really hard, but I did it. I really wanted to go and read a book, but I didn't and read her the whole recipe. Aren't you proud of me?") since she is still learning to read. The muffins turned out a little flat - it's a definite skill to learn when that magic point between under- and over-mixing occurs - but they were quite edible. And best of all, I didn't have to make them.
So next time she asked what she could do to help with dinner, I handed her the recipe and like magic we had hot, homemade cornbread muffins on the table that I didn't make.
A few weeks ago the girls, tired of waiting for me to do something with the black bananas that had been languishing on our kitchen counters for entirely too long, asked if they could make banana bread. My first reaction was to refuse, thinking of the mess that would inevitably happen. But I swallowed it in the name of letting them have a little independence and printed off a recipe. Then I went to take a nap.
When I woke up, the house was filled with warm banana bread smell. I wandered into the kitchen to find all three of them sitting around the table with thick (only somewhat crooked) slices in their little hands, stuffing their faces. "It's great mom!" Kathleen announced between bites, "You should try some!"
Curious, I took a slice of my own and slathered it in the requisite tablespoon of butter that fresh banana bread deserves, and bit into it. Sure enough it was good. And the dishes were even (mostly) done (because every one know that the most important part of cooking is doing the dishes).
Last week Sophia did it again, without any help from Kathleen, with the same result. And on Thursday in a stroke of genius, I bribed her into cleaning up the toy room with the promise that she could make cookies when she was done. Eight-five percent of successful parenting is proper manipulation.
When I was a teenager, my mother would turn to me on a Sunday afternoon and ask what was for dessert. I was always happy to make something because that meant I got to choose the dessert and lick all of the implements. My mother was happy because she didn't have to choose a dessert and she didn't have to make it. It was a good arrangement. Obviously parenting has never been and will never be about getting a net benefit from your children; you sign up for it because, among a multitude of things, you are interested in advancing humanity in general. But it is a pleasant surprise when things work out in everyone's favor - including your own.