When I was about 7 years old I had a chameleon named "Jerry." He died and I got another chameleon, and named him - you guessed it - Jerry. It occurred to me one day that I would like nothing more than to have a little tea party with my reptile friend. I'm not sure where I conjured this image from, maybe a greeting card, but it was a watercolour picture of a little girl and a white tea pot and a lovely little lizard sitting daintily on a leaf and they were all enjoying a wonderful, magical afternoon together. That's what I was shooting for when I took Jerry from his little terrarium and placed him on top of a large house plant next to the coffee table. I quickly learned two things about chameleons (1) they change colour (2) they do not sit daintily on the edge of leaves; they run mad-mad fast. That was the end of the line of Jerrys.
This is a bit of lifelong pattern for me. I imagine clear, lovely images in my mind of how a thing ought to be and then seek to reproduce it in real life, ignoring - say- the laws of physics or biology or just basic common sense.
This is why I taught my two-year-old to push a kitchen chair from the table to the counter and stand on it while I cook dinner. I had a picture. A really nice picture of a cute little boy in a white apron (do we even own an apron?! Yes, it's black and it says "Kitchen Macgyver") gently stirring a wooden spoon around a big ceramic bowl while watching his mother - with awe and wonder - create a delicious home cooked dinner. Amidst lemons and fresh herbs, he would soak in the warmth of maternal love and the smell of garlic sizzling in a pan and would one day tell his children about these treasured, blissful moments (insert sound of record screeching)...
Okay, have you met my kid? There are SO many things wrong with this picture that I don't even know where to start. Oh, I know...how about garlic sizzling in a hot pan spitting hot oil all over both of us. My son throws the wooden spoon against the wall and reaches deftly for the chopping knife, spilling the fresh herbs all over the dirty, dog-hairy floor. He then proceeds to throw a cataclysmic tantrum until I let him suck on the lemon which he mashes in his mouth and then spits back into the ceramic mixing bowl filled with whatever else we were supposed to be eating for dinner. It usually goes something like that. Not exactly the Norman-Rockwell-meets-Food-Network thing I was going for.
I have kicked myself for introducing this little ritual a thousand times. Why can't we go back to him sitting dumbified in front of the tv while I sip a nice glass of wine and quietly destroy my own kitchen in my own way (I'm a really sloppy cook and believe me, I don't need a toddler's help to spill shit on the floor).
But tonight, I must say, we lived the dream. Well, sortof. Okay, so it was after dinner and I wasn't actually trying to cook anything, granted that makes a huge difference. I was doing the clean up, putting things away, rinsing a few dishes, and trying to keep Loki entertained while Herb put the baby down to sleep. As always, Loki pulled his chair up to the counter and began reaching for the most dangerous and/or expensive things in sight - Herb's puffer, the cell phone, my iTouch. I swept each beyond his grasp in turn and then he started playing with a pile of change Herb had dumped on the counter (don't get me started with this habit). I had to stop myself from stopping him. Here's the little internal dialogue that took place in my brain:
"Don't...stop...don't...put it down."
"Wait. It's just change. It can't hurt him."
"It's dirty and he could choke"
"So just don't let him put it in his mouth. He'll be fine."
"Right. Good luck with that lady."
"Stop being such a killjoy. It's just some quarters and pennies. He's having fun."
"Fine. But don't say I didn't warn you."
Then, this is what I said out loud as Loki caught the corner of my eye and dangled a shiny copper penny just inside his parted lips, "NO NO NO NO NO. Not in your mouth. Here." And I dumped all the change into a big wooden salad bowl and handed him a big wooden spoon (there's the spoon I've been dreaming of...I knew it existed!). "We're making money soup." Just like that, I invented the best game ever. He would yell out "ingredients" and I would get them out of their respective spots, prepare them and dump them in the bowl for him to stir. In case you're wondering, here is how you make Loki's money soup:
Start with a handful of change and add:
1 carrot, chopped
1 slice of hot pizza, cut up
2 crocodiles (wrestle them, throw them on the table, chop them up)
2 "baby-lion" fish (a rare, rare breed that can only be found in our kitchen sink)
3 big scoops of icecream
It's very similar to stone soup except with wild animals and money.
So I accidentally became a really fantastic parent for about 10 minutes, the kind you read about in Dr. Sears books (specifically, like Martha Sears, who I am fairly certain floats around with an umbrella breastfeeding a four-year-old in one arm while leading her houseful of deeply bonded children in a round of the goat-herder song with the other).
In his book, "The Happiest Toddler on the Block," Harvey Karp basically explains that the key to raising kids of this age is a steady mixture of reverse psychology and the ability to turn every task into a romping, gleeful new game. "Let's race to see who can put on their shoes faster?! I bet I can beat you! Look I'm wearing your shoes on my head, is that where they go? Look I'm eating your shoes?! Isn't mommy so silly! I bet you can't put your shoes on if I eat them!" etc. etc....You must be endlessly creative, upbeat, patient, and intuitive. He's right, of course, but that's like saying - look, you want a perfect body, just eat 1500 calories a day and work out 6 days a week. No problem. Oh, except I have other things to do than spend 30 minutes trying to convince Loki that putting your shoes on is fun. It's not fun; it's just one of those things you have to do in life. Put on your shoes. Now.
That being said, it is really amazing when you can squash that voice - the NO NO NO voice - and just go with it and let it be silly or messy or probably not really the best idea. Like saying, what-the-hey, you want to jump in the bathtub with your clothes on? So they get wet...who cares. You want to throw all the couch cushions on the floor and jump on them...well, yeah, that looks like a lot of fun. Run around naked in the backyard and pee on the rosebushes, sure, go wild. That's sortof what the kitchen counter is about...I know it makes cooking dinner harder and messier and I know that it is probably a bad idea to let my child within arms reach of burning elements, but it opens the door for thing like money soup. And that's the good stuff, worth it's weight in gold.
Poached Salmon with lemon-dill mayo sauce
Mushroom & Chevre pie (from Max's, not my own, as if there is a "my own" with this sort of thing)