Mom's little kitchen helpers

2011-10-03 00:00

“WHAT can I do with you?” my sweet, quiet, middle-child, Anna, asked, late one afternoon. I was feeling a fair bit of pressure to finish dinner off, but how could I say, “Nothing.”

“You could help me make supper,” I said, as she beamed all over. I had almost finished explaining to her how to dip the chicken fillets in seasoned flour when I felt a knock-knock-knocking on the back of my knees. I turned round to find my 18-month-old son, with his new and most unfortunate gift of a pair of Addis stairs, bumping his way into the kitchen. Before I could finish showing Anna how much salt to add, he was hovering over the chicken fillets, offering his help.

“Okay Jed,” I said, “you can use this rolling pin to flatten the fillets and then give them to

Annie to dip in the flour.”

He began thumping with relish as I turned back to the stove — only to find my six-year-old son, Joah, stirring the sauce. “What can I do to help?” he asked. I felt a light sweat coming on. The kitchen was suddenly looking small and grubby and like it could do with a few less bodies in it.

“You can go fetch herbs from the garden and add them to the sauce,” I suggested. Out he ran and in wandered my final child, wondering what she could do too.

“Help?”

So there we were, all five of us enjoying some very close family time in the kitchen — just like the parenting books recommended. It would’ve been quicker and cleaner to finish supper on my own. But did I really want all my kids clean and

quiet, on their beds reading, while I was alone in the kitchen? That would ensure that as teenagers they were clean and quiet and grumpy on their beds while I was alone in the kitchen.

“Sacrifice your clean kitchen floor when they’re young, for their help breaking eggs,” one parent suggested. And then when they’re older they’ll be around and involved and helpful.

I was just congratulating myself on all my sacrificing when I noticed that Joah had doubled the spices and chucked in a hearty handful of weeds with his herbs. I turned for a fork to fish them out when I saw that

Annie’s peach face had turned flour white. And Jedi had moved from flattening the fillets with the rolling pin to flattening them with his hands, his elbows and now finally he was attempting to head-butt them flat with his forehead.

I wiped the flour off Annie’s face, the salmonella off Jedi’s forehead, thanked them all for their service and then suggested that the best way they could help me now was by playing outside. They looked a little bit hesitant that this suggestion fitted into their idea of helping, but eventually they agreed.

The kitchen was quiet again. I mopped the flour off the floor and then put the Addis stairs away — somewhere that they won’t be found for a very long time.

• Sarah Groves is a freelance writer living in Pietermaritzburg.

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