1. I’ve never been good at teaching life skills, partly because I’m a control freak, and partly because it was usually easiest (in the short run) to do a certain task myself. Not surprisingly, my children didn’t have a problem with this. On the contrary, the kids and I fell into a neat and mutually satisfying pattern of behavior. On sewing day, I’d hem, they’d haw. On cleaning day, they’d spit, I’d polish. Thus did we merrily roll along for years, until one day when my son confidently observed that, as long as there were checks in our checkbook, there was money in our checking account. That’s when I saw the folly of my ways. I resolved then and there to teach my kids responsibility, self-sufficiency, and how to empty the lint trap in the clothes dryer. This past week I launched the Great Autonomy Project by assigning the children some challenging household chores, and having Vincent and Dominic each make a dinner of his choosing. Vincent prepared some knockout chicken quesadillas, a side salad, and fruit smoothies. Dominic made a taco pie and served it forth with grape tomatoes on the side. He didn’t make any side dishes, but did earn extra points by handing out tortilla chips to anyone who stopped in the kitchen to watch him cook. It will take time for the kids to learn all they need to know, but as Mother used to say, “Well begun is half done.”
2. Shortly before Mike’s and my first Christmas together, my mother-in-law asked whether I’d finished my holiday baking. She was surprised to hear that my family tradition didn’t involve cookie baking, but only the deep-frying of zeppole and honeyballs. It’s been 26 years, and I have to admit that I never really applied myself to Christmas baking. (Anyway, when one’s husband needs only chocolate chip cookies to make the season bright, why spend one’s precious Gaudete hours elbow-deep in jimmies and citron?) But this past week, eager both to teach the kids how to cook (see #1) and to practice the fine art of delegation, I set out to make, with the children’s help, ALL of the following treats in time for Christmas Day: Fudgemallow Candy and Peppermint Bark (both quick microwave recipes), Chocolate Chip cookies and Double Chocolate cookies (both from frozen batter), Turkish Delight and Peppermint Bark (both two-ingredient recipes), Dream Bars and Oatmeal Cranberry Chunk cookies (both easy to make and truly delicious), and Apricot Squares (because I love them). Has the taste of success ever been this sweet?
3. Many years ago, I established Stay Up Nights as a means of spending one-on-one time with each of my children. On his Stay Up Night, a child would be allowed to stay up with Mom one hour past his usual bedtime, doing whatever activity he chose. The hour might be spent talking, going out for ice cream, or playing a board game. Occasionally one of kids would choose to do a crafting project, look through old photos, cream Mom at chess, or, if the child was a teen, vent with impunity. Over the years, Stay Up Nights were carried out in fits (sometimes literally, when a teen was involved) and starts, and our youngest children have had so little experience with them that they barely know what they’re about. So I revived the Stay Up Nights tradition this past week, with outings for several of the kids. Grace and Mom went Christmas shopping and, although Grace developed a stomachache halfway through the evening, spent a couple of pleasant hours in each other’s company. Helen and Gerard – who do everything in tandem and are usually treated as one unit – went with Mom to a shop filled with expensive fragile things, and felt quite grown up. Clare and Mom went to a nice restaurant, where they shared a double appetizer and Clare enjoyed a frothy drink with Bailey’s Irish Cream in it. Rose and Mom tried a buffet of authentic East Indian food. (Rose didn’t like the meal, but she really went for the ethnic music.) Vincent and Mom bought Vincent a much-needed winter coat, then hit the discount store and browsed the books on the clearance table. The week’s Stay Up Nights were a big success, and had the blessed effect of sweetening certain Mother/Child relationships that had started to turn sour.