When Calvin was not yet two, he acquired a set of play cooking utensils, some wooden velcro food, and a kitchen hutch. These were prized possesions. He cut, he mixed, he cooked and stirred, he served. Tidily tucked into his make-believe world we found ourselves dining on such delicacies as strawberry eggplant shrimp stirfry, or kebobs of beef, onion, tomato, and kiwi. They were the meals of gods.
Somwhere along the way we hit on the idea of positioning his kitchen in view of our own. This set up provided me with the time I needed to produce meals. Even if they were simple and quick fare that nurtured more than they enticed, at least they didn't mix eggplant, strawberries, and shrimp. And it gave me afternoons in which to bake bread. Lovely, sunlit, lazy afternoons when the smell of warm bread filled the house and made it feel wholesome, country, and delicious.
In the past couple of years, though, I've found myself with less time for the kitchen. I'd always heard that as soon as Calvin was older I'd have more time for things like cooking, laundry, vacuuming and dusting, but this advice must have come from non-homeschooling families. Instead, as the kid has gotten older I acutally find that my time just keeps getting more precious, and the dust just keeps on settling.
And then I realized why.
Not long after the Calvin started walking we gave him his first chore—setting the table. He loved it, and the first time we sat down to eat and found our places set with his wooden play silverware, we loved it, too. With time we added more chores. At his current age of 7 (and 3/4 he won't hesitate to add), Calvin is responsible for setting and clearing the table, loading and unloading the dishwasher, collecting the dirty laundry, loading the washer, folding the dry clothes, dusting, feeding the pets, and keeping his room clean.
For some this will seem like a long list, for others I'm sure it falls short, but the truth is...all that help is costly. For me to do any one of those jobs takes just a few minutes. For me to watch the kid do any one of those jobs takes not only three or four times as long, but also shaves minutes off my life as I battle my inner voice of impatience. It's not that he can't do the jobs, it's not that he doesn't do them well, but, and here is the key to teaching any skill, dexterity comes with practice, and practice takes time.
Thus the amount of free time I have is inversely proportional to the amount of assistance I receive.
This year we have added "help make dinner 3x per week" to Calvin's chore list, and while this is already my favorite job of his, it is also the most trying. I love watching him measure, cut, stir, season, and serve. It recalls for me visions of his toddler self producing stomach turning fare in his wooden kitchen. These are the adorable images I cling to in order to keep myself from interfering to move things along or providing unnecessary and injurious advice.
And even as I watch my free time disappearing in cloud of smoke or a puff of flour, this feels idyllic to me. It is the image I'd always had of homeschooling, this working side by side, creating, learning, enjoying each other.
This week, while making pizza together, he leaned over and repeatedly inhaled the smell of the proving yeast until I warned him against hyperventilation. "But it smells so good," he said. "It smells like the good old days when you used to make all our bread and bagels and english muffins. Let's do that again!" Immediately, images of warm bread with melty pats of butter on lazy, sunlit days flooded my mind. Yes, those were the good old days! Yes, why don't we get back to doing that?
Until I remembered that the reason I gave up baking our family's bread products was all that lost time. It's worth it. It really, really is.