Monday, July 6, 2015

Parenthood: Week 108 – “Cooking” With Ollie

I’ve done a lot of stupid things as parent.

I’m not talking about actions that put Ollie in danger. I’m talking about doing things that no reasonable person should do because of the stress and potential trauma involved in the experience.

There is the over a dozen plane rides I’ve taken Ollie on, continuing to take Ollie on road trips of ever-increasing lengths, and attempting to have Ollie “help” me fold the laundry before he could crawl. One of the most challenging and stupid things that I continue to do with Ollie is cooking dinner while watching Ollie.

I freely admit that there are times that I plunk Ollie in front of the television so I can cook dinner, but I do my best to avoid this (in a future blog post, I’ll talk about screen time and parenting).

This choice combined with the fact that I prioritize cooking “real food” for my family makes my life needlessly. I always have frozen pizza, frozen chicken tenders, and frozen vegetables in my freezer. Also I always have box mac and cheeses and instant ramen in my pantry. These staples come into use at least once a week. My wife and I both work, and we live modern lives, so cooking a home cook meal every day, simply doesn’t happen. However more often than not I manage to cook “real food” for my family.

I define real food as cooking meat from raw (not simply heating pre-cooked meat), preparing fresh veggies and eating some kind of starch that isn’t Stove Top stuffing (which I love btw).

This is something that I’ve made a priority in my life. Not everybody does and that’s fine, we all make different choices in how we take care of our family and ourselves. I hardly ever iron my clothing (sometimes after I clean a pair of khakis in my laundry machine, I send it to the dry cleaners so I don’t have to iron them). Forget, making or altering clothes for my family. Ollie had disposable diapers, partially because I would rather spend my time cooking than laundering dirty diapers.

Making cooking a priority in my life mostly has to do with the fact that I love cooking. One of the ways that my mom shows love is through cooking. She taught me how to cook and also how to teach myself to master recipes. I full credit her with my ability and interest to watch over thirty different youtube instructional videos on how to cook and omelet and figure out the techniques that work the best for my cooking style and my family.

Now once upon a time, I could put Ollie in a bouncer or in his Pack & Play and I could cook dinner. He grew out of his bouncer and he felt too constricted in his Pack & Play so I had to figure something else out. Our kitchen is a galley kitchen so I can’t really see much of the house from the stove or the sink (I don't have a big enough kitchen or enough counter space for a learning tower).  In order for Ollie to be safe, I need him in the kitchen while I cook.

There’s a gate at one end of the kitchen and the stove is at the other end, so I basically just need to keep Ollie to the left of me.

So how do I keep Ollie entertained while I cook?

There’s a variety of strategies that I utilize and cycle through. Sometimes I just feed him things that I’m prepping and cooking. This works if he’s interesting in the ingredients that I’m using but isn’t idea because this strategy has the potential to fill him up before dinner. I bring toys into the kitchen. This sometimes helps and we have some magnetic toddler toys on the refrigerator, but these toys never seem to occupy his attention for very long.

What I’ve found that work is having Ollie “cook.” For Ollie cooking is a variety of activities. There’s taking out all of the pots and pans and their lids and trying to match them up. Sometimes I take out all of the Tupperware for him to stack and organize. Ollie has learned how to prep string beans, (though for some reason he feels a need to bite every bean after he snaps them in two).

The most fun Ollie has is cooking pasta. I give him a small pot, a handful of uncooked pasta, a colander, a bowl with some water, tongs, a spatula and a ladle. Most days, this will keep Ollie occupied for twenty minutes, sometimes longer. When I first tried this with Ollie I had to teach him how to use the tongs. We went over how he could mix water in the pasta and use the colander to get the water out of the pasta.

Inevitably the kitchen floor gets covered with water, and Ollie needs a change of socks at the very least and an entire outfit change if he’s being really silly with the water.

Periodically I’ll show him what’s in the oven or what’s in the pan. I almost always let Ollie take a smell of whatever spices I’m using which he really  enjoys.  And with some of my favorite music always playing in the kitchen, impromptu dance parties often happen while we cook.

I’ve started teaching Ollie some knife skills and he’s doing well with that, and he’s getting the concepts of the different tools of the kitchen. The tools that make things smaller like graters and things we use to mix.  Also he's really good at figuring out what utensils make the loudest noises when hit against pans.

It’s really intense trying to cook when Ollie is in the kitchen. I’m trying to focus on the food, and the process, while also keeping Ollie safe and engaged. If you cook with toddler in your care, you have to be flexible. Maybe a dish that was supposed to be pan-fried is simply going to have to be baked in the oven and pasta will inevitably get overcooked.

Sometimes you just need to give up and stick frozen food in the over and the kid in front of the television. There’s no shame in that. Food is not always art, and after a long day at work with a kid in a bad mood, you got to make something work.

Sometimes, on the hard days, I find something left inside of me and I push myself to make a meal that expresses something about who I am. I bring Ollie into the kitchen and in his own way he’s part of this process. He’s trying ingredients, he’s hearing the sounds of the kitchen, and smelling the magic of aromas mixing and tasting flavors come together. While it’s more stressful for me, like other stupid things I do in my life with Ollie, I’d rather cook with Ollie than without him.

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