Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Super Powers 101: Following Directions

My mom tells a story about a time when I made cookies for a family gathering. Apparently my relatives were gushing about how good they were and what a good cook I was. My response was "Well, I can read!"

Now, I don't remember this at all but I can definitely see myself saying that. Compliments about cooking are hard for me to take. To me, cooking is not a big mystery. It has taken me years to realize that not everyone can do it, at least, not well. I began to wonder why. As I met new people and learned of their cooking tragedies, I realized that cooking requires one simple skill: the ability to follow directions.

I have been asked many times for recipes, only to be told later that it didn't work. "You must have forgotten to tell me something because mine was nothing like yours." I admit I alter recipes, sometimes without meaning to. I don't make big changes though. After questioning the would-be chef, I learn that they made changes too. They used all wheat flour instead of white or oil instead of shortening when making bread rolls. Maybe they used tomato sauce instead of tomato paste or LEFT OUT THE SALT!!!! when making my homemade lasagna. I take some responsibility for the confusion. When you cook something over and over, you sometimes do things instinctively. I may understand that "stir" means with a spoon and not a high-powered mixer but if I don't actually say that someone else may burn out their motor trying to mix a thick dough.

Several years ago, I realized that recipes are not the only confusing communications for "superwomen". I had made chocolate chip cookies for my kids. Three of them were eating cookies and dancing around being silly while the fourth sat calmly on my lap. She stuffed the whole cookie into her mouth. I warned her not to but she did anyway. Then, her little lips barely touching because her mouth was so full, I warned her again not to make a mess.

Inevitably, she began laughing at the other children and a line of sweet, chocolaty drool ran down her chin. "No! Yucky!" I said, frowning as hard as I could. She just stared at me, hard and glaring. Her expression was so serious I had to fight to keep from laughing. "Don't laugh" I said to myself. "Show her you mean business." We were in a battle of wills for what seemed like an eternity. Then, suddenly, she smiled. For one brief moment I felt the joy of victory. Then she opened her mouth and spit out the entire glob of cookie! I managed to catch it in my hand, shove her off my lap and storm off to the kitchen to clean up the mess. I kept asking myself "What is wrong with her? Why does she keep doing the opposite of what I tell her to do?"

This question was still in my mind a few days later when I took the kids to the playground. This same child walked up to me, smiled sweetly and put a sand-covered bottle cap in her mouth. "No, Yucky!" I said instinctivly. She immediatly spit out the bottlecap...just as she had spit out the cookie. As dawn rose over my darkened mind, I realized that she had done exactly what I told her to do. I was the one who had not been clear.

From then on, I tried to be more careful about what I said and make sure I was clear about what I wanted from my kids. I am not there yet. Just the other day I told my nine-year-old to apologize to his sister. He said "okay" and then just stood there. "I said apologize!" yelled at him. "Okay!" he yelled back. But still he stood there. With my last drop of sanity I asked "Do you know what apologize means?" He frowned for a minute and said no. After I explained, he gave a rather insincere "Sorry" and went on about his business. I just sighed and shook my head. At least I have learned that sometimes the message is lost in translation!

1 comment:

tkangaroo said...

Ah, how I miss you, Miss Amy. And your delicious cooking. Mmmmm, lasagna.