I’ve always been fond of cooking and it’s been a point of pride with me that my children should likewise learn to feed themselves with enthusiasm. My eldest daughter, now co-creating a household with her husband, took to the fine art of food preparation like butter to a hot pan. By the time she left home at age 18 she could rustle up a complete roast chicken dinner without batting an eye—much to the amazement of her roommates at university.
My younger daughter, now 18 herself, has been shopping for her own groceries for more than two years so she can ensure that the proper ingredients are on hand for the vegetarian concoctions she prefers to eat. She, too, is totally on board with the value of knowing how to cook.
And my 20-year-old son? I despaired of him ever learning how to feed himself. Things started out hopefully enough. As a toddler I used to plant him and his younger sister on the kitchen floor with wooden spoons and upturned metal pots and let them “make music.” My son enjoyed playing with bread dough and licking cake batter bowls.
But when he grew old enough to provide actual help with a meal, somewhere around age 12, his responses to my invitation to cook fell far short of my dreams. One day I made the mistake of interrupting a video game to try to change the course of his life.
“Michael, would you like to help make dinner?” I asked.
“Wait, what?” he said. I drew him into the kitchen, but after about 10 minutes he drifted out again, to bury himself in what was to become one of his favourite escape-from-cooking parachutes: homework.
As I became increasingly concerned about my son’s prowess in the kitchen, he became increasingly adept at brilliant ways to avoid cooking. I heard every excuse in the book.
“I was just about to cut the grass.”
“I need to do my laundry.”
“I have to practice piano.”
“I thought I’d wash your car for you.”
“You have to learn to cook!” I finally said.
“Wait, what?” he said.
Before I knew it, he was weeks away from leaving home to live in an apartment with four other boys his own age. We collected kitchen gear in anticipation of his imminent departure, although I doubted he would need any of it. You don’t actually need a plate for either a freezer pizza or a Big Mac. Who was I kidding, here?
“Aren’t you worried you won’t know how to cook?” I asked him.
“I do know how to cook,” he said.
I sighed, handed him some handwritten recipes for spaghetti and meatloaf, and hoped for the best.
Michael was barely weeks into his first semester at university when I arrived on campus to deliver some items he had left behind at home…and to make sure he was managing OK without me.
“Mom, can you take me grocery shopping?” he asked. Finally! Here was a chance to guide my boy to culinary competency! But as we headed down the aisles of his local grocery store I realized that something was amiss. He had a list of items that he needed, and he seemed to know exactly where to find them.
“We have to go back for the olive oil,” he said at the end of a full grocery cart.
“Wait, what?” I said.
“It’s a key ingredient, Mom,” he patiently explained, looking down his lanky 6’2” frame at my wondering eyes. I nodded. Yes, yes it is, I thought.
“But how, what, um, where did you learn about olive oil?” I asked.
“I’ve been Googling recipes on the internet and making up some of my own dishes,” he said. He put his hand on my shoulder and grinned. “The guys in my apartment are paying me $10 a plate to cook for them.” He raised one rakish eyebrow. “They say I’m pretty good at it.”
“You’re cooking?” I asked in shock.
He grinned again. “Of course I am,” he said. “It’s easy!”
Of course it is, I thought. I shook my head in disbelief, marvelling at the power of the right motivation. Maybe he’ll get friendly with Julia Child someday after all. And when he does, I am fervently hoping that he gives me a discount.