Once I told someone that if this homeschooling mom gig didn't work out, I'd love to have a cooking show. I like to cook. I like the art and the science of making food taste good and look beautiful. I like messing with presentation. I like to put plates in front of my family that make them slow down and savor the moment. Maybe it's genetic. I come from a long line of Italian cooks who respect the beautiful.
She scoffed. Scoffed! She actually said that food was just something to make, eat, and clear out of the way. She said she couldn't be bothered with thinking too much about it. She had a big family to feed and it was sinful somehow to give food more than its utilitarian thought.
I gulped. Didn't talk to her about food again.
Last year, I relinquished my inner foodie. First, I acknowledged that it didn't play well with all-day-long morning sickness. Then, it didn't hold up to the admonition not to be on my feet more than necessary. Then, it died altogether when I was banished from the kitchen and sent upstairs for 6 weeks of bedrest. After the baby was born, I couldn't really multi-task the premature baby nurturing and tasks that required--well--my hands.
We didn't starve. Remember, the foodie thing is genetic. Almost all of my children appear to have inherited the gene. The jury is still out on the one who puts hot sauce on everything. They COOK, these kids. And they care about presentation. The eight-year-old is particularly fond of finding just the right garnish. His current hero bakes cakes. (Apparently the creative kitchen gene is alive and well in that family, too.)
Now, though, I'm back in the kitchen. I choose menus that are a bit more involved than I probably should. I stand at the counter and do quite a bit of peeling and chopping. I am certain to make a mess as I go. I can almost hear my utilitarian commenter clicking her tongue and telling me that there is no place for creativity in the kitchen, that it's a waste of time and energy. No matter. I find loving, thoughtful creativity has much the same effect in the kitchen as it does in the schoolroom. Joy in the beautiful process is contagious and it draws us all in.
I'm not in the kitchen alone. Ever. The creative process and the creative product draw my children to me. They want to help. They see the joy that cooking brings and the want to be a part of it. And there we are, busy creating, when something else happens. They start to talk. Big ones. Little ones. They instinctively know that that recipe with all those steps will hold me here in this sunny yellow room. I will not leave. I will not turn away. I will listen. And they can be assured that I will hear the subtle seasoning in their stories. I will be attuned to the questions they hope to be asked. I will the mom in the apron who knows that it's not about the white sauce at all. It's about the inevitable conversation that happens around good food. It happens at the table, of course. We eat as a family and never are at a loss for words. But the intimate conversation, the sharing of hearts, happens over nearly-bubbling milk, whisk in hand.
I take the time to consider food. To consider cost. To consider skills. To consider time. To consider cleanup. And I decide again and again to choose the thoughtful, creative approach. Because, really, there are so many ways our children need to be nourished. Food is just the beginning.