Yesterday, as I was standing over the stove stirring boiling macaroni noodles, I asked a question my family hears a lot around our house. “Wonder what I should write about this week. You guys have any ideas?”
When you have a weekly writing deadline, you often pick the brains of those around you, hoping to find a seed of an idea that might grow into something bigger once you give it a little time and attention. Sometimes that happens, but most of the time the family members just stare back at you, shrug their indifferent shoulders and say, “I dunno.” Then they go back to watching cartoons or ESPN.
People who live with writers usually learn, the hard way, that the creative angst leading up to a deadline is inevitable, and it’s best to just stay out of the way until the article is done and the temporary insanity has resolved.
But this time when I went fishing for ideas, I got lucky. Seven-year-old Kate piped up with this simple idea: “Just tell them how to raise kids.”
I laughed out loud when she said it but then quickly realized that she thinks I actually know exactly how to do that – as if I’m following a specific recipe like the one on the back of the Kraft Macaroni & Cheese box. So I recovered quickly and said, “You know, Katie, that’s a good idea. I just might use that.” She beamed about the warm reception and went back to asking me how many more minutes before the mac & cheese would be done.
As I stirred in the packet of gooey cheese, I realized something that all mothers and fathers come to accept at some point during our parenting journey: “I have no idea what I’m doing.” And that’s a scary, humbling, exhilarating reality.
Sure, I learned a few things about parenting from watching my own parents. But they probably didn’t know what they were doing either. And they raised kids before email and iPhones existed, so the playbook has changed significantly.
The terrifying truth is that we’re all just making things up as we go along – tossing ingredients into the pot and hoping the results turn out the way we want.
Part of the reason I don’t like actual cooking is that, even when you follow a detailed recipe, things can always go wrong and, when I cook, they often do. My mother says I’m too uptight in the kitchen, that I should relax, experiment and accept that there’ll be a culinary catastrophe now and then. But I can’t stand the thought of wasting perfectly good ingredients, not to mention the time it takes to put them together.
And that’s just dinner! What if I accidentally screw up the kids – the most important ingredients God ever lends to us? What if I broil when I should have sautéed? What if I add chili powder when what they really needed was sugar? What if this all goes horribly wrong and they fall like ill-fated soufflés?
The stakes are so much higher than just dinner. But even though I don’t know what I’m doing most of the time, it’s the most exciting, fulfilling creation I’ve ever been part of. I can hardly wait to see how it all turns out.
So, sweet Kate, thank you for your great idea. One day, perhaps when your kids are growing up, you’ll realize I had no idea what I was doing, and you won’t know either. So here’s my best “recipe” for raising kids:
Mix sweet babies with wide-eyed parents who’ll do anything to protect them.
Stir in heaping cups of on-the-job training, mistakes, and learning to do better.
Sprinkle generously with extended family, friends and good teachers.
Simmer over low heat, stirring constantly with time and attention – even while they’re teenagers and they claim not to want your time and attention.
Pour in your heart and soul and bake on high love temperature for as long as you can.
Remove from oven. Learn to “serve” those around you.
And, most of all, enjoy.
Gwen Rockwood is a mom to three great kids, wife to one cool guy, a newspaper columnist and co-owner of nwaMotherlode.com. To read previously published installments of The Rockwood Files, click here. To check out Gwen’s new book, “Reporting Live from the Laundry Pile: The Rockwood Files Collection,” click HERE.
Photo credit: Lisa Mac Photography