I turned to Lori, my next door neighbor, who is my food and cooking mentor, recently when preparing dinner was becoming a difficult task. Isabelle no longer wanted to play by herself, watch “Sesame Street,” or read her books while I prepared dinner. Instead, she wanted to be with me. But not just with me. She wanted 100% of my attention. (That’s kinda hard when you’re doing anything more than hitting the reheat button on the microwave.) Therefore, I turned to Lori for some guidance.
“Are you getting her involved in the cooking?” she asked.
“Yes, but it’s hard. She just wants to be held,” I replied.
“Have you tried putting her in her high chair so she can see what you’re doing?” Lori asked me.
“I have, but she doesn’t want to be in there…” I said hopelessly.
Lori gave me some additional ideas, but I filed away the high chair one in my head to try again.
My mom was with us last week, which happened to coincide with Isabelle having a fever for four days straight. (And then she got diagnosed with an ear infection.) Therefore, my mom was around and more than willing to entertain Isabelle while I prepared dinner. Tonight was my first night without someone around during dinner prep time. I hoped for the best, but expected the worst.
I placed the recipes on the counter to determine what I’d make first. Once I decided to start on the chicken, someone came running into the kitchen and she was not happy. Isabelle threw her arms around my legs and latched on. But I didn’t take the bait.
“Do you want to help mama make dinner?” I said in as upbeat of a voice as possible. “Here, why don’t you sit in your high chair while I finish cutting the tomatoes.”
I placed Isabelle in her high chair. She sat and watched me cut the tomatoes. I handed her a lemon. She held it, rolling it between her hands. She sniffed the sage when I handed her the bunch. This is going well, I thought. But then, I handed her the tarragon. Maybe she didn’t like the texture or maybe she didn’t like the licorice smell, but she wanted no part of the tarragon. In fact, she wanted no part of sitting in her high chair anymore. She had to come out.
Once the chicken was prepared it came time to work on the creamed spinach. Rather than getting right to work, I sat down on the kitchen floor and reached my arms out to Isabelle who was crying. “What’s wrong, Baba?” (That’s a silly little nickname I call her because ba-ba is the first sound she babbled.) She crawled into my lap and stopped crying. “Let’s read the recipe together.”
I began reading the creamed spinach recipe, which like the rest of tonight’s dinner, was new to me. She sat in my lap with rapt attention. I read the recipe to her as if it were a picture book, emphasizing words, pointing to things we needed to focus on, etc. Immediately after I finished reading, we discussed. We talked pots and pans. The two of us immediately went to work searching for the just-right pots for the recipe. We reread the recipe making sure we had the right ones. That took a good few minutes.
But, when it came time to put the pots on the stove to get cooking, Isabelle got cranky again. She wanted to be close to mama. This time I grabbed her booster seat, which was still attached to a dining room chair from last Friday night’s Shabbat dinner, and brought it into the kitchen. I sat her in the booster and tried to amuse her as I filled the large pot with water and put the spinach inside of it. Again, that lasted a couple of minutes. Then, she had to get down from the booster and the clingy-thing started again.
Somehow, I managed to get dinner made. I think it was thanks, in part, to my husband who intentionally came home from work 45 minutes earlier than usual since he knew dinner might be challenging this week.
Even though Isabelle isn’t ready to work through a recipe yet, I think it’s good that she was interested in it. I’m hoping this is an early sign that she’ll enjoy cooking with me… someday. Until then, I’m just glad she enjoyed the chicken. That, in and of itself, makes me happy.
If you’re a parent who has a suggestion for me about how to make dinner prep more seamless, then please let me know. (Please note: I’m really tired of using the slow cooker!) All out-of-the-box suggestions to help us get through this phase, which I know will pass, would be appreciated!
Links to tonight’s recipes:
Top left: Creamed spinach
Top right: Angel hair pasta with aromatic slow roasted tomato sauce (I slow-roasted the tomatoes and made the sauce yesterday.)