As a tribute to Moms everywhere, I'm spending this week exploring motherhood with old and new stories. This tale is a favorite of mine because the Little Boy in the story, who is now 18 years old and studying robotics in college with an eye toward taking over the world, has learned, under my care and tutelage, to call for pizza all by himself.
“Mom, you have to make a German Chocolate cake for my social studies project.”
“Excuse me little boy, but I’m neutral. I do not sew, neither do I bake.”
Further negotiations found me and Little Boy at the kitchen table surrounded by supplies. We have eggs, vegetable oil, box of cake mix, and can of frosting. I do not want an “A” badly enough to make this cake from scratch. Nor do I want to miss out on seeing this kid cook. It’s the principle of the thing. Sooner or later he’s going to have to face the consequences of volunteering. Don’t bang the can on the counter unless you’re willing to bake the biscuits.
Besides, I am a firm believer in teaching children to make their own way in the world. Survival skills are necessary for kids who live in a world that evolves so rapidly that the prize in the cereal is obsolete by the time you open the box. With this concept in mind, and with the attitude of a pioneer, I decided it was time to teach my son to cook.
“These are modern times and there’s not always going to be a Pizza Hut on the corner,” I intone sternly as we head into the kitchen. Sure, they were harsh words, but sooner or later a kid has got to learn more in the way of survival skills than how to microwave popcorn. I’m sure Orville Redenbacher is a nice guy and a snappy dresser, but he should not be a young man’s role model in matters involving the food pyramid.
The Kid is 12. He is cooler than Doublemint gum. At present, he is wearing his cooking clothes, which are pretty much the same clothes he wears for everything else: socks without shoes, blue jeans with the top button missing, red silky boxer shorts, and no shirt.
“Why wear a shirt?” he shrugged when I send him to get dressed. “If I get anything on my skin, I can just lick it off.” He runs his tongue around his mouth for practice. This kid will never need a compass to draw circles in math class.
Once things get underway in the kitchen, the kid discovers that he loves to cook. It’s like working in a secret underground laboratory only without the eye of newt. His favorite part is cracking eggs. He’s been practicing his cracking while I don protective gear. Removing a Kevlar glove, I scrape all the spare egg slime into a bowl and plan an omelet for supper.
“Okay,” I call out in my best Martha Stewart voice. “What’s the first thing we do?”
“Eat the icing!” he chimes.
I stop and consider. It’s not too late to solo on this project. Although I might not bake like Betty Crocker, I can mix like a cement truck. But the principle of the thing still dangles like a participle above my head.
“Read the directions.”
“Preheat the oven,” he says slowly, underlining the words with egg yolk.
“Wrong. Wash your hands.” I cringe as he wipes egg yolk racing stripes down the legs of his jeans.
“With soap and water.”
Under my patient instruction, and with an extra helping of creative engineering, a cake rises haltingly from the crumbs of dry ingredients.
“No, No, No! You do not beat the cake batter like it’s the last horse around the bend at Churchill Downs.”
He gazes up at me with puppy dog eyes. His face and chest is dotted with chocolate splashes. He looks like a Dalmatian. “It said to mix well.”
“Mix. Not flog. We want to blend the ingredients, not torture them.”
After taking out our inner hostilities on the mixture, we pour the batter into the pan.
“Do we have to put it all in?” The kid’s cake mix targeting computer has been activated as I can see by the tongue that is already swimming in circles around his mouth.
“We have to put enough in to make a cake. You barely covered the bottom of the pan.”
He licked the spoon. “You said it was a sheet cake.”
“Well you short-sheeted it. Pour the rest in.” He poured in another teaspoon of batter.
“We want a layer cake, not a pancake.” He eyed the batter, judging just how much would be left at bowl-licking time. I sensed mutiny hovering on the horizon.
“I have an idea. Why don’t you make cupcakes and eat one early?”
Later, I watched The Kid lounging in front of the television, licking the icing off of a tattered cupcake liner. He grinned, licked chocolate off his chin, and gave me an enthusiastic thumbs up.
Sometimes the most important lesson is establishing priorities. I’m a slow learner, but this kid is a great teacher. Especially when the lesson involves chocolate cake.