Cooking Together: It's Sinking In


When I dropped my son off at a friend’s house to play yesterday, we told each other we were looking forward to cooking together.

He wanted chili — yes, at the end of June — and he was interested in helping. He’d requested to help days before when we were meal planning for the weekend. I decided I wanted to try a new cornbread recipe, too. I was so excited for him to come home so we could cook.

When he came home, he talked about his wonderful time playing with his friend. But the time outside playing and swimming, plus the smoothie shop stop … Well, he was clearly exhausted. When I asked if he still wanted to cook dinner with me, he said he didn’t.

I was devastated inside.

But I also didn’t want to push him — especially after a busy day.

“Are you sure?”

He was. He wanted to play with his toys and veg out in front of the TV.

I tried to lure him into the kitchen … Toys and TV can wait, I argued.

He was steadfast.

“OK,” I said. “I’m going downstairs to make dinner. You’re free to join me at any time.”

He didn’t.

The kitchen was quiet — the kind of kitchen I used to love to cook in. But it felt too quiet, too empty, without him there. But I knew that forcing him to help wouldn’t have been a good idea in that moment. So I went on with my tasks … I made cornbread from scratch and continued to hone my Instant Pot chili recipe (I’m so close to being able to share it!). I laid out all types of chili toppings on the table. With the cornbread cooling on a rack, the Instant Pot dinged.

“Mommy!” my son hollered from upstairs. “What’s that sound?”

“That’s the chili! It’s done. Wash up!” I yelled back, happily.

Then, a meltdown started. Slowly at first: “But Mommy, I was going to help!”

And, well, it didn’t stop. It was a meltdown like I haven’t seen in some time. It was EPIC.

“I wanted to help! I thought I was going to help!”

And on and on and on.

Did he think I was going to start over? I tried to calm him. I tried to remind him of all the times I asked and how I respected his choice. I offered solace in the fact that we can make dinner together another night this week. But nothing worked.

I asked if he wanted to help set the table, but he was pissed that the toppings were already out. I couldn’t win.

Finally, my husband challenged him to a washing-hands race. (Everything is a competition right now.) That was a good calming distraction.

When he sat down, it was touch and go. Dinner was emotional for him … the combination of disappointment and exhaustion. He suggested he go to bed early. Yes, child, good idea.

Then, tonight, he arrived home and was upset I’d started dinner … I was taken aback because we hadn’t discussed cooking together tonight. In fact, I thought I had made it clear that I would start it while he was on his way home with Daddy. (Fortunately, tonight’s disappointment was short-lived and the emotions well managed.)

But what it did make me realize is that perhaps he misses that kitchen time too. With a vacation earlier this month (full of eating out) plus all the festivities around his birthday (where I was trying to prep while he was at school) … We simply haven’t been in the kitchen together as much as usual. I know I miss it. But I’m an emotional mommy who’s trying to cope with her baby getting ready for kindergarten, so I miss EVERYTHING that’s changing.

To see him want to get back in the kitchen after a little hiatus … Well, it’s heartwarming and reaffirming. It says he appreciates the time, enjoys the activity and recognizes it as part of his weekly routine. So, yeah, I’ll be picking him up early tomorrow night so we can cook together.

And I can’t wait.