When your parenting style is closer to Michael Jackson’s then Mary Poppins, is it time to have a rethink, asks Jessie Collins?
My second child, a boy, now two and half, was born with a spoon, not a silver spoon, but a wooden one, or even a spatula, something that does a damn good job of scrambling eggs or stirring pasta, in his hand. He has, in short, been obsessed with cooking of any description since he first got his grabbing mechanism together.
It began innocently enough, pots and pans on the floor, though his stirring action was always suspiciously vigorous, to the point that early on, I became convinced that if I chucked in a bit of butter and flour, he'd probably make a decent roux. What was remarkable though was that it would go on, potentially for an afternoon. No other entertainment was needed, nor really of interest. Lego was offered, which turned out to really only be of use for stirring around in the pot. Cool noisy trucks were on hand, wooden benches and hammers too – none of it appealed.
As he evolved to more upright activities, our mini kids' kitchen got some attention, with plenty of oven in and outs and the odd pot walloping but it was never going to be enough. Once he spied where the real action was, i.e at the cooker itself, it was that or nothing. And here, as you can imagine, is where things became more complicated.
Knives, open flames, steam, boiling hot liquid and/or oil, the regular stuff of cooking is all a potential disaster zone for toddlers, and many, I know, would say, the two should just never mix. And I probably would have before, but for better or worse, I decided to not deny him this, and take our chances in among the death traps.
And we've had our moments, there has been the very odd minor burn, a slip from the well-secured chair, but the one thing there hasn't been any of, and that's shit food. Starting out with being allowed to throw some stuff in a pot or a pan, we've slowly made our way on to scrambled eggs, co-produced risotto and pancakes and with very little help, he was soon managing to fill a muffin tin with batter pretty much on his own, which I don't think I was able for at six years old, let alone two.
We have managed to both make it so far in our slightly hazardous, masterchefy world. Yet the odd time family or friends are around and witness the spectacle, I'm reminded of how bonkers it probably looks. But a friend's visit the other day reminded me of perhaps how far we'd travelled down this road, and perhaps to the outsider our cooking exploits could fall into the Michael Jackson dangling his son out a hotel window style of parenting, which we all know, is not a good look.
Popping corn on the stove, my friend's son approached and asked if he could help. Being twice my son's age I thought, sure! He quickly burnt himself, quickly followed by my own son and it went downhill fast. Arms were were stuck under gushing water, ice was deployed, I felt like an idiot. This was not how it was supposed to go, nor was it the normal run of things.
My friend’s reaction wasn’t overly-judgemental, but I know it wouldn’t have happened in her house.
Similarly, my son has employed a cavalier attitude to scooting, which he attacked with gusto, a full year before it was deemed appropriate to do so. The speed he reached down the city streets was impressive, and, terrifying, drawing a mix of reactions from ‘look at him go!’ to incredulous scowling at the lack of pavement etiquette and awareness that came with his infantile approach. All this, and he is still refusing to wear a helmet. But there was, literally, no stopping the guy. And in a short time, he’s pretty much mastered street smarts and is cornering like a pro.
The issue is, in terms of rights and wrongs, so much of parenting is subjective, something that is both empowering and at times overwhelming. Either way, the limits and the lines are drawn by you. Sometimes I take comfort that I’m just channelling my inner 70s parenting techniques, though I know that this is probably a cop out considering other Gen Y parenting friends probably exert more caution.
And then in my most embellished fancies, I imagine sipping Negronis outside my son's burgeoning bistro somewhere in the south of France in my retirement, all that cooking having helped to create a Blumenthal for the next generation. At worst, I think, maybe I’ll get some decent eggs on toast served to me in about ten years time. Hopefully it will be worth the scars, and the wait.