The first kitchen I truly made my own was in Brooklyn. I covered the cabinets with colorful postcards and filled them with the cooking instruments and ingredients that could fit. The window in that lovely little kitchen—and it was little, indeed, with about one square foot of counter space on which to work—looked out into dozens of brownstone apartments. So very many people’s lives.
Neighbors whose windows looked into my kitchen would have seen me there constantly, mixing cookies and cakes, kneading breads and slicing caramels. Newly married and pregnant, laboring even, and then with a baby cuddled against me in a sling as I baked and baked and baked.
Now I have a bigger kitchen, and a bigger family. I have enough counter space for all three of my children to sit and help me bake. Years ago this would have been my dream.
Before I had children I had this oh-so-romantic vision of what it would be like to be in the kitchen with them. They’d measure flour and baking soda and then gently stir. They’d take turns cracking eggs into creamed butter and sugar. They’d evenly pass the bottle of vanilla extract back and forth for a magical little whiff.
Ha. If only.
I realize now that one of the things I loved about that tiny kitchen was that, in its smallness, it belonged to me alone. Even if I’d had children old enough to sit on the counter they simply wouldn’t have fit. When I bake alone, I feel mostly that I am in control, that I know how a certain recipe will turn out when it is done. With my children, I can only really measure out the ingredients and hope for the best.
I’m grateful to now have a kitchen big enough to share with them. In it, I hope to teach them the language I use to tell people I love them, the way I say I’m sorry for your loss, Congratulations, Get better, Thank you.
But they’re children, after all, and teaching them will take time. Now they argue over which one gets to measure and pour which ingredients. Eggs get cracked every which way. They fight over whose turn it is to mix or even who did a better job mixing. They spill the vanilla into the batter and lick everything they can when my back is turned.
Baking with them makes me miss baking alone.
So it’s reasonable that my favorite kitchen activity involving my children happens while I am not even present. It’s a weekly ritual they take part in with my husband every Shabbat morning. They sit on the counter as he slices the challah I made the day before. They crack eggs and add a bit of milk, a drop of syrup, some cinnamon. They stir and soak the bread as butter heats up on a pan. When they are feeling brave, they even flip the challah with a spatula.
They do this with my husband, all while I am taking a 7 am Shabbat morning nap after having pulled the early morning shift. When I wake again the house smells like French toast. Like Shabbat. And I don’t even have to manage any arguing to enjoy it.