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Wednesday, June 17, 2015

My son teaches me a lesson...

There's Truly No Limit To A Child's Potential

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About 2 weeks ago, my son Dominic taught me a valuable lesson about kids' potential and their ability to meet any challenge.

You see, he was trying out for his Cook's Badge in Cub Scouts. Being only 9 years old, we decided together that he would prepare a breakfast meal. The problem is, my poor baby has a phobia of fire and kitchen knives. I only went along with it because he insisted on doing that badge and I thought it would help him to get over his fear.

He developed the fear of fire 3 years prior when we went on a family vacation to Vegas. There, at the Mystere show, they had a fire act which had such huge flames that persons in the first couple of rows could actually feel the searing heat. Unfortunately, Dominic was one of those people and never quite got over the nightmare. The knife thing is just paranoia on his part.

So you can imagine the major headache I had to endure in getting Dominic to not only light the stove but also to cook right in front of it and to chop up ingredients. Add to that the difficulty in getting the egg cracked just right and remembering to coordinate the necessary tasks in the most efficient manner. "Mommy break", anyone?

Given that I'm the main cook in the family, I took charge of this project whilst my husband focused on keeping my daughter out of my hair (and helping to "clean up" the leftovers).

Let me walk you through the exhausting experience of preparing an omelet and fruit salad with a phobia-challenged 9 year old, and why I was seriously beginning to re-think our badge choice:


1. Cracking/Beating the Egg

My son is like a modern-day Don Music (of Sesame St fame). Remember that piano-player who was such a perfectionist that the slightest error would launch him into a self-mutilating tirade of piano head-butts, all to Kermit the Frog's horror? I know, I'm getting old! Well, Dominic would pout and whine every time he burst the egg-yolk, or if he couldn't get the little pieces of shell out of the egg-white.

Beating the egg was even worse - it took him quite some time to acquire a half-decent wrist turning technique, which brought out the Don Music in him all the more, especially if he spilled it.

2. Chopping up Ingredients

Like I said before, Dominic also has a fear of kitchen knives. Trying to get him to hold the handle firmly with one hand whilst holding a food item down with the other was like pulling teeth! One problem was his insistence on holding the knife very loosely, consequently making such feeble attempts at chopping that the food would invariably roll away whenever the knife touched it. When he wasn't doing that, he would always remove his anchor hand at the last second... after all, he didn't want to lose his fingers, right?

No matter how many times I tried to assure him that nothing bad would happen as long as he held the knife and food firmly, took his time and focused on where he wanted to make the cut, the boy just could not bring himself to relax and transfer his focus from his fear onto the task at hand.

After 5 grueling days, 3 dozen eggs and about a week's servings of cheese, sausage, onions and fresh fruit, he finally started to make decent progress. This encouraged me somewhat, but still not enough to get excited about his prospects. Oh yeah, he also kept complaining about the onions burning his eyes... but ok, that's normal.

3. Frying the Omelet

Finally came the obstacle that, given Dominic's phobia, I had anticipated from the very beginning. The pilot on our gas stove wasn't working so we had to use a lighter. That poor boy was so deathly afraid, not so much of the lighter but of the way in which the flame flared up when igniting the gas. I swear, we must've tried (and failed) to light that stove about 50 times before he actually managed to stand within 3 ft of the stove!

There was also the challenge of synchronizing the introduction of fire with the turning of the knob. Anticipating the flare-up, he would either hold the lighter too far back or not turn the knob far enough. Of course, this would only make things worse because not only would the Don Music in him strike up again when the burner failed to ignite but the amount of gas would start to build up, causing noxious fumes and making me anxious that he would either scorch himself with a massive flare-up or suffocate us both! It's a miracle that the lighter didn't run out.

Eventually though, he got it, despite obvious nerves. He had actually conquered his fears - I was so proud of him, forget the badge!

4. Logically Sequencing the Tasks Involved

Of course, there was always going to be the issue of getting things done at the same time, in the right order. That is, knowing when to stop chopping ingredients so that you give the pan enough time to pre-heat. This is critical because one of the badge criteria is efficient time usage. You know kids - they forget the order of things, forget things altogether or get flustered when pressed for time.

Dominic would often forget to pre-heat the pan and even when he did, he would get so focused on chopping meticulously (in order to preserve those precious little fingers) that he would lose track of time and the pan would overheat. More Don Music drama!

Every day after school and every night before bed, for about 5 days straight, these were our chores. At the end of it all Dominic was competent but not a solid performer. I was concerned that on the day in question, he would be easily derailed by the first thing that went wrong instead of figuring out how to turn things around.

On the night before his badge test, Dominic decided to sneak into the kitchen by himself for one last practice session. Upon reflection, I guess I should've read more into it. Although he eventually needed a little help, he did a creditable job. So I went to bed with somewhat moderate expectations.

The next day, my son (who can never seem to get up on time) jumped out of bed and headed right back into the kitchen, ordering me not to interfere with his activities. He did a great job but took a little too long with the chopping and ended up overheating the pan a bit. Strangely enough, though, there was no Don Music tantrum... instead, he just shrugged it off and said he would try to be quicker later on at Cubs.

At the cub meeting, my boy was absolutely flawless: egg cracked perfectly and decently beaten, ingredients well-chopped and pan heated just right. In fact the other boys, who opted to do mac-and-cheese, were the ones having major difficulty managing the amount of water used and how fast it was boiling. I said to myself, "Look at this guy - 5 days ago he couldn't even hold a knife properly, and now he's the star chef? Who would've thought? Attaboy, Nicky!"

Needless to say, Master Mills passed his Cook's Badge with frying, I mean flying colors (sorry - couldn't resist!), to the delight of his beaming, much-relieved mentor. Then it dawned on me - no matter how exasperating or hopeless a situation with your child may seem, remember that all kids have the capacity within them to overcome any and all obstacles, despite their apparent short-comings or disabilities.

Now, as I reflect on the event I feel so privileged to have witnessed that monumental feat for myself. I realize now that, just as the birth of a child is the most miraculous thing in life, watching kids rise to the challenge of working out problems for themselves and seeing them triumph over adversity is the most amazing thing in life.

Well done, Nicky - Mommy's so proud of you! Hmm... wonder if I can convince Chef Dominic to help me out on this weekend's breakfast detail?

Be sure to come back this Saturday evening for my special Father's Day post.


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