Weekends with young children can be endless. Too young for drop-off play dates, too energetic to just play by themselves at home, my children are like dogs who need a job to keep them busy lest they destroy the house and my sanity along with it. They need activities. And honestly, because between kids and work my weeks are full and I’m run ragged, some weekends I just want to stay home and read. So we bake. We bake terribly, truly terribly. But it keeps them occupied for hours, I get to be at home and play music I like, it’s cheap so we are spared the parent tax, and if we are lucky, we get a tasty treat out of it.
Last month was my birthday. After years of me either subtly hinting about what I’d like to do or outright planning it for myself, I told my husband that this year, I wanted him and the girls to plan the day from soup to nuts and I was just going to show up for the ride. That isn’t how it turned out.
First, it was pouring when we woke up, so his plan to take us to an outdoor sculpture park was instantly foiled. Then he had an allergy attack of epic proportions and the medicine he had no choice but to take rendered him completely incapacitated so he conked out on the couch for the better part of the afternoon. Even our plan to go out to lunch didn’t make sense. Truthfully, I was relieved to have a day at home and I settled in on the couch next to him with a novel, but that lasted all of about 15 minutes because in my family there is a direct correlation between me sitting down with a book in my hand and my children claiming they’re bored and have nothing to do. So we baked.
I always have basic baking ingredients on hand to bail us out of these situations. Flour, sugar, powdered sugar, baking powder, baking soda, applesauce, cinnamon, vanilla, nuts, soy milk, chocolate chips. With little more than this we can throw together a handful of cupcake, muffin, frosting, and bread recipes. Add a little coloring, a little flavoring, a variety of sprinkles, a little mess and very little fuss, and we can turn this into a long and involved activity that keeps everyone busy, engaged, and even having fun.
'One full cup!' I call, holding the bag of flour steady, hoping I don’t get showered as one child roots around trying to scoop. 'Flat and level!'
First, we decide what we are going to make. Usually it’s an old standby cupcake recipe that is easy to make and I know they will eat. Other times it’s something more adventurous. They don’t really care; they just like being busy. If they get to lick the spoon at the end, that’s just the literal icing on the cake.
I assign jobs and direct traffic. We find the cookbook and set it up so everyone can see the recipe. I read out the ingredient list, the kids fetch. They fight over who gets to carry what. We assemble everything on the kitchen floor so I don’t have to worry about anyone falling off chairs or not being able to reach. One year I got them a children’s baking set as a holiday gift, made of lightweight plastic but thoroughly useable, so I don’t have to worry about glass breaking or anyone dropping anything heavy. I produce measuring cups and spoons. “One full cup!” I call, holding the bag of flour steady, hoping I don’t get showered as one child roots around trying to scoop. “Flat and level!”
They clamor to fetch, pour, mix, set the timer, decorate, and taste. We laugh when one of us gets flour on our nose or frosting in our hair. And because from day one I’ve taught them that putting away and cleaning up is a regular part of cooking and baking, I’m not left with a total disaster.
Sometimes we forget an ingredient and the final product is flat or just plain inedible. Sometimes their attempt to spray the muffin tin fails and everything sticks. Sometimes the timer is set incorrectly or not at all and we burn it all. It doesn’t matter.
We like being together and making a safe, inexpensive, contained mess that is easy to clean up. The best part for me is that no matter what the end result, our very imperfect baking projects always launch the kids into in a pretend game of restaurant or bakery or dinner party in which they serve whatever we just made to their dad and me. This keeps them busy long after the oven is cool and the dishwasher is running. Because I’ve taught them how to make coffee, they busily brew a pot and arrange a tray of goodies and turn themselves from little bakers into little servers. Meanwhile, my job is done for the afternoon. I’ve saved myself the parent tax, and I get to finally settle on the couch with a novel and even a treat.
For more pieces like this, visit Shiny Happies, our collection of the best parts of raising those little people you love.