I don’t like to cook.
I realize when I admit this to myself I am, in effect, labelling myself. Putting myself in a box, reiterating the flaw over and over again until it becomes truth, something hard to escape or grow out of. The label is now an excuse. But the fact is, I’d rather scrub dried cheese dip off the crock pot than pan-fry pork chops. When my husband and I bought our first house together, I pored through recipe books and murder-mystery-themed dinner menus, making elaborate lists. And then nothing came out right. The sides were done when the meat was still raw. My one cup measuring cup was actually two cups, so the biscuits were as flat as my lumpy, flour-pocketed pancakes. I’ve even ruined frozen pizza. When it was just the two of us, it was okay. My nights to cook, we went out. His nights we ate well because he’s one of those unicorn people who don’t need a recipe to follow. He throws things together and it’s delicious. I’d resent it, but his meals taste so good.
Then we had children. We wanted to start positive family traditions, so we moved from TV trays to the dining room table. When it became more monetarily feasible for me to quit work and stay at home, I couldn’t avoid cooking. I get flustered when I have to calculate conversions, when to put the bread in so it doesn’t burn, what substitutions to make and which to avoid. My husband comes in, trying to help, making suggestions I’m not in the mood to hear, and from the sounds of the screeches and roars coming from the playroom, my two year old is driving my five year old crazy.
I have thrown a dish towel on the floor and hidden in the laundry room before. But I was pregnant at the time and able to blame the tears on hormones.
Then my five-year-old daughter volunteers us to make cookies for her preschool’s Easter party. “No store-bought cookies,” she informs me as I reach for a tube of Pillsbury dough at the grocery store. “I told my whole class we were making them from scratch. With lots of icing. And sprinkles.”
We peruse Pinterest and find a sugar cookie recipe we agree on. I have no baking paraphernalia, so I buy cooling racks, baking sheets, a mixer, and bunny cookie cutters. We mix and measure and when the first batch comes out too salty, I get huffy. The ears break off the rabbits as they cool. When the food coloring turns the icing from lavender to rancid purple-brown, I’m ready to throw down that dish towel again. My instructions become short and clipped, and I just want to be done with all of it. It’s not worth it to me, these ugly misshapen lumps. Store-bought cookies are perfectly fine. Who cares?
My daughter, on her stool, carefully making designs with sprinkles on each cookie, looks up at me solemnly and says, “Mommy, it’s okay. Be calm. I think we’re doing a good job.”
And I realize she cares. It’s so worth it to her, and because of that, to me.
I look at my daughter, blonde curls peeking from beneath the flowery chef’s hat that matches her apron, pilfered icing on each cheek, and remind myself of when my husband is patient with her in the kitchen and teaches her things. How she bakes with my mom every time we visit. How she’s always ready to fetch ingredients from the pantry or throw scraps in the compost jar. I’m trying to cover her with my label and she doesn’t fit in the box.
She loves to cook.
I smile and put icing on our noses, and she laughs.
When I pick her up from school after the party, her teacher stops me. “Your daughter is so proud that you two made those cookies together. That’s all she talked about with her friends, how the frosting colors were so unique and no two bunnies alike. They were delicious. Thank you.”
My daughter’s words stirred something inside me, much like the flour and broken eggs that found their way into all the crevices from counter to floor. It doesn’t matter to my daughter that the bunny cookies are earless and puce-colored. All she cares about was that we were both in the kitchen together.
Perhaps we’re all misshapen lumps trying to label ourselves, trying to see how we fit in a mold. What matters is that we’re covered in sprinkles. And we can break free from the cookie cutter if we try.
Candice Marley Conner pretends she likes to cook for her kids’ sake. She’s awesome at spaghetti and tacos. Her writing can also be found on Mamalode and Babybug and she has a YA and MG out on submission. She’s represented by Lotus Lane Literary.