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Mommy's Little Sous Chef

I’ve always enjoyed cooking. Well, to be perfectly honest, I’ve always enjoyed baking (and the results that come with it). I assumed as a mom I’d be out in full force as Master Cook, chopping and steaming and dicing up nutritious and delicious meals for my little family. I had the Betty Crocker image in my head, except with a way cooler apron.

The reality picture’s been a bit different.

When Madeleine was first born, dinners consisted of whatever people brought us, whichever frozen dinner was closest to the freezer door, or wherever delivered pizza or Chinese the fastest. I knew it was for a short season and had anticipated not being able to get much homemade food those first few weeks unless it was made by someone else, and I was right.

As Maddie started counting her age in months rather than weeks I began to get my feet underneath me a bit more and felt I could approach simple meal preparation. Madeleine was happy as a clam in her Baby Bjorn carrier while I worked in the kitchen, puttering around with short recipes. But then came the day around four months old when she became more aware of her surroundings and reached for the pretty shiny thing.

Also known as a knife.

in_the_bumbo.jpg Out she came from the Bjorn, and into the bumbo sitter she went. The bumbo chair was perfect for Maddie, not quite able to sit up on her own yet. The bumbo chair was relatively short-lived though, as she became interested in pulling herself out of it pretty quickly. Time to bring in the bouncy seat. The bouncy seat happened to be one of her favorite places on earth, so all was again right with the world as Maddie gurgled contentedly from her chair and I did the daily cooking.

But then came the day she realized she could not only sit up, but lean over. I turned from the stove to see her leaning all the way out of the bouncy seat, with the top of her head touching the floor. Time for yet another new plan.

By this time she was seven months old (I know, I pushed it with the bouncy seat) so we had a booster chair for her meals. The booster chair had a wider base than the bouncy seat, and the added bonus of a food tray to help pin her down. For a brief time I thought this would be the solution.

Madeleine quickly learned over the course of her meals that the food tray was for, well, food, and she began demanding that there be some on it whenever it was in front of her. Since I didn’t want her to eat her weight in Cheerios every day just so I could get dinner made, I had to accept the fact that it was time to set my baby girl free.

We planned a baby-proof kitchen where I could let Madeleine crawl happily around while I worked. It took a few weeks of getting the hardware, installing it, etc. – weeks of my arms aching from having to hold Maddie on my hip while I made her breakfast each morning, and weeks of my preparing dinner during her nap times. A floor pieced together from the mega alphabet blocks for her to crawl around on safely, child latches installed on all the cabinets, and a great see-through pressure gate across the entrance completed the kitchen over-haul and I gratefully put Madeleine down one afternoon to get busy.

The one thing I hadn’t counted on? Boredom.

My smooth white cabinets were too flat for Maddie to use for cruising. The Tupperware “toys” I had put out seemed bland and uninteresting. A few minutes into our first baby-proof cookfest, and Maddie was pounding on the pressure gate like a falsely accused prisoner begging for release. I realized I needed to give her some colors to play with, some noises that wouldn’t drive me insane to capture her attention, and something more her height for her new hobby of walking around and around anything she could hold onto.

10_months_051.jpgWe ended up purchasing a Laugh and Learn activity table from Fisher Price that Madeleine absolutely loves. It’s food themed, with a big bowl in the center with alphabet soup, fruit that sings, cookies that cha-cha, and more. The volume isn’t too loud and there’s a big enough variety of songs that I don’t go crazy. She gets her groove on with some of the songs and loves stirring the bowl in the middle. I’ve put a few spoons around the kitchen that are “hers” to find and use, and she always grabs them and heads for “her” cooking table.

Cruising around the table has given her the confidence to try again with the cabinets. She can now cruise herself all the way around the kitchen easily. She loves crawling around on the alphabet mat, and I don’t worry about her falling over and hitting her head on the hard tile floor. She’s discovered the Tupperware can be fun when beaten loudly with her spoons, and there’s always the fun game of Climb Up Mommy’s Pants. Or the classic Peek-A-Boo through Mommy’s legs, preferably as she’s separating eggs.

Maddie will happily spend up to half an hour with me in the kitchen these days, which is like four hours in adult time. Sometimes she’ll crawl over to me and beg for a bite of what I’m working on like a little puppy and I love that she’s reaching the point where she can eat much of what I’m preparing. I enjoy the freedom of moving around the kitchen relatively unencumbered but keeping her in close sight the whole time. I enjoy spending hang-out time with her even though we’re not touching.

We’re just a couple of gals, working side-by-side to get dinner ready.


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