I’m not much of a cook, but I do love cooking at Christmas – there’s something about all the fragrance of all those festive spices wafting through the house and making it smell delightful. Last year Max and I made gingerbread men, and it was really lovely. I was still feeling absolutely awful from the pregnancy sickness, but I was so proud that we managed to bake them together, and it was something that both Max and I were determined to do again this year.
But oh my goodness, baking with a 3 year old is a new experience altogether! Last year he was perfectly happy to be involved but was content with me doing the bits he couldn’t. This year Max wanted to do absolutely everything ‘all by himself’, which, when you’re dealing with very sticky gingerbread dough, really isn’t possible for a 3 year old without a little bit of help.
It was one of the most stressful things I’ve done in a long time. Ben crying in the background, Max constantly asking “can we decorate them now?” or insisting “I DO IT!”. Shouty Mum definitely made an appearance and there was a point where I think I uttered the words “I don’t think anyone is having fun here!” My husband told me to go and take a break and he would take over. And then after about 3 minutes of him taking over, he was equally as stressed. Forget working with Gordon Ramsey, just test out your chefs’ stress levels by putting them in a kitchen with a 3 year old!
There were points when I swore we were never making gingerbread again – amazing smell or not. It’s just not worth the stress of it all. Max was frustrated, I was grumpy, my husband was stressed – even Ben was crying.
As we started bringing the gingerbread men out of the oven though, it began to pick up. Seeing Max’s face pressed up against the oven, watching his biscuits bake. Laying the out on the cooling rack, laughing at the ones which had expanded into a weird blob shape, rather than a lovely traditional gingerbread man. Max looked up at me and told me, “Mummy, I love making gingerbread mens” and I realised that his experience had been a very different one to mine, despite his whining.
As the parent, I have a plan for how I want things to go and, inevitably, alongside my plan are expectations. That picture perfect scene of baking with kids, giving them a bit of gentle guidance as they get their hands messy, and making something worthy of being given as presents to friends and family. A completely unrealistic expectation for baking with a 3 year old! Whereas Max has no expectations and he doesn’t care about the end result, he just wants to enjoy creating something.
And in picking up my camera to take a look at a few of the photos I’d taken, I saw the moments that had slipped my attention in the stress and frustration. Max’s little tongue poking out in concentration as he stirred the mixture. His sleeves rolled up, hands covered in biscuit batter, and his top covered in flour. That cheeky look up at his Daddy as he snuck a taste of the batter.
When something doesn’t go to plan, I’m so guilty of writing off the whole experience as a disaster, but seeing these little moments captured on camera was an eye opener. All these little snapshots in time that show that despite my own stress, Max still had a great time. Advice to me this Christmas: be more 3 year old!