January 21, 2014

Raising my Son, the chef.

My 26 year old son Adam is in the kitchen, concocting two batches of chili; veg for his mother and carnivore style for himself and his girlfriend Rochelle.

I can smell the spicy aroma wafting through the house as I am typing these words.

He is a self taught chef who aspires to own a restaurant some day. Many of his jobs have been in the food field; from pizza making to pizza delivery, from up early in the morning ‘time to make the bagels and donuts’ jobs, to waiting tables and prep cooking in restaurants. A few years ago, my Mother’s Day gift was a Key Lime pie that he made from scratch with a graham cracker and almond crust. I have to tell you, it was better than any other Key Lime pie I have ever had, even in Key West! Thus, his baking biz launched. He makes cookies, pies and candies for family and friends which has them smiling with near orgasmic delight.

We adopted Adam at almost age five and when we first saw a picture of the then post-toddler towhead, he was standing in front of a Fisher Price kitchen set, in the home of his foster parents. Foretelling indeed of his career path. One of the ways he learned to read was while in the car, pointing out signs for food purveyors…Publix and Winn Dixie (since we lived in Florida at the time) Burger King, Dunkin’ Donuts and Baskin Robbins 31 Flavors.

My husband had been the cook in the family, who delighted in working culinary miracles, mixing and matching ingredients with a flair that escaped me. Our agreement was that if he cooked, I would do the dishes. It worked for both of us. Watching cooking shows, perusing recipes and going grocery shopping was a male bonding ritual that Adam and Michael enjoyed.

When Adam was around 11 or so, he made his first independent foray into food prep when he took out a big bowl, a wire whisk, ‘some’ flour, eggs, milk, baking soda and baking powder, and whipped up pancake batter. By the time I entered the kitchen, the sizzling not quite ready pancakes smelled appealing and his enthusiastic “Don’t they look great, Mom?” inquiry had me gazing at the golden brown discs, hoping that they tasted as good. Imagination sometimes not being as accurate as the real thing; the bitter batter had me reflexively grimacing. Not wanting to put a damper on his enthusiasm, I managed a few more bites and he (not having tasted them yet himself) asked if I liked them. When I asked about the recipe, he told me that he didn’t have one, just put in what he though would instinctively work. It was the baking powder/baking soda combination that was a bit off. He then said I could simply douse it with syrup to cover up the acrid taste. It was then I realized how wise his statement was. Sometimes we do improvise as we create our lives and as a result, the outcome isn’t always as we might wish it to be. That’s the point at which we need to have the syrup bottle ready, to at least temporarily mask the unpleasantness until we can figure out how to deal with it.

Around the same time as the Epic Pancake Event, my husband died after a lengthy illness, leaving me a 40 year old widow raising an active tween kid who kept me on my toes. Becoming a one parent household, I knew I had a different series of responsibilities than when there were two of us guiding him into adulthood. In many ways it felt like a do-over, since we were often at odds about our parenting perspective and this felt like a chance to do it ‘my way’.  Teaching him how to wash and fold laundry, clean up after himself, do dishes, were independent adult survival skills. I added that it was also “For the benefit of my potential future daughter in-law.” He had grown up in a household where both of us shared responsibility for childcare, cleaning, cooking, snow shoveling (once we moved back to Pennsylvania), lawn mowing and decision making. So, egalitarianism was not foreign to him.

As he matured, I attempted also to guide him with regard to relationships and sex, with the help of my platonic male friends who were his go-to guys. Adam had a few casual relationships in his teens and early twenties. I have the sense that they were simply practice for the ‘real thing’. In 2012, he took a job at Friendly’s, working in the kitchen. There he met a somewhat feisty, extremely intelligent, pretty red-head named Rochelle. In many ways, she and I are alike and we bonded quickly too. They share a love of video games, action movies, music, football, food and her now 3 year old son, Collin. This adorable little guy is bright, creative, a mini wise man/wise guy in one cuddly little package.

When he comes into the house, he makes a beeline for a part of my bedroom that we call Collin’s Invisible Corner since when he hides there, we play “Where’s Collin?” He really does believe we can’t see him. He reads, writes, counts past 100, loves playing with bubbles (popping and dancing in them since he hasn’t mastered the art of blowing them and sometimes inhales them) and waves what we call ‘conjuring fingers’ when seriously concentrating.

Being a surrogate grandmother suits me well; perhaps even a better fit than being a parent, since there were times when I thought I was the worst mother in the world, and others at which I truly believed I should have been awarded a lifetime supply of chocolate as Mother of the Year!

My fridge has rainbow colored magnetic letters and numbers on it and Collin’s toy corner in the living room has grown dramatically in the last few months. My kitchen cabinets have cartoon character embellished cups nestled in them and educational kid-vids and games play on the mini wii that he got for Christmas. One of the toys I got him was a wooden puzzle that had kitchen/food items on it, to get him interested in healthy eating as well.

I have also noticed an exponential maturity in my son who a few years ago, stayed up until all hours, playing his own loud and obnoxious games and now heads to bed before I do, so he can be up for work. He has easily taken on the mantle of diaper changer, (now part time potty trainer), chief cook and bottle washer, child clothing changer, catch player, as well as boo-boo kisser and comforter. I credit Rochelle in part, with his transformation since she wisely determined at the onset of their relationship whether he could see himself as a father. When he said that he absolutely could, their relationship began to blossom.

A year and a half after they met, they are immersed in plans to move in together and create their own little family, independent of the homes in which they currently live. One of the many things that I love about this woman, who has my son wrapped around her little finger, is that she gives him feedback on things that I have been attempting to have him listen to for years. The truth is, I don’t much care where he gets it, as long as he does. As I am finishing this article, Collin and Rochelle have come in, with my little dude wearing a Phillies Phanatic iridescent green plush hat, reaching up for hugs and then we read a book that he likes reading along to.

Once upon a time, I was a partner in Adam’s upbringing, now I love the idea that I have passed the baton, or perhaps, the wooden spoon, on to Rochelle as the full partner in his adult life.

Love elephant and want to go steady?

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Editor: Rachel Nussbaum

Photo: NicoleAbalde


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