My daughter, Mary, is becoming quite the accomplished cook. Last week I was gone and left the family in the care of Grace, my 20 year old daughter. According to Grace’s report, Mary kept the family fed all week. Mary is 15 years old, and she has Trisomy 21. The crowd she was cooking for included her eight brothers and sisters, plus my husband.
For example, one evening Grace asked Mary to find something for dinner. So, Mary went to the freezer and decided on breaded fish. She read the instructions, set the oven, and put the fish in for the required time. Meanwhile she decided to make a fruit salad. She sliced and cored apples, and put those in a bowl with some frozen berries. Then she cut up lettuce, carrots, and tomatoes for a vegetable salad. She set the table, then took the fish out of the oven, cooked perfectly. Finally, she went around the house and asked each family member to come to dinner.
One of her favorite meals to prepare is tuna salad. A couple weeks ago she noticed that it was 6:00 and I was doing nothing in the way of dinner preparation. She asked me if I was making dinner. When I said no, she went to the kitchen. I could hear her throaty hum as she worked. First she filled a pot with water and began to boil some eggs. Then she opened a large (industrial strength size) can of tuna, drained it and put it in a large bowl. She diced some celery; measured out a couple generous scoops of pickle relish. While she waited for the eggs, she sliced up a half dozen apples for a side dish. She put some tortilla chips into a bowl to serve with the tuna salad. When the eggs were done she poured off the water, ran cold water over them to cool, peeled and chopped them. She added mayonnaise to the tuna, and mixed it up. Finally she set the table, put the food on, and went to each family member to invite us to come to dinner.
Mary has been cooking for years. My standard for independent stove use is that my children must be tall enough to be able to see into the pot on the stove as they stir. (Update: Stove use also requires height sufficient to reach the knobs back behind the hot burners.) My standard for oven use is that the child is tall enough to be able to lean over to lift a hot item off the shelves without danger of losing her balance.
There have been times when the meals have been interesting. A couple months ago, Mary made up a salad casserole. She combined lettuce, diced raw carrots, diced raw tomato in a casserole. She added some canned tuna, sprinkled the top with shredded cheese, and baked her casserole until the cheese was melted.
I think it hurt her feelings when nobody wanted to eat that dinner.
But you see, the reason that Mary is so accomplished in the kitchen is that we allow her to make mistakes like this. Might she burn herself? Yes. She has. And so have I. That burn taught me to use a hot pad, just as it taught her.
Expectations. If you don’t expect her to be able to accomplish it, you won’t be likely to teach it.