I’ve recently been trying to teach my nearly 5-year-old son, Max, to ride a bicycle, with little success. I could possibly blame Max for our tardy progress, but I must take the responsibility myself.
I’m the one who hasn’t been tremendously excited about going to the park in the freezing cold to assume the crouch-and-waddle pose behind the bike and wait for the “balance and pedal” instinct to kick in. I’m the one who has yet to figure out how to adjust the valves so that the tires aren’t permanently flattish.
My sense of inadequacy isn’t helped by the fact that my own father was extremely engaged in teaching his children, and the first lot of grandchildren, how to ride a bike. Dad managed to make running after a runny-nosed toddler who’s struggling to pedal and face forward at the same time seem like a breeze. Ditto pumps, valves and flat tires: These were all things my dad was just able to adjust, find and fix.
As bad as I may feel about failing to get my kids on bikes, I know that, sooner or later, they’ll get it. But in another area, I am far less confident that I will finally manage to catch up with my folks and give my children the important heritage and life skills that I took in as a kid: breakfast.
My mother was, and still very much is, the queen of breakfast. When I was young, she would get out of bed well ahead of anyone else; 6 a.m. was the standard. By the time we all finally huddled up around the table, oranges had been squeezed, bread had been toasted, cheese arranged on a platter, vegetables sliced, jams decanted and coffee brewed. Everything was there, school lunches included.
The 6 a.m. scene in my house today, on the other hand, is one of pandemonium. For some reason, it is just impossible to escape the perpetual cycle of washing kids, dressing kids, dressing myself, distracting kids with tablets, defusing fights, brushing hair, brushing teeth.
It often falls to our 2-year-old, Flynn, to remind us that breakfast also needs to actually happen. “Downstairs, porridge,” he commands, with little need of preposition or adverb so early on in the day.
Stirring the oats, I smile to think of the automated breakfast machine constructed by the eccentric inventor Caractacus Potts in the film “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang” from my childhood, or the one Rosita Pig makes in the recent movie “Sing” to allow her to slip away from the morning routine for her dozen-plus piglets. Rosita makes me think of my mum, whose combination of extreme competence, composure and controlled urgency made breakfast happen so calmly and deliciously. As I sip my first espresso of the day, I look back in awe.
Having said all that, one thing I have learned from these early years of being a dad myself is that it is all too easy to set yourself up for failure on the parenting front. Constantly looking up to others, particularly your own parents, for some ideal standard of homemaking and nurturing is a trap that too many newbie parents fall into. The picture we draw of other parents is probably less than realistic and completely unachievable, but that doesn’t save us. It does not help to know that others aren’t perfect parents; we still want to become one of them.
My coping devise for this conundrum, at least on the breakfast front, is to concentrate my efforts on the weekend. Without the time constraints and general frenzy of work and school days, there is far less pressure to get things done in the morning. With this kind of freedom, I can spend time in the kitchen pretending to be my mother.
Getting started while the others are still bedded down under duvets, I make sure everything is just so, preparing food for ourselves, and often also for guests, which I wouldn’t dream of on a weekday morning. Recently, I have been cooking cheesy frittatas loaded with herbs and wintry vegetables like leeks, pumpkins and kale. I have been baking sticky buns and quick loaf cakes. I have been making crepes, pancakes and hot cakes, and I have been braising eggs in every sauce I can think of.
On weekends, as I sit around a table laden with the fruit of my hard work and surrounded by my nearest and dearest, what starts off as breakfast naturally slips on to lunch, without anyone noticing. Without the time constraints, any sense of parental guilt or domestic inadequacy vanishes into thin air. The day rolls along smoothly, almost effortlessly.
In fact, it’s a bit like riding a bike — without having to face the winter cold.
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