Getting something right: Family bonding

Oct 6, 2008 at 1:06 p.m. ET

As much as I try to keep - and usually succeed at keeping - our Sunday afternoons not too busy, our Sunday evenings typically turn into action filled hours of dinner, getting backpacks and lunches ready for the next day, then getting the timing right for the kids' baths and showers so there are still a few minutes of some wind-down reading. For all the relaxation I might have felt at 4:00PM, I'm wiped out at 9:00PM when all lights finally are out.

Mom and Son CookingThrow something new in that mix and it can be a recipe for disaster! Add one more element - a middle child who thinks he should be able to do all the things his older brother does - and it's a recipe for a potential meltdown, too.

A flurry of inclusion - for some

On Sunday night, against my better judgment, I let Alfs get started on making some sugar cookies late in the afternoon, ostensibly as a way to keep Sunshine occupied while we parents did a few household chores. Alfs enjoys cooking and baking; he asks for cookbooks for birthdays and holidays (albeit dessert only cookbooks), and has made up a couple of (surprisingly) tasty recipes for the family for dinner. He's also great about including his little sister in some of his baking activities and recognizing what "assistance" is age appropriate for her. It's this level of burgeoning maturity that I am loving as Alfs gets older.

Woody, however, felt totally left out. He and Alfs would degenerate into nasty bickering if he tried to help with the cookies, and they both knew that, but he wanted to be a part of it, too. Or a part of something.

I think Woody will be an excellent cook. Although I don't allow him as much leeway in the kitchen yet, he has some fairly sophisticated tastes for an eight-year-old. It was Woody who suggested the ingredients in our family staple "Italian Quesadilla": tortillas, mozzarella cheese, chicken, sometimes chopped tomatoes, and basil with a marinara sauce for dipping.

But notice I said "will be." It's this that causes more strife in his life. Woody truly believes he should be allowed to do all the things his older brother does, no matter the three and a half year age gap, and absolutely doesn't get that it can't be that way. Patience is a virtue very much in progress for Woody.

Just one look

While his brother and sister were making cookies, Woody wanted to make something, too. He wanted to make warm chocolate cakes for our dessert (I'm serious). He checked, and we already had all the ingredients. He just needed the okay. He could do it all, he said.

I really hemmed and hawed. I knew I'd end up doing most of it. The kitchen already was a disaster from the cookies and the chicken pot pie I'd made for dinner. I started trying to come up with excuses not to do it: the evening already was too busy, it was getting late, the kitchen was a mess.

I turned to Woody to start giving these excuses and the look on his face told me I needed to not make excuses. The look told me I needed to do this with him. He needed this, on some level that I'm not sure I wholly understood, and it wasn't just about avoiding a meltdown or whining or something like that.

So I made it happen.

Bedtime and baths were slightly later than I wanted them to be, and the kitchen was even more of a disaster, but the warm chocolate cakes were delicious. Woody grinned. No, radiated.

At lights out, as I flopped down on Woody's bed, he rolled over and gave me a long hug. Then a kiss on my cheek. Then he fell fast asleep.

I'm not completely sure what happened. I don't know whether it was needing to feel included, or a sense of accomplishment, or what. Sometimes parents don't understand everything. It was, however, one of those rare parenting moments when I felt like, wow, I did something right - for both of us.

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