Today was a 'teacher development' day, so two of the local littles came to spend the day with us. Our day started at 8 am, which means their parents' day started earlier than that, so I'd told them ahead of time to drop them off hungry. We'd feed them.
It's been about 12 years since we had any dependents living with us, and more than that since we were truly up to our elbows in kid raising. By the time they're in high school they've either turned out or not, and there's not much that's left up to you. But when we were truly in the thick of it, raising our three kids every waking moment of the day, I realized we could either entertain our kids, or engage them.
'Entertain them' is sending them upstairs to play video games.
'Engage them' is sitting down and asking them to teach you how to play video games.
'Entertain them' is taking them through the drive through of Dairy Queen.
'Engage them' is going to the grocery store, buying the stuff, and going home to make banana splits together.
'Entertain them' is taking them to Chuck e Cheese and paying for awful pizza and games that give you tickets for junk you have to take home.
'Engage them' is making pizzas together, then teaching them how to play chess, or Candyland, or going for a bike ride together.
'Entertain them' is giving them money any time they ask, for whatever they want.
'Engage them' is giving them an allowance, opening a savings account, or checking account and teaching them how to balance it when the statement comes in, and how to handle money.
'Entertain them' is often expensive, with a short window of enjoyment.
'Engage them' is often much less expensive, takes more of your time, but keeps them busy much longer.
I'm not saying we never took the easy way out, we did. Too many times. Being honest, that's why we all lived thru it, because we didn't try to be super parents every single minute, but we were aware that they were our charge. We had limited time to invest in them, to pour ourselves into them, to teach, guide, shape. From start to finish we had twenty years or less to start with a completely helpless person, and turn out someone who was ready to face the world. If you spend too much time entertaining them, and not enough engaging you can find yourself running out of time to teach them all they need to know.
So now we're past that season, and we didn't do it perfectly, but all three turned out to be nice, self-sustaining humans who contribute to society and are taking their turn investing in their own kids. Now we get littles once in awhile and we try to do the same thing we did with our own.
We try to engage. For short periods of time. Then return them to their parents.
Today, as soon as the littles got here, I told them to roll up their sleeves. We grabbed the stool and pulled it up to the kitchen counter. We began to gather ingredients and tools.
They took turns, measuring flour, sugar, cracking eggs, pouring milk, adding them to the big stainless steel bowl, then standing and watching the blades go around. We talked about where flour and eggs and milk and butter come from, and the answer wasn't the grocery store. They took turns using the soup ladle, pouring the batter into the donut pan, then I popped it in the oven. We turned the light on so they could stand and watch the liquid batter magically rise up in a donut shape, puffy and golden brown. We took them out, then they basted the donuts with melted butter and shook cinnamon sugar over the tops.
Breakfast - apple juice and warm cinnamon sugar donuts made by their four little hands (with a little help from Grammy), at the kitchen table with Papa, who declared them perfect.
I could have put them in the car, driven them to the sweet donut shop across town where they have the cutest donuts ever, but it would have not only cost $5 to $10 for breakfast - they would have quickly been bored.
Instead they learned to take turns*. They learned how to measure dry ingredients, that you never measure salt over the main mixing bowl. Too much salt ruins anything. They practiced cracking eggs, which they love in theory but hate the messiness of. They learned that it's good to put ingredients away as you go, and wash the dishes as soon as you are done, while you're waiting for the donuts to cook, so you don't have a mess later. They learned that the blades of the mixer can hurt little fingers, so when Grammy warns not to touch, they need to listen. They learned to take pride in a job well done. And they learned that there's nothing as good as eating a donut, warm from the oven, that you cooked yourself. Donuts from the local shop are yummy, but there's no sense of achievement in them.
I've been in the trenches of parenting, so I know what it's like. I understand that sometimes you take the easy way out to just survive, because it is, after all, a marathon, not a sprint. There are a lot of people out there who can get away with entertaining your kids, and it's appropriate; with parents, and grandparents, we get the rare privilege of engaging them. Entering their world, and letting them enter parts of ours. Teaching them a little bit at a time, so 20 years or so down the road they are ready to take up the mantle and do the same with their own.
If you'd like to start the day with warm donuts, here's the recipe, from Barefoot Contessa with a few adjustments and tips:
Buy a Wilton donut pan at Michael's or Joann's, if you use the 40% off coupon it should cost you $5 or so. Mine makes 6 donuts so we have to bake three batches; you might prefer a larger pan. (Barefoot Contessa says hers makes 12 - we got 18).
BC called for dunking the donuts in 8 tablespoons of butter, but we melted two and then brushed the tops of each donut with a basting brush. I also used a little shaker container (you can find one at Walmart or Target), I keep filled with cinnamon sugar mixture for toast. Little hands do better with shaking, I think.
*A little tip that recently occurred to me, and I wish I'd thought of it when we were raising our kids. When they ask to be first for the millionth time, tell them they are automatically second for asking. It tends to stop the habit very quickly!