Friday, May 29, 2009

The Real Thing

When I was a kid I really wanted an Easy Bake Oven. Every Christmas and Birthday I would circle it in the catalogs, point it out to my mom in the store and daydream about it. In her infinite wisdom my mom told me time and time again that she wasn't going to buy some plastic box with a light bulb and expensive mixes when the actual oven did the same job better. Of course I thought she was being mean, but then one Christmas my friend got an Easy Bake Oven and invited me over to play with it. We spent the afternoon making messy, sugary, low-quality cakes and I was over my infatuation with the Easy Bake Oven. I could see what my mom had meant.

When I told my mom that I wanted to learn to bake she was very receptive. At first we baked together and she showed me how to measure ingredients, explained why the ingredients were mixed in that order and taught me how to use the oven responsibly. My solo flight happened when I was about 10 years old and my mom had run to the store for a gallon of milk. I broke out a box of brownie mix and began to mix it up. I got a little stuck when it came to the vegetable oil. All we had was Canola and olive oil and I didn't know what Canola was, but it didn't sound like a vegetable. I went with the olive. The brownies tasted a little off, but my mom and I had a good laugh about it and in the end we were both proud of my accomplishment anyway. A door had been opened to me that day and it occurred to me that I could make almost anything. I perused my parents cookbooks. Bread! I could make my own bread! It didn't have to come from a store. Candy? Are you kidding me? I can make my own candy? It was too cool to be believed. I still get that little shiver in my spine when I make something I've never made before.

Kids need some "real" experiences. They need to know the thrill of baking a cake or, as Cheyenne did at her friends birthday party last week, making a picture frame using a real hammer and nails. These kinds of things, the brilliance of real watercolours or the rush of joy at a fish they caught themselves, are vital. The excitement this stirs up in them, the love of learning is an invaluable asset they'll carry into adulthood. It gives them confidence in their skills and the drive to keep going and keep trying. Play is a wonderful, essential part of childhood. It's the beginning of learning, but there's a bridge that at some point needs to be crossed between play and real experience. It helps them make the connection between cause and effect and teaches them that they are capable of creating change and making a difference.

I'm thankful that my mom saw that and challenged me to do more than I thought I could. The lesson of the Easy Bake Oven continues to be a blessing even to this day.