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Look, Little Chef, Stop Using All My Arborio Rice in Your Kitchen Experiments

Advice for a parent whose creative kid has been watching too many cooking shows.

Care and Feeding is Slate’s parenting advice column. Have a question for Care and Feeding? Email careandfeeding@gmail.com.

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Dear Care and Feeding,
My daughter is 9 and wonderfully smart and creative. One of her favorite creative outlets is cooking. However, she has been somewhat brainwashed by cooking shows, which give the impression that everything is prepared off the cuff. So she now believes that cooking is wantonly combining ingredients to create culinary masterpieces. I have explained that all those celebrity chefs develop and follow recipes based on carefully measured ingredients and food science, and that I am happy to teach her how to cook so she develops the skills to eventually create her own recipes. She, however, wastes huge amounts of food creating inedible dishes based solely on her creative whims.

I was working outside in the yard and my daughter, beaming, came out to tell me she made me lunch. My heart sank. She had “made lunch” out of $100 worth of ingredients, three to four meals’ worth. I put my foot down and told her that unless she is supervised and following a recipe, she is not allowed to prepare anything in the kitchen. I was calm but firm, explaining how our family can’t afford to waste food on experimentation.

I feel guilty for suppressing her creativity, but I have held firm on the recipe rule. She is as stubborn as she is creative and, under the new rules, refuses to even set foot in the kitchen to assist with meal preparation. We are at a mildly hostile stalemate going on weeks and I am at a loss for how to move forward constructively. I have an overarching concern that her resistance to learn a skill because it infringes on her freedom means that she is essentially “uncoachable,” one of those precocious and obnoxious kids who will miss out because no one wants to deal with her attitude. Do you see a different way to move forward? Please help.
—Cryin’ Chef

Dear CC,
I suspect that your daughter’s avoidance of the kitchen has less to do with a refusal to follow recipes and more to do with the fact that she felt as though she was doing something awesome and just ended up getting in trouble. Your response was not without justification, of course, but the impact was demoralizing to your budding chef. This is something I’m sure you don’t want, so as it stands now, it is you who has a little kitchen cleanup to do.

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Our daughter went through a precocious baking phase when she was about the same age, fueled by obsessive viewing of competitive cooking shows and the fact that one of her closest friends was a wildly talented baker. (Seriously, this fifth-grader was so good I actually resented her. Like, who gave you the right to craft a tray of perfect macarons, when I can barely get my meringue to peak, you little brat?) After a few destroyed cake pans and a container of expensive gifted chocolate powder spilled behind the stove, we decided to designate her own section of the cabinet with her own ingredients with which she could do as she pleased. If she wanted to use something from the general stash, she had to ask permission. It is great that your daughter wants to cook, but let her manage her own ingredients, rather than filching yours, and see how quickly she learns to slow down and take it carefully.

Also, I recommend The Great British Baking Show, especially the early seasons. Unlike the drama-filled Death Chef: Torture Blades of Satan–style shows that have become so popular, TGBBO features talented chefs using recipes, struggling with measurements, and pursuing the science of baking. It shows that cooking is not some dramatic improvisational dance but rather a slow, detail-filled pursuit. Maybe your daughter will be inspired! Maybe she’ll learn that cooking is actually lame and boring. Either way, problem solved.

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Dear Care and Feeding,
Four and a half years ago, I birthed beautiful, perfect twins. One ended up very sick with an untreatable genetic condition. She functioned as a newborn until she died before her third birthday. All of it was soul-crushing. I considered killing myself, but I didn’t, and I survived. Not only have I survived, but I am happy. Yes, at times, I am sad and miss my daughter, but I love my life and I am blessed and I’m pretty much OK 95 percent of the time.

So what’s the problem? I want to move on. I could never forget my daughter, but I don’t want to spend the rest of my life always taking a moment to remember the daughter I lost. I lost myself when my daughter was diagnosed and we were fighting to save her. I lost myself when she died. I am finally me again, and I want to be able to just live my life without judgment that I don’t miss her enough. For example, for our second Christmas without her, our family scheduled a holiday photo shoot with our remaining children. Some people commented that they wish I had done something in that photo shoot to include her.

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Am I wrong? Should I live my life under an inescapable cloud? If I’m not wrong, do you have any advice on what I could say to these people? I understand they miss her. I miss her too. But I shouldn’t have to miss her for every single second of the rest of my life, should I?
—Am I Grieving Wrong?

Dear AIGW,
I am so deeply sorry for your loss and pain. In our family, we’ve lost parents, we’ve lost friends, and we even lost a twin in the womb. But I cannot imagine what it must be like to lose a child who has struggled her entire life. Many people, in fact, cannot imagine this—which is indeed the point. What you have experienced is, I suspect, several orders of magnitude beyond what most of your friends can understand. While their intentions may be good, their advice or wishes for how you should best grieve are largely without merit.

It is understandable that people close to you might want to manage the way you express your grief, but I am here to tell you that you have every right to say to yourself, quietly but with certainty, fuck that. No one can tell you how to grieve. They can offer support and love, but you needn’t take their advice seriously.

The guilt we feel about happiness when circumstances tell us we should be suffering is a kind of second arrow, unnecessarily extending the pain of the initial wound. I think it is wonderful that you have found your way toward a fulfilling life. I find it admirable and perfectly appropriate that you are willing to allow happiness for yourself after such a devastating loss. It takes tremendous clarity and courage to be open to that happiness, and you need not be ashamed of it.

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While it is true that many of your friends have most likely not experienced what you have, it is not true that no one has. If you have not already, I might recommend joining a support group for parents who have lost young children. There is great strength to be found in connecting honestly with others who have walked through what you have. You have walked a path toward happiness after unimaginable loss. You might find value in helping others do the same.

You don’t need to justify yourself to your friends and family. But if the drive to do so is unavoidable, you can simply say, “I really appreciate that you want to see continued remembrances of my daughter, but I have grieved deeply, and I am perfectly comfortable and happy focusing on the family that is with me today.”

My thoughts are with you.

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Dear Care and Feeding,
My daughters have pledged for years that they’ll never get married or have children; the middle school one is gender-fluid and the older one never has a good thing to say about high school boys. (Can you blame her?) We’re taking each day as it comes and being supportive, and most of all, we’re listening to each other as much as possible.

Yesterday, there was a sudden change in the older one. She had a goofy look on her face while sharing an email exchange she’d had with a male friend, and then she literally twirled around the kitchen floor, giggling about how she found a nice person and how much she looks forward to spending the lunch period with him every day.

I’m excited that she has opened herself to the possibility of emotional intimacy with someone outside the family. My question is this: How can I best support her? He is a special-needs student. I don’t know what his needs are—he may be on the autism spectrum or have a developmental disability. I haven’t pried much, because in many ways, I know that it does not matter at all.

On the other hand: I know I am coming off like a total asshole in saying this, but my personality mandated that I dated people who were at least as smart as me. We’re certainly not at the dowry stage or anything. For now, I am trying hard not to project what I wanted when I was 16 on her situation. I’m just listening and offering opportunities for her to invite him over to hang out and play Mario Kart or watch Doctor Who. Should we also invite his mom? She’s very involved with him, and my kid feels like the mom gives her stink eye when she sees them together. More generally, can you advise me on how to support my Mensa-level daughter, who’s crushing on a special-education boy?
—Daughter’s First Crush

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Dear DFC,
Ah, love. The worst good thing to happen to anyone. It is entirely normal for a parent to wonder about the details of their child’s latest (or in this case, first) suitor. And you needn’t be too worried about prying. It’s perfectly appropriate to learn about the finer points of your daughter’s situation. The question, really, is how best to do this. No teen likes to be interrogated. Just like in the after-school specials and heartfelt detergent commercials, I can often get kids to talk during seemingly unrelated activities: errand-running, cooking, shooting baskets in the driveway, whatever.

I would advise asking but not demanding. She knows what she’s doing, mom—she believes—so you must not create the impression that you doubt that. Instead, let the details unfold naturally. Kids only talk if you are willing to listen, and you are only willing to listen if you suspend judgment, so suspend judgment. Meet each new piece of information with an encouraging nod, an “mm-hm,” an occasional “that makes sense.”

There are some clear ways to support teens in love that I think are true regardless of the particulars of the situation. One of them is letting them make their own mistakes. As a parent, it is frightening to take this attitude, but it is key. You’re there to prevent harm, prevent pregnancies, and prevent abuse or violent neglect. Think of yourself as something like a referee in an Olympic wrestling match: Your primary job is to keep the participants within the boundaries. Within those bounds, the participants are free to do as much struggling and learning as they need to.

You are on the right track by inviting him to the home for video games and cookies. This gives you an opportunity to observe things about him and about your daughter that you might not otherwise have noticed. (It is unfortunate that your daughter doesn’t feel the same openness from his mother, but that’s a problem you neither can, nor need to, control.) It is generally good practice to keep teenagers as close to home as you can (which you can’t) so you can really know what’s going on (which you never fully do).

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Finally, and perhaps most importantly, allow yourself to be surprised. You already know what you and your daughter have in common, but be open to learning what you don’t. Whatever we experienced decades ago in our own teenage loves makes a nice background, but we must accept that it is no longer foreground. Your daughter wants to be her own person. Maybe the single best way to support her is to let her be.

—Carvell

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