How An Episode Of ‘Chopped Junior’ Changed The Way I Parent

IMG_1191“Mom, can I bake something?” my eight-year old daughter pleaded as she entered the kitchen.

Of course she wanted to bake something.  Because I had just spent the past two hours prepping, cooking, serving and cleaning up from a dinner where I made six different dishes to please our family of five.  I sighed.

“Not right now, sweetie, I just finished cleaning up and it’ll be too much of a mess.”  As if it were the answer she was expecting, she wandered off, probably to watch another episode of some annoying laugh-track show on Disney Channel.

Looking back, I’m embarrassed to admit just how many variations of that conversation we had.  Don’t get me wrong, I often let my daughter help me in the kitchen.  I’m a pretty decent cook and an avid baker and I let her do things I deemed acceptable for an 8 year old.

Simple things like ingredient gathering, pouring, and mixing.  I didn’t let her crack the eggs because shells might get in the batter.  I didn’t let her wash the bowls because she didn’t do a thorough job.  I didn’t let her use the stove top or oven because she might get burned.

Or I would say, “I don’t need any help right now, but you can be the guinea pig taste tester when it’s done.”

And then one rainy night, all of that changed.  I walked into our den to find my daughter watching a show on the Food Network called “Chopped Junior”.  I sat down to join her and for the next 20 minutes I stared at the screen, stunned, as I watched kids the same age as my daughter work their way around a kitchen better than most adults I know.

These kids expertly chopped using razor sharp knives, they sauteed, they boiled, they pan-seared, one kid made a roux.  What the hell even is a roux??

I sat there wondering how in the world kids so young could be so skilled and knowledgeable in the kitchen.  And then I had an epiphany.  It was so simple.  They could do all of those things because somewhere along the line, somebody told them “YES.”

And I vowed right then and there that I would do an experiment.  The next time and every time, my daughter asked me to do something in the kitchen, I would say yes.

“Mom, can I bake cookies?”  Yes.
“Mom, can I make scrambled eggs?” Yes.
“Mom, can I make Mac n Cheese?” Yes.
“Mom, can I make a quesadilla?”  Yes.
“Mom, can I make homemade frosting?” Yes.
“Mom, can I use a bunch of your baking stuff and make up my own recipe?”  Ugh. Yes.

And so it went.  I’m not gonna lie…this was one insanely messy, time-consuming, experiment.  In the beginning, she needed a lot of help, learning how to work the oven, the gas range, the timers.  My countertops seemed to be permanently sticky for a while there…the sink never empty of the many bowls, pots and pans she used.

But I usually didn’t have to explain something more than once.  And the more I said yes, the more she asked to do.  Pretty soon she was looking up recipes online and following along on her own.  I became more and more hands-off and watched her capability, and her confidence, soar.

Fast forward to a year later and I will tell you that this is one of the best parenting decisions I have ever made.  And my children are 18, 15 and 9, so I’ve made an awful lot of them.

This kid could cook our family breakfast, lunch, dinner, and dessert if she had to.  She can crack an egg one-handed (I can’t even do that) and can saute’ broccoli with the best of ’em.  Her homemade chocolate cupcakes are the best I’ve ever had.

My daughter will have these skills, this confidence in herself, for the rest of her life.  And that to me, is worth all the wasted eggs, the spilled milk, the messy kitchen.

So fellow parents, I encourage you to really stop and think when your child asks to do something, not just in the kitchen, that might result in them learning a new life skill.

Because for all the time and energy you may have to put in up front, there is a huge payoff at the end.  I know this because tomorrow I have to bring in 24 cupcakes for a pot luck event.  And I’m sitting here writing this article.  Because guess what?

The cupcakes are being handled.  And if I’m really good, she might even let me be the guinea pig.

***This piece was originally published on Scary Mommy.


Dear Toy Makers…Your “Realistic” Playthings Are A Sham

Realistic dolls! Realistic food! Realistic appliances!  I was browsing on a toy retailer’s website today and I stumbled into the pretend play section of “Gifts for Girls”.  What is the marketing intent of these items here?  Is it to seemingly prepare little girls for “real” life?

If that’s the case, I fear these children are in for a rude awakening.  Honestly, these toys are going to need to be tweaked just a bit to claim any kind of authenticity.  I’ve taken the liberty of noting some of the differences between the “toy” version and the “real” version of the following items…

1. Baby Alive Sweet Tears Baby Doll

Toy version:  This little girl cries tears and her nose lights up to let kids know when she needs a tissue.  There is a switch on her back so you can choose who she’s speaking to – “Mommy” or “Daddy”.

Real version:  This little girl also cries tears (a lot) and pretty much always needs a tissue, due to attending preschool three days a week.  However, there is no switch on her back to let you choose who she is speaking to.  Therefore, this little girl will incessantly question, whine and complain to “Mommy” exclusively, even when “Daddy” is in far closer proximity to her.  I predict the scientist who is able to correct this faulty wiring will win the Nobel Peace Prize.  That is, of course, if the voting panelists are all “Mommies”.

2. Learning Resources New Sprouts Healthy Dinner

Toy version:  This play food set features grilled chicken breast, grilled salmon filet, sweet potato, asparagus bundle, lettuce leaves, tomato, cucumber, and carrot crinkles.

Real version:    Your average preschooler may play with the above-mentioned food items…but there’s no way in hell they are ever going to eat them.  Let me see the set that includes chicken nuggets, mac & cheese, Goldfish, and ketchup.  Lots and lots of ketchup.  That’s prep for the real world, kids.

3. Just Like Home Stand Mixer

Toy version:  “Complete with lights, sound and real working beaters, your little ones will have hours of fun preparing their next big event!”

Real version:  “Complete with lights, sound, and real working beaters, you will receive one of these as a wedding gift, and it will take up space in your kitchen cabinet for the next twenty years, where it will remain unused.  You will prepare for your next big event by swinging by the Costco bakery on your way home from driving your children to nine different activities/appointments.”

4. Play Go My Light Up Vacuum Cleaner

Toy version:  “Play time and cleaning time are now one and the same.  Children can simply push it to light it up with glitter flakes, creating a sensory whirlwind that’s engaging and exciting.”

Real version:  I don’t even know where to begin.  On what planet are “play time and cleaning time” the same?  Maybe the pretend vacuum doesn’t require you to cut out all the gross hair from the bottom rollers every month?  And “glitter flakes” create a sensory whirlwind that’s engaging and exciting?”  The only sensory whirlwind created when glitter is brought into my home is one of maniacal rage.  Seriously, if you get my child a birthday present that contains glitter in any form, I will return the favor by buying your child a 10,000 piece bead set for Christmas.  Not to mention that no vacuum can ever really pick up all the glitter.  You pretty much have to move out to escape it completely.

5.  Melissa and Doug Pretend-To-Spend Wallet Play


Toy version: Includes 14 bills ($1, $5, $10, $20, $50, $100) two coupons, gym membership card, library card, and charge card.”

Real version:  Sorry, kids, but unless you work as a casino dealer, you will probably never have that much cash on you again.  Your two coupons will most likely be expired.  Your gym membership will not be expired but it might as well be for how often you get to go.  The library card you actually did use, until your toddler used the last book you borrowed as a teething toy and now you are too embarrassed to go back.  Hang onto that charge card though, you will need it…every single day.

6. Double Trolley Carrier


Toy version: “Designed for going down the street or around the world.”

Real version:  Public Service Announcement:  If you put your babies in a closed suitcase with a plastic window to “go down the street or around the world” you will be arrested and justifiably end up in prison for an indeterminate amount of time.  You might want to purchase a stroller instead.

7. Superhero Cape


Toy version:  “Your little girl can save the world in this pink cape.”

Real version: One day, many years from now, though you may not save the world, you most likely will have superpowers.  You will be able to run faster than a speeding bullet…to save your toddler from jumping naked into the mall fountain.  You will gain superhuman strength..such as the ability to push three children uphill in an overloaded Costco cart, and fling 50 lbs of dog food into your trunk, without breaking a sweat.  You will develop superhuman senses…capable of knowing when the teenager standing behind you is rolling their eyes or fudging the truth.  You will be able to leap tall nightstands in a single bound, and magically appear in another room (with a bucket) in mere seconds, upon hearing the words, “my tummy hurts” at 3:00a.m.

Yes, this is the one toy on this list that may well prepare you for a grown-up reality.  Be advised, you may not always wear your fancy pink cape.  I’m sorry to tell you, you may mostly wear old sweats with spit-up stains.  But fancy cape or not, a superhero you will be.  Your superhero moniker, which you will hear approximately 239 times a day for 18 years, will be, simply, “MOM.”

Top 10 Television Characters To Be Stranded With On A Deserted Island

For some reason, this is what I was thinking about when I fell asleep last night. Not about the million things I needed to get done before Christmas. Not about the orthodontist appointment I forgot to book for my son. Or the fact that I don’t even have a recent photo of my three kids to put on a Christmas card. Nope, I was quite seriously mulling over which television characters would be the best to be stranded with on a deserted island.

First and foremost, I would have to have one of the gang from “Friends”. Simply because they are the people I know the best, the voices I fall asleep to most nights. Now, I’m not claiming I know them as well as my sister does, a.k.a. the “2nd Place Friends Trivia Champion Of The Tri-State Area”, but still, we go way back.

But which one? Joey? Lovable, but not the sharpest tool in the shed. Phoebe? I wouldn’t be able to handle hearing “Smelly Cat” over and over. Ross? Too whiny. Rachel? Not tough enough for island life. Chandler? Funny, but could he BE any more neurotic? So that means my first pick has to be:

1.  Monica from Friends”

I’m choosing Monica because Monica is a taskmaster and she gets shit done. Plus, she’s a chef and would be able to create more coconut inspired meals than anybody else. She’s a clean freak so our huts would all be super tidy.
Monica: “Don’t tell me what to do. I tell you what to do.”

2. William from This Is Us

I figure every deserted island needs an older, wise person. William is a poet and a musician, so he would bring some culture to my island. His monologues are epic. I mean, it got to the point where he would just appear on the screen every Tuesday night, having not said a word, and I would start to cry in anticipation of some emotional speech. Really, my kids make fun of me all the time over this.
William: “Catch the moments of your life. Catch them while you’re young and quick, because sooner than you know it, you’ll be old and slow and there will be no more of them to catch.”

3. MacGyver from MacGyver

Honestly, this show was more my brother’s jam than mine in the 80’s. I don’t even know if I’ve ever seen an episode, though I do take the liberty of saying, “Look, I MacGyvered it!” on the rare occasion I put a creative fix on something. But from what I know, he’s a handy guy to have around.  I mean, you never know when you might need someone to make a bazooka out of a muffler, a gear shift knob, seat cushion stuffing and a cigarette lighter. True story.
MacGyver: “If I had some duct tape, I could fix that.” 

4. Dr. Jack Shepherd from Lost

Now, I knew I’d need a doctor on my island and this was a tough one…so many to choose from. Do I go with straight up brilliant and choose Gregory House from “House” who could diagnose mysterious island illnesses? But the guy is such an ass. Or choose a doctor who’s easy on the eyes like McDreamy from Grey’s Anatomy? Doogie? Too young. Nah..I had to go with Jack. He’s got it all…young, smart, good looking. Plus, bonus points for having a ton of experience with deserted islands.
Jack: “If we can’t live together, we’re gonna die alone.”

5. Joanna Gaines from Fixer Upper

Now, I realize that she is a real person, not a television character. But I figure if we’re all stuck living on a deserted island, we might as well have the only “farmhouse chic” huts in all the world. Imagine…every hut with great curb appeal, shiplap, porch swings, cozy fireplaces, subway tile, oversized clocks, vintage maps. All painted the perfect shades of white and gray. Sigh.
Joanna: “My passion is to help people create beautiful and meaningful spaces in their home or hut.”  Ok, ok, she didn’t really say the hut part.

6 & 7. Jack McFarland and Karen Walker from Will and Grace

I’m going to need some entertainment on my island and there’s no one that makes me laugh harder than these two. I couldn’t choose between them so I’m taking them both. Who can forget Karen coaching Jack to victory in the Gay Spelling Bee, a.k.a. “Don’t Ask, Don’t Spell”?
(Karen, to Jack): “No one in the world would believe you’re straight. You’re as gay as a clutch purse on Tony night. You fell outta the gay tree, hitting every gay branch on the way down. And ya landed on a gay guy… and ya did ’em. No, no, honey, your gayness can be seen from space.”

Karen: “God didn’t give me the ability to play the piano, or paint a picture, or have compassion. But he did give me the ability to crack a walnut with my hoo-ha.” (Which could come in handy on the island).

Jack: “There’s no shame in getting old.  There’s only shame in getting ugly.”

8. Sue Heck from The Middle

Sue may not seem like an obvious choice for this list but I would imagine being stranded on an island could get a bit discouraging. And in the face of adversity, there is no one more encouraging than Sue Heck. The fact that she gets overlooked and knocked down time after time is no match for her undying optimism. Sue would be everyone’s cheerleader.
Sue: “Embarrassment is an important part of sports. My coach told me that.”

9 & 10. Jack Donaghy and Liz Lemon from 30 Rock

30 Rock's Alec Baldwin and Liz Lemon
Honestly, I chose these two solely because maybe being stranded on an island would be what it would take for them to finally end up together.  Bonus if they had a child together…the most important question being “would the baby be a Republican or a Democrat?”

Liz: “Why are you wearing a tux?”
Jack: “It’s after 6:00. What am I, a farmer?”

Jack: “Lemon, what happened in your childhood to make you believe people are good?”

Liz: “Lovers. Oh… that word bums me out unless it’s between the words meat and pizza.”

So that’s my list. And I just noticed that three of my ten people are named Jack. Which is also my son’s name. Perhaps I should have titled this list “Just Jack!”. Which you’ll only understand if you watch Will and Grace.  And really, if you don’t, you should start. Not sure if we can be friends otherwise.

So who’s on your your deserted island list? Feel free to share!

The Great Suburban Sock Match-Up

A 39-year-old mother of three made headline news today after she casually unloaded the white laundry from her dryer and discovered something incredible…EVERY sock had a match.

Ashley Davis, of Bainbridge Island, Washington, says the day started out like any other Monday.  Davis had just completed a load of darks when the mind-boggling incident occurred. “On top of the dryer, from the first load of laundry, I already had two mismatched gloves, my son’s missing retainer, 42 cents, a disintegrated ticket stub, an unidentifiable melted thingamajig, and three shiny pebbles.”

Davis assumed she would be adding at least five mismatched white socks to the pile, as had normally been the case for the past twenty years. But as Davis was folding the socks together, “they just kept matching up, one sock at a time.”

It wasn’t until Davis noticed there were only six socks left to fold that she started to get her hopes up. “First of all, just having an even number left is so unusual. I slowly, skeptically, started to match up those last pairs. When the last two socks were a match, I checked and rechecked the floor and dryer for any stragglers.” But, incredibly, there were no stragglers to be found.

Davis immediately contacted her husband and mother, and posted about her triumph on Facebook and Instagram.  One of her neighbors called the local news, who promptly descended upon the modest three-bedroom home.

On the scene, we spoke with Pam Smith, the PTO President at the local elementary school where Davis’ children attend. “After I heard the news, I immediately relinquished my role as President to Ashley. I mean, anyone that can achieve that level of personal organization is exactly the kind of person we need to be our fearless leader.”

Still a little overwhelmed when we interviewed her, Davis stated, “Really, this has been at the top of my bucket list for so many years and I was beginning to think it was never going to happen. It just goes to show that if you dream big and work hard, great things can happen.”

Davis is a neurosurgeon by trade and a competitive triathlete. She recently ran the Boston Marathon and placed first for her age group. Her second novel, “Neuroscience for Neuroscientists”, is currently at #3 on the New York Times Bestseller list.

Despite all her accolades and achievements, Davis considers what is now widely referred to as “The Great Suburban Sock Match-Up”, to be her greatest accomplishment of 2017.