I am not talking about the reaction to a four-year old running onto the street to chase a ball god forbid, or to a dizzy two-year old spinning frighteningly close to the edge of the coffee table. No, this booming appeal that issues from my gut nearly every morning comes as a response to a simple, innocent, even estimable plea.
“I don’t need help”, I mutter under my breath as I make room for Liliana while she pushes the bulky dining room chair over to the kitchen counter, amiably entreats me to budge a little, ushers me aside, and blithely hops up grinning, “here we go”. The tuneful “Can I help you” chorus drives me batty. We’re not talking coq au vin or mac ‘n’ cheese. We’re talking cereal and milk, raspberry syrup and water. Something that normally takes two minutes that will now take three and a half… plus another two and a half for cleanup of spills.
Then there’s the No that winds its way out, almost pleading, whimpering. It is extended, drawn, muffled, and sits in the chest, in a low weary register. It is the No that cries out as Sebastian takes out the green plastic mixing bowl, stacks the rainbow colored cupcake rammikins, and declares that it’s Kelev’s (stuffed animal dog’s) birthday (again!) while calling out for the requisite ingredients – cocoa powder, syrup, icing sugar. He is serious and impassioned, and notices my trepidation. “No it’s ok, I just need to make a cake for the party. There won’t be a mess.” I moan and accommodate, trying to be encouraging, trying to set limits. But we want to go out soon, better not start it now, we’ll do it later; Just wait till we go to Tata’s house in Vancouver, you’ll get to REALLY bake with her over there; OK, but you need to be very careful, I don’t want any spills or any mess, you know that part of a chef’s job is to also clean up.
There is a vast continent amidst the hilly terrain of parenthood that compels exacting negotiations between nurturing passions on the one hand, and setting limits on the other. Certainly, the fiery thrill that a child exhibits in pursuit of creative activities is rousing. I want to clasp that exuberant smile, to draw it out, to nourish it, to stretch it, to feel it. I want to go there — be it baking, gardening, or finger-painting — with abandon. But these pants just came out of the laundry; I just mopped the floor this morning; no-one’s going to be able to eat/use it, what a waste: The little nagging everyday pieces of order and composure that give us a framework, a margin, and very often, a certain peace, get in the way of messy creation.
There are urges, and there are mores.
Apropos: Liliana yanks on Sebastian’s penis, pronouncing delightedly, “ze kmo nadned” (“it’s like a swing”.)
Sebastian responds with a push, she with a pinch.
Lance tells me to let them punch and pinch and pull and learn to work things out on their own. I sit there and boil. I can’t do it. I need to intervene.
Sebastian, for his part has devised a new tactic for dealing with his sweet and devilish sister. Little Mr. Canada is, for better or worse, becoming Israelicized. His latest approach is dreadfully effective and has me, frankly, at a loss as to how/whether to respond: “Liliana, do you want me: to hit you/ to take it away from you? No, well then give it to me.” I’ve recently overheard him try out, to certain success, a positive twist on his fine-tuned line of attack: “Liliana, do you want a candy? Yes, well then…” The other day he methodically and thoughtfully (?) enlisted his technique for my benefit: “Liliana, do you want me to hit you? No, well then help Ima”. It was oddly sweet and disturbing, and I for my part, was bemusedly amused. When I tried to broach the subject, suggesting that this might not be the nicest way to ask for something, he plainly stated: “But it’s the only way she understands”. End of story: What can I say to such clear and effectual logic?
Yesterday, at a book sale, I came upon a book titled “The Book of Questions” with the subtitle Kids. I grabbed it and brusquely flipped through it, keenly hoping to discover among its pages some gems, some resources, some answers. But the book was deceptively faithful to its title. It was very simply, a book of questions, not answers. Stupid, I thought. What’s the big deal? I can write a book of questions. I want the answers.
But perhaps the answers cannot be clearly delineated. Perhaps the answers need to be navigated and negotiated, individually. Perhaps they can be glimpsed in the smile that gleams over the sticky, dusty kitchen counter. Or in that mystifying moment where a nudge or a shove triggers babbling laughs instead of shrieks.
In these moments, in the light that these glimpses reveal, I decide that I want to turn the impassioned no and the reasoned yes on their heads: To shout Yes, with an instructive measure of No, rather than to shout No, and concede Yes.
Post-script: I registered Sebastian for Chef Camp in Vancouver. Feeling very good about encouraging his passion for sifting, measuring, and mixing — in someone else’s kitchen.