“I need to make bread, Mom.” A tween-ager, he is barely 10 years old. And his homework, thanks to the wonderful King Arthur Bread Company, is to make two loaves of bread. From scratch.
We are balancing this new phase of life as he strives for independence. He leans away from my kisses, insists on walking by himself to school, and does not like to acknowledge me when he is with his friends.
Bread Is My Secret Weapon
But let me assure you, dear reader, that I am ready. He needs me for this. My own mom made bread almost every week, and thus I can make bread. I know yeast. I know rising. I am ready. He is going to appreciate me and my wise counsel. This is going to be a great bonding experience–the perfect mother-son tween activity. Someday in the future, he will say to his children, “I remember the time my mom took the time to teach me how to make bread.”
He sets a cloth bag on the counter, and pulls out is contents. Flour. Yeast. Instructions. He glances at the instruction pamphlet. I start to get out my stand mixer.
“No, Mom.” He stops me.
I look at him. He looks back at me with certainty. “I’m going to mix it by hand. “
I start to protest. But he stops me again with a steady voice, “I know how to do it. They showed us how at school today.”
I am dubious. He is ten. I am more than four times that, and I have made bread before. Doesn’t he appreciate that I am trying to parent him? Doesn’t he know that he needs me to help him? Indeed, he does not. And his dogged tenaciousness never flags.
He finds the mixing bowl and measuring cups and measures out the flour. I try to advise him as to the best way to sweep the flour even in the measure cup. He looks at me like I am a child pestering him. “I can do it, Mom.”
He measures water into a measuring cup from the faucet. I whip out my instant thermometer to measure the temperature. Shaking his head, he tests the water on his wrist. On his wrist! I am certain it is not hot enough, and while he is not looking, measure the temperature. Not hot enough to activate the yeast, I think. “Its not hot enough, honey,” I say kindly.
“Mom, I know what I am doing. I watched them do it.” He stubbornly refuses my advice.
I am stymied. How can he not need me? He has never baked bread before in his life. He is 10, for heaven’s sake!
But he continues on, measuring, mixing, kneading. I sit in the corner of the kitchen, reading a cookbook and pretending not to watch him. With furrowed brow, he surveys the dough, covers the bowl with plastic wrap and sets the timer. I know it won’t rise. I prepare for his disappointment, scanning the pantry to see if I have any yeast that isn’t expired. Surely, I can save the day. I am just waiting for the moment that he realizes that he needs me.
The minutes tick by. He peers at the dough. “It’s rising!” he exclaims. I look. Lo and behold, it is. A perfectly rounded dome of dough rises in the center of the mixing bowl. He is thrilled. I am astonished.
When the timer goes, off, he dusts the counter with flour and dumps the dough into the middle. He turns on the oven to the correct temperature, and greases two baking sheets. With assurance, he divides the dough into two pieces. The first, he shapes into a cylinder and places in the center of a baking sheet. The second he braids – that’s right, he braids it – into a loaf. He looks like a miniature master baker. Gingerly, he places them into the hot oven.
The aroma of freshly baking bread fills the house. He watches through the oven window. They bake perfectly. He finally consents to my help to remove the steaming loaves from the hot oven.
I Didn’t See That Coming
We stand in the kitchen, looking at what he has made – two beautiful, golden brown loaves of bread. He looks proud, but not at all surprised. I feel proud and completely surprised. “I knew I could do it,” he says quietly. Still a bit stunned, I smile at him.
Later that night, after he is in bed, I stare at the two loaves of bread. He will donate one loaf to the local soup kitchen per his class assignment, and the other we have already begun to devour with butter and jam with our dinner. It is delicious.
I am humbled. I have recovered from my disappointment over not being needed, and realize that he did need me, but not in the way that I thought he would. He needed me to get out of the way while still being present. I wish now that I had been more encouraging. He listened to that small voice in his own head, “I know I can do it.” And he did it!
Tomorrow, I will tell him how proud I am that he listened to himself—and not me—this time. It hits me that my job is to encourage him to do just that in order to be a competent adult. Someday in the future, he will tell his children, “I remember the time I made bread for the first time, and I did it all by myself.”
I imagine he will still feel proud and not really surprised. And I imagine that I will still feel surprised. But also really, really proud.