The oddest gift we gave our kids

I’ve been biking a lot this summer (hence not so much blogging). On one of these rides with my husband, I had a brainstorm to give our children a gift. This gift would not be wrapped in colorful paper to be torn to shreds in a few greedy seconds. Nor would it be folded into an envelope to be spent frivolously on next month’s discarded garment. This gift would be different.

Every week, my family takes a spiritual Sabbatical. If you’d like to read more about what that looks like, I attempted to capture it in a guest post for Savor Life Magazine. Practically speaking, it translates into a lot of cooking and preparing that lead up to a total shutdown of electronic devices and the cessation of creative work for 24 hours—from sundown on Friday until the stars appear on Saturday night. Sounds groovy, right? It is. So here was the plan…

Our gift, as I envisioned it, would be to give the children an opportunity to make the Sabbath that week. They would have cart blanche to decide what’s on the menu for each of the meals (two main meals), how and when they would shop for and prepare the food, and how they would work together to make it happen. In my sunbeam-struck head, this experience would be great for them. I had it all figured out and even took notes on my phone about what I hoped they would get out of it. Here’s what I wrote verbatim (with one minor edit):

  • Because you don’t know you CAN do something until you do it. And now you know that you are perfectly capable.
  • Practicing: organizing, planning, delegating responsibilities, coordinating, following through, etc. All skills you will need to develop in life.
  • Cooperation and team building
  • To have an opportunity to give—Giving and loving go together
  • Feeling good about yourselves, feeling accomplished
  • Overcome fear of obstacles and unknown

Sure, a little lofty in the goals department, but it seemed like the right time to empower the kids (ages 10, 12, 14, 16, and 17). It certainly helped that my oldest son started driving this year, so he could pick up anything they would need. My husband and I would make ourselves available to put out any fires (possibly literally), but that’s about it. Oh! And to share any recipes if they wanted them.

But seriously?! How did it really pan out?

We decided to tell the kids the *exciting* news that night at dinner about two weeks before. Boy was I unprepared for their reactions. Firstly, they totally called us out even before revealing the idea. (The drawbacks to being clever—so overrated.) When we said we had an AMAZING opportunity for them, they were on to us like steamrollers. “Oh yeah, amazing for you, but will it be amazing for us?” Gosh, they know us too well.

Secondly, after we told them the idea, they said: “So you know we’re gonna serve you cereal and milk for all the meals, right?” And the youngest, with lips trembling, cried, “You want me to make food for you?” The shock, the outrage, the nerve we had to even consider imposing this on her.

OK, I never said there wouldn’t be hurdles, but did they really think this boiled down to a covert plot to get out of cooking for a week? Well, maybe just a little bit, but c’mon. I deserve a little more credit, no?

Still, we didn’t allow them to wriggle out of the challenge. We also didn’t tell them that cereal and milk was a bad idea (even though I was thinking it), since this was their turn, and we wanted to make sure the main focus would be to support their choices.

Then a cool thing happened…

During the week, my 16-year-old son—who until then had no clue where we stored the pots—asked if I could teach him how to make meat.

“Hmm…good sign,” I thought without letting on, because, you know, with teens you gotta play it like you don’t care but inject a decent amount of recognition and celebration while doing it. (Oscar-winning performance, lemme tell you.) It turns out, he got the hang of pan searing the beef very quickly and decided to make steaks nearly every night that week (this feat happened in June and has yet to be repeated, but at least he knows how to do it now).

My 17-year-old drove somewhere to pick up salads and dips that he wanted to serve. I loved witnessing the planning and forethought that was playing out without me prodding them to do a thing. In fact, the only “reminding” we decided to offer was to exclaim how excited we were about anticipating the Sabbath that week.

My husband and I watched as they assigned or took on the jobs they would do. We watched as they stopped complaining about it and shifted gears into doing it. We watched and smiled at each other and breathed in that these were our babies whose diapers we changed, whose mouths we fed, who sat on our laps and cradled in our arms and who slept in our beds (and sometimes still do), and who were suddenly, rapidly, spontaneously erupting into the adults they were becoming.

So did we down breakfast cereal and sneak bites of *real* food in a closet?

In the end, it was how I imagined it would be and then some. They could have served me cereal and milk in the fine china, and I wouldn’t have cared. But they didn’t. They pulled off two beautiful meals that were all theirs with some store bought, prepared food and some homemade dishes. What they served didn’t matter one bit. One day our kids may thank us for this one. But we didn’t do it for that reason either. What mattered is that they worked together and got along while doing it. They developed a plan and implemented it. They cared enough to do their best.

And in the end, it was the best we ever had.



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