Can I talk about food?
First, I will have to start with a story that happened about ten years ago. My husband Andy was playing touch footy with a group of homeschooling fathers and children. It was a cold and damp day and after the game, everyone eagerly returned to the shed for a hot cup of coffee. All except Andy…
After some time, I became anxious and went looking for him, only to discover he’d been abandoned by mistake on the field. He’d slipped on the wet grass, injured his leg and could only watch as the other players ran off in search of refreshment, unaware he was lying on the ground unable to move.
Andy had broken his leg and he spent the next 7 weeks on crutches unable to walk, unable to drive, even unable to put on his own socks. It wasn’t long before he became completely frustrated and fed up.
Then one day Andy discovered the cookbooks. He had a plan. He called for Felicity and then propped himself up on a stool next to the kitchen bench. Soon he was shouting out his orders. And soon Felicity was sprinting from one end of the kitchen to the other, bringing meat, onions, a knife, a bowl… whatever Andy needed. And soon a delicious smell was wafting around the room. That day a new passion was discovered: Andy discovered he could not only cook, but that he enjoyed it immensely. So Andy became the family cook, and like all great unschooling dads, he shared his interest with all our children.
Have you ever noticed how children want to do exactly what we’re doing? You don’t have to ask them if they’d like to learn. They just stand and watch and then say, “Can I help, Dad?” Before we knew it, we had a whole line of sous-chefs, all eager to join Andy every time he entered the kitchen.
Now cooking with Andy is not ordinary cooking. He puts on his apron and all of a sudden he is a TV chef, full of life and fun. He puts on a French accent or maybe an Italian one, flings out his arms pointing at this and that as he directs the action. He adds salt from a great height, Jamie Oliver style. and his accent changes as he says, “Wicked!” And all the while he is chatting, telling the most delightful stories, cooking up a feast and… sharing. He is sharing all his skills in a most entertaining manner. All our children have taken their turn alongside Andy. And they have all learnt to cook.
While Andy was still on crutches, before anyone had discovered his cooking talents, we were invited to a homeschooling camp. Because Andy had limited mobility he ended up in the kitchen, volunteering his services to Helen: camp cook and organiser extraordinaire. He had a ball and by the end of the week, his secret was out: Andy Elvis can cook. Word went out and he has been in demand ever since: homeschooling camps, dinner parties, parish events… But Andy is not a one man show. He needs his sous-chefs. So wherever chef Andy goes, his helpers follow. And he has taught them, not only how to prepare food for a crowd, but also how to serve out carefully and attractively, and clean up afterwards. Andy’s helpers are multi-talented. Duncan has got quite a reputation as a dishwasher. He can even wash his way past the most talented of Catholic Women’s League ladies.
Now that Andy is back at work (after a period at university), he doesn’t get much time for cooking. He hasn’t done any catering for a while. And at home, the girls and I have taken over the family meals.
A month or so ago, I bought a new cookbook from Aldi. All the ingredients for the recipes can be bought from the one shop and I thought, “What a great idea. That’ll make shopping easier.” But the book lay on the shelf for a couple of weeks without me even opening it, until I had my bright idea.
“Would you girls like to choose two recipes each for this week’s menu? You can then cook your own choices.”
“Can I cook as well?” asked 7 year old Gemma-Rose hopefully.
“Of course! When you know what you want to cook, make a shopping list of all the ingredients.”
That afternoon, Charlotte and I took a trip into town to the Aldi supermarket and stocked up with all the necessary items. Then the fun began.
Every morning since that shopping trip, the girls have had a consultation. They decide what new recipe is going to be on that day’s menu and who is going to cook it.
Some time during the afternoon, the girls disappear into the kitchen and begin chopping and browning, adding and stirring. They don’t need my help. They have been trained by an expert. And soon…
“Wow! This is delicious. Who cooked dinner today?… Gemma-Rose? You did all this by yourself?”
“Imogen just told me what to do,” says a little girl with a big satisfied smile on her face.
I haven’t had to cook dinner in a long time. The girls are planning to make another menu and another shopping list. They want to continue being in control of our family meals.
All Andy did was share his passion, his love of cooking and now the kids are competent cooks. We have lots of family passions we share together. There have been lots of opportunities to teach our children just by involving them in what interests us. I shall have to tell you of others.
I am sure our family is not unusual. Sharing family passions is just the unschooling way.