This morning, Little Man decided to make himself a cup of mac and cheese. He’s done this many times before, so it wasn’t a new thing. I heard him peel the plastic wrap off the top of the cup, pull out the little packet of powdered cheese, and fill the pasta-filled cup with water, right up to the line.
Then he put the cup in the over-the-cooktop microwave where it whirled around and around for about 3 minutes. As he was pulling the hot cup out of the microwave, I heard was him exclaiming something like “Ouch!” and then I heard running (my guess was cool) water in the kitchen sink. Apparently, something went wrong and he got some of the cup’s hot contents on his hand. After asking a few pointed questions about what happened, I finally got up off my butt and cast my eyes towards the cooktop.
There they were: Darth Vader, R2D2, Yoda, and C3PO, in a soup of starchy water all over my cooktop and counters, with the back wall looking like some nouveau art piece. There was no rescuing this meal.
I had a few choices; two of which were punishment or discipline*. I could get all pissed off at my son’s carelessness that left him burned and the food wasted, and banish him from the kitchen forever, or I could chalk it up to one of those things that happen and turn it into a teaching moment in the hopes that it might not happen again in the near future. These days, I try to not get too out of whack over things like this, but rather take steps to minimize the likelihood of its reoccurrence. I guess I’m a teacher at heart. Besides, I don’t like getting mad.
Little Man started trying to pick up R2D2 and Darth Vader one by one, as they slipped from between his fingers. Seeing that this could become an all morning affair, I showed him how a spatula could double as a shovel. He grabbed some paper towels to sop up the water. I showed him that the knobs come completely off the cooktop, making it vastly easier to get at C3PO, who was hiding beneath a few of them.
He also grabbed the sponge to sop up more water. After squeezing starchy water out of the sponge, I told him about the importance of rinsing whatever you’re mopping up, out of the sponge – which evolved into a conversation about how mixing water and flour makes paste, and with that paste and strips of newspaper and a balloon, you can make a piñata. Thank goodness he didn’t want to launch into making a piñata, as would so often happen when he was younger.
As he was sopping up water, I took the newly rinsed sponge and wiped the back wall and the underneath side of the microwave. I made sure Little Man went around the edges of the cooktop with a paper towel to soak up any water that tried to seep in that crack. Pretty soon I was telling him to be sure to give everything a final wipe down with a clean sponge, as I stepped back and noticed the bit that made it all the way to the floor. Little Man was surprised at how far the starchy water had travelled when his cup fell, hitting the cooktop with a serious amount of force.
I just realized that I missed an opportunity to tell him about action/reaction and turning potential energy into kinetic energy. It’s ok. He hasn’t gotten to physics yet, and by then I’m sure he’ll spill something else.
As Little Man got another cup of mac and cheese to cook, I reminded him that if he puts a plate underneath the cup, he’s not as likely to get burned when he pulls it, hot and steaming, out of the microwave.
After successfully cooking a new bowl of mac and cheese, the bonus for him was being able to have 2 packets of powdered cheese in this second bowl since the first packet was never used. The bonus for me was ending up with a clean cooktop and counters.
The awesome thing about handling messes like this by keeping my cool and not freaking out, is when Little Man does this sort of thing again (and he will), instead of panicking about making Mom mad, or getting worried because he’s screwed up and been bad, his thoughts will go to the place of knowing that he can clean up his mess and try again.
Life is full of messes, spills and mistakes. Teaching Little Man how to capably and confidently handle what comes up is a huge part of my being his Mom.
*I am referring to discipline from the Latin disciplina, which refers to teaching or instruction. Not the middle English definition which refers to mortification by scourging oneself, whose connotation of hurting one who has done wrong, has become the common usage here in the U.S.