A couple of Saturdays ago, I was all set for a big cooking binge, making a batch of Tart & Tangy Baked Beans from The Moosewood Cookbook plus four loaves of Raisin Bran Bread, then freezing some vegetables and washing dishes while the food was in the oven. I thought my seven-year-old son would help me cook, as he often does, and during that time his dad would get some work time upstairs. (He works from home as a computer programmer, and his weekday working hours are cut short by picking up Nicholas from school, so he’s often trying to squeeze in some work on the weekend.) But Nicholas did not want to help cook! He was all set to make a big fuss about how Mama or Daddy “had to” spend the late afternoon playing with him.
I thought quickly and came up with a strategy that worked very well!
I said, cheerfully, “You have a choice about how to help: You can work in the kitchen with me, or you can play music to entertain me while I am working. I’d like to hear some of our little records, but I can’t keep cleaning off my hands and coming out of the kitchen to change records every few minutes. You can choose which songs to play” Nicholas happily took on the role of Mama’s personal DJ!
Our stereo is in the dining room, and the sound travels well into the kitchen. We still use our record player often, since Daniel and I have a lot of records from our childhoods and we happen to live two blocks away from the amazing and affordable Jerry’s Records, where we can procure basically any record we might want to own but don’t already have. Nicholas has been able to use the records and record player responsibly since he was about four years old, although he does still have trouble handling the big records because of his small hands.
We also have a lot of CDs. Although I was asking specifically to hear some of the 45rpm single records, I gave Nicholas free reign to choose among the long-playing records and CDs, too–my only stipulation was that he was not allowed to turn on the computer in the dining room and play songs from its iTunes because there are too few songs in there and he plays them so frequently that I am sick and tired of 95% of them!
My kitchen work took about two hours. Nicholas kicked off his DJ shift by playing some of the 45s: assorted ’80s hits interspersed with my favorite Sesame Street song and the record of Rice Krispies commercials Daniel got from a cereal box. (I don’t think I’d noticed before that that collection spans the era in which Kellogg’s realized that, “It’s fun to put Snap, Crackle, Pop into your morning!” limited the hours of Rice Krispies consumption and changed their jingle to, “…into your life!”) He then put on Michael Jackson’s Thriller but played only selected songs from it.
During all this music, he was amusing himself with assorted toys and craft supplies in the dining room. He came into the kitchen every five or ten minutes to show me something or tell me his latest insight–but that was a lot less bothersome than demanding that I drop everything and come into another room to see things, hollering from a distance when he had something to say, or hanging around our small kitchen getting in my way! All of those behaviors have been problems for us pretty often, but being in charge of the music seemed to help him behave.
Then he asked very politely if we could listen to the record of someone reading aloud Bread and Jam for Frances. I have been very tired of that record at times when he played it repeatedly for weeks, so I appreciated his asking! We hadn’t heard it for a month or so. I was willing to hear it again. Nicholas hopped about, singing along with Frances’s songs.
After that, Nicholas was beginning to get tired and make noises about how he needed to get Daddy to see this, answer that question, do this with him, etc. I reminded him that this was not a time to bother Daddy. I got him to grease the bread pans, but that was all the kitchen helping he wanted to do. I asked him to play another record. He said he wanted to hear a story record he had not heard before.
Suddenly I thought of the Bill Cosby album Wonderfulness, which Nicholas hadn’t heard for a long time, if ever. Although that album is older than I am, I never heard it until I was in college. Would a seven-year-old like it?
Oh, boy! The album begins with the story of Cosby as a young child getting a tonsillectomy, being one in a ward of boys singing, “Ice cream! We gonna eat ice cream!” Nicholas was practically dancing with glee. He enjoyed stories about a new playground and about making go-karts, too, and the way Cosby expresses his childhood perceptions of things.
Then we came to “The Chicken Heart”. The line, “Pay a stranger to look after my kid?! I’d sooner leave him home alone!”–followed by the fact that that’s exactly what Cosby’s parents did–got Nicholas rolling with laughter. And then this story of being terrified by an absolutely ridiculous radio drama and smearing Jell-O all over the floor! Hilarious!!! It was a big hit with him and with me, too.
I got the cooking and clean-up done, and Nicholas entertained himself and me instead of annoying me or Daniel. Having my kid play DJ worked for me!
And then he put on his apron and chef’s hat and served his parents dinner at The Purple Tulip. 🙂