Baked with Loving Hands

Baked with Loving Hands

From Chicken Soup for Every Mom's Soul

Baked with Loving Hands

Our son, Tobey, has always had a generous spirit, as well as a very independent nature. Like many small boys, he liked to show his affection for someone by doing a kind or helpful thing.

“I’m going to make Vanessa’s cake,” he announced proudly at age nine when his sister’s birthday was just a few days away. Somewhat surprised, I was eager to encourage this decision, as well as his interest in cooking. He was tremendously fond of his big sister and wanted to do something very grown-up in honor of her special day.

At the same time, I was a little worried about how he would accomplish this while also accommodating the demands of his twelve-year-old sister’s very specific taste. She had big plans for how her birthday would be celebrated with her sixth-grade classmates that year, and was quite specific about exactly what kind of cake she hoped to have for the big day.

Tobey’s food-preparation experience was limited to peanut butter sandwiches and microwave popcorn. However, he insisted that this first baking effort, his gift to Vanessa, was something he wanted to do entirely by himself, “With no help from you, Mom.” (I would, of course, be allowed to drive him to the store and help him find the necessary baking supplies.)

My confidence in this project was a bit shaky not only because of the limits of Tobey’s experience and the size of his sister’s expectations, but because my own cakes are not usually the prettiest things to behold. Fortunately for Tobey—and for me—the cake his sister most desired was available as a boxed cake mix. It included brightly colored sprinkles that baked right into the cake and the instructions certainly didn’t sound too difficult.

Tobey and I made a trip to the store to buy the mix along with the other things we needed for the birthday party. On the eve of Vanessa’s birthday, he raced through his homework and then excitedly began assembling an assortment of bowls and utensils for his project. As if to reassure me, he sat down first and read and reread the instructions on that package until I’m sure he had them memorized. Then he opened the box and got started.

In a game of parental stealth, I tried to monitor the activities of this young chef without appearing to hover over him. I found a dozen reasons to rummage in the kitchen for things as he went about his task.

Brows knit together, lips pursed in concentration, he carried out the list of instructions carefully. He broke eggs into a bowl for the first time and measured out the other ingredients as though he were handling priceless objects. I was impressed by the fact that he made virtually no mess at all. His eyes darted back and forth to check the instructions constantly.

When it came time to use the electric mixer, he granted me permission only to check that all the parts and pieces were connected properly, then thanked and dismissed me as the beaters began to whir away. He mixed the ingredients into a rich, golden batter. He had only to add the sprinkles and then it could all be poured into the baking pan he’d greased laboriously. Soon the smell of baking cake would scent the house.

Encouraged by his progress, I went to answer a phone call and was horrified to return a few minutes later and find him wrist-deep in cake batter, working his hands in the bowl. I wanted to shout, “What in the world are you doing? Are you crazy?” but thankfully, sheer astonishment kept these words tangled up in my throat unable to escape. I’m so glad I choked on my surprise rather than blurt out something I’d have regretted later.

When he saw my contorted expression, he immediately assured me that he’d washed his hands thoroughly—very thoroughly—before taking this highly unusual step.

Then he gestured with his head toward the empty sprinkles packet on the counter beside him and said, “Can you believe it? I thought it seemed kind of goofy myself, but it’s exactly what the instructions said: ‘Add sprinkles and mix by hand’!”

I had to agree with him, as I explained the role of spoons in this process, that it might have been helpful for the instructions to mention them. I’m sure that cake tasted even better for the laughter that followed as we waited for it to bake.

The cake—which turned out beautifully—was a smash! Vanessa, who was as surprised as she was thrilled by Tobey’s loving gesture, gave him a big hug, right in front of all her “Eew—boys are yucky” friends.

A young man now, Tobey has become an accomplished cook who still likes to show his generosity by feeding others good food. But now he knows to approach at least some of life’s instructions with just a grain or two of salt, along with all the other ingredients.

Phyllis Ring

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