Learning the Hard Way

The world can be divided into two types of people: those who read directions and those who don’t.

Ok, maybe that’s a slight generalization. There are probably those who only read part of the directions before launching into an activity. But a reasonable argument can be made that these folks do not yet have fully developed mental faculties and will eventually be slotted into one of the two primary categories above.

This universal truth is most clearly displayed through the microscope of experience focused inside the home, especially if you have kids.

Case in point: I came home from work one Friday and found my two daughters and a friend who was sleeping over busy pulling together ingredients to make chocolate chip cookies. My wife, who was busy doing six different things at once, asked me to order pizza. I dropped to the couch with my laptop and began putting together an order after we’d wrestled to the ground a consensus on what toppings the three girls wanted. About that time, the doorbell rang, and the mother of the girl who was sleeping over came in to bring some items her daughter had forgotten in her rush of excitement to get to our house.

I finished ordering the pizza, chatted a little with our guest, tried to calm our yapping 7 lbs. Maltese-poodle, and redirected my youngest daughter, who had plugged in my bass guitar and was plucking the strings for fun. Anyone with elementary school kids can picture and appreciate the maelstrom of activity circulating through our house at the time.

During this time, about 25 minutes had elapsed since I had placed the pizza order online. So as our guest left and the cookie making activity, as well as the level of noise, in the kitchen began to pick up again, I informed my wife that I was going to pick up the pizza. That’s when I got the steely look of “Oh, hell no you won’t” from my wife. As she cleaned up sugar that had been spilled all over the counter, my wife informed me that she was going to pick up the pizza. I was to oversee the cookie making process. And in a flash, she was gone.

I was left standing in my suit and tie with three girls all talking about the list of ingredients and debating who was going to add what into the mixing bowl. My oldest daughter was reading from the list of ingredients, while the other two were searching cabinets, the refrigerator or the pantry for the various items mentioned.

I realized at this point an unfortunate truth. I would never be the hero I had imagined in my head should a band of ninjas break through the security of our unlocked door and demand the secret recipe for our cookies. I would fold like a cardboard box left in the rain.

Slowly I began to wake from my stunned state to realize that ingredients were being dumped into the mixing bowl with the random flair of an experienced grandmother by three girls whose collective ages were still more than a decade shy of mine.  After the second round of mixing, I looked over at the recipe and noticed that it was arranged like most recipes with the list of ingredients at the top, followed by a few sentences describing how those ingredients should be combined, mixed and applied to a baking sheet for cooking.

At this point, I thought it best to go with the Socratic method since I was too late to apply the Chuck Norris approach of bringing order from chaos. I found a brief pause in the high pitched shouts of excitement and interjected a simple question, “Has anyone read the recipe?”

With this question, I got the “Oh, dad” look as they all informed me reading the recipe is how they knew what ingredients to add. They then proceeded to illustrate this obvious fact by asking me where they could find the vanilla extract.

As I searched the cabinet for the vanilla extract, I explained that the bottom half of the recipe described “how” to combined the ingredients and if you did not combine and mix the ingredients in a specific way, the cookies may not come out the way they’re supposed to.

My oldest daughter then looked down at the bottom half of the recipe and began reading aloud the description for how to combine the ingredients, all of which, except the vanilla extract, were already in the mixing bowl and had been blended together thoroughly. As any good chemical engineer or grandmother can tell you, once the dye is cast, you simply can’t unmix it. So, with a shrug and an unwavering faith in all the wonderful goodness inside the mixing bowl, the girls began rolling little balls of cookie dough in the palms of their hands and placing them on a cookie sheet.

As the two cookie sheets went into the oven, the girls disappeared like capricious lightening bugs in the summer evening, leaving only the lingering glow of high-pitched voices coming from somewhere upstairs. I was left standing alone in the kitchen as the expectant father awaiting the delivery of the proverbial bun in the oven.

My wife returned just in time with the pizza. She brought with her a stack of napkins and the cool air of confidence that had been missing from the kitchen just moments before. She called the girls down for dinner and effortlessly restored order. Clearly, she is much more prepared to handle ninjas or any other threats to our secret family recipes than I am.

As the girls filled in spots at the counter for dinner, the oven timer began to wail ominously. I quickly tried to explain the mixing kerfuffle that had occurred in her absence to set appropriate expectations about what she might find as she reached into the darkness of the oven with a towel to retrieve the cookie sheet. But it was too late. Like witnessing an accident happen right in front of you, the visual senses overloaded her brain and filtered out any audible background noise I was making.

“What the … what happened here?!” was all she had to say.

The girls all jumped out of their seats to rush over and see the wreckage that was their chocolate chip cookies. The small doughy balls of sugar, butter and chocolate had transformed into a thin flat slick of brownness that didn’t resemble anything remotely like cookies.

Amid the multiple exclamations of “Oh, my gosh!” and the squeals of laughter that followed, I tried to squeeze in my “some-lessons-are-best-learned-through-experience” moral. After all, I have the authority of experience having done exactly the same thing before. You see, I fall into the “doesn’t read directions” category.

But my wife’s quick sideways glance cut me short. She sent me off to the grocery store to purchase more butter for the next batch of cookies while she dispensed pizza on paper plates.

And my experience has taught me that those are the type of instructions that are best to follow.


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