Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Achiever Self-pressure - Home Edition

Preparing dinner brings out the achiever in me. Now that I'm either home all day (ish) two days a week and home by 3:45 two other days a week, dinner prep falls to me. Being a full partner in the kitchen has been an important principle of mine since we got married. Not that there's anything wrong with the way my parents did it, but the whole meal burden falls on my mom. My dad often doesn't make his own toast. Wait, maybe there is something wrong with the way they did it. Anyway, I've always wanted to be competent in the kitchen.

That said, my wife derives more pleasure from cooking than I do. I derive pleasure from baking, and I make all manner of breads and have a nice repertoire of baked sweets that I enjoy making. Cooking, though, has largely been a task that I do in order to feel good about the balance of duties in my marriage. A few years ago, I had an important epiphany about being a man who cooks. There is a profile of the male cook in which the good guy gets away with having a handful of dishes that he masters, and he - heroically, back-pattingly - executes these dishes every once in a while, often when there is an audience of more than his immediate family. Women my mother's age ooh and ah over how he knows his way around the kitchen.

The problem with this profile is that although it’s a step toward sharing responsibility, he hasn’t taken on the big responsibility: planning varied and nutritious meals for several nights a week. When my wife and I were both working full time, I confess that even post-epiphany, I did not shoulder very much of the planning burden. Now, I do. And I don’t want to do it poorly. I don’t want to take shortcuts. Here’s the achiever coming out. Even if I have been sous chef in our kitchen, now I’m in the show, baby. And I’m going to do it right. Some nights that takes the form of planning seriously ambitious dinners that don’t make it onto the table until 7:15 (our optimal dinner time is more in the 6:20 range). Tonight, it took the form of choosing to make the tart pastry topping for chicken pot pie instead of the comparatively easier biscuit topping. Why? Because I’ve made biscuits a zillion times before. I wanted to challenge myself to take the harder option in the recipe. It was delicious, by the way. Almost always, my ambition results in something being slightly overcooked. Or maybe that’s my incompetence that results in that. But even that, I attack like an achiever. The only way I’m going to get better at cooking is to do it. Some people seem to be culinary savants, but most good cooks got that way by moving through the bad cook stage.

One downside of my achiever mentality in the kitchen is the stress it produces. That’s what holding oneself to a high standard does, whether in an office or at home. I do hope to one day put good dinners on the table without having spoken curtly with my kids during homework/snack time and without having muttered nasty words under my breath upon discovering that something has burned. Maybe I’ll schedule a performance evaluation with myself for the end of the quarter. Now, if you’ll excuse me, there are some almond macaroons to make.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Secret to home productivity: no kids

It's amazing what having a six-year-old and a 2-year-old in the house will do to your ability to execute projects. Studies show that email, text message and phone interruptions decrease your effective IQ by 10 points (whereas marijuana only decreases it 4 percent). There is a similar effect on my intelligence and productivity when I have both kids around. It seems like 6-45 times an hour, I'm wiping a nose, filling a cup, breaking up a fight, changing a diaper or reminding someone to put something back in its proper place.

This is not, of course, surprising. My wife exhorted me to scale back my home productivity expectations when I took on the primary parent role. She said that if a stay-at-home parent gets one thing done in a day, that's a huge accomplishment. Today just reminded me of the phenomenon because the kids are at their grandparent's house today, and I was able to spend over an hour uninterrupted cleaning up the basement this morning. And here's the thing: it's not done. It takes an inordinate amount of time to undo the disorganization that interrupted daily life brings to my basement. I'm so grateful to my mother-in-law for taking the kids today so I can get something big done for once. Back to that closet under the stairs...

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

My kids are awesome. Yours are just ok.

The other day, I learned something about the above statement: people hate to hear it. Or in my case, they hated to see it as my facebook status. One woman commented "Ouch - I don't even have kids and that stung a bit." When it comes right down to it, I'm not surprised that people are offended by that sentiment. I must argue, however, that that's exactly how most of us feel. We think that the things our kids do are the cutest, funniest, smartest and most creative things small humans can do. Other peoples' charming stories about their kids charm us less than our own.

There are scientific studies that show that in adoption, men are drawn to and connect more easily with children who resemble them facially. It seems like a species-survival-enhancing trait to favor our own. Even though we understand that I prefer mine and you prefer yours, though, people will give you flack for stating the obvious. Or maybe I just state the obvious in a harsh manner.