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Giving My Daughter the Gift of Time

Blueberry muffins for breakfastThey were straight from a box but that didn’t matter to the three year old girl with the wooden spoon. We made muffins this morning, and she said they were blueberry blue.

Ever since she discovered the Easy Bake Treats iPhone app my daughter has fancied herself a baker. Sometimes in the afternoons we climb aboard my king-size bed with the laptop and phone, and she bakes and decorates digital treats till she falls asleep. It’s likely not what Dr. Spock would recommend but it works for us.

I need the quiet, and she needs the rest.

Before the sun rose this morning she appeared at my bedside, bare feet and bed-headed, holding a Betty Crocker box. She’d braved the unlit kitchen alone and pushed a chair to the pantry shelves. She’d had her eye on that box for days and I’d been putting her off with a series of lame excuses.

Laundry.

Deadlines.

Trips to the store for whatever provisions were running low.

With my one open eye I spied the tiny child in mismatched princess pajamas. Blueberry muffins? she asked. I covered my head with a pillow, exhaled dramatically, and agreed.

The little girl with the Betty Crocker box followed me, a beggar, until I made my way to the kitchen. I preheated the oven, ground the coffee beans, and laid out the prepackaged ingredients. I retrieved two eggs from the carton and found the mixing bowl and measuring cups. We poured and cracked and mixed and stirred and placed paper liners in four rows of three.

She was happy, a helper, even if her enthusiasm resulted in a mess on the counter. I placed them in the oven to bake.

Sixteen minutes is an eternity to a hungry toddler, so when the timer dinged she was more than ready. She pointed to the biggest one, crusty bits of burn stuck to the pan on its edges, and I obliged. I poured a cup of milk and set out her Peter Rabbit plate. Finally, I presented her with her long-awaited prize.

She inhaled the muffin, still hot from the oven, and pinched off the tiniest piece. She brought it to her mouth and received it like a communion wafer. She regarded the muffin on the plate, poked at it, peeled the wrapper from the bottom, and poked at it some more. I watched her, picking and sniffing like a an animal in the wild. At one point she got so close to the muffin that her face was streaked with blueberry juice.

I’m done, she said, and took her plate to the sink, not even having taken one real bite. You’re not done! I said, incredulous.

I’m done. My daughter repeated herself. And she was.

She’d wanted to make the muffins, not eat them.

It’s easy to forget that for children, the reward often comes in surprising places. They don’t see things the way we do. For my daughter, the prize was in the spending time together, the laying out of ingredients one by one by one. The pouring and the stirring and the cracking of the eggs.

The mess that we made and then cleaned up. It was in the juice that tattooed her face a perfect shade of blueberry blue.

I’d given her the gift of time spent together, and to her, that was sweeter than any sugary treat.

Photo Credit: Steven Jackson/Flickr

More by Mary Lauren:

10 Truths about Toddlers: What Parents Should Know

Why Putting Yourself First is Impossible

The Measure of a Mom

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