Sunday afternoon was all set up: The fire was burning in the fireplace, the Christmas colouring books and bin of crayons laid out on the little table, the sound of the Merry Christmas button being pressed repeatedly on the one musical decoration we own. Summer was happily occupied with the pile of Christmas books I had laid out on the coffee table. Hailey and Robin heeded my pleas to stop pushing the Christmas song button, so they migrated to the colouring. I set myself up to begin assembling the shepherd's pie for dinner when I felt a little hand rest on my back.
"Mama, can I help make the dinner?" asked Abby. Now, I shamefully admit that my initial reaction was to resist this request. Having her help meant my time efficient meal preparation method would be threatened. I wanted to get the dish in the oven and move on to one of the many things a mother of four has to do on a Sunday afternoon. Then I thought about what she was really asking. She was asking did I see her? Did I hear her say, so many times, that she wanted to be an artist slash chef when she grew up? Did I believe in her ability to do it? Did I want to spend time with her? The answer was easy.
We tied each other's aprons and I laid out the ingredients for mashed potatoes. Abby got to work mashing the Yukon gold potatoes I had boiled. She grated some Parmesan and stirred it in with sour cream, cream cheese, salt, pepper and milk. She set that bowl aside, and we took out the cast iron skillet to cook up the meat. She heated the oil and dumped in the beef chuck, breaking it up with a wooden spoon. I poured in the chopped onions, Merlot, and Worcestershire sauce. She inhaled deeply as the ingredients heated in the pan.
"Girls, do you smell this?" she asked. "It smells soooo good." She browned the meat and thickened the sauce with cornstarch and cold water. She asked what made the bubbles as the mixture simmered. We stirred in our seasonings (a family secret, I won't tell!), and then I held the heavy pan over the casserole dish so she could scrape it all into the bottom. She layered the meat under peas and corn, then spread her mashed potatoes over top. She thought we should add a little butter over top. I, being the sous-chef, was in no position to disagree.
We hosted her grandparents for dinner that night and as we all sat around the table digging in after grace, everyone began to thank and compliment me on the delicious dinner.
"Oh no," I said. "Abby made all of this. Start to finish." All seven of us looked over at her. Abby's high apple cheekbones squished up into her eyes, her smile was so big. They showered her with praise and she humbly thanked them, making sure to ask her sisters dramatically, "Did you know I put wine in this? You're eating wine!"Giggles and gasps.
When I tucked her into bed that night, I asked what her favourite part of the day had been. She had gone bowling with a good friend from school, watched a Christmas movie in her jammies that morning, and practiced her piano for her proud grandparents. You can imagine how my heart did swell when she wrapped her little arm around my neck and whispered in my ear, "making dinner with you, mama."