It's about 4:30 in afternoon when I realize that our daughter has spent the vast majority of her day hiding out upstairs, watching television. Curious, I catalog her day's activities ... and then I mentally go back over the few weeks that she's been out of school. Besides one week of lacrosse camp, she's been glued to a screen, the computer or the television. Actually, lacrosse camp left afternoons free–and she spent any of those moments huddled up in front of the TV, too.

Come to think of it, her brother has done the same thing.

Mothering failure number 2,348 has now officially been logged.

I call both of them into the office, and try to remain calm. I point out that I have given them ample time to be bums. To do nothing. To have this glorious summer idea of sleeping late every day. I remind them of their daily chores, which are not being done. I know; it's not fun to empty the dishwasher, feed the dogs and the rabbits and the fish.

I can't help myself. I say, "You know, when I was your age ... " I stop, groaning inwardly. I still remember how much I hated hearing that from my parents — even if they were right and were making a valid point.

But there's value in what I did, and what they are just not learning, so I forge ahead. "I was learning how to cook and to bake, to show cows, to sew, to knit, to take photographs, to bale hay ..."


They stop me in mid tirade, quickly pouncing on the weakness of the argument: we don't live on a farm. There are no cows here to milk, no alfalfa to put up in the barn, they point out. The middle child considers this now a done argument.

I play the trump card: "But you do have to know how to cook sometime, and soon you'll be on your own. What are you going to do then?"

The second child is never, ever at a loss for a comeback. Without missing a beat, he replies, "I am only a sophomore. You can teach me later. Concentrate on my brother, he's the senior. He needs to learn more than me." (Never mind that his brother already does know much more than he does. Somehow the second one never took cooking in the middle school, which was a real shame. Brattleboro Area Middle School did an excellent job imparting some basic food skills. Best of all, the teacher required practice and parental sign off that they cleaned up–and well–after they were done!)

The lessons have begun. Not surprisingly, the youngest has shown the most interest. To the boys, this whole "learn how to cook" idea falls in the "try to avoid Mom at dinner preparation time" category. But our daughter has jumped into this wholeheartedly. She researches on Youtube, watches a video, and then tries to recreate it. Yesterday's breakfast (prepared at noon; see the reference above, about the necessity of sleeping late) featured a concoction I would not have done: oatmeal topped with sunny side eggs, with tomatoes and lettuce chopped on top of that. She's also enthusiastically taking a "healthy foods" class at the library.

For the Fourth of July holiday, our daughter was determined to make "something Fourth of July-like." She opted for a white cake with strawberries making flag stripes, and blueberries standing in for the stars. We dug out the cook book to make the cake from scratch. We learned about "creaming" butter — and "melting" butter in the microwave. We talked about the difference between "batter" and "dough" as she watched the consistency change. We worried about too much bouncing around the cake in the oven, and the toothpick test for doneness.

We agreed that whipped cream was best for the frosting. "Can we do that now?" she asked on the night of the third. I explained that it had to be done the day of serving it. So, first thing on the Fourth of July, she followed up, "Can we make the frosting now?" One more lesson on how whipped cream separates ensued, and she started watching the clock for 5:30 to come around.

The night of our party, all the guests ooh'ed and ah'ed over her efforts. I took a photo to post up to Facebook. Her brothers' friend was the first one to try it, and he picked her dessert over all the others on the table. She glowed. Her father ate some and called out his approval with his mouth full. He brothers grudgingly declared it "pretty good." More than 50 Facebookers 'liked' the photo, and she bounced out, floating on air.

This all reminds me: time to find that middle child and get him thinking about what he'll cook for supper next ...

Jill Stahl Tyler is a parent to three children involved in the local schools, at the high school and elementary school levels. She firmly believes in all education, and currently sits on the board for the Brattleboro School Endowment and the Brattleboro Town School Board. Contact her at