Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Mondays, Julia Child, and a Lesson in Joy

Monday was a very Monday-ish sort of day. Exhausted from an intense weekend, I woke up, and realized that I had failed to plan anything for my homeschooling week. Most of the morning was eaten up by catching up on chores while my daughter pestered me to kick off her  first baking class by making a pear custard tarte out of Mastering the Art of French Cooking. We finally settled on reading a picture book set in France. Then it was lunch time, and there was nothing to eat for lunch.

That is how we ended up eating fish sticks in front of the television,while watching The French Chef with Julia Child, instead of making a pear and custard tart. Let's call it research.

I love watching these older episodes of Julia Child, the ones shot live while she was literally making up a cooking show as she went along. While discussing the baking qualities of various types of apples, she knocks over a canister of utensils. She fumbles with her mixer, drops pieces of aluminum foil on the floor, and forgets what she was going to say.

It is so much like the day-to-day life of a homeschooler. I work so hard to find the perfect recipe, then spend my days knocking over glasses of paint water, and fumbling with failed science experiments. I, too, am literally making it all up in front of a live audience, and sometimes (often) it flops.

My first few years of homeschooling were one long course in getting over my own perfectionism. In my head were these beautiful Martha-Stewart perfect photo montages of what if meant to be a homeschooler. While Martha's houses are endlessly creative, beautiful, (and full of busy staff), my house is flour on the counters, spotted apples that we pick for free, and watching The French Chef over lunch.

I put up these pictures on my blog of everything that went well, while behind the scenes,  the discussions in our house are more like this, "You won't believe how funny it was, when Mom slipped in her sock feet last night, and slid across the bathroom, trying to get the trash can to me so I could throw up in it." It is days floating rafts on rivers, and sobbing messes in the library; old-fashioned family projects and another lecture on how to be a civilized human being, again. It's homemade bread that comes out perfectly, and my daughter's enthusiasm over the splatter shield Julia attaches to her stand mixer, "That's just what we need so the powdered sugar doesn't fly everywhere when we make frosting!"

That is why I want to learn to live more like Julia Child. When the moment comes to finally unmold her tarte tatin from the skillet, it plops out, apples sliding one way and crust the other. She declares, "Well that unmolded...really rather badly." Instead of being upset by her mistake or feeling like a failure, she says that this is perfect because it gives her the opportunity to show us that "If everything doesn't happen exactly the way you like, you can always fix it" and "This is the kind of thing you have to expect even if you have guests peering at you in the kitchen, because you'll be able to fix it up with some powdered sugar." She sprinkles some powdered sugar on it, puts it under the broiler, and declares it "perfectly alright."

The really interesting part is when she takes out a tarte she had made earlier, that had baked up and unmolded from the pan just right. Instead of leaving her first sloppy pie in the kitchen, and carrying the perfect pie to the table. She grabs a platter in each hand and carries them into the dining room. "Now everybody can get one of each tarte, one of the juicy and one of the more tatin." With a dollop of creme fraiche, she announces that "That actually makes a more interesting dessert."

The reason we love Julia is not because she is perfect. Though I have to say she has one of the best recipes for pie crust out there. We love her because she taught us that cooking is not about perfectionism, but about joy and learning from our mistakes.

I think that is true of homeschooling too. I hope that when my best-laid plans end up in a sloppy mess, I will have the grace to scoop it up, sprinkle it with some powdered sugar, and present it as proudly as I do my perfect projects. Together they really do make a much more interesting dessert.