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Modern Parenthood

Kitchen knives: Teaching culinary conduct to three kids

Etiquette is usually a tough sell to kids, but to Mom's surprise, one daughter possesses a natural skill.

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As I set down the orange juice on the breakfast table, I was stopped in my tracks by the sight of my 12-year-old daughter struggling to cut up her pancakes. Holding her knife in her left fist like a ski pole and her fork like a video game controller, she ground the two utensils together until her plate became a mess of shredded, torn pancake bits. 

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 blogs about parenting and other hazardous endeavors and recently finished a collection of essays about the ups and downs of parenting in the Sandwich Generation (parents who have young kids at home and elderly parents to fret over). She lives in Los Angeles with her husband and three daughters, a surly cat and a timid, emotionally delicate mutt named Buddy and works variety shows such as the Comedy Central Roasts, The SAG Awards, and the Oscars.

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My future Mensa member and current household video game champion had no more ability to use a knife than had our house cat.

How did she escape learning this basic life skill?

Looking back, I admit I purposely kept knives away from my kids. I thought that giving a sharp object to a child could only end badly.

And on the occasion that we went to a restaurant and knives were recklessly set on the table, the inevitable sibling sword fight would ensue, confirming my suspicions. 

It’s likely also that kid foods were to blame. After all, one doesn’t need to cut up chicken nuggets, pizza and macaroni and cheese. But most nights my kids dine on more grown-up fare like salmon, shrimp and pastas – again, all fork-friendly foods.

After deciding to brush off the knife incident as a minor blemish on my otherwise spotless parental record, I was faced with another shortcoming.

When we were having some dinner guests, my two older girls wanted me to bake a corn soufflé to serve our dinner guests. Rushed for time, I instructed them to start without me by gathering all the ingredients and opening up the cans of creamed corn.

With the front room finally tidy, I went to check on their progress. I walked in to find every drawer in the kitchen open as my daughters rummaged about, muttering, “I don’t know which one is a can opener. Is this a can opener?”

“No, I think it’s this thing,” the other one said, holding a corkscrew. “Or maybe it’s that thing there?” while pointing at a garlic press.  

Astonished, I interrupted. “What? Do you mean to tell me that neither one of you knows what a can opener looks like?”

I reached into the appropriate drawer. “This is a can opener!”

“Oh,” they said in unison.

“You’ve never used a can opener?” I demanded, only to be treated to shrugs and the onset of uncontrollable giggles.

“Oh, yeah. Go ahead and laugh.” 

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