On Christmas Eve, I was faced with one of my bigger mistakes of the pandemic. At Dynamo Girl, I spend a lot of time and energy creating “mistake friendly” environments for kids and adults alike. Does that mean I’m good at handling my own mistakes? Not always. In an effort to make this Christmas special, since we were missing the usual fun and craziness of extended family members, I decided to expand my cooking comfort zone with some new items on the menu. So, after potatoes au gratin taking 45 minutes longer to cook than planned and a rib roast taking about an hour longer than I had planned, and my 13-year-old asking with pleading eyes at 9pm when we might eat, I announced, “Okay, popovers — last item in the oven.  We will be eating at 9:30. I promise, it will be great.” 

Did I get a lesson in handling my own mistakes…

Just for context, I grew up around great cooks and was a child of a restaurant owner. I was not surprised that my rib roast was taking longer than planned. I could hear the ghost of Christmas past reminding me with visuals of my parents talking about a very large piece of meat taking longer than intended. I can remember my mother finding a forgotten casserole or loaf of bread in the oven long after guests had left. In years past, I spent lots of time thinking about what I would cook, when I would cook it and the exact time I would serve the meal. I also know that trying new recipes on a holiday could be a risky move, but I figured with no guests, my kids would think it was so cool to see Popovers get made. (Yup, getting myself into trouble again feeling responsible for my kids’ happiness during a pandemic….). And what’s the worst that could happen?  A late dinner?

The popovers called for beef fat and lots of it in a very hot oven. My 13 year old helped me spoon the hot fat into the hot muffin tins, followed by the batter. My son was as thrilled as I was to watch the popovers pop up out of the tins. My thrill became apprehension as I noticed the hot grease dripping from the muffin tins. Before I knew it, smoke was filling the oven, and in moments, we had a full-fledged oven fire, which was not going out even as the four of us somehow got the oven and stove turned off. Fire alarms beeping around the apartment, a fruitless search for a fire extinguisher (PLEASE, dear reader, stop reading this post and make sure you have a working fire extinguisher in your kitchen), windows being thrown open, doors propped wide, white smoke turning to black smoke pouring out of our oven, and finally, a borrowed fire extinguisher from a neighbor and the fire was out.  And our food, all of it except for the potatoes, was coated with a blanket of fire extinguisher powder, which we are still finding on surfaces around the apartment.

Surveying the damage, I started to enter my bubble of shame, embarrassment and shock.  It didn’t help that we found our 15 year old dog waiting at the elevator — I had finally pushed the bounds of even his loyalty too far.  Then my son handed me a fork and we all stood around the kitchen counter eating the delicious potatoes. As I started to apologize, my kids talked over me exclaiming: “This is the funniest Christmas ever!” and “We will never forget this Christmas.”

My husband handed me a glass of wine, and I went to the living room to watch Elf with the kids.  Belly full with potatoes and pausing to laugh at the dinner that never was, I was washed over with gratitude. I really wanted that special food and I really wanted to have Christmas Eve dinner at a beautifully set table, but my kids were getting the Christmas Eve that they wanted — filled with laughter, more than the usual chaos, and family togetherness. The potatoes, wine, candy and a movie were landing much better than the Christmas Eve I had planned AND I wasn’t fighting it or dwelling on my mistakes. It could have been so much worse. We were, yet again and in so many ways, lucky, lucky, lucky.

As we exit 2020, it feels like the oven fire of a dinner was another reminder of a year that just won’t quit with its danger and unpredictability. And, that unpredictability reminds me that I am lucky that my family is safe and has remained relatively healthy during this horrific pandemic. This year has taught me to live in the day, to cherish moments with people I love and to be an active member of the communities that I live, work and parent in. It’s a year that reminded me that crappy parenting moments can be the most memorable for my kids because, just like I want my Dynamo Girls to know that it is ok to make mistakes, it is in my making mistakes, big and small, that my kids gain the license to make mistakes and accept them as well.

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