They crowd around me, under my feet and in the way every time I turn around.
The questions begin...
Can I help?
I want to cook!
Can I stir?
I want to break the eggs!
Can I have a bite?
By two years old they know what the sound of the oven beeping means and they know where the oven mitts are (not that I actually let them get hot things from the oven at two years old).
They like to push down the lever on the toaster and pour the milk into the bowl and the bigger ones stand at the stove and make sure things don't burn.
The baby is under foot pulling pots and pans out of the cabinets and the toddler is sitting on the counter with a wooden spoon just waiting for his turn to do something, anything.
There's flour spilled somewhere and I keep checking to make sure all the pan handles are turned in toward the back of the stove so little hands (or big hips) don't bump them.
There are days when I really just want everyone out of the kitchen so I can do what needs to be done and get it over with. I actually love to cook but sometimes in the chaos of timers and boiling water and someone eating chocolate chips out of the bag, I long for a quiet kitchen all to myself.
But oh, these little people. They're underfoot and inconvenient and everything takes longer and is messier with them there to help. But they WANT to help. They want to be there, in the kitchen, because that is where I am and they like to be close to me.
The babies banging on pots and pans grow into the toddlers who stir the batter.
The toddlers who stir the batter grow into the children who flip the grilled cheese sandwiches and stir the soup.
The children who flip the sandwiches and stir the soup grow into the teenagers you can call when errands take longer than planned and ask to make lunch for the whole brood.
And someday...the teenagers who can whip up muffins or mac and cheese without a second thought turn into the mommies and daddies who will provide for their own little ones.
So, in the midst of the noise and the mess and the children learning to wait their turn to stir or pour or oh-goody-I-get-to-bang-the-eggs, I will try my best. I will hand out samples and let them lick the beaters. I will help them clean up their spills with patience, I will guide them as they measure out the flour, the sugar, the milk. I will teach them to put things away as they use them and wash their dishes as soon as they're finished. I will show them the proper way to use a knife. I will stand watch as they use the stove and make sure they remember to read the directions. I will give them just the right amount of independence, slowly and surely, until they don't need my help at all anymore.
Lord, help me on the days that I want to hurry them along or push them all out so I can just get it done. Because motherhood is not about just getting things done, it's about slowing down and enjoying, about teaching and guiding, and in this simple, every day task of providing food, we are together, learning, talking, laughing.
Some day my kitchen will be clean, quiet...and empty. Some day they'll all be gone, moved on to their own homes with their own new families to take care of. And the counters will be free of flour and sticky fingers, but also free of laughter and sweet chocolatey faces to kiss.
So for today, for now, in this moment, I'll enjoy it all together, the messes and the noise and the "help" that really means more work for me. Because in the end it's worth it.