By Elizabeth Bruenig for The New York Times
I am what you might generously call “a skilled home cook.” I can follow recipes, copy pictures, execute a modest range of techniques and improvise a little with decent results. But I am no virtuoso; I have no particular talent for inventing dishes or harmonizing flavors, and even less for creating food that, arriving on the plate, looks appetizing. But it’s all edible, and for a good stretch of years it was my most reliably relaxing hobby.
Then my eldest daughter, now nearly 4 years old, grew inquisitive and persuasive enough to assert herself not only as an assistant — for a while there, she was an excellent holder of wooden spoons and fetcher of dish towels — but as a full-fledged sous chef. Had I any hopes of putting her off this, they dissolved when preschool abruptly ended with the stay-at-home orders, and my chance to cook dinner before dismissal vanished. Under her full-time observation, it’s no longer possible to get away with cooking without her. I am now the recipient of live-in culinary help, whether I like it or not.
And I do like it — mostly. The trouble is this: I am a perfectionist. I mean that not in its casual and laudatory sense, in which it refers to people who are devoted to excellence in their chosen crafts. I mean it in a harder and darker way: I find it very difficult to do something the wrong way. I understand that mistakes are a part of life and are moreover key to learning, but I still hate making them. In school, minor errors left me completely demoralized, convinced I would never grasp whatever it was I was trying to master. As an adult, things have only somewhat improved. Most of the time I can take a misstep all right, but I still occasionally find myself looking over my mistakes and rehearsing the same old questions: What’s the matter with me? Why can’t I do anything right?
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