Learning to Fail

I had the amazing opportunity to once again join my friend Jen in studio on The Jennifer Fulwiler show. We had a great time chatting about many things, but there is one in particular that I wanted to share here in case you weren’t able to hear the show.

I started this blog to document my kitchen disasters, just a fun way to laugh while I learned. But since then it has taken on a bigger role. It has made me consider how we learn and why. And even more it has made me consider how important it is for our children to see us learning and more importantly to watch us fail and most important of all see us dust ourselves off and try again.

Growing up, I was a competitive equestrian, so I learned from a very young age how necessary it is to quite literally dust yourself off and get back in the saddle. The longer you waited to get back on the horse, the more time you had to think about all the ways you failed and how much it hurt, and the bigger the fear got that stood between you and trying again.

My children get to see me fail a lot. Not because it’s a planned teaching tool, but because I am a hot mess and because I am human. Believe me, I honestly buy the bulk organic mac’n’cheese at Costco solely so my children won’t starve on the nights that I utterly destroy a new recipe.

This summer my kids and I have started learning together. I’ve declared this our “Summer of Spanish,” and we speak in Spanish, play Spanish bingo, read kids books in Spanish. It’s been a lot of fun for all of us. But they have also had a front row seat to my own learning experiences, particularly in the kitchen. They’ve watched me attempt to cook, and it has actually made them excited to join in.

I shared a story with Jen about the girls’ first cooking lesson. I decided that the most important culinary feat that the must accomplish was cracking an egg. Was this because I researched how to teach children to cook? Heck no, who has time for that? It’s because I’m a classic film nerd, and in my head I was envisioning Audrey Hepburn in her role as Sabrina (must watch– go forth!). She is sent to Paris to learn how to cook, and burned into my mind in black and white is the lesson on cracking an egg. (Take away: “It’s all in the wrist.”)

I realized, I never officially learned how to crack an egg, so I had the foresight to consider that perhaps I was doing it wrong. If nothing else I have excellent instincts about what I don’t know. I googled “How to Crack and Egg” and up popped a Jacques Pepin tutorial. Now even I have heard of Jacques Pepin, so I clicked the link, ready to learn. The first thing he says (in his deliciously accented English) is to never ever ever crack an egg on the rim of a bowl or a pan; crack it on the flat surface of a counter. And I’m sitting there thinking– man! I even crack eggs wrong! No wonder I have so much trouble in the kitchen! So I watch the video and I’m feeling good about it. I buy a dozen eggs, just for us to practice cracking.

The day of the lesson, I get the girls ready, cover their clothes with their matching pink Williams-Sonoma aprons (dress for the job you want, y’all), and lecture them on the appropriate way to crack an egg (tldr: “wrist, counter”). And then for the first time in my life, I strike an egg on the flat counter as God and Jacques Pepin intended. Apparently, it takes a lot less force than cracking it on the side of a bowl, because in my culinary enthusiasm I just decimate this egg. My kids eyes are wide as saucers, and my 11 year old asks: “Um. Is that supposed to happen?” I can’t help but laugh, and then they are laughing, and I try again almost as clumsily. Soon we’re laughing so hard that my 5 year old falls off her step-stool which of course makes them laugh even harder. By the time I hand them an egg to make their attempts, they are relaxed and happy and fairly confident that they will at LEAST do better than their mama. And they do, even the 5-year-old sends two perfect eggs into the bowl without a single piece of shell.

There was a time when I would’ve been furious with myself for failing. I would have angrily wiped everything off the counter and into the trash, and then cancelled “cooking class.” Thankfully I’ve had more than a little time to think about how I want my kids to face failure. Especially when my 11 year old shows more than a little of her mama’s perfectionistic tendencies and the accompanying self-flagellating anxiety. I have realized it is important for them to see me continuing to learn and to be excited about learning, but it is vastly more important for them to see how I act in the face of failure, because every single one of us is going to fail, and fail repeatedly. If you are not failing, then you are not learning. And your attitude to that is going to make all the difference in whether you love or hate to learn new things.

And that is everything I want this blog to be about. I want it to be about how we learn and how we fail and how we try again. I want to document all the mistakes and laughter and, yes, hopefully even improvement, whether in the kitchen or while learning a new language or in some new and unexpected adventure. This is were the learning happens. In the failure, in the mess. Thankfully its a place in which I’ve spent a lot of time and am becoming more comfortable with by the day.


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