Sunday, May 8, 2016

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The French Way to Teach Your Child Patience (It Involves Sugar!)

Baking with baby: the ultimate lesson in patience.

My daughter is 15 months old—and I can proudly (or maybe ashamedly) say I haven’t read a single parenting book. I’ve just been winging this whole raising a child thing, unless you count the semi-obsessive googling I did in the first three weeks of her life, when I was stuck on the couch and realized I knew absolutely nothing about infants. 

So I didn’t exactly seek out Bringing Up Bébé by Pamela Druckerman, a book best described by its cover line, “One American Mother Discovers the Wisdom of French Parenting.” It was on display at the library, and I picked it up, assuming it was a witty memoir by a mommy blogger-type. 

The non-fiction narrative is compelling—American girl moves to France, gets hitched, has a baby, and observes the unfamiliar habits of Parisian mothers with the eye of an anthropologist. But, surprisingly, what kept me turning the pages was the smattering of parenting tidbits, particularly the French emphasis on teaching patience at a very young age.

The importance of patience might sound like an obvious and unnecessary point to make to a parent—unless you’re a first-time mom who doesn’t like to hear her baby cry, creating a habit of racing toward her at every whimper. Dropped her toy? Hurry! Pick it up! Hungry? Spoon that yogurt faster, woman! 

Prompted to analyze my own parenting, it occurred to me that I’ve been treating my toddler like a newborn, someone whose demands are both immediate and necessary—crying only when hungry, wet, or tired, never to manipulate or coerce. Fifteen months in, I realized, this perspective on crying should be as far in the past as my daughter’s size 1 diapers. If she can hug, kiss, and show remorse, she can also probably work the system. Which means I need to start teaching her that gratification isn’t always immediate.

So how do the French—whose children as young as my daughter, according to Druckerman, sit quietly at restaurants—train their little ones to wait? 

One surprising way: through weekly baking sessions, which they begin at a very young age. Specifically, the little French babes bake gâteau au yaourt, or yogurt cake, says Druckerman, a simple recipe that uses a plastic yogurt cup in lieu of measuring cups. “All of this baking doesn’t just yield lots of cakes,” she writes. “It also teaches kids how to control themselves. With its orderly measuring and sequencing of ingredients, baking is a perfect lesson in patience.” 

I’m a lifelong baker, so the idea of baking with Asa appealed to me, especially if it means teaching her a hard lesson in a fun way.

Who needs a toy when you have an oven mitt? 
So how’d it pan out? 

There were, of course, some steps I had to do myself—cracking the eggs, for one. But Asa enjoyed dumping the dry ingredients into the bowl (only one cup of flour ended up on the floor), stirring, and watching the whirring of the Kenmore mixer (when her stirring proved insufficient to mix the ingredients). 

The batter is super thick!
It was an eye opener for me, too—by planning on a flour-covered kitchen, I freed myself from the normal frustration of messy activities, allowing Asa to practice her skills freely and me to enjoy the process. 

In the end, the reward was the experience of watching Asa learn—even more so than the sweet, dense treat we had at the end of it all. 

Yogurt Cake (excerpted from Bringing Up Bébé)

What you need:
2 six-ounce containers plain whole-milk yogurt (save the empty containers to measure the other ingredients)
2 eggs
2 containers sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
Just under 1 container vegetable oil
4 containers flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

Put it all together: 
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Grease a round 9-inch cake pan or a loaf pan.
Stir together the yogurt, eggs, sugar, vanilla, and oil. Combine the flour and baking powder in a separate bowl, then mix the dry and wet ingredients together, only until they’re combined (don’t over-mix!). 

Add frozen berries, chocolate chips, or any flavoring you want. 

Bake for 35 minutes, then check the center with a knife. If it’s still liquidy, continue cooking for 5 more minutes. (I actually ended up baking mine for about 45 minutes.) Let it cool, then serve. 


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