"Can I spread the icing?" my seven-year-old wanted to know, when his bath was drained and the cake was cooled.
"Sure," I said, peeling the foil off a plastic tub of frosting and slapping a few dollops down on the cracked and convex crust before handing him the spatula.
Slowly and deliberately, he spread it around.
"HURRY," his four-year-old brother said, "I'm STARVING."
Hurry, I thought, it's ten minutes to bedtime already, and I have a Monday morning deadline looming.
My son pushed and pulled the spatula across that cake in his own sweet time. He was missing the edges completely. My hand twitched to take it from him and do in seconds what was taking him long, slow minutes.
Then I realized something. Spreading stuff is hard. Holding a tool and making it do what you want it to do takes practice. Today, frosting a cake is one just among the hundreds of routine things I do effortlessly, mindlessly. But I was seven once, and I labored everyday over shoelaces, and two-wheelers, and the word "library." Watching my son have to work at spreading that frosting made me appreciate how much there was to learn as a kid, how much I know how to do now. I should be celebrating every time I butter toast.
Yesterday, he and I hiked to the top of Pinnacle Mountain with his cub scout den. It isn't, strictly speaking, much of a mountain, but it's a pretty steep trail, about a two-hour round trip. Halfway up, the adults mandated a short rest. It was hard to get some of the boys to stop.
"Stop and take a look at how far you've come," I called out. That stopped a few of them in their tracks.
Handing my son the spatula tonight did the same thing for me.
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