Lets face it, kids are not known for being neat and tidy creatures. They spill grape juice and smear pizza sauce on a regular basis. They seem to revel in covering their hands in unidentifiable goo, and food regularly doesn't fully make it to their mouths.
For all the places that entice you with kid-friendly activities, I don't know of a better place to let kids be kids than the kitchen - provided they are under adult supervision, you know with the knives and hot surfaces and all.
First of all, the room is designed to be cleaned easily. Floors are usually tile, linoleum or some other hard surface that can't be stained by grape juice or splattering pizza sauce. Likewise the walls are painted with paint that is scrubbable. A faucet and sink give you everything you need to turn the room into a sort of mini-Disney World.
The only way to make it more kid friendly would be to attach a hose and put a drain in the middle of the floor.
Second, you make gooey, sticky stuff with all kinds of textures and a wide range of colors. From plopping cookie dough on baking sheets to mashing up a meatloaf and feeling it squish between their fingers - it's like a mad scientist's lab in there.
If that isn't enough, you get to teach your kids how to destroy stuff. It starts with cracking eggs, moves on to grinding up graham crackers in a blender, and don't forget about chopping celery with knives.
And after you're done destroying stuff, you make something new. It's like your part of a magic act. You start with eggs, butter, flour, sugar and chocolate chips and end up with cookies. I mean how cool is that?
Maybe it's that magic that makes the time in the kitchen and gathered around the dinner table stand out in my mind.
After 42 years of accumulating memories I can't explain why in my minds' eye I still see my dad's mostly full beer glass sitting on the counter. I was about 12 years old. He was getting ready to roll out the pizza dough resting in the Pyrex bowl. My mom isn't far away, frying meat. Flour is scattered on the counter where it will get rolled out. I get to help close the gaps and little holes that form while stretching out the dough.
All things being equal, it wasn't a moment of great importance. I didn't realize I was destined to become a chef nor were we hosting a party or celebrating any milestones. It was just an evening meal with us crammed into the kitchen.
Every time that memory surfaces, the feelings of family, the emotions of being loved surge with it.
There is something powerful in those moments. Something that can't be measured or quantified.
Now that I'm married with kids of my own, we have a few photos of kitchen moments with our kids, and the feeling is the same. I hate to admit this, but without the photos, I wonder if those memories would have long ago sunk in the sea of ordinary moments, lost forever.
I don't know what happens to us as we grow older, but for some reason it seems more difficult for those moments to imprint in our memories.
Maybe it is because we get comfortable in the world outside our families. Maybe it's because we have all kinds of gadgets that create other important things to do in our lives, such as flinging birds at pigs or posting some recycled joke as our current status.
I suspect the most likely cause is that we became reasonable adults who don't believe in the nonsense of magic. We understand enough of science to know why a pile of goo in a pan transforms into a cake right before our eyes.
Maybe having kids gives us the opportunity to recapture a bit of magic the rest of the world tries to drive out of our lives on a daily basis.