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Life Lessons from the “Chopped” Kitchen

I watch a lot of Chopped on Food Network. Not as much Chopped as West Wing, but it fascinates me. First, there’s the whole process of opening up a basket of random-esque ingredients and figuring out in 20 or 30 minutes of TV time how to turn them into something past edible and headed in the direction of delicious.

I cooked a couple of meals like that in San Diego last summer. Unfamiliar kitchen. New friends with a tangled web of food needs. Five big bags of groceries purchased by someone else who was, blessedly, a great deal more benevolent than the Chopped folks. A grill I didn’t know how to use. And, on the first night, about 2 ounces of olive oil to feed 12 people!

Amazingly, it all turned out great! And I have to admit, I felt a bit like I’d just won Chopped.

Then again, the whole mystery basket – vs – clock thing isn’t the only thing that intrigues me about Chopped

It’s also the stories the chef contestants tell. And the needs behind their words. So many of them speak of “proving” that they’ve made the right decisions. Chosen the right paths. Many of them “proving” to their parents that their choices have been valid. Or making their families proud.

It tugs at my heart.

The counselor I am knows that “proving” they were right to the living and the dead just isn’t possible. It doesn’t work that way. Often they’re fighting assumptions about age and culture and gender and success that are both deeply ingrained and still oddly unconscious. And, inevitably, there is palpable saddness in those hopes that, finally, their loved ones will be proud..

The Fiercely Compassionate Grandmother I am knows that it is not our kids’ job to make us proud.

I began to suspect this when my Dave was small. It was his job to make himself proud.

This notion goes against everything I learned growing up. And yet, I am certain. It is Dave’s job to make himself proud. And my job to make me proud.

It’s both easier and harder to understand it that way.

Easier in the sense that if you’re the judge, you know what criteria you’re using to decide.

Harder in the sense that if you’re the judge, you can’t just blow the whole thing off and say, “They don’t understand!”

Here’s what I’m more and more sure about: It’s not my granddaughters’ job to make me proud, either. Or, indeed, anyone other than themselves.

Now, if we’re being honest, I am proud. Over the moon, beyond all reason proud of them both. Not about soccer goals or grades or the books they’re reading or their blooming passions for the world.

I’m proud of them for sticking with the journey. For insisting on their visions. For struggling through the hard stuff of pressure and comparisons and expectations and change. For being absolutely who they are.

And, I hope, for being proud of themselves.

It’s a lot to ask for every day, I know. There have been days when they don’t feel proud. Predictably, there will be more.

In the meantime, in the face of accomplishments or huge efforts or what they used to refer to in nursing school as “learning experiences,” I ask gently: “Are you proud of you?”

And I write on my heart those times when the glint in their eyes and and the one-sided curve of their smiles say that, yes, they are proud.

My job is to remember those moments and offer them back on the tough days, so that they will remember the feeling. So that they will believe they can be proud of themselves in a world that makes that hard for lots of us to feel.

This is a pretty great job!

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Grandmothers Are In Charge Of Hope

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