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If she rolls her eyes one more time I …

My daughter has just recently become very fond of cooking. In the past two weeks she has made cupcakes, cookies and even french toast in a mug. I absolutely love the fact that she has found something that she is passionate about. Well last weekend she was determined to make bread from scratch. Awesome I thought. I love freshly baked bread!

But almost immediately I could see that it was going to be a disaster.  Too many things were not falling into place. The bowl did not fit properly under the giant mixer. The dough was way too thin. And my daughter’s patience was running low. I decided that I would try as best I could to help my daughter finish what she had started. Unfortunately, she was in one of those moods in which she was going to argue with me no matter what I said.

I knew that she was not angry with me, but her anger was being directed at me. And it was getting ugly. She found fault in whatever I suggested. She finally became so angry that she screamed at me and went to leave the room.

Oh no, no, no! She wasn’t going anywhere. She and I didn’t go through all this to simply give up now.

I went over to the bowl to finish what we had started. I added some more flour, scraped as much dough as I could off of the mixer, shaped it into an amorphous blob and popped it into oven.

Next came what to do about us.  We were both quite angry at each other. I was upset at the way in which she directed her anger towards me and she was upset because she thought I was the reason the dough turned out the way it did. To be quite honest, the best thing may have for us each to go off and do our own thing for a while. So that we could calm down. So that cooler heads could prevail.

Then I thought to myself. We still had a big mess. Literally and figuratively. Time and space wouldn’t magically make it disappear. It was at that moment that I realized that there was only one thing to do.

We had to clean up the mess we made.


I wasn’t sure that it would work, but I knew it was worth a shot. When we began cleaning you could have cut the tension between us with a knife. But then it gradually began to lift. I would rinse a bowl. Hand it to her gently. She would dry it. We continued until all of the dishes, cups and bowls were clean, dried and put away. We then wiped down the counters and vacuumed the floor. Finally, we put away all the ingredients.

We were able to clean up our mess in about fifteen minutes. We had returned the kitchen to the way it was before this whole thing started. The same could not be said about the bond between my daughter and I. It was not returned to the way it was before this all began. I am certain that it became stronger on a day when it very easily could have weakened.

And I truly believe it was because we cleaned up the mess that we made. Together. Rather than walk away and hope that somehow the dishes would rinse themselves and the arguments would be forgotten.

I see messes being made every day at school. Sometimes they are cleaned up together and sometimes they are not. We in education don’t always have the time, the space, the skills and the resources necessary to clean up our messes together. But when we do. Oh when we do it can be a thing of beauty.

Just last week I was called to a classroom because a small child was having a meltdown. He was convinced that a classmate had stolen his pencil. In his anger and frustration he knocked over his classmate’s desk and made a huge mess and an even bigger scene. I didn’t remove him from the class. I could have because he was disrupting the learning. Once I got him calm enough to listen to me I knew exactly what we had to do. I had seen this before.

I had him begin to clean up the mess that he had made. He began shoving his classmate’s materials back in his desk and trying to make right what he had wronged. But as I watched him, I realized that he had no idea how his classmate had originally organized his desk. So I called his classmate over. To help show him how to clean up the mess. Where to put the materials. How to fix the desks that had been shoved. This other student did not have to help us. But he did. And he did it well.

Do you know what else? Before it was all over he made the choice the to give his classmate the pencil that he thought belonged to him. The pencil that caused this fit in the first place. Not because it really did belong to him.  No, I believe he gave it to him because he could see that it meant so much to him. He chose to be kind.

The next day as the kids were leaving school to get on the bus I couldn’t help but notice that the kid who had shown so much kindness and compassion the day before, was crying. I asked him what was wrong. He told me he had lost one Bee. This simply meant that he had misbehaved and now his parents would need to sign his Bee Chart indicating that they were aware.

I took pause. Because while I had no idea what this child had done to lose his Bee, I did know that what he had shown me the day before was lovely, kind and beautiful. And that losing just one Bee was no big deal. But it was to him. I explained to him that we all make mistakes. That what he showed me the day before was rare and beautiful and special. That was what mattered most. He wasn’t convinced. But I had to try.

I need to make sure that I call his parents this weekend. They need to know that while their son may have lost a Bee this week, he gained something that can’t be recorded on a piece of paper. He gained the further admiration of his assistant principal and hopefully his classmates.

Oh and by the way, when the timer went off we took the bread out of the oven and waited for it to cool.

It wasn’t shaped like the loaves you buy at the store.

It didn’t slice well, so we had to break pieces off with our hands.

And, as you can see below, like us, it had many bumps, cracks and ridges.


Photo by Jon Harper

But guess what?

It was A-W-E-S-O-M-E!

Maybe the best bread I’ve ever had in my life.

I’m glad we finished what we started.

I’m glad we cleaned up the mess.


3 comments on “Baking Bread

  1. I love how you didn’t push back with your daughter; you nudged with love. 🙂 So many lessons to be learned through this story, Jon. So much to admire. You make me a better parent and educator – Thank you!

  2. Ben Gilpin says:


    Another amazing job to bring pesonal and professional together. You have a tremendous knack of connecting the two.

    As for the bread, it made me laugh out loud, but often times it isn’t what one looks like…it’s about what is inside.

    Thanks for sharing and inspiring!


  3. Hi Jon,

    Great connection! Though my daughter is a teenage now, she still loves to bake…and usually leaves a mess that causes friction between us. I’ll have to remember to clean up thee mess TOGETHER next time!

    Your analogy also helped me think about the ways that we can work together to help clean up messes at school. I’m so impressed by the little boy with compassion! Usually, I’m working with other adults, but we can learn from your example and help clean up our own messes, and build collegiality at the same time.

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