A Little Bit of Help
“I can’t do this!” I yell in frustration, tossing my papers aside. “That’s it. I give up.”
“I can help you,” offers Tami from her spot on the couch.
“No thanks,” I say as I gather my supplies and storm out of the room.
That’s all I need – Tami’s help. Tami is two grades ahead of me in school, and although her curriculum is more intense than mine is right now, she whizzes through her work with top grades. She’s constantly offering to help me, but instead of finding it helpful I usually get annoyed – as I am now. Is it not enough that I struggle with my schoolwork – do I also have to be reminded every other second that she could do it in her sleep?
As usual, I head to the kitchen to let off some steam. I pick up a cookbook and flip through the pages. Chocolate chip cookies? Nah, I made those yesterday. Mocha brownies? Boring.
“Can you make meringues again?” asks Yonah, my little brother, who is eyeing me as he crunches on some potato chips.
Oh, wait – I know. I’ll make macarons. Those will keep me busy for a while.
Once I am in my element, I forget about everything else. And that’s just what happens now as I measure and sift and beat in the light pink mixer I got for Chanukah this year. All the stress of that horrible math dissipates in a cloud of sugar, and when Tami walks in, I smile and hold out a spoon.
She already knows not to ask questions before tasting my creations. She puts the spoon in her mouth and her eyes light up. “Yum!” she exclaims. “What is this?”
“It’s a strawberry-mocha filling,” I explain.
“Can I have more?” she asks. “Just a teeny.”
“Nope,” I say, and the conversation is closed as I return to my baking.
Later that evening, my mother’s meatballs are just about ignored as everyone clamors over the trays of macarons that line the kitchen island.
“You should sell these,” my father says as he reaches for another macaron.
“Nah,” I say. “I do it for fun. I’m like Amelia Bedelia. I can’t do anything right, but at the end of the day, I can whip up some really excellent treats.”
My attempt at humor falls flat as I watch my mother’s face fall. “That’s not true,” she says, a little too vehemently. “You are very talented in the kitchen, it’s true – but you are good at so many other things, too`.”
“Oh yeah – list one of them,” is what I want to say, but I stay silent as Tami changes the subject and Yonah voices his obvious preference for cookies over meatballs for supper.
The next morning dawns bright, but as usual I stay under the covers when the alarm rings and watch Tami exit the room fully dressed.
I wish I could stay in bed, but my mother won’t stand for late sleepers. She believes in routine, and whoever doesn’t like it has to play by the rules regardless.
Davening, then breakfast, then class after torturous class, in which I try my best to follow along but am mostly trying not to doze or space out. As expected, my teacher is most displeased about my incomplete math assignment. She rewards me with yet another assignment.
“I can’t do this!” I exclaim yet again as I suffer over angles and theorems and similar horrors at the dining room table.
“You know I can help,” offers Tami, who is quite obviously breezing right through her own assignment at the other end the table.
“I’m fine,” I say through gritted teeth.
“You are clearly not fine,” she retorts as she turns back to her work.
I ignore her.
Hours later, after supper has been cleared, I walk into the kitchen to make some hot chocolate. Tami is standing at the island, an exasperated look on her face. The counted is covered in sticky dough and there are ingredients everywhere.
“What are you making?” I ask.
“What I am making is a mess,” she answers. “What I am supposed to be making are cinnamon buns for Bubby. It’s my turn to bake for her this week, and I don’t know what I am doing.”
“Well, why did you pick such a complicated recipe?” I ask, but I am already standing beside her, gathering up the bits of dough and kneading them into a ball.
“Watch,” I say. “All you need here is a some more flour to hold your dough together. Knead it in slowly in little bits, like this.”
“Let me try,” says Tami, and under my watchful eye, the dough gains just the right texture. She dumps it into a bowl and begins walking away.
“Wait!” I say. “You need to cover that. Not with a regular towel – use this. And make it a drop wet first.”
She follows my instructions, then asks, “When it’s done rising, can you help me with the rolling and filling?”
“Sure,” I say. I beam. I love making cinnamon buns.
“You’re a great teacher,” Tami says some time later, as we drizzle icing over the perfectly formed cinnamon buns. I show her how to make neat squiggles instead of the glops she has made.
“And you’re a great student,” I answer.
And then I think about what I said. Here is Tami, the star student, totally out of her element in the kitchen and taking advice from me. Copying my moves and listening to my tips. Not flustered by the fact that I found her covered in flour and standing in one of the biggest messes I’ve ever seen in this kitchen. Not flustered by the fact that she clearly had no idea what she was doing and needed real help from me – two years younger than her and a whiz at baking.
Maybe that’s what makes her so good at school, I think. She likes to learn from other people.
Maybe I should try that.
And so, that’s why, once I convince Tami that yes, she does need to wash all those dishes on her own, I say, ever so casually, “And when you’re done, maybe you can finally help me with this geometry mess I have to finish by tomorrow.”
And then I sit at the table with my books open, waiting for Tami’s help.