Why I Believe in My Daughter's Play Kitchen

It came so quickly, like a crack of thunder on a cloudless day. They came, they came and they took it from my own home and with my own collusion via opening the front door and making polite conversation.

They took my daughter’s play kitchen.

It was white with a blue and white checked backsplash with diamond “tiles” dotted with cherries. It had a wooden microwave, pantry, oven, freezer and refrigerator. It was what any child would need to survive a robust pretend world where pretend sustenance would be required.

They came and they took it.

I shouldn’t be so harsh, honestly. They - the beautiful people from our church - who took the kitchen actually paid for it and brought their own truck to haul this monstrous culinary toy to its new home, where it would entertain new guests with new imaginary meals. It was a passing of time, a passage from one place of life and love to another. My daughter had grown far taller than the cabinets and had moved on to books, outdoor games, and some technology so recently the kitchen had become storage and was no longer a canvas for crafting a world of imaginary smells.

I took a picture of the empty space, the indented carpet where the kitchen had stood for the past 5 years, and sent it to my wife with the caption “Crying a little.” It looked like a gaping mistake in our living room, much like when that age-old oak is cut down or your child loses that first front tooth - something long expected and assumed was now gone and there is nothing you can do to avoid it.

Call me sentimental or weak, but this moment hit hard for me and not because I loved the kitchen. In fact, I never really longed to play “kitchen” with my daughter.

She is a fiercely independent only child, and much of the time “playing” is more like “I’ll tell you what to do, waif! Fetch me what I desire!”

I never really longed for the “Do you want to play restaurant?” invitation and when the time came when I could no longer resist, I morphed into the salty line cook (a la Mel’s Diner) that simply sat in the back and smoked pretend cigarettes, ashing into the hodgepodge of wooden pepperoni and plastic vegetables.

I don’t have to worry about that invitation any more, and now I want that invitation back. I realize this moment is a foretaste, a preview, a trailer if you will of the journey that will be my daughter’s growth and development. The pain of watching her need me less and less, be less and less of a girl and more and more of a woman. The movement of her interests from caring what I think to rebelling openly, in some sort of Irish rumspringa that will know only it’s own natural ending.

I will always be opening doors, helping to carry another part of her young life away and opening up a new chapter of an older and less encumbered woman.

To be honest, I know that many people will take this verbal melodrama as simply an attempt to pull at heartstrings. I admit it, there are strings to be pulled and why shouldn’t I pull them? However, what I will not be submitted to is the brutal accusation that I should just move on. The admonition that I should get over it, not care so much about something so natural and so good. Don’t I want her to grow up? Don’t I want her to move out?

As with many things in parenting, my response is “yes” and “no.”

You see, I actually like my daughter. She is incorrigible, fierce, independent, gutsy, both wise beyond her years and gullible within them and I like all of that.

She’s an alpha female, in competition with her mother for both my attention and approval. I don’t like that part per se, but I love the woman that I see within it. I like her cooking, imaginative and real.

I like her voice, squeakily piercing through the phone or across the house. I actually like this kid, as much as I love her.

The disappearance of the kitchen just reminds me that all is dust. We are all flowers who fade, and this time of “like” that my daughter and I share will not last forever. I will lose my sanity and continence, I will lose my way, I will become burdensome to her and she will become more and more alive and fearless, beautiful and brave as I decline.

She will bathe me, whereas I once bathed her. She will move out, on, up, and around in a seamless and bright circle, much as she does in her ballet class even now. I will become irrelevant, memory, myth and a time stamp in the great going Kingdom of God.

The kitchen says “You are not God. Your reminiscences are like art work, calling forth beauty and admiration but they are insufficient to bring the artist back from the dead to stand and add a new stroke.” I am limited. This time is limited.

The kitchen is a hallmark of a time that is passing and a time that will come. The kitchen is a mile marker, reminding me of where we have been and where we are going. The kitchen is like disease, crows feet, knee pain or lost keys - it says “Things are not as they used to be. The old is passing away, the new has come.”

The kitchen also bears witness. It bears witness to every time I chose to do something less important, less vital, less engaging instead of entering into culinary masterwork. It bears witness to the nights where I had to go out “again” - where “Daddy has to be at church again.” That is heartbreaking, the memory and thought stills my soul in very dark neighborhoods.

The kitchen uncovers a kind of spirituality - the spirituality of saying “yes” to everything out of fear of being accused of being “lazy”. The spirituality of seeking approval through activity from those whose own "kitchens" will be moving on as well. The spirituality of being too important to remember to play, so Sabbath-ignorant that you wouldn’t know how to pretend to cook if you had a PDF manual and instructional podcast on the topic. It  really isn’t a spirituality, honestly, at least not one that anyone wants.

So now there is a gap in the room, and the bittersweet thing is that we know a recliner chair is on the way to fill that gap. Designs, fabric, cushions and all - a new place to go with my daughter, to read, to listen, to live, and to watch her brilliance as close up as I can before the brightness moves away.

Will I enter in? Will I set aside that which seems to matter for the folly of beauty, the prodigality of play, knowing that this chair and this time is passing too - even now before it begins?

I admit it, I miss the kitchen. I will try with all I have, however, not to miss it when it comes around again.