Potato Bread

Why can’t my son be like “normal” kids and just buy a prepared dish to take to his school banquet?! Is that too much to ask? No matter what I say to convince him otherwise, he insists on baking his own potato bread, even though he has never in his 16 years of life baked bread or even seen me open up a box of Jiffy Mix for that matter.

So I asked him, “Why bread?  Why bake it from scratch?  and Why can’t you just have your dad buy something for you to take to the banquet?”

He responded in his typical robotic monotone drawl,

“Be…cause… I… want… to… bake… it… myself… so… it… can… be… fresh.”.

My son has Asperger’s, and his monotonous speech pattern is just one of his many quirky traits.

It has never been my parenting style to push him one way or another. What I do instead is tell him what I think about a thing and explain why it might not be such a good idea; but he does everything his own way all the time anyway, so I left it alone.

Now, had I known I would be enlisted to partake in his bread baking endeavor, I might have been a bit more adamant in my stance against it.

I first got word of my duty as his apprentice when he asked if I would just mash the potatoes for him.  I gave him a sideways glance that should have been a clear indication that I was not up to the task; but I felt a twinge of guilt so I reluctantly agreed only to mashing the potatoes and told him I’d do it after waking from my nap.

About an hour later, he came into my bedroom and asked if I was ready to start.  At this point, I hadn’t fallen asleep yet and I never heard any noise coming from the kitchen to indicate he had started anything; so I informed him that there was nothing for me to do until he had peeled, diced, and boiled the potatoes; to which he responded,

“I… thought… you… would… do… that.”

“Me!?” I gasped. “I didn’t sign up for all this work.  I told you I would mash the potatoes; you need to get them ready to be mashed.”

I repeated my initial barrage of questions asking why he wanted to bake bread instead of buying and why potato bread of all things! I told him I thought it was crazy to bake bread considering he can easily just buy it from the bakery.  To help him understand, I compared that nonsense to using a washboard to do laundry when you can just toss your dirty clothes in a washing machine. What kind of person signs up for hard work when there’s an easier way to get things done?!  But the thing about my son is, he’s unrelenting.  Once he decides he wants to do something, he makes sure it gets done… Even if it’s not actually him doing the getting it done part.

In an attempt to explain his late start, he said he had lost an hour out of his day because of day light saving time; but he couldn’t explain the sense of such thinking when I asked what that had to do with anything. I assured him there were still 24 hours in a day no matter what time the clock shows.

He insisted the lost hour was a problem because it threw him off schedule.  Well, lucky for him this was a problem I could easily solve. I told him to set the clock back an hour to regain the hour he lost if it mattered that much to him and then get started peeling the potatoes.  He didn’t follow my advice on that either.

So, with his lack of initiative and my lack of enthusiasm, Sunday came and went with neither of us setting foot in the kitchen to do anything except grab a bite to eat from the fridge. I’m a terrible mother!

After he left for school Monday morning, I began to feel really bad knowing he needed his bread baked before Tuesday evening’s banquet—especially considering his heart was set on baking the bread; so I made it a point to have his potatoes peeled, diced, boiled, and mashed before he came home from school that afternoon.

It was an unusually busy day for me since it was laundry day too, and I’m not one to fit more than one domestic chore in any given day; so I was pooped by the time he made it home from school Monday afternoon. I greeted him at the door, proud to share the news that I had prepped the potatoes for him. I then retired to my room to watch the news and hopefully catch an afternoon nap.

My attempt to nap was interrupted every five minutes with a new update on his progress:

“I’m… mel…ting… the… but…ter… now.”

Then five minutes later with mixing bowel in hand…

“I… added… the… water.”

I wasn’t sure how I was supposed to respond to his constant updates, so I just acknowledged each announcement before turning back over—now for the THIRD time—to try to get some sleep.

On his fourth trip to my room, he shoved a bowel of mush into my hands and gave me a direct order to keep stirring.  With this interruption, I gave up trying to nap and commenced to stirring as he commanded, grumbling under my breath as I whipped the spoon around the bowel trying to smooth out the lumps. That was really hard to do lying down.

Finally accepting that I would not get any rest until his bread was baked, I decided to get up and join him in the kitchen; and he immediately put me in charge of all the math involved with baking.

“What’s… half… of… three… cups?” he asked.

“Man, I don’t know!” I snapped with obvious impatience.  “Isn’t it one and a half cups?…I don’t know why you’re asking me anyway; I flunked math.”

But as smart as he is, he’s worse than I am at math, so I put down the mixing bowel and went over to his desk to try to figure out the answer in a way we both might understand.

By the time I finished working out the problem, it looked like more like I had scribbled some kind of basketball strategy. I called him over and quickly explained my calculations so we could get back to the baking part of this torture.

“Okay, so here’s one stick over here and here’s another stick over here, and this third stick right here in the middle is cut in half, see?  Pay attention now!”

“So, if you take the top half of the broken stick and put it over here with the stick on the left, that makes it one and a half.  Now, if you take the bottom half and put it over here with the stick on the right, that’s one and a half.  So half of three is one and a half, got it?”

He trusted my figuring whether he got it or not.

Whew!  Now that the math was out of the way, I got back to my mixing as he prepared to add flour to the contents of the bowel, which was beginning to feel an awful lot like cement.

“What… does… sieve… mean?” he asked as he read the next step in the recipe.

“I don’t know!” I snapped.

He’s never phased by me so he didn’t seem to notice or even care about my growing irritation over our baking task. He just doesn’t get it… I’m not one of those mothers who bakes anything ever! And unless mixing a box of Hamburger Helper with ground beef is considered cooking, I’m not even one of those mothers who cooks. The thought of cooking and baking just never excited me. In fact, I never even wanted an Easy Bake Oven when I was a little girl.

Anyway, not knowing the meaning of sieve, I prompted him to ask his question in a different way. “What exactly are we supposed to be doing next?” I asked.

“We… have… to… put… the… flour… in. And… it…says… to… sieve… the… flour… into… the… mixture.”

“Oh” I responded as if a light bulb suddenly lit the right and left side of my brain. Once he explained it to my understanding, I not only could picture Betty Crocker sieving flour, I actually grasped the concept of sieving too:

“That’s when you use that thing with the holes in it to keep the flour from being lumpy… But we don’t have anything like that, so you can just pour it in slowly while I stir.”

I’m good with improvising like that, plus I just wanted to get this “baking” over with, so I really hoped he would go along with my idea.

But noooo, not him.  He was not about to chance ruining his potato bread trying to do it without the proper utensils, so he searched his memory and suddenly recalled we had a contraption that fit the description of a sieve.

I had no idea what he was referring to but at his insistence, I searched all the cabinets for something with holes in it; and all I could find was a silver metal strainer thingy. Good enough! Sieve or not, that’s what we’re using. He began to sieve the flour in the bowel as I stirred.

The mixture started getting really think; and the thicker the consistency, the more I complained.  When he saw that it was starting to look like actual bread dough, he got a little excited; but I only knew he was excited because he said so.  His non-enthusiastic, monotone voice certainly didn’t give it away:

“It’s… star… ting… to… look… like… bread… dough.  I’m… excited.”

“Yeah, well, that’s ’cause you’re not doing all this darned mixing.”

He ignored my indignation and continued sieving. After sieving about two cups of flour into the bowel, the gooey mixture turned into cement for real; and my impatience turned into complete annoyance. I wanted nothing more than to get the torture over with, so when he wasn’t looking, I quickly dumped the rest of the flour in the bowel.

Big mistake! It was now too hard to stir with the spoon, so I tossed the spoon aside and started mixing the cement with my hands.

This was not going well at all now. I knew it was over and I was ready to throw in the towel. There would be no potato bread magically appearing out of the mess I stirred up. I threw in the towel and went straight to plan number two: I called his dad and asked him to bring home some fresh baked bread, cake or ANYTHING that could be taken to the banquet in place of potato bread.

My son refused to give up though. Somehow he still was able to see visions of a perfectly baked potato bread; and before I ended the call with his dad, he grabbed the phone and placed his order for more yeast for the second loaf he was going to attempt on his own. I had already told him I was done. Not only did neither of us know what we were doing, it was too late to even think of starting a second loaf.

“But… one… loaf… won’t… be… enough” he whined.

As usual, his dad obliged and brought home everything each of us had asked for. Yeast for the second loaf of potato bread and a chocolate cake as backup. Now totally beat, I woefully retired to my room, leaving him to tackle the second loaf on his own.

I awoke Tuesday morning and, to my surprise, there sitting on the kitchen counter covered with a pink napkin was my son’s completed masterpiece. I felt pride and shame all at once. I was proud that he followed through with his plan to bake bread for his school banquet but also ashamed of myself for giving up on something that meant so much to him.

I then peeled back the napkin to get a look at his bread and OMG! Whatever this thing was sitting atop my counter didn’t survive the night.

I then glanced over at the backup plan and I noticed a big chuck had been sliced out of it.

I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry when I first got sight of his potato bread; but I did laugh at damage he did to the chocolate cake. But my joy was short lived once I realized this must mean he still intends to take the bread to the banquet.

Against my advice to the contrary, he insisted he would be taking his potato bread.

“It… just… fell… in… in… the.. middle… that’s… all.  You… want… to… taste it?”

“Uh, no thank you.” I shot back without considering his feelings.

I’m such a terrible mother! But I was shocked that he would so willingly risk my health after all my effort on his behalf. After all, I did try to help him bake bread knowing from the start it would be a complete disaster.

I didn’t press the issue that he not take the bread to the banquet because, like I said, I never force him to take my advice.  But in this case, I had to reconsider my parenting style. I could not risk having my child subjected to ridicule throughout his final two years of high school. He might not have emotionally survived the humiliation that was sure to follow.

When he left for school that morning, I placed his bread in the freezer uncovered hoping it would be rock hard by the time he came home from school that afternoon… That way he could decide on his own that his potato bread was not fit for consumption.

I now wish I had appreciated the time we spent together attempting to bake bread because the older my son got, the less he talked. It’s rare that he says more than two words to me.

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