Precious Messes: What Pasta-Making and Parenting Have in Common

On the messy joys of teaching a 2-year-old to make fresh pasta
September 25, 2019 Updated: September 25, 2019

My kitchen was coated in a layer of white: flour that had somehow managed to float to every surface, including the tight curls on my 2-year-old daughter’s head. Our house was filled with the nutty smell of Alfredo sauce, and our matching rolling pins sat in the sink, each caked in a layer of hardened dough.

I was teaching my girls the art and enjoyment of real pasta.

Homemade pasta is one of my favorite foods to make. I love it because of the work; because of the earthy, rich smell; because of the way that all the folding and resting, all the time, work together to create an experience for the taste buds that can never be pulled from a box. 

Truth be told, I was going to make pasta by myself that afternoon. I had a hankering for it, one I had tried to satisfy with the premade ravioli at the grocery store, with spaghetti and meatballs on the restaurant menu, with red sauce and “zoodles” during my husband’s slow-carb diet kick. All these did was make me crave the real thing. And as much as I was craving the pasta, I was also missing the act of making it. 

Making fresh pasta
Making fresh pasta. (Shutterstock)

Made From Scratch

In the days before we had children, I put passion, time, and creativity into my weekly menu. On Sunday nights, I pored over recipe books with a glass of wine, planning elaborate meals for friends and for ourselves. 

My husband taught me to cook—when I got married, I could hardly be trusted with a toaster—and over the years, meal prep became a sacred space for us. With glasses of wine in hand, we made things like pomegranate-glazed grilled pork, roast chicken with chimichurri sauce, buttermilk fried chicken, chocolate flourless torte. We were not specialty cooks by any means, but the act and work of cooking together was a slow, enjoyable experience. 

Currently, we have two children under the age of three, which means meals these days look a little different. I have a lot less time to put into gourmet meals, and by necessity, we rely on a handful of simple, delicious staples to feed our family. The repetitive nature of our meals provides a sense of stability for our weekly routine, and ensures that we have time to eat together as a family, something that’s important to me. 

But I was missing that other part of me: the part that thrives in making good food from scratch, in putting in the amount of time needed to make a special meal.

Homemade fettucine Alfredo
Homemade fettucine Alfredo. (Shutterstock)

A Little Helper

I decided to make homemade fettuccine Alfredo. I pulled out the eggs, salt, and flour while my children seemed occupied, poured myself a glass of wine, and began making a well in my flour for the eggs. At the crack of the first egg, June, my older daughter, heard me and ran in. 

“Can I help you, Mommy?” 

Before I could answer, she pulled a chair across the kitchen, right up to the counter. She climbed up onto it, trying to keep hold of her tiny wooden rolling pin. My baby, Rosie, came crawling in the room at that moment, a smile on her face like she always has when she comes into a room to discover us, like she’s come across a national treasure. 

I set my wine glass out of reach, put Rosie in her jumper, and decided today was as good a day as any for my daughter to learn how to make homemade pasta. 

We built our flour mounds, cracked in the eggs, folded the dough into a ball. We held up hands to each other to see whose were messier. While the dough rested, she helped me melt the butter and garlic for the Alfredo sauce, and we set the table with the cloth napkins. We measured out a rectangle and rolled the dough to fill it, slicing our pasta carefully into long, dangly strips.

The afternoon was filled with interruptions, diaper changes, Cheerios, and Daniel Tiger playlists, but it was also filled with an air of celebration. June ran around the kitchen yelling, “We’re having a party!” while Rosie clapped and cheered for her. 

mother holding cute little child daughter
Find the joy in the mess. (Shutterstock)

Embracing the Mess

As we rolled, sliced, and lay noodles down on trays together, I thought about how making pasta feels like a reflection of motherhood. 

Someday, I know I’ll cook again in a clean kitchen, without stepping on toys or getting flour into every crevice, with a glass of wine I’ll be able to actually keep within reach. But, looking at my two girls—a huge smile on Rosie’s face, June trying to carefully lay slices of pasta onto a tray—I think maybe there is something meaningful in the mess of it all. 

Pasta and parenting are messy, slow progress, full of hard work and cleaning up and care. But the joy when we sat down at the table and took a bite of the pasta, when June proclaimed proudly, “Daddy, I made this!” seemed to make the mess matter. 

“There’s not enough time,” I say so often these days when I think about my creative life. Not enough time to write or cook or paint, not when there are so many urgent, practical, little demands clamoring for my immediate attention. 

I am not unproductive for lack of ideas; motherhood in itself packs my brain full of sentences, desires, and pictures. But the ideas always seem to come when my hands are uncompromisingly full, and so I must give them wings and let them go and hope they return to me when my hands are empty. 

But maybe they aren’t going anywhere. Maybe they’re still here, somewhere, in the thick of these hidden years. Maybe the words and the energy will come again when the physical work slows down, and maybe they will be richer, more seasoned, full of more perspective because of the mess and because of the work. 

And maybe I’ll find that the words, the food, and the paintings, the creative endeavors I thought meant so much, are not nearly as precious as what I raised. 

Rachael Dymski is an author, florist, and mom to two little girls. She is currently writing a novel about the German occupation of the Channel Islands and blogs on her website, RachaelDymski.com

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