Figurative candy pumpkins
In which toddlers and new staff are found to be rather similar
Before I became a parent, I had no idea how capable kids could be.
Now, I am the mother of a two and a half year old who helps me make cupcakes.
He came up with the idea, when he saw the cupcake wrappers in the Halloween decoration box. He reminded me to “get ingredients at the store!” until I finally remembered to buy each of them. When we made the cupcakes, he mixed the dry ingredients with his hands, stirred the wet ingredients with a whisk, and put the individual wrappers in the tin. And after the cupcakes cooled, he even took a stab (literally) at frosting the cupcakes and putting the candy pumpkins on top.
My kiddo was involved in every single stage of the process. And I was, too.
I looked up recipes online until I found one that was interesting yet simple enough for us. I figured out where to buy the ingredients, which ones to buy, and that we could buy cream cheese frosting instead of making it from scratch. I measured the dry ingredients before handing them to my kid to dump in the bowl, and I whisked the eggs enough for them to be broken up before I handed the task over to him to “finish up.” And, when he over-enthusiastically stuffed the candy pumpkins into a few of the bare cupcakes, I frosted around the candies and dubbed them “zombie pumpkins.”
I’m telling you all this not just because, well, kids making cupcakes with their parents is incredibly sweet, despite also being trying. No, I’m tell you this because mentoring a toddler is remarkably similar to training someone new to our paid work.
In each context, I take guesses at the Venn diagram of what my student can understand and what I can stand to be different from how I might have done it. Sometimes my guesses are right, as with how helpful it was to use store-bought frosting, and sometimes I’m wrong, as with combining the steps of frosting cupcakes with the step of topping them.
In training both toddlers and new staff, the tasks we normally do by ourselves or with experienced coworkers will take longer. The product might turn out a bit rougher around the edges, and you might need to creatively reframe some figurative candy pumpkins. And in doing these things, we experienced folks are going to have our patience challenged and our perfectionism questioned.
But along the way, we’ll make some cupcakes we wouldn’t have thought to make, and we’ll learn a bit more about what matters and what doesn’t. And in a few months or years, we’ll have folks who can do our work as—or more—capably as we could ourselves, and who, someday, can make their own way in the world.
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