What I Taught My Children

What raising kids, falling in love and boiling an egg have in common

Photograph by Getty Images/Flickr RM

1. How to raise kids

I was lying awake and worrying, staring at the ceiling in the dark and trying to remember. I was running through the litany of life skills my kids possessed and those, I was coming to realize, that they did not.

I was wondering if I taught my boys how to boil an egg.

I was thinking about what we learn and what becomes obsolete, the way we learn and the timing of our lessons, the risk of shortchanging details where they’re needed and inadvertently passing along half-truths. Although you could say I’ve already raised my kids (one is 20 and the other is 21), I’m asking myself: If I missed something as basic as boiling an egg, what else did I forget?

Naturally, it's not so simple.

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Sure, we enjoyed fried eggs and scrambled eggs and both my kids are handy with a skillet. But boiled eggs? There’s the 8-minute egg that’s generally acceptable and the elegant 3-minute egg that’s ubiquitous in Europe. There are poached eggs (which I adore) but I can’t cook them worth a damn and so, I deprived my sons of knowing their pleasure.

2. How to fish

May I cut away briefly to something of a fish story?

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I’m recalling an incident at the kitchen table a few years ago. I had invited a friend to talk to my younger son about a specific university program. He answered questions and I was pleased to listen to the give and take as the conversation progressed.

But the questions were increasingly detailed, and the friend remarked: “I’ll point you to some sources, but do the research yourself. I can give you the fish or I can teach you to fish.”

My kid looked puzzled. He was utterly unfamiliar with the expression. As for me, I was shocked. Had I really raised him without communicating this essential message — that to provide the tools for discovery is superior to stocking the mind with facts?

I was suddenly concerned. What else didn’t he know?

3. How to fall in love

When it comes to falling in love, you can’t give me the fish or teach me to fish. Oh, I suppose you could outfit me with the proper tackle, the lures, the lines. But don’t we all learn to fall in love more or less the same way — blindly, stupidly, reluctantly, painfully, shamelessly, triumphantly … and by trial and error?

I learned about love by picking poorly, yearning soulfully, waiting to be plucked from among the naïve hopefuls and knowing my share of disappointments. I erected walls and knocked them down. I retreated when wounded and ventured out when healed.

With experience, I examined my approach and adjusted expectations. I examined expectations and … you got it, adjusted my approach. I assumed that one day I’d get the hang of it as I came to understand that falling in love is easy, sustaining love is hard and there’s no guarantee for how any of it will turn out.

So I set aside instructions in favor of giving myself to the “doing” of it — this oddly elevating and humbling business of love — switching an ingredient here for a tweak in timing there.

4. How to be proficient


I’ve got that down. But I still can’t manage the soft boiled egg, with its marvelous liquid yolk. It’s the same story when it comes to the poached egg, which, incidentally, my mid-century mother could cook to perfection.

I suppose my experience with eggs is like falling in love and raising children. You think “This isn’t so hard” and then you learn otherwise — aware of partial visibility and guesswork, ignorant of the state of the egg’s golden center, reliant on environment and timing but you don’t know how much — while slowly, surely, you improve with practice.

So how do we become proficient at something as simple as preparing an egg, or parenting a child, or falling in love? How do we arrive at the right combination of simmering, time on high heat, observation and intuition? Doesn’t the egg have to cooperate, at least a little? Doesn’t it have to be a “good” egg?

5. How to boil an egg

Remember: Hard-boiled eggs are less challenging than other variations, but you trade off ease for delicacy and the fluid interior.

In case you’re curious, here’s how to boil an egg.

Place your eggs in a saucepan, fully covered in cold water. Bring them to a boil. Leave them at a full boil for 2 to 3 minutes. Turn down the heat and continue to boil the eggs another 7 or 8 minutes. Then dump out the hot water and run cold water over the eggs for 5 minutes.

Pop them in the fridge and when they’re cooled, enjoy.


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