As season 3's winner of Food Network's hit competition series, Worst Cooks in America, Kelli Kirkland happily gave up her worst cook title. Always preferring school and books to pots and pans, the UCLA graduate credits her Nana for seeing her cooking potential. Now a mother herself to son Apollo, born in April 2010, Kirkland wants to carry on the family's cooking traditions and recipes—and is determined to no longer be the mom whose food goes untouched. Here, Kirkland dishes about life as a single mom in the Baby Zone.
What's your golden rule of parenting?
Relax. I grew up in a time before hand sanitizer was a reality, drinking out of rusty water fountains at public school was the norm, and a "playdate" meant the neighborhood kids and I climbed super-high trees and played in the creek for hours making up games of our own. I find myself living in a time when parents are so scared of everything and can be so obsessed with controlling an over-the-top schedule that we don't allow our kids some freedom to just enjoy being a kid. I mean safety is of course number one, but a little normal kid fun should be a close second. Remember, being a kid should be fun! They can stress out and be overscheduled when they're all grown up.
Describe the best parenting moment so far.
I had said "I love you" and "let's snuggle" to Apollo a billion times, but didn't think he understood what that meant. Then one day he said, "Mommy, up peeze," which means for me to pick him up please. And he, for no reason at all, wrapped his sweet little toddler arms around me, rested his head in the crook of my neck, patted me on the back the same way I do to him and said, "I wuv you, Mommy. Let snuggle." It was a warmth that melted my heart. One of life's simplest joys that I will treasure forever.
And the worst?
My worst parenting moment didn't actually happen to me. It happened to a friend and it changed my life and the way I will parent forever. A friend's child got hurt and both the mom and the babysitter were sitting side by side. As the child cried and extended her arms for comfort she ran into the arms of her babysitter instead of her mother. I could feel my friend's heart breaking at that moment as did mine. It's awful to be chosen last for kickball, but earth shattering to be chosen last by your child. In that moment I knew that I needed to curtail my work hours, turn my phone and email off for a few hours a day and make sure my child knew that no matter what was going on in the world, Mommy was there for him. I understand that people must work outside the home and that life gets busy, but if life gets so busy that your child is closer to someone else than they are to us then we must find a way to fix that.
Best advice you ever got?
My mom said, "sleep when the kids sleep … you can clean the house later or just let it be dirty. Sleep is nonnegotiable." She was SO right! I'm a much better mom if I nap from time to time, even if for only 20 minutes. It does me no good to have a perfect-looking house, [while being] a mean, short-tempered, grouchy mom.
What's the one thing you can't live without?
Support! It really does take a village to raise a child. I'm strong (and know I can do a lot by myself), but I'm also smart (and know that I need to ask for help sometimes).
Finish this sentence: You know you're in the Baby Zone when…
… you finally have a free, quiet, grownup moment to yourself and you find yourself joyfully shaking your body and singing your favorite new song when suddenly you realize … it's actually a song from Yo Gabba Gabba or The Fresh Beat Band. Your cool days are officially over!