As a mother and a technical writer, I try to idiot-proof my instructions as much as possible. I try to be clear, direct, and to avoid language that’s subject to misinterpretation. My boys are proficient in teaching me that there’s an infinite number of ways to misconstrue my directions, even as they make fun of me for never overestimating their ability to screw up: “Gee, Mom, should we dump the spaghetti sauce out of the jar before we heat it up?” Never, never, assume, I think.
I went to Chicago on business for a few days, and, as I often do, I placed some casseroles in the refrigerator to thaw so that the guys would have a few easy dinner options. Each casserole was frozen in a 9 X 9 foil pan, covered in foil, with directions for reheating written in Sharpie on the foil. Atop the foil, I placed the thin plastic lids that were packaged with the foil pans. I’ve found that using the plastic lids facilitates transport, if I wind up giving a casserole to a sick friend.
I left instructions for the teenager to reheat a casserole on Scout Night, so that when his dad came home from work, they could all eat quickly and go to the meeting. The instructions were to “bake, covered, at 350 for one hour.” Simple enough? Pop the plastic cover off, place the foil-covered casserole in the oven, then go make a salad and set the table, right?
The teenager decided that “bake, covered” meant to remove the foil wrap, replace the plastic cover, and bake the assembly. My husband came home when the thing was half-baked, realized what had happened, and managed to retrieve the casserole before the plastic had melted into the casserole, poisoning dinner. Father and son then had the What Were You Thinking? conversation.
It amazes me that a kid with A’s in AP Physics and Chemistry would be so lacking in common sense and in a basic knowledge about the thermal properties of flimsy plastic versus aluminum foil. It also presents something of a challenge to me: How do I further idiot-proof my casserole instructions? And will the sick friend to whom I deliver such a casserole think I’m insulting her intelligence when she reads the directions?