The Child has a birthday, and it’s an important one: she’s an official teenager, 13. She wants teenage things for her birthday, things that signify increased age and independence. An iPhone. A debit card.
We don’t have time to throw an actual party, but I want to mark the occasion, so after school on her birthday, we drive to Wal-Mart, where my father has wired her quite a bit of cash. She’s immensely pleased by this, but even more so when I drive her and her cash to the bank, where she has an appointment to open her first checking account, and get her first debit card. She stares at the endless bank forms, staying awake by bouncing in her seat in gleeful anticipation of what is to come: A form on which she signs her name with a smiling cat next to it, and then selects a Mickey Mouse debit card to mark her newfound maturity.
The employees at the bank are so delighted that they bring her a cupcake with a candle and the entire branch sings Happy Birthday to her.
She takes her very adult bank folder out to the car and tosses it in the back seat, buckling up quickly for what she knows is the next stop: the phone store. All the way over, she talks about what types of other phones there might be that she might want. It’s going to take a while to make the decision, but in the end, the only thing that takes a while is waiting for someone to get her new iPhone out of the back of the store and activate it.
She is thrilled, and even more thrilled when a debit card bearing her name – her name! – arrives in the mail a few days later.
She activates the card and disappears into her bedroom, coming out every so often to ask my opinion on things she is considering buying. A gadget that makes your shower water look like a rainbow seems like a good idea, briefly, but she loses interest even before I talk her out of it. She’s on Amazon, which seems safe enough, and she’s delighted just to know that she can buy something all by herself. Things seem to be under control: Mom not needed.
The next day, I drive her to school, and ask if she bought anything.
Oh yes, she says proudly, I bought some antiques on eBay.
This is not the answer I am expecting, so I inquire, what sort of antiques?
Oh, a lot of things, she says. I’m going to fix them and re-sell them for a lot of money.
I ask again: What sort of things?
She can’t remember exactly what. There’s a chair, she says, but I shouldn’t worry because she was very careful and there was no shipping charge for the chair.
Great, I tell her, can I see what it is you bought on eBay?
She opens up her eBay app on her phone, and shows me: An “antique” chair in need of repairs, and a vintage accordion, listed as “for parts”, on which she’s used the Buy It Now option to lock in a $70 price.
I ask if she paid for any of this. No, she says.
I ask, did you enter your debit card number anywhere? No, she says.
Anywhere at all? I press a bit. Anywhere on the internet?
No, she says.
We have a talk about why this isn’t such a good idea: In the first place, she doesn’t really know how to fix antique accordions, I point out.
I can probably learn.
I’m sure you can, I tell her, but let me ask you: Do you know what parts you might need? What they might cost? Do you know what a working accordion of that type might sell for?
Oh, she says. She clearly can’t decide if I’m being serious or not, and truthfully, neither can I. I know there must be people who understand and can speak knowledgeably and seriously on the economics of the vintage accordion marketplace, but I am not one of them.
I tell her we need to cancel her eBay account and apologize to the sellers, but she can’t buy any accordions today or any other day. She’s not 18, so eBay is just out.
You didn’t give me any rules for internet shopping, she says. What do I do?
Neither of us is ready for this, so I make up a rule quickly: If you haven’t ever walked into their store in the mall, you have to ask me first.
She hesitates to agree to this, and it takes me a moment to realize why.
Unless it’s something for me, I tell her. In which case, you have to call grandpa first.
Okay, great! she says.
I briefly debate whether some punishment is warranted, but in the end, not having her very own for-parts accordion seems to be punishment enough.
The Child has a big project at school: Build a Rube Goldberg machine. It’s for her science class, and the teacher sends out an email to all the parents, asking us to please give up a room or some space in the garage for this project for a while. It’s a large part of the final grade for the class. Do not let your student wait until the last minute, she says. Also, the only thing mom or dad can help with is the final video, and use of any power tools that might be used in the construction.
Basically, I have to: 1) give up my garage – which is hardly a problem since the remote remains nonfunctional – and 2) not help The Child unless power tools are involved – which is also not a problem, since she will rarely consent to help from Mom, and although we own a couple of power tools, whether or not they are functional is an iffy proposition. They were, after all, previously under the care of The Departed.
She has big ideas, and starts constructing things in the garage. Boxes are moved, things are suspended with twine from the ceiling, long-forgotten k’nex come out of the attic. It seems like there is quite a bit of fun going on out there, or at least it seems like fun to me, whose childhood construction efforts began and ended with living room blanket forts.
She doesn’t seem to think so, and frequently scowls as she comes out of the garage.
I visit every so often to check on progress or suggest items she might use, but my involvement mostly consists of helping her find time to work on this, or reminding her what the schedule is, or, on one occasion, hosing a can of red latex paint off the driveway, where it accidentally spilled after proving unsuitably heavy for its assigned task. She was surprised I wasn’t angry about the paint; I was surprised she managed to spill an entire half gallon of paint and not hit anything I cared about.
On the same evening as the red paint incident, I was out to dinner, I received a text message: I FINISHED!!! It was accompanied by a video that I could not watch in the middle of the restaurant I was in – but I congratulated her and said, I can’t wait to see it when I’m home.
What she had done was rig up a simple pulley system to tip a pitcher that filled a water cup. It worked, although it struck me as a bit simple to be called a Rube Goldberg. I asked about this and was told, It can be any length. I took her word for this until another parent I know posted their child’s video up on Facebook: a lovely gadget with numerous steps involving tinkertoys, semi-professional video titles, and an audience of webkinz. The Child has worked for two weeks, nonstop, and her project looks nothing like this elegant contraption.
I panic a bit.
I question her about the project guidelines, and am told that she followed the instructions, and it can be any length – but it seems to me there must be some guiding principles to the thing that will determine a grade. She insists she got no such thing, and after much discussion and no real information, I leave having only managed to persuade her that maybe she should clean up the area around her project before making her video presentation.
She does this, then reluctantly agrees to add another step to her Rube Goldberg, just to get me off her back. After another couple of nights in the garage, she has rigged up a row of books that will topple like dominoes after being hit by a garden shovel on yet another pulley, set in motion by more book dominoes. This seems more like it – and after much more discussion on the topic, she finally locates the original project outline from the teacher. She’s astonished to discover that that her original finished project would have earned her a failing grade for two weeks’ effort, and very pleased that the current version appears to be a passing grade.
Mom gets off her back and helps her make a video, which she emails it to her teacher. After several days, all the students’ project videos are shown in class. I ask how it went.
I did a lot more than other people, she says.
But did they like it? I inquire.
Yes, it was great, but I did a lot more than other people.
She’s quite angry about this point. I ask her to describe the other projects, and she describes a couple that are very fancy – like the tinkertoy one, and another apparently involving a trebuchet built from scratch – but most of them were just a few seconds long. Nothing like what she did. Nothing like the effort she put in.
I point out that she will probably get a better grade for her project, and she gets madder still. You just don’t understand, she tells me. Never mind.
I don’t. I want her to do the work I know she is capable of, and I want her to be proud of her efforts and be proud of the good grades that come from those efforts. Instead, she’s done a much better project than many classmates apparently did, yet she’s angry about it for reasons she can’t explain.
Not to me.
Still, the following evening, I hear noises from the garage, and discover that all the kids from our street are there, helping her set up her Rube Goldberg machine so they can watch it go – again.
Although she is initially pleased at the result of her yard sale, The Child quickly realizes that she needs to find a source of income: the yard sale was a lot of work for not much money, and worse, eventually she was going to run out of stuff to sell. She starts to research.
Can I take surveys online for money? she asks.
No, I tell her.
Can I sell the photographs I take on this website?
Sure, unless you have to be 18 to do that, I say.
She grumbles and mutters. In the early part of the summer, she got training to be a lifeguard at the city pool, but even though she was allowed to take the class, and passed it, she was not old enough to work as a lifeguard, and spent her summer helping out as an unpaid volunteer at the little-kid swim class.
I say encouraging, mom-ish things, telling her she’s laying the foundation for a great summer job in the future, and eventually she’ll get paid for her efforts. She wants to get paid now. She signs up for a babysitting class, which is then canceled for lack of participants.
She attempts an allowance re-negotiation, complete with legal-looking contracts. I consider her proposals, and, realizing her allowance will decrease if I agree to them, end the discussions.Let’s talk about grades, I tell her.
I send an email to the next door neighbor, who has an at-home jewelry business. Any ideas? Please?
Can she babysit for us? I’m desperate next Saturday, she says.
I text The Child and her reply is immediate: OMG, YES!!!!!!
I plan to be home the evening of her first babysitting job, so I’ll be right next door if anything – anything at all – is needed. Or happens. Or she has questions. Or gets lonely after the little neighbor girls go to sleep.
I can do it, The Child tells me. She heads over to the neighbors’ house at the appointed time, and I watch nervously as the neighbors drive off, leaving my little girl in charge of two even littler girls.
I putter in the back yard, checking on my garden, and listening to them play in the yard next door. I hear squeals and fun and hope nobody gets hurt. After a while, I don’t hear them anymore. I go out to the mailbox – I think I might have forgotten to get the mail – and The Child is in the neighbors’ driveway, sidewalk chalking with the little girls. I ask her how it’s going.
You don’t have to be here, she tells me.
I head back inside, and after a while, make dinner. I don’t want to make anything fussy – in case I get called away to help next door – and I really, really want steak, which I can’t eat when The Child is around. I make one of my fallback recipes, a ginger-soy marinated flank steak, which is simple to make, tasty, and cooks quickly on the grill. I toss some asparagus in sesame oil and grill them alongside the steak for a light late summer meal. (The steak can also be broiled, and is super atop a bed of rice pilaf for a heartier meal.)
When dinner is done, I check in with The Child, by text, and she replies: I’m fine. I relax a bit and watch a movie, drifting off to sleep for a while. I wake up at 10, and send The Child another check-in text, but this time, she does not reply.
I try not to panic. I didn’t hear any police cars or fire engines. I turn on the porch light, just in case, and check next door, but the neighbors’ house just sits quietly, revealing nothing.
I sit on the couch, awake, and wait for The Child to return – and around midnight, she does. The neighbor delivers her to my doorstep, where she stands, beaming I did it and clutching $40.
It was so awesome, she tells me. This babysitting thing is so awesome! All you do is play with them, and feed them, and then eat and watch tv. And you get paid for it!
It’s a great gig, I tell her.
It’s easy, she says, and beams.
- ¼ cup soy sauce
- 2 Tbsp fresh ginger minced
- 1 garlic clove, minced
- 1 tsp sesame oil
- 1 Tbsp pepper
- 1½ – 2½ lb flank steak
- Mix all ingredients besides steak. Marinate overnight.
- Broil or grill steak 5 minutes per side.
- Slice 1 lb mushrooms
- Saute mushrooms in 3 tbsp butter, cayenne pepper, and juice of 1 lemon.
- Add reserved marinade and boil.
- Serve over steak with pilaf.
The Child is going on a trip. She will fly on a plane without me; she will hand her passport to a customs officer by herself. She will see Niagara Falls, someplace I have never seen, and ride the Maid of the Mist, something I have never done.
I should be happy; I will have some much-needed time to myself. I should be proud; look at my girl, growing up fast! I should be excited; she has the opportunity to see more of the world, something I have always wanted for her.
I am sure that I am all of these things, though it doesn’t feel like it when I think about it too much.
She and one other girl were invited on the trip by a friend from school, also an only child; she is going to Canada with her family for ten days at the end of the summer. Just before the trip, we have dinner with the family so we could talk about the plans for the trip. The mother of the other invited girl, is also a single mother, is also there. She talks a lot, as she usually does, about nothing in particular: there are no pauses or silent moments around her. The Child and her friends hang out in the hammock while the adults grill and marinate and slice and discuss things like allergies and food preferences and the validity of American health insurance in other countries.
I write notes and make a to-do list in a small notebook: The Child will need a suitcase and water shoes. There isn’t much for me to do: the host girl’s father has thought of every possible detail, and paid for everything. I try to think of things I should be asking, but it seems to be under control, and in any case, the constant chatter makes it hard to focus, so I don’t: I relax and watch the three girls, giggling in the hammock.
We amble through dinner, sipping lemonade and discussing the latest advances in mosquito-repulsion technology. The chatter starts to wear on me, and I find things to do to be in a different room from it, when I can: I help out in the kitchen, and then focus my attention on the host mother’s cookbook collection. She likes Cook’s Illustrated and Cook’s Country, and I find myself entranced by America’s Best Lost Recipes, a collection of vintage recipes that have been tested in a professional kitchen and tweaked if needed to provide reliable results.
I focus on the cookbooks as long as I reasonably can, but then the girls disappear into a playroom, and the four adults are left to discuss the final details. I suddenly realize The Child does not own a suitcase; she is leaving in just a few days and everything has been thought of except the most basic travel necessity. The Departed packed his stuff in her suitcase when he left, and she and I have shared a suitcase ever since, but I am taking advantage of her trip to go away for a few days, too – and I never thought to buy her a new suitcase.
No suitcase. Not ready.
I remind myself that, like the babysitting, she is more ready than I realize. She is among friends and clearly well cared for. She will be gone for ten days, and will come home glowing with stories and memories.
A day or two before she leaves, I get a copy of America’s Best Lost Recipes from the library, and make her a special breakfast: Waukau, a berry pancake that is partly fried and partly baked, kind of like the pancake version of a frittata. It sounded really good, and not hard.
The recipe called for what seemed like a lot of sugar, so I reduced the amount, but the end result was still a bit too sweet for our taste. The pancake itself had a nice crispy bottom, and a crispy-sweet top from the sugar, with the all the berries resulting in a soft middle. The pancake base has very little flavoring and no sugar, so the whole dish is really about the topping.
Neither of us really liked it, though we both had ideas about what would make it better: Less sweet and more tart. I thought a strawberry-rhubarb mix with cinnamon sugar would cut the sweetness, or even just something more tart that the blueberries I used.
Or maybe just less sugar.
My Waukau also did not spread out to fill the pan as the recipe indicated, though it still puffed up nicely. This may have been my fault, since my pan is slightly larger than the 12-inch size called for in the recipe.
It wasn’t what we expected, and The Child didn’t eat much of hers.
- 1 cup all-purpose flour
- ½ tsp salt
- 1 cup milk
- 1 large egg
- ½ tsp vanilla
- 4 tbsp unsalted butter
- 2 cups fresh berries
- ½ cup sugar
- Adjust an oven rack to the lower-middle position and heat the oven to 375 degrees. Whisk the flour and salt in a medium bowl. Whisk the milk, egg, and vanilla in a small bowl. Make a well in the center of the flour mixture and pour the milk mixture in. Whisk until combined; a few small lumps may remain.
- Melt the butter in a 12-inch ovenproof skillet over medium heat. Pour the batter into the center of the skillet and let it level itself. Scatter berries over the batter, leaving a 1-inch border around the edges. Sprinkle the sugar over the berries, again avoiding the 1-inch border.
- Bake until the edges are puffed and deep golden brown, 50-60 minutes. Transfer to a serving plate and serve immediately.
I deliver The Child to her friend’s family the day before she is to fly away with them: First to Buffalo, then a drive to Niagara Falls, and then up to Canada. She spends the night at her friend’s, and she is giddy with excitement over it all. A trip with her friends, on a plane!
She texts me the next morning at 4am: We’re going to the airport!!!!
Have fun! I text back. I love you!!
Love you too!!!! comes the reply.
I go back to sleep, and a few hours later, go to work. I check the airline website a few times, but her flight seems to be fine.
That evening, The Child calls. It’s 9pm where I am and midnight in upstate New York, where she is. She’s been traveling since 4am.
She whispers into the phone to me: I’m scared, I’m scared. Her voice cracks; she tries not to cry.
I’m wondering why nobody else is there to comfort her in person, or why they are all still awake.
Where are you? I ask.
In the hallway at the hotel.
Who is with you? I want to know.
Nobody. Everybody is asleep, but I couldn’t sleep, so I went in the hallway so I wouldn’t wake anybody up.
My fingers are cold and stiff and long to touch her.
I’m scared, Mommy. I miss you.
She’s crying now, and alone, in a hallway in a hotel. I am Mommy again, not Mom or Mother: she needs me, but I cannot get to her. I cannot get to her and my skin crawls with helplessness.
I wonder how she left the hotel room unnoticed and unsupervised, and remind myself that it is okay, the family has done nothing wrong, it’s not like The Child hasn’t snuck away from me once or twice. Except that I noticed when it happened, like I’m noticing now – and they are asleep, on the other side of a hotel door, on the other side of the country, where my little girl is and where I cannot help her.
I persuade her to go back into the room. Do you have your bunny? I ask, but then I realize she has probably left him behind, this stuffed purple rabbit that has comforted her since she was a baby – because she’s not a baby anymore. Her bunny is on her bed, so I take a picture of it and text it to her. Here is bunny to keep you company, I tell her. Please stay in the room.
I walk around the house and take pictures of all the pets and text those too. She doesn’t reply for a while, and then apologizes: The hotel has slow wifi. A little later she texts me a heart, and then eventually, a smile.
The next day, I send The Child a text, but receive no reply. I know she is headed out for Niagara Falls, and a few hours later, a picture appears on the host father’s Facebook page. The Child seems happy and wet on The Maid of the Mist. She was just tired the night before, and all is well now.
That evening, The Child calls me on Skype. The computer in the cabin is set up in the living room, so as she talks, people are walking around her; her friends pop in to coo when I hold up The Siamese for The Child to see, so she doesn’t feel so far away. She’s visibly happy and relieved to see me, as I am to see her. She tells me about the present she bought me, at a cow-themed store: A Doctor Moo t-shirt.
Cool! I tell her. What did you get?
Oh nothing, but I knew you would like the Doctor Moo shirt, she says.
She brought her babysitting money with her, along with some birthday money she saved, and all she can think to buy is something for me.
The few days, they go visiting around the family’s cabin, and swim in the lake there. The Child looks tired when I talk with her on Skype, and happy, or maybe relieved, to see me.
A few days into the trip, I notice the host father seems to have stopped posting pictures on Facebook. This is disappointing, since I am going out of town for a few days and won’t have access to Skype. I tell The Child she can call me if she needs to or wants to.
The father calls me one evening. He leaves the house and goes to sit in his car so we can speak privately. The Child is being difficult, he says, and he would like my advice in managing it. She’s arguing about things, and going off by herself, he says – but not in a safe way. She takes the paddle boat and goes off where she’s been told not to. She refuses to wear her life vest one day, or to go somewhere with the group another day. She argues and snaps and storms out of the room sometimes.
What I want to say is, send her home, but although everything seems to have been planned to the last detail, there is no escape plan.
Instead I say she’s exhausted and make suggestions: she doesn’t handle the unexpected well, I suggest, so it really helps to prepare her for what’s coming next. Tell her ahead of time, and then issue regular time warnings as you get ready to leave. The more tired she is, I tell him, the more she needs help with this.
It worked in third grade. It worked when I was still Mommy.
I receive many such calls over the next few days, and when I talk to her, I ask what’s going on. The conversations are not private, though. They are always on Skype, in the living room, where everyone else seems to be. She has a headset on, so they can’t hear me and I ask her questions. But all she says is: This isn’t how I thought it would be. This isn’t really fun.
She glances at people around her as they walk by, to let me know she cannot say what she wants to.
I get texts from her, sometimes happy sounding: we’re at a waterfall, it’s beautiful! But when I talk to her later and ask how she’s doing, she only says, it’s okay, but I’m not really having fun.
I try to coach her to put a smile on her face: She’s there as a guest, all expenses paid – and clearly her presence and her misery is ruining everyone’s trip. Make the most of it, I tell her. Maybe it’s not what you expected, but try to enjoy it anyway. You’re doing fun things, right? Try to enjoy them.
She can’t seem to find either her sense of fun, or the words to tell me what is wrong.
The trip home was narrated to me by the host father via text messages sent at stopping points on a journey not unlike a death march. He is less tactful now, more openly irritated: She did not have a good day.
I feel guilty – I am the mother of the rude guest – but an increasing sense of relief as the plane’s scheduled landing time approaches. She is coming home; she got through it; she will be safe.
She is thrilled to see me at the baggage claim. She walks into the area with the host mother; the other two girls walk ahead and are being silly with each other. I exchange pleasantries with the host parents, and thank them, and everything feels like all’s well that ends well.
The Child and I head home, finally, in the car, and I ask her, What went wrong?
She says first, I really missed you.
I missed you too, I tell her, but you’ve been away from me before and you were okay.
She says again, it’s not how I thought it would be. It’s not what I expected.
I struggle to understand, she struggles to explain.
Finally she says: I kept thinking that the other guest girl wanted to be the host girl’s only friend.
If you thought that, I say, then you are right – she did.
And then, in the car, in the dark, it all tumbles out: How for two days in the lake, if she wanted to swim, the other two girls were suddenly tired of swimming, and when she came out of the lake and got dried off, suddenly they wanted to swim again. She got cold, but it was important that windows stay open. She wanted to go outside, but everyone else wanted to read.
It felt like it was on purpose, she says, uncertainly.
It was, I told her.
Then it comes out, furiously, angrily: Once I sneezed because of spices, and the other girl started sneezing really loud a minute later. She had a terrible sneezing problem with spices, all of a sudden. Another time, The Child tripped and stubbed a toe and had to hop around, and the other girl tripped five minutes later and wrenched her ankle agonizingly.
Did any adults notice any of this? I ask.
Of course they did. Everyone paid attention when she had an accident or something.
It wasn’t what I meant, but the answer was clear enough: They didn’t see The Child leave the hotel room, or anything that followed for 10 days.
The Child gets braces, and we immediately discover two things: 1) braces hurt, and 2) now there’s even less that she can eat. She mostly doesn’t mind – half the foods on the restricted list are things she didn’t eat anyway – but she misses popcorn as soon as she hears it will be banned, even before the braces go on.
I’m sympathetic, and vow that I will henceforth produce soft, bland, vegetarian food that The Child will love.
Also, I’m lucky – at least as far as cookbooks are concerned – and had recently received a review copy of The Mac + Cheese Cookbook, an assortment of, well, Macaroni & Cheese recipes.
So, the day after the braces were attached to The Child’s teeth, I settled on Gilroy Garlic Mac & Cheese, since it didn’t involve any meat nor any really radical changes to the Mac & Cheese concept. Mild gouda cheese sauce with a bit of Romano and a ton of garlic for flavor. It was pretty straightforward to make, although it did seem to involve a significant number of pans.
All the recipes in the book are made using a base white sauce, then adding cheese and other ingredients as directed. The resulting dish can then be cooked on the stovetop until done, or, if you like a nice crunchy topping like I do, you can toss it in the oven for 10-15 minutes. Either way, if you have anyone in the house, they will hover around the kitchen and ask helpful questions like, when will it be done? soon?
When it came out of the oven, I passed out forks to The Child and her friend, and although The Child and I immediately started sampling, straight from the pan, and immediately loved it, her friend did not, and stepped back a bit.
Do you want your own plate? I asked her.
Oh, no thank you, she said. She handed me her fork. It’s just that … I’m vegan.
I could have sworn I’ve served this child pizza at this very table.
How long? I inquire.
Since a month ago, she says.
Got it, I say. This would have been helpful information to have had before she came over, but as it happens, we are all headed to a potluck: a lucky potluck, this time anyway.
Later, I let The Child know that she’s welcome to be vegan, but not while I’m cooking dinner. No problem, she says: Like I’d ever give up cheese.
I loved this recipe and we’ve made it a couple of times since, but I have one complaint about the cookbook (which I note, does include a recipe for Vegan Mac & Cheese, should The Child’s friend visit again): Nearly every recipe calls for two cups of “Mac Sauce”, but the base “Mac Sauce” recipe makes three cups. I imagine I could adjust the recipe accordingly, but it strikes me that the authors could have too. You can actually go ahead and use all three cups in this recipe, but it results in a much milder Mac & Cheese that kind of defeats the point of throwing in all that garlic in the first place.
- 3 cups whole milk
- ½ cup unsalted butter
- ½ cup all-purpose flour
- 2 teaspoons kosher salt
- 4 large cloves garlic, minced
- 3 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
- ½ pound dried elbow pasta
- 2 cups Mac Sauce (see recipe)
- 1½ cups grated Gouda
- ½ cup grated Pecorino Romano cheese
- In a pot over medium heat, heat the milk until it just starts to bubble, but is not boiling, 3 to 4 minutes. Remove from heat.
- In a separate, heavy-bottomed pot, heat the butter over medium heat until just melted. Add the flour; whisk constantly until the mixture turns light brown, about 3 minutes. Remove from heat.
- Slowly pour the warm milk, about 1 cup at a time, into the butter-flour mixture, whisking constantly. It will get very thick at first, then thin as you add the full 3 cups.
- Set the pot back over medium-high heat, and continue to whisk constantly. In the next 2 to 3 minutes, the sauce should come together and become silky and thick. Dip a metal spoon into the sauce. If the sauce coats the spoon and doesn’t slide off like milk, you’ll know it’s ready. You should be able to run your finger along the spoon and have the impression remain. Add the salt. Use the sauce immediately, or store it in the fridge for a day or two. (It will thicken in the refrigerator and may need a little more milk to thin it.)
- In a small bowl, mash together the garlic and butter to form a compound butter.
- Cook the pasta in salted boiling water until a little less than al dente. Drain, rinse and drain the pasta again.
- In a large, heavy-bottomed pot, combine the sauce, both cheeses and the garlic butter. Cook over medium heat, stir until the cheese is barely melted, about 3 minutes. Slowly stir in the cooked pasta and cook, stirring continuously, until the dish is nice and hot, 5 more minutes. Spoon into bowls and serve hot. If you like your Mac & Cheese baked, top with breadcrumbs and bake at 400F for 15 minutes.
One Tuesday in early December, I get a text message. I don’t know the phone number, but it’s local, from the Stepmother of one of The Child’s friends. Hi, she says, I need to talk with you about my Girl’s birthday party. I’m thinking about a swimming party at the y. Please call me. She gives a date that is a couple of weeks off, and a couple of days before Christmas. I check the calendar and since we’ve canceled most of our plans, there’s nothing on the calendar for that night. So I reply, That date is fine. Thanks much.
I’m surprised to hear from The Stepmother. When I invited Birthday Girl to The Child’s birthday party several months ago, I emailed The Stepmother, and received no reply. When I told The Child, she said, oh, she’s not the stepmother anymore. They got a divorce.
That explained the lack of reply then, but not hosting a birthday party now. I chalk it up to communication misfires and a stressed situation.
The Stepmother calls me a few hours later. Do I know of a Y where she could host a party that night?
I suggest perhaps the Y not far from the elementary school The Child and Birthday Girl attended together. We’ve been to a party there, I tell her.
Please call them and schedule a party. If there is a deposit, I will pay you back, she tells me.
I suggest that she should call the Y, and tell her where it’s located. They will be able to tell you, or suggest another place, I say.
The Stepmother starts crying. She seems to be very upset and confused, and says, she just wants this to happen for The Birthday Girl. That Girl can’t lose another mother, she says, referring to The Birthday Girl’s late mother – I have to do this for my girl. She’s sobbing. She’s calling me from a break at work, she says, and it’s hard for her to make phone calls there.
I’m confused. I’m happy to provide information, of course, but I assumed that she would make any needed phone calls. I actually thought I was RSVP-ing to a party.
But she seems to need help organizing things, so I say, okay, I’ll call the Y and let you know what they say.
She’s very grateful, she sobs. Thank you. Thank you.
She texts me again shortly after we hang up: Awesome LADY IN OUR LIVES, THANK YOU SO MUCH.