Ciao'd with a tomato sandwich on squishy white bread
September has always been my touchstone for what's to come, what I hope will come, during the next year. Some people start the journey with New Year's resolutions, others with a budget for the new fiscal year.
The onset of the school year signaled the potential for reinvention, growth, and conquering what would be new and different. It was exciting. I loved the first day, the smell of chalk in the schoolroom and disinfectant in the halls, the likes of which would become increasingly mellowed as the school year ebbed and the musk of bodies skulking the halls, wet mittens, pencil shavings and molding lockers burgeoned. I loved, loved, loved college where I found myself and had a hell of a lot of fun. I don't care what people say; those years are the best years.
Later, photos of my son (names have been omitted to protect the not-so-innocent) on his first day of school ticked the passing years. They chronicle nursery school and the take-off to grammar school when I had the power to dress him as I pleased, his long blonde curls brushing the collar of his polo shirt. The brand of sneakers I preferred embraced his little feet. Except for a momentary pivot to brightly-colored soccer jerseys emblazoned with European team logos, Real Madrid and Manchester United among his favorites, he opted for khaki shorts, surf t-shirts (white) and Vans, a preference he wears to this day. As my son got older, I had to wrangle him for a first-day photo. These last few years he has downright refused me so I mentally snap the photos and file them in my memory.
This year, my son will be a senior. Five feet-eight inches tall, lanky and lean. He insists on wearing white Vans. They assume a boggy hue when he kicks ashes at beach bonfires, toes his skateboard, hikes to his posse's secret lair on Mt. Tam (I can only imagine the shenanigans), and skin boards on sports fields in the rain. He stands for God knows how long at the mirror finessing his hair and the John F. Kennedy waves therein. I am inordinately proud of this. JFK rocked the hair.
As each year passes, especially in high school, my son morphs more distinctly into a dimensional human being. His sense of humor sends me into hiccupping laughter, sometimes accompanied by tears. He has a knack for casting this spell on me even when I am cross with him. I suppose this will help diffuse marital spats later in life. His athleticism has blossomed and I am mesmerized by his litheness and acumen on the lacrosse field. I love his friends, their kinetic energy inciting a cyclone in my house fueled by silliness, vigorous opinions about sports, music, politics and girls, ravenous appetites, and sometimes, requests for my opinion. I try to be cool in the not-so-cool way of parents but I can never reach the high coolness of teenagers. Notes to those embarking on this wild ride: Do NOT comment on their music unless you write/perform/produce it. Stay AWAY from admitting that you smoke pot/weed/marijuana until they catch you in the act. They will.
This year flags the race (and it is surely a race as time will fly at the speed of light) to next September when my son leaves for college and the commencement of life on his own. It will be a stressful year as he fills out college applications and anticipates acceptances and endures rejections. It will be an exhilarating year, too. As each month passes, he will experience a sense of freedom (and a day or five of playing hooky). Graduation will be a moment of happiness and relief for him. It will be a day of pride, tears, and an impending sense of loss for me.
I read a draft of his college essay the other day. The values my husband and I strived to instill in him yet didn't know he harbored so deeply floated to the fore. "So I have to ask: is making tons of money all there is to life? Can we have a good life without loving what we do for a living? Can a person have both a job he loves and make enough money to live a good life at the same time? Can we be true to our authentic selves?" and "I think there's a morality to not taking the same path as everyone else and instead, really searching to find the thing I love doing. I believe you can learn more from experiences and connecting with others; you can benefit from learning what goes on around you as much as from what happens in the pages of a book."
Clearly, I am not as evolved as my 17-year-old. I ask myself the same questions to this day. If my son is aware enough to pose these questions now, I am confident he will remain open to the wisdom of the universe and find his true purpose. If at some point he can answer this question posed by David Brooks, "Am I living for my resume or my eulogy?" and choose the latter option, I will know that he is on track for a happy, satisfying life. If we parents were to shelve the bright and shiny yet evanescent lure of 4.0+ grades, D1 sports commitments, Ivy League (and UC for that matter) acceptances and full rides to college (though that would be nice), isn't this the triumph, the masterpiece, the grand slam, the BLESSING that we all want for our kids?
TOMATO SALAD WITH OREGANO
The end of summer may be bitter but the tomatoes are still sweet. Were you to enjoy this light and refreshing summer salad in Puglia, it would include chunks of friselle, a round, very hard bread made from semolina flour. The friselle is soaked in water and then added to the tomatoes, a humble version of Tuscany’s panzanella. It’s difficult to find friselle stateside. Substitute stale, hard country bread for it. There are many versions of cialledda. This is the version I enjoyed with my father.
Find it here.