My kids’ school is on the other side of town. I don’t mind the drive most of the time. I infer things about their days from the occasional questions and commentary; little beams of sunlight through the silent fog. “Do you think glass is a solid, liquid, or gas?” Once we’re home we scatter: Abbott to read, Cal to build with Legos, me to put away the evidence of the day, making room for the next. Lunch boxes are unpacked – wrappers in the garbage, apple cores in food waste, ice packs back in the freezer. Cal’s milk box that rides back and forth, to and from school every day, back in the refrigerator. I sort the mail. Then I summon them to the kitchen, and we start the next phase of the day. Piano practice. Homework. Dinner preparation. Despite all my efforts to have it be otherwise, Cal resolutely sits on the counter, next to where I’m working; he does his homework beside me as I chop, steam and sauté. Abbott sits at a nearby desk. Cal sets the table; Abbott clears. We eat early on school nights– most nights at five. Sometimes we get in a walk after dinner.
Humans perpetuate rituals in the same way caterpillars make cocoons. It’s our nature. Every fall, every school grade has a picnic. Whenever these types of events come up, I have to overcome the same inertia to get myself out the door. I never want to travel across town at rush hour. Getting the boys to bed early, then settling in with a book and a glass of wine sounds infinitely better. But I love my children, as all parents do, and like all parents, I don’t want my kids to miss out on prime social time with their peers. So off we go, and we come home glad for having made the effort. I start out by taking pictures of them running in the golden light with their friends. Eventually, I warm to the social scene; going against my basic nature I touch base with most families. We parents, now familiar – it’s second grade, after all, and only a few new families – catch up on the intervening time since we last connected. We talk about our impressions of the second grade teachers – quietly, as they’re present at the picnic – and we agree, so far, so good. All of it punctuated by the background music, shrieks and peals of laughter. When the sun has finally vanished, and all that remains of the light is contained in one thin, pink, angled stripe of a cloud, we drive home again.
For the kids, these picnics don’t involve eating, beyond grabbing an errant brownie or a rice crispy treat en route to the merry go round. If it’s a potluck, they don’t like the food prepared by the other parents. If it’s a picnic in which each family brings their own food, nobody wants to stop long enough to eat. So last night I decided we would eat before we left, at 4:30, like toddlers. We ate a meal that tastes like September.
pasta with raw tomato sauce
3 cups roughly chopped ripe tomatoes, or 1 - 28 oz can of good quality crushed tomatoes, like San Marzano
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 garlic cloves, minced
½ cup chopped fresh basil leaves
salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1 pound pasta
freshly grated parmesan
Bring a large pot of salted water to boil.
Put the tomatoes, oil, salt, pepper, garlic, and basil in a broad-bottomed bowl. Mash together with a fork or potato masher.
Cook the pasta until al dente, then drain. Toss the drained pasta with the tomato sauce, divide between four plates, and top with grated Parmesan.