I’ve been really distracted the past two weeks. We have been moving towards the date of our ‘hearing’ to determine what the best path of Ben’s education for the next three years will be. It is a process that has arisen out of unresolved conflict and no one is happy about the committment of time and resources that must go into following this path that puts ‘us’ against the community that serves so many so well. Keeping clear focus on the vision of being able to give Ben the opportunity to learn what he needs to learn to be a contributing member of his own community some day is the challenge and has taken every bit of available energy to maintain. So staying nourished during this process has been as important as ever. I devote extra time to my yoga practice and I dive into the joy of engaging with all the beautiful colors and textures of this fall’s harvest. A simple vegetable curry of sautéed onions, garlic, fresh ginger, leeks, green beans, carrots, zucchini, butternut squash cubes, broccoli and tofu mixed with a can of coconut milk, Thai Kitchen prepared red curry to taste and a squeeze of lime juice, all served over fluffy jasmine rice. There is the yummy vegan and gluten free lasagna made with layers of thick brown rice noodles, a homemade sauce of olive oil, garlic, onions, mushrooms, chopped plum tomatoes, water, and tomato paste, thinly sliced discs of butternut squash, zucchini and beets, and chopped lacinato kale which reminds me of how much I simply love food, and how much I have always celebrated my connection to the nourishing and pleasurable qualities of food, and how important it is for me to be in this space as much as possible during these challenging days….
And then for lunch one day an adaptation of a recipe found in a book I find on my shelf with the title “This Can’t Be Tofu” by Deborah Madison called ‘Tofu and Mushrooms Braised in a Sweet-and-Sour Sauce’ calls to me. I scan the ingredients and realize I have most everything on hand and can improvise with the rest easily. My friend Betsy is coming for lunch and I am excited about sharing this with her. Betsy is one of my first friends when moving to this community over 14 years ago. And she also has a son with Down Syndrome named Ben! I don’t think it is any coincidence that when we found our house to settle in a year after arriving, that it would be on the same street with Betsy and her family. For years it was ‘big Ben’ and ‘little Ben’, smile. We have shared so much over these years and though our sons are separated in age and in different places in their lives, the bond we all share is strong and true. While I am preparing the intriguing combination of sauce ingredients of 2 tablespoons Dijon mustard, 2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce, 2 tablespoons molasses, 1 tablespoon tamari, 1 tablespoon tomato paste, 3/4 cup red wine, 2 large pressed garlic cloves, and 1/3 cup water, I think about Ben upstairs working quietly on one of his plays, and hopefully on his list of ingredients for tonight’s dinner! In an effort to provide some constructive structure to his days while we await the outcome of the hearing process, I realize we can make a whole day out of the tasks that go into planning and preparing a meal and he is excited that tonight he will be the cook and I will be his assistant!
I now prep the vegetables, 1 large onion, diced into thick 1/2 inch squares, 1 large red bell pepper and 1 large yellow bell pepper cut into large irregular pieces, 12 oz. of mushrooms (I use the baby bellas I have in the fridge), 2 Roma tomatoes, peeled and diced, 2 cups of fresh broccoli florets, and 1/4 cup chopped cilantro & parsley. I drain and cut the 16 oz. carton of firm tofu into 1-inch cubes and cook them over medium heat in some grape seed oil in my cast iron dutch oven until golden brown on both sides, season with salt & pepper and set aside. Betsy arrives as I begin to saute the onion and peppers in a few tablespoons olive oil and a sprinkle of dried thyme, then add the mushrooms and continue to cook for a few minutes until they are seared in places. By now, Betsy has put the lovely flowers she has brought in a vase and we are now ready to get into some serious catching up. I stir in the sauce, add the tofu and broccoli, turn the fire to low and cover to let cook for about 10 minutes. Ben comes down and I ask if he has decided what he is going to make for dinner and as if on cue, he unfolds the piece of paper in his hand and beams as he reads off his list to us: ‘orange chicken’ from Trader Joes, rice, and for vegetables, peppers, mushrooms and onions! Betsy and I celebrate with him his choices and share his enthusiasm for the day’s activity of preparations ahead. And I wonder at the ‘coincidence’ of vegetables being virtually the same as what we are about to eat for lunch. Did he smell what I was making for lunch and that inspired him? I feel there is significance in this flow between me and him, between lunch and dinner and perhaps beyond? Hmmmmm. Lunch btw is delicious!! A big hit. Served over a mound of brown rice, it is a light and rich sauce gracing the fresh meaty peppers and fitting for a late September afternoon…
Ben and I go shopping later for his dinner ingredients. First a trip to Trader Joes for the chicken and mushrooms which he selects and pays for himself. It is Wednesday so we stop at the farmer’s market in town and Ben picks out his onions and peppers and negotiates his wallet once again….
And then it is a fun evening in the kitchen with him. He is very clear about how he wants to cut his beloved peppers and though I need to guide him through much of the process, his enthusiasm and determination to follow through with the meal is inspiring. At the same time I am humbled by how much more he needs to learn and the vision of his path comes into view and focuses. The clarity of who he is and his capabilities couldn’t be any clearer in this moment and I feel the hope rise in me….
Less than a week later and just two days before the scheduled hearing and the conflict is resolved!! This most important leg of Ben’s journey is now, finally, decided. He will be attending ‘college’ at Berkshire Hills Music Academy in South Hadley MA for two years beginning October 22!! It is a big accomplishment, and though the path to this moment has been long and arduous, the spontaneous and unexpected nature of the resolution has left me still stunned and filled with such joy of the promise of what is in front of Ben now…..