finding my kramer

It’s Memorial Day weekend. Ben is home for his end of the year vacation before summer session begins, and sleeps late. The rain has finally stopped and I can’t wait to finally get out for a long walk in the woods with the dogs. We didn’t do a lot the day before, mostly binge watched Season 5 of Seinfeld, and laughed a lot. Planned and plotted what will be the main event of today, the making of the spaghetti and meatballs. Ben’s favorite. So much a favorite that the making of this iconic Italian classic became the focus of his graduation speech three years ago, expressed in his goal to live in his own apartment and invite family and friends over for the spaghetti and meatballs he would make. I never made spaghetti and meatballs when he was growing up. I don’t know how or when it became his favorite. I bought a pound of ground beef to have just for this visit. I have to actually look up a recipe. I try to channel what I remember about the large pot of sauce with meatballs that Mary (the woman who cleaned our house when I was a kid) would make in the morning of her day with us. I can still smell the pervasive, mouth watering, aroma as it simmered all day long on the stove. I find a recipe for a simple meatball that is just breadcrumbs, herbs, and egg. I toast a few pieces of the seven grain sprouted bread in the fridge and run them through the food processor to make the breadcrumbs. I pick two leaves each of the spring fresh lemon balm, sage, mint, and basil growing just outside in the garden. Slice them into fine ribbons and take in the intoxicating scent of home grown.

I am determined that this will be the extent of my contribution, making these herbed bread crumbs for the meatballs.

As we walked along in the woods later, we talked about our favorite funny parts from the TV watching Seinfeld fest the day before.

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When we watch Seinfeld, Ben pretends he’s Kramer and I love that he identifies with this vibrant eccentric character. The thing about Kramer is that he is fully present, always in the moment with exactly who he is, intelligent, charming, attractive, and completely unpredictable, Ben stops, and shows me his best Kramer face.

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What’s not to love about this? I realize the time it has taken for me to laugh with such consistent abandon, feels like the quarter century of a throwback to the years of being a new parent living in NYC. The building we lived in was actually featured in one of the episodes we watched (the one about George becoming a hand model), and when I saw the gorgeous cast iron facade of what used to be the Hugh O’Neill department store of 6th Avenue between 20th and 21st streets, and home of our loft, staring out at me from the TV, I was immediately transported back to the first half of the 1990’s, living the life of an entrenched New Yorker with my artist husband and two young children. Imagining a future for baby Ben at the time was impossible then. But when he came down yesterday morning wearing his ‘Amherst Class of 2012’ t-shirt,

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I couldn’t help but think how bright his future has become as he has transitioned from high school to his college years at his current home of Berkshire Hills Music Academy in South Hadley MA. He is a typical college student in most ways. He wears his signs of maturity in his smiles and caring ways. He doesn’t wait for me to make him breakfast, and dazzles me with his choice of preparing his own bowl of plain yogurt and bananas. He knows how much I love it when he vacuums and he takes the job seriously, showing initiative by asking if the bag needs to be changed before he starts, and doesn’t leave a single dog hair on the floor to be seen when finished. We settle into a rhythm of working together and having quiet solo time apart. After lunch I become sous chef and guide to Ben in the preparation of the sauce. It is a collaborative affair, me doing the initial peeling and cutting of onion and garlic, Ben brandishing the chefs knife to produce a respectable mince. He opens two cans of Italian plum tomatoes and a small can of tomato paste, sautees the onion and garlic in olive oil, and squeezes the plum tomatoes through his fingers into the pot. We add some dried herbs, the tomato paste, a little water, and another splash of olive oil, set the fire on low for an all day simmer. A little later, Ben cracks one egg into the bowl containing a pound of ground beef and the herbed bread crumbs. He adds the salt, I add the pepper, and I watch him reach in with both hands and squeeze and mix until everything is well blended. He methodically forms the meatballs, some a little bigger than others, and I help him adjust to make them all about the same size. He lowers each one reverently into the simmering sauce with a spoon, the black handled functional vintage relic from my own mother’s kitchen that I covet and love, and we then settle in for our next session of Seinfeld viewing. The aroma that begins to fill the house is familiar and inviting. Ben now reverts to the young man home from college, happily ensconced in his favorite chair, letting me boil the water and prepare the spaghetti for our supper. He doesn’t move as I hand him a plate of food. We mmmmm and ahhhhh over the scrumptious melt in your mouth, ever so delicately flavored meatballs. He lets me clean up the dishes after. Hmmmm. He is very clear that he wants more spaghetti and meatballs tomorrow.

I need to take many steps back now. Suggest, and then let him take the lead in preparing the leftovers today, that he fully complete the task and clean up the dishes too. It is a big awareness for me, it is hard to back off, to let someone else do the work that I am so hard wired for that it takes binge watching of Seinfeld for me to remember where there can be irreverence and hilarity in life too. Ben is helping me find my Kramer.

I’ve no doubt Ben will continue to do all he wants to do with finesse. He won’t ever forget his Kramer. I happily envision the day when I will be sitting at the table in his apartment, eating spaghetti and meatballs, made his way.

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