You Can Lean A Lot Over a Spaghetti Dinner


Me: Is everyone finished with their soup?

Hank: I am! I am so excited for the masa (pasta). Did you make the sauce?

Me: Claro (of course).

Pai: (spoon feeding Molly the last of her soup) Your mama’s pasta sauce is the best.

Hank: So are her meatballs.

Me: No, meatballs tonight, I’m afraid. I love that we are cutting down on meat-eating in this house. Saving both money and…

Hank: The planet.

Me: True story.

Hank: Didn’t you eat a lot of masa (pasta) when you were a vegetarian.

Me: Soooooo much pasta, but I was lazy and used canned sauce.

Hank: That is lazy.

Me: When I first moved to Portugal I remember going to the grocery with my dictionary and after searching ever single isle working up the courage to ask where they sold the pasta sauce and, no joke, the woman at the grocery took me to the produce section handed me tomato, onion and garlic and explained rather slowly and with exaggerated gestures that I was to take these vegetables, added salt, olive oil, cook and then blend and I would have sauce.

Hank: Right.

Pai: But that wasn’t what she asked for. (dishing out Molly’s dinner)

Molly: MASSINHA!!! (cute pasta)

Me: I didn’t want a cooking class I wanted my life to be convenient like in America where I just open a jar and BAM dinner.

Pai: Ten years ago you could barely find a frozen pizza let alone jarred sauces and pre-cooked factory foods in Portugal.

Hank: Things are changing, but not at my school. The cozinheiras (cooks) at my new school make the best food. It is all fresh and so good.

Me: One of the main reasons we decided to raise you here. Did I ever tell you about the time I went to my first fancy restaurant spaghetti dinner?

Hank: Um… (taking the opportunity slurp pasta into his mouth)

Pai: This story is a classic.

Me: When we still lived in Illinois my grandmother called and informed my mother that she wanted to treat us all to DeRienzo’s for a spaghetti dinner on our upcoming Ohio visit. Now, you have to remember my Grandma Hof was super fancy. She was the town’s music teacher and the presbyterian choir director so she was fancy annnnnnnd she had a reputation for being fancy, so we wild children simply could not go to DeRienzo’s and slurp our spaghetti, not in public, no way so my mom had to give us spaghetti twirling lessons.

Hank: Oh yah! You had to learn to spin the spaghetti on a spoon.

Me: We did and we all worked very hard because my mom promised us that we could have meatballs which were as big as a softball…

Hank: What is a softball?

Me: (eyes wide in shock)

Pai: Your son is European.

Me: (deep sigh) A softball is like a baseball…

Hank: (still no clue)

Me: Only bigger (gesturing the size so he finally understands the reference).

Hank: Those were some big meatballs.

Me: You only ordered a few for the table and everyone shared and the bread was fresh and pillowy and my grandmother charmed the waitress into giving her a to-go cup full of their poppy seed salad dressing and we kids twirled our spaghetti on our spoons and tried our best to be as fancy as my Gram.

Hank: Can we go there?

Me: Absolutely, next time we’re in America and if you can twirl your spaghetti I will buy you a Shirley Temple from the bar.

Hank: What is a Shirley Temple?

Pai: It’s a mock-tail.

Hank: Ohhhh.

Me: My parents would never let me order a Shirley Temple, but when I used to go to the Golf Club with my friend, Quinn, for dinner her parents would order us both a Shirley Temple from the bar and it was just the greatest.

Pai: Seriously, at a golf club?

Me: Yup, at the Salem Country Club. You had to be a member.

Pai: Like in the movies?

Me: Exactly like in the movies.

Pai: Now, I am excited.

Me: DeRienzo’s had a separate bar from the dinning room and a backlight, clam shell, mid-century modern, Botticelli Birth of goddamn Venus phone booth annnnnnnd wooooood paneling.

Pai: Classy.

Hank: I don’t know what that is, but let’s get on a plane right now!

Me: I will invite Quinn and all your Ohio family, but you’re gonna have to learn how to twirl your spaghetti on your spoon. We Hofmeisters have a reputation to uphold.

Pai: You realize, Hank, that Italians don’t swirl their pasta on spoons before they eat it.

Hank: Then why…

Pai: The only place I ever saw people twirling their pasta on spoons was in Germany and you are ¼ German.

Hank: WHAT? (hand to his chest shocked) I’m German.

Pai: ¼ German, 1/4 British Isles and 1/2 Portuguese.

Me: My parent’s family lineages come from German and the countries that make up the UK and probably Ireland, but I’m not sure and they all settled in the Midwest as immigrants to America, so we are culturally American, but genetically European.

Hank: Riiiiiight, because you aren’t Native American. They’re the only American Americans because they are the people of the first nation.

Pai: Exactly.

Hank: So mom, you ate pasta like Germans in an Italian restaurant in America?

Me: And well, if we’re being culturally specific, DeRienzo’s serves an Americanized version of Italian food; meatballs are strictly an Italian-American thing.

Hank: (mind blown) What?!

Pai: I also never saw a meatball in Italy.

Hank: I don’t know what to do with my life now!

Me: (riots of laughter)

Pai: You’ll get over it.

Molly: (slathered in tomato sauce, oblivious, slurping up pasta strand by strand)


Molly Returns

conversations with hank


Hank: Mana, Mana, Mana, Mana! (Sister)

Molly: Hi Mano (brother)! Mama!

Me: Littlest Chicken!

Molly: (hugging my neck) I missed you.

Hank: (joinging the hug) You’re home! We’ve been waiting for you!

Molly: Yah!

Me: How was your day, MaGoo?

Molly: Yah!

Hank: I like your outfit today. You look very smart and beautiful.

Molly: Yah!

Me: When someone says a kind thing about your appearance you don’t agree with them, Amália Sofia, you thank them for the compliment.

Molly: Yah.

Me: Let’s try again.

Molly: Okay.

Hank: I like your outfit, mana (sister).

Molly: (stretching out her t-shirt for inspection) Yah!

Me: No, you would say, “thank you, I like it too!”

Molly: Yah.

Hank: Can you say, “Thank you?”

Molly: (growing board with this game) Yah.

Hank: You’re very smart, mana (sister), you will learn this lesson soon.

Molly: (toddling off) Thank you, mano.

Hank: (whisper screaming to me) SHE DID IT!!

Me: (whisper screaming back) Whoop, whoop!



Independence Day

conversations with hank


Me: (yawning) Good morning, buddy.

Hank: (making himself breakfast) Good morning, mama. (checking the clock on his phone)

Me: You have plenty of time. You don’t leave for another 40 minutes.

Hank: No, I leave in 20 minutes.

Me: Nooooooooo…

Hank: (filling his stainless steal travel mug with ice, a decaf espresso, milk and two sugar cubes) No, 20 minutes. I made plans with my friend, Clara. She and I are meeting at the school gates at 8am which is easiest for her and then we are going to the cafeteria to pay our lunch bill and then we are scouting the perfect spot to meet each morning and just relax a bit before class starts.

Me: Oh.

Hank: I’ve got everything under control, mama. Now for a little breakfast. (fetching some bacon he cooked the night before to eat with his toast)

Me: (a bit taken back, exhausted, but impressed)



Hank: Can I help you with something before I go, mama? Can I make you a coffee? Do you need me to hang some laundry?

Me: Nope. No, I’m good.

Hank: You sure?

Me: Yup, just a bit stunned. I have been waiting for this day since you were born and now it is here and I’m just… processing. I didn’t expect today to be Independence Day.

Hank: What day?

Me: Independence Day. (sigh, making myself a coffee) Don’t get me wrong, I love being your mama, but you just leveled up as a human. YOU don’t need anything… from me, your mom, right now, before school or to take you to school.  You’ve got this. Today is your parent’s Independence Day.

Hank: Mom.

Me: You got yourself up, showered, dressed, you made your own plan, your eating breakfast without being asked, your backpack is packed and you’re leaving… Independently from your parents. Independence Day!

Hank: Mom, this isn’t a big deal.

Me: Yes it is!

Hank: Noooooo, mom. (putting a lid on his travel mug) Calm down.

Me: (fist pumping the air above the coffee maker) A-chieve-ment unlocked!

Hank: Mooooooom.

Me: I have run out of gaming references for milestones.

Hank: Good, because this isn’t a big deal.

Me: I beg to differ (looking up from my coffee) but, apparently, no matter how mature and responsible you become (walking up behind him) you will always need your mama to fix your wonky collar.

Hank: (smiling) Thanks, mom.

Me: (resisting the urge to muss his perfectly coiffed hair when it was just yesterday I was picking him up from Kindergarten.)