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)


First Day of 5th Grade

conversations with hank


(the night before the first day of 5th grade)

Me: I think we have settled on an outfit.

Hank: What do you think, papa?

Pai: You look nice! My only criticism is I think you could loose the scarf.

Hank: (hand to his chest in shock)

Me: We built the whole outfit around the scarf.

Pai: And it is a great outfit, but I think it’s too much.

Hank: (shoulders slump, walks back into his bedroom) Okay.

Me: (follows) HOLD ON! Pause. Wait a second.


Me: Hank, what is your opinion?

Hank: I like the scarf.

Me: And what is the worst thing that could happen on the first day of school if you rock a scarf as an accessory rather than a winter necessity?



Me: Some kids may tease you.

Hank: That’s fine. That happens all the time anyway.

Pai: But I don’t like hearing that. I don’t like that kids tease you.

Me: If you don’t want to wear the scarf I support you, if you want your new scarves to be weekend wear I totally understand, but in my VAST experience of being fashion forward in school while my Midwestern American classmates followed the trends like religion I can tell you a well placed comeback is all you need.

Hank: SO I can be sassy at school?

Me: Just never with me and never to teachers.

Hank: Okay.

Me: Way back in my school days I was giving a presentation. I think I was probably 14 or 15. I was wearing an electric blue with white pipping trim, rayon, floor length 70’s disco-tastic dress with a contrarian graphic t-shirt over top, high slouchy socks, combat boots and far too much eyeliner. My presentation was on 1920’s fashion and when I had finished I opened the floor to questions and this one boy (deep annoyed sigh over 20 years later) who considered in a sport to make my every day a living hell raised his hand and asked insultingly why was I giving a presentation on fashion and had I even looked in a mirror before leaving the house.

Hank: In front of everyone?

Me: In front of everyone.

Hank: What did you do?

Me: I didn’t skip a beat and I informed him, bringing the attention back to my presentation that my skirt, although the correct length for the 1920’s conservative fashion, had far too much give and flow to be of the era since the 1920’s were either short and structure-less or long and constricting.

Hank: What happened?

Me: My teacher applauded me and gave me an A.

Hank: What about the boy? What about your colleagues?

Me: They were irrelevant. I got the A. I liked my outfit, I felt confident and I nailed my presentation. I didn’t take his insult personally because he obviously either had extremely low self-esteem or he was jealous that I was too fabulous to want or need his approval.

Hank: But you’re a writer. I’m not good at sassy things to say when I am not at home.

Me: Pro-tip: always tell the truth. Look at the facts and apply them with confidence. Let’s roll play.

Hank: What’s roll play?

Me: A fancy, more grown-up and professional way of saying pretend.

Hank: Oh.

Me: You be a loser who has some nonsense to say about your scarf and I will be you.

Hank: Okay. (clears throat) Hey, Hank? What’s up with that stupid scarf?

Me: (quarter turn so I am looking over my shoulder as if I have no time) It’s cold, it’s foggy and I walked here. (pantomime walking away)

Hank: That’s so good and that’s true! I will walk to school tomorrow.

Me: The best jokes and the best insults work because they are true.

Hank: No one is going to say anything about my scarf tomorrow because it is only Year 5 orientation and so they are all my colleagues, but on Thursday I may take papa’s advice, because all the upper class kids will be there and I will be too nervous to have to also deal with nonsense and nerves.

Me: No one ever called you dumb.

Hank: (fidgeting with his scarf) Not one day.




conversations with hank


Molly: (bursts into the bathroom) Good morning, mano (brother)!

Hank: (stepping out of the shower) Good morning, mana (sister)!

Molly: Mano, what’s that?

Hank: (drying his hair) What’s what?

Molly: (squatting down and pointing up) That?

Hank: Mana (sister), we’ve talked about this before, that is my penis.

Molly: (checking in her pants) Where’s my penis?

Hank: You don’t have a penis. You have a vagina.

Molly: Lasagna?

Hank: No, VA-GI-NA. Mano (brother) and Pai (dad) have penises and you and mama have vaginas.

Molly: (running into the living room where I am quietly enjoying my morning coffee finding this whole conversation hilarious) MAMA!

Me: Yes, my lovie?

Molly: Mama há (there is) lasagna?

Me: Yes, darling. Mama has a vagina.

Molly: Papa? Papa há (there is) lasagna?

Pai: (entering the conversation late) What are we talking about exactly?

Molly: (extremely smart and helpful) Uh, uh, uh… Mano e Pai (brother and dad) há (there is) penis. Mama and Amália há (there is) lasagna.


Me: That is right! Well done.

Pai: Does she mean…?

Me: Absolutely.

Molly: (peeking into her pants again) Olha (look)! Lasagna!

Pai: Are we going to correct her?

Me: (sipping my coffee, chuckling) Oh yah, but not today.