I had the avocados. I had a couple of tomatoes, and a lime. I even had cilantro, which I’d hiked all the way back across the vast stretches of our grocery store to get—who decreed that suburban grocery stores should be the size of the Pentagon, anyway?—after I forgot it on my first foray through the produce aisle. So I was pretty sure I had everything I needed to make guacamole for the Super Bowl yesterday when, early in the afternoon, I sliced open the first avocado. Everything was going smoothly until I took a taste of the finished product.
Something wasn’t right.
I called my daughter Marcy. A year spent in Mexico made her a guacamole expert; I’ve watched her stir the stuff up practically one-handed.
“Hey!” she said, answering her phone for once.
“Hey!” I said. “Is there hot sauce in guacamole?”
“Um. There can be. If it doesn’t seem hot enough after you add the jalapeño.”
“Oh shit,” I said. “The jalapeño.” Maybe there was one in the bottom of the produce drawer? Seems to me there often is. Not this time. “I’ll have to go out and get a jalapeño,” I told Marcy.
“Well, the important thing to remember about making guacamole in that household,” Marcy said, meaning my household, the one that she grew up in, “is that you don’t add pepper.”
“Jalapeño pepper?” I asked, confused.
“No. Black pepper. Salt-and-pepper pepper. When you do, it doesn’t taste right.”
Not two minutes before, I’d pepper-milled a hearty helping of black pepper into my guacamole. Oh well.
It’s a strange feeling when you start to call your (more or less) adult children for help with stuff like guacamole. You spend the first two decades or so of their lives being the font of all wisdom; you impart how to make gravy and beds and amends. There are a few (very good) years in there where you’re essentially God-like, the supreme household being who can shoo out marauding bats, sew prom dresses and bake killer biscotti. I enjoyed those years.
Those are quickly followed by the years in which you can’t do anything, or rather, in which anything you do is the wrong thing, the incredibly stupid thing, the most humiliating thing that any parent anywhere has ever done. These are not good years. With two kids three years apart, I spent the better part of a decade being the most ignorant human being alive. It was hard. That kind of scorn makes you hyper-vigilant; I tiptoed through my days just trying my best not to be aggravating. Marcy and I managed to maintain at least a facade of mutual affection through the worst of it. But her younger brother Jake more than made up for it with his scathing contempt. I found it disconcerting when the kid I taught to parallel-park began to pick apart my parallel-parking — particularly since I’d been parallel-parking for 40 years and he’d been at it for all of six months.
Still, now that he’s hit his 20s and Marcy’s near their mid-point, I think we may be through the worst of it. When I’m around Jake’s friends, he seems less convinced I’m about to do something that will mortally embarrass him. When I told Marcy that if the snow gets too bad today, I might have to stay overnight with her in the city, she begged me to visit — “And can you bring some of the guacamole? Please?” All that “When will they ever grow up?” and then one day, you’re all adults, sitting having wine with dinner and talking about adult things. You call them when your guacamole doesn’t taste right, or when — again — you pushed something on the remote that made the TV go all loud and crazy. They talk you through it; they get to give back for all your years of giving. That’s important to them. You get to stop pretending you know everything. That’s important to me. Equilibrium is achieved (except when I’m parallel-parking). These are good years. I hope they last a while.
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