Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Kids Are In School, But I'm Still Learning. (Pork Fried Rice.)

Darling Daughter and Sensational Son (“Sensational” only because “Awesome” would result in the initials AS, and other than a snarky 14-year-old, who wants that?) finally got back to school last week.  As always, certain universal lessons have already emerged:
  • The art teacher is awesome.
  • Backpacks come in only two sizes:  too large and too small.
  • Homework will never again be as manageable as it is the first day.
  • Every morning, someone (everyone) is going to forget something (if not everything) until someone (OK, me) lays down the law.
At the beginning of every school year, we hold these truths to be self-evident -- as predictable as hairbows on kindergartners and slouches on middle-schoolers.  Truly.  My kids were in school three days last week.  How many days do you suppose they forgot stuff?  Well, including all three days, the answer would be, let’s see … three.

Embarrassingly, that meant three roundtrips to school for me.

I know -- hardly the norm for "The Worst Mom Ever."  (It's official.  I earned it.  Click here for details.)  First of all, school isn’t exactly across the street. It’s four Starbucks away, for Pete’s sake.  In Manhattan, of course, that would be something less than five city blocks, but here in Charlotte, it’s about 10 miles.  In the time it takes to get to school and back, I could fit in a workout at the Y.  A good, sweaty one.

Second – and the kids know this -- I’m all about doing things right.  Nevertheless, we always struggle to get back in the groove these first few days.  I try to be patient, but I know I'm going to have to have The Talk –- the one about organization and responsibility and planning and respect for other people.  While I’m on it, I’ll likely throw a few side sermons about saving for a rainy day, being a good friend, appreciation for the many blessings (i.e., many iPods) in our lives, and the necessity of turning off lights and making beds.  But then, I'll get back on point and finish strong, promising to provide each child with a morning checklist.  And threatening seizure of iPods and cell phones should they fail to comply.

The situation is dire.   I’ve got to schedule The Talk quick, fast and in a hurry.  I need to make it clear that Mom’s Delivery Service – like so many other businesses as of late – would like to thank its customers, but is shutting its doors (FOREVER!)

Unbeknownst to DD and SS, I plan The Talk for Sunday dinner.  While they unwittingly finish up their homework, I cook, building my case by mentally re-creating Friday morning’s chaos.  I've got plenty of examples.  I recall the kids packing up their lunches, water bottles and extra food to tide them over between school and cross country practice.  I see them loading up books and binders and signed syllabus forms and medical insurance permission slips and homework assignments fresh from the laser printer – not to mention the oft-forgotten USB key.  I remember them stuffing their sports bags with shoes and running clothes and PE clothes.  I can see SS gathering his stuff for an overnight trip with his cross country team, which required him leaving straight from school. Finally, both of them packed bags to spend the weekend with their Dad.

Then it hits me:  Should I really be casting stones here?  Three times out of four, I can’t remember to take my grocery list to the store.

Yes.  DD and SS need to be more responsible and organized.  But I can cut them a few days' slack.  Under the circumstances, they're doing just fine.  I go ahead and set the table, deciding to postpone The Talk and only briefly mention that they may want to start loading their backpacks at night.

Lo and behold, Monday morning goes off without a hitch.  Or if there was one, no one was bold enough to text an S.O.S. my way.

We all need at least one part of our life to be easy and predictable.  That may be my most important job right now -- just greasing the tracks as DD and SS ease into the school year.  That, and preparing plenty of comfort food -- like the Pork Fried Rice we had this week.

Pork Fried Rice
3 cups cooked rice (brown is best), cooled
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
12 baby carrots, cut into matchstick-sized pieces
1/2 medium onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
1 teaspoon grated fresh ginger
2 cups chopped fresh pineapple

2 cups leftover (cooked) pork roast, chopped
1 tablespoon soy sauce, or more to taste
½ teaspoon kosher salt, or more to taste
generous grinding of black pepper


In a large skillet, sauté carrots and onion until slightly soft and brown.  Stir in garlic and ginger, stir frying another minute or so, or until very fragrant.  Stir in rice and pineapple.  Stir fry, gently tossing the ingredients, over high heat for another 3-5 minutes, until combined and very hot.  Stir in pork and remaining ingredients.  Heat through, adjust seasoning and serve.
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