24 January, 2008

nearly there

Things are, I hesitate to say, looking up. Blue skies all day! My best beloved slept from 11 p.m. to 10:30 a.m.! And Avery had her last important interview this afternoon. A school she's not really interested in wrote yesterday to invite her for an interview on February 5! Lord have mercy, wasn't this all meant to be over long before that? I'm not even sure she needs to go.

Tomorrow is, ta dah: the St Paul's exam for which the poor child has been preparing for a year and a half. We can only hope she remains virus-free for the next 28 hours, and continues to be her usual intrepid self. Her only wish after her interview this afternoon was to pick up her darling friend Anna, have a biscuit and go play in the Regent's Park playground where they go with their form for PE (and have to share all the desirable rides with their 25 compatriots). So since the day was fair, off we went. It's very satisfying to know that she may be serious, hardworking and growing up faster than we ever would have dreamed, but she's still awfully happy to sit on a merry-go-round with her best friend and giggle. They have a complex and ongoing game called "Shelty" in which Anna plays a Shetland pony (or puppy? I forget) and Avery her doting owner. I confess to my eyes' glazing over when she tries to fill me in on the finer points, but it was great to see them cantering along in the mud and grass.

These interviews! "Look at this painting of a lady with a letter and tell me what you see" was a very lucky draw for Avery. There are very few instances in which a mother with a PhD in art history is of any practical use whatsoever, but this was one of them! "I wonder if it might be a Vermeer," she said innocently, and although it was not, she got huge kudos for even wondering. "What is your favorite book?" was another good one, since she just finished "Rebecca" and the interviewer also loved it. They discussed character development, description and plot (good thing she wasn't faking it), and then moved on to "What can you tell us about American politics?" to which she produced the all-too-telling reply, "I've completely given up on them." Guess what she hears at home? So the lady tried again, with "What are some differences between Democrats and Republicans?" and got "Well, it's mostly to do with what section of the country you live in," revealing her New Yorker status, I'm afraid. I remember after the 2004 election, the cover of New York Magazine was black, utterly black, but for the words in white: "America to New York: Drop Dead." Anyway, I don't think Avery will win any points for her political savvy.

Then another headmistress showed her a photograph of a bird turning into ski slopes turning into leaves and flowers, and asked her to define the word "metamorphosis." Whew. And told us a funny story, too, about the system of "coaching," or "tutoring" for these exams that a lot of parents succumb to. Apparently the coaches get to be fairly well known in the school system, and like a painter with a favorite palette, they reveal their biases and inclinations and methods all too obviously. One apparently loves to equip his little charges with a list of "all-purpose adjectives," which the gulls must plug into their various essays and answers. "One year, and I wish I were joking about this, the word 'melancholy' peppered at least 20 essays and so we knew they had all studied with that one particular tutor." Avery piped up, "Well, it IS a nice word," and the head looked at her sharply and said, "But not in absolutely any situation, surely," and Avery said mildly, "Well, you can always try to say 'NOT melancholy', as well!"

Well, it's nearly over. The dinner of champions tonight? This was her request.

Spaghetti Carbonara with Mushrooms
(serves 4)

1/2 pound American (streaky) smoked bacon, diced
3 tbsps white wine
2 tbsps butter
1/2 pound mushrooms of any kind, sliced
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 1/2 cups light (single) cream
1 egg yolk, lightly beaten
fresh black pepper
4 tbsps grated parmesan cheese, plus more for sprinkling
as much spaghetti as you like, perhaps shy of a pound

In a heavy skillet, brown the bacon to your liking, pouring off the fat as you do so. When the bottom of the skillet begins to get too brown with bacon bits, remove the bacon to a dish and deglaze the skillet with the wine. Add the butter and melt, then saute the mushrooms and garlic till soft. Pour in the cream and the egg yolk and mix well over low-medium heat (depending on your cooker), then sprinkle with the pepper and the cheese. Set more cheese aside to garnish the dish. Take the skillet off the heat.

Cook the spaghetti and drain well, then toss in the skillet of sauce and turn up the heat. Toss in the bacon. Stir until thoroughly warmed and thick, a couple of minutes. Yum.


With this she asked for roasted beets with balsamic vinegar. What child ASKS for beets? I ask you. And yet will she eat a carrot? Absolutely not.

And although I left early to make Avery's interview, and the tutor was late, we had a really nice meeting of the creative writing class at Birkbeck. My goodness my classmates are talented. For various reasons my own attempt at the homework was lame by any standards this week, but Keith's story of a psychotic throat-slashing ("their throats grinned up at me" or some such incredible description) and Carol's of an alienated Ukrainian parking warden swapping his helmet for a yarmulke for shabbat... these stories were amazing. So impressive, and such nice, sympathetic people. I will really buckle down for next week's homework. I have neglected it sorely, but then there have been other things on my mind.

Ah well, beets beckon. I cannot describe to you how brave Avery has been through this long preparation, too much competition (in my humble opinion), punishing schedule and rigorous exams, plus all the faux-social chitchat of these wretched interviews. Through it all she has been positive and even sunny, focused and energetic. ONE MORE DAY! Fingers crossed. And then, heaven forfend, I may have to get a life of my own. Carol asked me today, "Are you a helicopter mother, Kristen?" "What's that?" I asked, startled. "One who hovers." Oh, probably. I asked Avery, and she said, "Well, in a GOOD way." I'm not sure there is a good way to hover, but it's worked so far and I'm too old to learn new tricks now. Maybe with grandchildren...

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