My son Max eats only gray matter.  That’s what I call the colorless, conflict-less preferences of his palate.  He’s a macaroni and cheese, chicken nugget, cheeseburger hold the veggies kind of guy.  His favorite meal is breakfast – all gray matter.  There’s rarely a risk of a veggie or fruit making its way on to his plate during breakfast.  Breakfast is safe.  Breakfast is gray.

I had had an unexpectedly eventful weekend.  My best friend Annie came to visit from San Francisco and I hosted a breakfast for her and “the girls” where I served up Pina Colada Pancakes and we drank passion fruit mimosas.  I made extra for the kids.  Sofi loved it, but Max doesn’t like pineapple.pancakes-sm

“How about coconut, Max?  I’ll make you regular pancakes and you can add the toasted coconut.”

“No.”

I guess coconut is not gray enough.

Either way, Annie, Diana, Elena and I sat down to a fun breakfast where I marveled, once again, at the brilliance of my friends.  There we were – a psychiatrist, an attorney, a media planner and I – catching up and exchanging stories about our parents, our love lives, our kids and our gray!  Yes, we are at an age where the how-to’s a why’s of gray have now become meal time topics.

This was a particular concern for Annie. See Annie is one of those natural beauties for whom the usual maintenance of womanhood does not apply.  She is 5’8, thin, green-eyed and fair. She’s our own Athena with a prescription pad.  Annie has never had to worry about many of the things that consume so many women’s thoughts and wallets.  Annie rarely gets a manicure and she’s never worn Spanx.  With a simple brush of red lipstick she can transform a pair of hospital scrubs into evening wear.  She is sharp, edgy and at times severe.  You always know where you stand with a woman like Annie.  There is never any gray with her – except now – in her hair.

So after consulting three women with graduate degrees and Sofi, we booked her an appointment at a salon on Sunset and just like that we took care of the gray.

But it’s not always that simple.

I spent the rest of the weekend running errands with Sofi and Max.  We’d gone everywhere from the ballet store for tights and pointe shoes to the Apple store for a new iPad.  Still, and for the first time, I had found myself looking forward to preparing a meal.

I decided that on Sunday night I would make Mongolian Beef served over jasmine rice. I found my thoughts were consumed with getting the ingredients.  I went to two grocery stores and asked five different aproned grocery guys for hoisin sauce because apparently Miami was experiencing a critical shortage. There was an almost meditative relief in driving around and getting so many things done while my mind quietly obsessed about hoisin, soy, garlic and ginger.  Usually, I find myself emotionally checking out of a stressful situation by engaging in text messages, but I’m doing a lot less of that lately. This weekend it was the tacit mental check list of my Mongolian challenge that kept my emotions steady in the midst of everything that needed to get done.

WokMongolianBeef_141Late Sunday afternoon I made the Mongolian marinade and left the meat sitting in the sauce while I went BACK to the Apple store to see about Max’s iPad.

On that drive I got to touch base with Diana again before she left to Mexico and do some major media deals because that’s what she does.  We continued chatting about some things from the morning before, like the men in our lives and how often it seems tempting to just check out instead of staying to fight.  How sometimes we wish it could just be conflict free and easy when just then I received a text:

“Been thinking of you and wanting to talk.  Call me when you’re free.”

This was from a man for whom for years I have been his macaroni and cheese. I have been his colorless, conflict-less bit of gray always hoping that if I pretended to be easy and available, the comfort would force him to want to stay or commit.  Over the past year, I’ve pulled myself out of that gray, because it doesn’t matter how you serve it, macaroni and cheese will never be treated like a gourmet meal.

Then I got to thinking about my own tastes, my own proclivity towards gray.  After all, Max is my son.  Maybe his taste for simple easily-digestible bits comes from me.  I have to admit, for all my bravado, when it comes to relationships I’m not really one to endure too much fire or too much crunch.  I like it simple, reliable and easy. I wonder at times about how many relationships I haven’t allowed to evolve because of my own underdeveloped tastes.

I know I’ve pulled away lately from a close male friend because the intensity of our friendship sometimes makes me toss and turn at night like a hot sleep after a heavy meal.  He’s been a friend, an inspiration and a support but I admit, I don’t always know what to do with all of that – flavor.  I, like Max, want to know what I’m getting into when I get to the table and I’ve found myself running away from something that I just don’t understand like when Max picks up his fork and looks at me and demands “what is this?”

So as I took refuge in patting dry the marinated beef, prepping the steamer and cooking the rice, I thought about my brilliant friends and the risks they take.  For Annie it was getting her hair dyed for the first time and flying back to the home she and her husband made on their own on the opposite coast.  For Diana, it was leaving her son for the week to make deals and brighter future and I wondered what it would be for me.  Do I have it in me to be a risk taker…in my career, my ambitions, my emotions?

I let the question sit quietly in the back of my head as I called Sofi and Max to the dinner table.  I went ahead and poured the beef on to the plates allowing the garlic, scallion and ginger to fall without contention.  The kids started to eat while I waited on the rest of the veggies when I heard Max say,

“Wow Mami.  This is really good.”

And just like that, there was a break in the gray.