I was making pizzas for dinner one night a few weeks ago, and everything was fine until I realized, after the sauce was already on the rounds of dough, that we didn’t have any mozzarella in the refrigerator. This didn’t seem like a problem; I had a bag in the freezer, and usually the individual pieces of shredded cheese (my sister and I call these “shreds”) separate pretty easily, even when frozen. So I unearthed a bag that, as it turns out, might have been in there for a very long time because those little squiggles of cheese were absolutely glued together in one impudent block of dairy solidarity. I didn’t have time to let it sit for a while, so I thought I’d put the cheese in a glass bowl and give it a few seconds in the microwave to speed things up. Yeah, I know: bad idea. What I took out of the microwave was a situation in which there were about seven stages of melt occurring, and about half of those stages registered as critical, so I worked as quickly as I could to stretch that molten mass into a thickness desirable for the purpose of my children’s dinner before it congealed into an amorphous conglomeration vaguely resembling a handful of clay thrown on a potting wheel before it’s shaped into something useful. Of course that cheese ended up in clumps and strands and globs and basically all the forms that cheese can take when it’s unappetizing, and somehow I had far less territory of sauce covered by using this ham-handed technique than I would have, had the cheese been cooperatively sprinkled on in shreds the way it was intended by the manufacturing company. I stood there staring at this monstrosity when two amazing things happened basically simultaneously: my husband plonked a cold basil and gin gimlet on the counter in front of me, and a brand-new idea came to mind (it’s possible these two things are related, but there’s no real way to know): string cheese could save the day.
Arlo loved Polly-O string cheese (he calls it “up cheese” because of its resemblance to a Doric column) for approximately four days, after which point it was anathema to him, and of course no one else will eat it, so I had almost an entire Costco-sized bag on hand. I grabbed a few and got to stringing it, using the strands to fill in the gaping saucy holes on these pizzas. I honestly wish I’d taken a picture of the finished product because what I ended up deserves to be a meme with the caption “If 2020 Were a Pizza”. As I was fumbling through this process, the clock obstinately ticking away, Liam was sitting on the sofa reading a book while the other kids were outside playing, and I said to him, “Liam, I am just having the worst time with this right now.” He didn’t look up from his book or stop twirling his hair to reply, in the sweetest, most matter-of-fact tone, “You’ll get it, Mama.”
He very rarely calls me “Mama”, but hearing that sentence at that moment actually made me catch my honest-to-god breath. I don’t know whether he has blind faith in my abilities, knew that graceful words of encouragement and reassurance were exactly what I needed in that moment, or just didn’t want to bestir himself long enough to even be bothered to know what I was doing, but it didn’t matter. Those four words were just perfect, and what do you know? The pizzas came out of the oven looking a whole lot better than when they went in, and everyone ate string cheese that night, though they didn’t know it. Turns out a little warmth, a little softening, a little forgiveness in the rigidity of form was all it took to turn a mess into something else, something achieving decency and then surpassing it completely.