Tuna Salad Theater

A few years ago the New York Times had a test you could take and the point was they'd be able to tell you within some impressively small mile-radius just where you were from. The battle lines were really drawn on words like water fountain, which some people ridiculously call bubblers, traffic circles known to some as roundabouts, which, if anyone has spent as much time as I have trying to navigate DC traffic circles, they'd know they couldn't possibly be called something as charming as "roundabout." Lollipops are apparently also called suckers by some strange geographic groups. And of course there's the great soda debate. When I arrived at college I had a midwestern roommate and a southern one, and it was then that I learned that the central Ohioan called all brands of bubbly beverages, sweetened or not, caffeinated or citrusy, "pop," which actually made a kind of sense to me even though it was wrong. But my North Carolinian roommate claimed it all as Coke. Even Pepsis Coke! The expectation when ordering at a restaurant was to request a "Coke" and then be asked what kind--Sprite, diet, root beer, and so on.

Absolutely ridiculous. 

And now, all these years later, I find myself baffled by a different kind of puzzle having to do with the word theater, which my husband inexplicably pronounces "THEE-der" and my son, doubly inexplicably, pronounces "the-AY-der." My husband was born in St. Louis and grew up in Providence and his parents pronounce the word theater as I do, which is to say, correctly. And my son was born in Brooklyn and is growing up in Washington DCSo you can see why it's all very confusing to me since he says basically every single other word as I do. This is not, as some mispronunciations are, an issue of a speech impediment or childlike pronunciation, with which I am familiar.

My seven-year-old does a wonderful thing with her R's. At first she couldn't say them at all really, and they came out as W's, which I know is common. Her R's then transitioned briefly to a kind of Hebrew "resh" sound, and now there's something else happening, a kind of folding in of the sound, which is the only way I can really put it, and I absolutely love it because it's like her own sound, her own language, which is not the same thing as an inexplicable mispronunciation. And I know that some day she will be taught to fix this, and that some parents might already have gotten it taken care of, but we haven't yet seen a need. It's not that we are encouraging childish mispronunciations--except when we are, as is the case in our home with blueberries (bupahdees) and cucumbers (cucaboos and cumayas, both), because there is something so utterly charming to parents about the ways in which our children hear words, bring them into their heads and then back out of their mouths with different sounds, and in this case I simply cannot let go of the two-year-old pronunciations. But we're also not telling our children they're wrong, even in the case of the mysterious theater, because, it seems to me, as a parent I spend so very much of my time correcting, either gently, or not-so-gently

And maybe it would be nicer to think of all of this correcting as guiding. Is it not, after all, our job as parents to guide these little beings we created? To mold them in the image we believe is best, the one that will lead them to live lives of goodness and meaning and service, to help them to be good citizens, mensches in their communities, and maybe even to pronounce words correctly, or at least within the New York Times realm of their regional dialects?
This was easier when all we were trying to teach our children was to not eat bandaids found in the playground sandbox, or not to bite other kids when they're taking too long with the play-doh. But now that my children are older--old enough, even, to notice the very many ways and styles in which other families other parents - are doing it, are raising their children, guiding them, correcting them--this has become infinitely harder because not only are we still eking out this path for them, sometimes (okay, most of the time) as we go along and as they age, we are now also eking it out while being asked WHY we are doing it the way we are, as opposed to, say, the ways other families are, and we are being asked this by our five-, seven-, and nineyear olds whose intellectual sophistication seems to fluctuate by the minute. So my husband and I are trying to teach our children that, for now, they have no choice but to do the things the way our family does them because we think our ways are best, while at the same time attempting diplomacy on the part of their friends' families' ways, which has led me to be the kind of desperately unlikable person who says things like "well, in our family we only have one dessert after lunch and that's just the way it is."

So yes, for those of us who aren't struggling to meet our childrens' most basic physical needs, who are downright lucky enough to be able to spend time thinking about all of this stuff, there are different ways to do it, to love children and give them the platform they need to become all the things we hope for them. Heck, there are different ways to do this within a family according to each child's needs and personality! And we're all just stumbling along, hoping what we want for them is right, praying that the path we're laying for them will guide them there and that they'll learn how to continue on it someday without us. There is no one right way.
Except, obviously, when it comes to pronouncing the word theater. All of which, of course, brings me to tuna salad.
There are many ways to make tuna salad. Many of them are passable, and some of them are even quite good, but there is actually only one fully right way to make it, which is the way my mother made it, and all of the other ways are just inferior. No judgment here, just truth.

To make the right kind of tuna salad first you have to buy cans of tuna in water. Bumblebee is best because that's what my mom always bought. You have to squeeze out the excess water before dumping the fish into a bowl. This step is kind of gross but absolutely can't be avoided. Next you have to chop celery into small pieces. Not too small, though. Half an arch should do, and if you don't know what I mean about that I'm sorry. The celery goes in the bowl with the tuna. Now add the juice of a lemon, or two, depending on the size and juiciness of the lemon, as well as so very much mayonnaise (Hellman's is best here) you have to close your eyes while you're spooning it or squeezing it in. Then comes salt and pepper--more grinds of pepper than you think you need. Mix it all really well and taste it and see if you need more mayo. You do.

Keep it in a sealed container in the fridge and use it for a tuna melt on a bagel. When it's Passover, eat it on matzah.  When it's not Passover, eat it on everything else, like toast or pita chips or tortilla chips or crackers.
You'll probably make it again soon.
Sometimes it's okay for there to be just one right way to do things.
Sometimes it's easier that way. 


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