It seems that a lot of people have been posting recently about expectations (see Serenity Now, and Stirrup Queens). Perhaps it's Rosh Hashanah, or the beginning of the school year, or the change in seasons, but there's something about this time of year that seems to make people reevaluate what they are expecting from life, and of themselves. (I was saying just the other day to some colleagues that we in academe celebrate New Years' in September, resolutions and all.)
I'm one of those people who has always had high expectations of myself, and of the world. I was bred to it: my father, an old-world Catholic from Spain, demanded nothing less than perfection from me as a child--in my schoolwork, at the piano bench, in my ladylike behavior. I internalized expectations early, and soon I didn't need anyone expecting anything from me; I expected things from myself.
The thing about expectations is that they make you ruminate, and not always in the most productive of ways. You worry endlessly about the future, hoping that things will turn out as you've planned, and you bemoan the failures of the past to live up to those plans. You put incredible amounts of pressure on yourself, and you flog yourself when you don't perform, or when you have no control. You see other people running half marathons, and wonder why you're so damn winded after 3.5 miles. You run into former students writing books, and berate yourself for not writing one too, not producing anything but a single child since your college graduation (never mind the PhD and the creation of a new program at your place of employment). Then there are the real failures of expectation: miscarriage and later a diagnosis of secondary infertility made me distrust my body, which had pretty much always done what I'd asked it to. And then surprise ... a pregnancy when I didn't think it was possible turned everything upside down all over again. Given that I'm used to being in control, or at least making a good show of being in control, it was enough to make my head spin.
Right now I am full of expectation, all over again, both literally and figuratively. My belly button sticks out, a hood ornament on my noticeably expanding belly. Next Monday I will be 21 weeks pregnant; my ultrasound scheduled for Wednesday will count fingers and toes, measure growth, identify the baby's sex. It's taken me a long time to come to terms with having expectations this time around, because on the one hand, I'm human, and I can't help but envision a future ... but on the other hand, I know a thing or two about how the universe can thumb its nose at you. I've been speaking more these days in terms of a definite future for this child, which is a scary thing, but also a good thing, for the sake of the life in my belly. On the other hand, I'm also worried about how the program I direct will succeed without me during the six crucial weeks of the semester when I'll be less available (my timing could not have been more inconvenient, given that I will be taking "leave"--with my laptop at my side, no doubt--during the busiest and most high-pressure time of year). I've been given an ultimatum both to account for how the work will get done, and identify my replacement. It's a lot to wrap my brain and heart around. How can I live for now, for the occasional kicks and flip-flops that make me half-grin to myself in the middle of the day, without trying to predict the future, feeling like who and what I am, and what this is right now, is enough?
I'm including this recipe, because I expected it to come out better than it did. Don't get me wrong; it tasted fine (if just a little bit too sweet--I've adjusted the sugar down for you here so you don't have to make that mistake), and it was only a little more soupy than the pictures on other blogs led me to believe it would be. And it's a good way to use up tomatoes, if you, like me, have an irrational fear of canning. It was not a beautiful dish. But you know what? We ate it, and we were full. And sometimes, maybe that's enough.
3 T. olive oil
2 c. bread from a French boule, in a 1/2-inch dice, crusts removed
2 1/2 lbs. whatever good tomatoes you’ve got, cut into 1/2-inch dice
3 cloves garlic, minced (about 1 tablespoon)
1 T. sugar (or better yet, 1 1/2 to 2 t. agave nectar)
2 t. Kosher salt
1 t. freshly ground black pepper
1/2 c. thinly slivered basil leaves, lightly packed
1 c. freshly grated Parmesan cheese
Preheat the oven to 350°F. Heat olive oil in a large sauté pan over medium-high. Add the bread cubes and stir so that they are evenly coated with oil. Cook cubes, tossing frequently, until toasty on all sides, about 5 minutes.
Meanwhile, combine tomatoes, garlic, sugar, salt and pepper in a large bowl. When the bread cubes are toasted, add the tomato mixture and cook them together, stirring frequently, for 5 minutes. Remove from heat, and stir in the basil. Pour into a shallow (6 to 8 cup) baking dish and top with Parmesan cheese. Bake 35 to 40 minutes until the top is browned and the tomatoes are bubbly.