THE solution was simple but the approach was not. On the stove sat one abandoned, partly eaten pot of macaroni. On the couch lay one exhausted post-teen son staring at the television. Caught between them stood one weary mother cleaning up the kitchen. It was 10:30 p.m. I contemplated the congealed pasta, trying to phrase a question that would preserve both harmony and macaroni. Part-mother, part-helpmeet, part-roommate - searching for the right voice in a pot of leftovers.
I almost asked, ``Do you want to save the leftovers?'' but that implied that Zeff should have done it in the first place. I considered, ``Do you want any more macaroni?'' which I assumed he didn't, as it obviously had been sitting there quite a while, but I feared he might say yes and try to eat it to prove he hadn't made too much. I also feared he might say no, which would require the further question, ``Do you plan to keep the rest?'' with the suggestion that he should rouse himself, put it into a dish and wash out the pot, but he looked so tired. Of course, I could have put it away myself, but I didn't want him to assume I was there only to clean up after him.
``Will you put away the uneaten macaroni before you come upstairs?'' left the door open for postponing immediate action; his reply might be, ``In a minute,'' and then the macaroni might be there in the morning if he forgot. The thought of facing congealed macaroni before breakfast knotted my stomach. ``Please put away the macaroni now,'' risked the inevitable response, ``Why?'' ``Because I say so,'' would demean a 21-year-old's struggle toward maturity. ``Because I want the kitchen clean, now,'' would seem, from his point of view, an illogical demand. Yet, unmentioned, the probability of finding the pot untouched at 6 a.m. was 60-40 based on past experience. This would be hard on my stomach and harder on my temper. Could I risk the possibility of a ruined tomorrow?
The question, when it came at last, was simple, light in tone, suggestive but not insistent.
``Would the rest of this macaroni feel more cheerful in an icebox dish?''
I put a feather in my cap and saved the macaroni.