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果冻奇缘

Dietary Aid Mission

“The weather has been warm, so you don’t need to pack any winter clothes,” read Susan’s e-mail. “And one other thing-do you think you could bring a plastic bottle of Welch’s grape jelly? The stores here don’t carry it, and Nicholas misses his peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.”

Nicholas is 4. He’s in Hong Kong because Susan, his mom, was offered a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to work there for six months. While this may seem like an exciting challenge for many, for Nicholas, moving to Hong Kong represented little more than a test of his ability to get his mom to recreate the familiar patterns of home. Luckily for him, the Hong Kong TV system carries Cartoon Network, and McDonald’s is ubiquitous. However, even Nicholas can’t live on Happy Meals alone; he needed another, more humble dietary reminder of home: the peanut butter and jelly sandwich.

Long before Susan left the land of the white-bread sandwich for Hong Kong, she had extended me an invitation to visit. It seemed too rare an opportunity to pass up. Susan is a born wanderer. When she provides me with her latest new home address, she always reminds me to write it in pencil. Nicholas already has a more geographically complex biography than I do; he’s lived in four different states and has learned from his mom the art of being an accomplished traveler. The two of them form a complete, if small, mobile unit. In her quest to perfect the art of traveling light, Susan left her husband behind two moves ago: too much baggage.

Despite, or perhaps because of, Nicholas’ experience in calling new places home, he insists on having an identical diet no matter where he goes. I interpret this as his desire to exercise direct control over at least one aspect of his life. Move to Asia? Nicholas complies. Say goodbye to mommy before she goes to work? Nicholas obeys. But eat something slightly new? Nicholas refuses. His kitchen-table tyranny could be construed as brattiness, but I see it as an understandable reaction to his constantly changing circumstances. Susan understands that her peripatetic lifestyle puts certain stresses on her son. She’s willing to comply with his need for just the right kind of jelly, and I was happy to help.

So off to the supermarket I went. Not being a mom myself, the wide variety of sugary glop available in the jelly aisle was a surprise. I wanted to be beneficent in my gift-giving, but had to stop to think: Is there an equation that can determine how much jelly will supply peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for six months? I decided on four big jugs. Then I filled my basket with enough other items to avoid looking like some sort of jelly addict.

The four bottles took up a fair amount of space in my luggage. I wondered if I might be breaking a customs regulation regarding the transportation of purple sugar, but by departure time I was determined to get this jelly overseas. In my mind, I was on a dietary aid mission. Customs be damned!

Susan and Nicholas met me at the airport. I was happy to see Susan and also pleased with the knowledge that I was about to become highly esteemed in Nicholas’ eyes. I waited to reveal the contents of my suitcase until we arrived at their apartment.

“I have something for you, Nicholas,” I said. “Would you like to help me get it out?”

He rummaged through my stuff. Upon seeing a plastic bottle, he grabbed it and ran out of the room.

“Mom, look what I got!” he shouted. “It’s the jelly I like! Mom, can you make me a peanut butter and jelly sandwich? Maura brought me jelly!”

He came back to where I was with bright, happy eyes, but no jelly.

“Mom’s going to make me a sandwich,” he informed me. “Do you want one?”

I declined the offer, but felt a wave of love for this boy who could be so excited by something so simple in his complicated world. I also felt grateful to Susan for providing me with the insider’s tip on how to bond with her son. But the memory I’ll cherish most came at the end of my visit, as Susan and Nicholas bid me farewell at the airport. I knelt down to give Nicholas a big hug and kiss goodbye.

“Thank you for bringing me jelly, Maura,” he said. “I’m going to invite you to my next birthday party.”

I’m not sure what city-or country-that birthday party will be in, but I’m going to try my best to be there.

  果冻奇缘

  “天气很暖和,你不用带冬天的衣服,”苏珊在电子邮件里写道。“还有一件事,你能不能给我们带一瓶威尔治牌的葡萄果冻?这里的商店没有这种牌子的果冻,尼古拉斯很想吃花生酱果冻三文治。”

  尼古拉斯今年四岁。他的妈妈苏珊得到一个千载难逢的机会,到香港工作半年。这对许多人而言可能是一个令人跃跃欲试的挑战,但是对于尼古拉斯来说,搬去香港就像一次考试,看他能否让妈妈为新居重新添上家的感觉。幸好,香港的电视也有卡通频道,麦当劳餐厅更是无所不在。可是,即使是尼古拉斯也不能光靠吃开心乐园餐过日子。他需要一些尽管微不足道,却能一解思乡之愁的食物:像花生酱果冻三文治。

  早在离开这个白面包三文治统领的国度之前,苏珊已经邀请我去香港看望她。我觉得这是个不可错过的好机会。苏珊天生就是个四海为家的人。每次她告诉我新住址的时候,总是说用铅笔记下就行了。尼古拉斯到过的地方早就比我多。他已经在国内四个州住过,并且深得妈妈的真传,领会到旅行的艺术。他和妈妈两人成为一个小而全的行动组。苏珊对于轻装上路的追求可谓彻底,连丈夫都早在两次迁居之前丢掉了:因为行李太重了。

  尼古拉斯已经习惯于把一个新地方当成家。尽管如此,也可能是正因为如此,无论在哪里,他总是坚持原来的饮食习惯。我觉得这说明他希望至少能把握住自己生活的一个方面。搬去亚洲?他顺从了。在妈妈上班前和她道别?他也照办。但是至于尝试稍微不同的食物?他不愿意了。他在饮食习惯上显得桀傲不群,可是我想,对不断改变的环境做出这样的反应是完全可以理解的。苏珊也明白四海为家的生活方式给儿子带来压力,因此她很希望能满足儿子在果冻上的小小要求,因此我也非常愿意帮忙。

  于是,我来到了超市。货架上各个品种和牌子的果冻琳琅满目,让尚未为人母的我叹为观止。我很愿意慷慨解囊,但也不得不停下来考虑:要做六个月的花生酱果冻三文治,需要多少果冻才够呢?最后我决定买四瓶。然后我还买了不少其他的东西,以免被误会为是个不可救药的嗜甜食者。

  四瓶果冻在我的行李中占据了相当一部分空间,我也不肯定它们是否被海关允许入境。但是出发时我还是决定要把果冻带上。因为我觉得此行就像一次食物援助行动,管他什么海关!

  苏珊和尼古拉斯在机场接我。我很高兴看到苏珊,也很高兴知道尼古拉斯几乎已经对我肃然起敬了。直到抵达他们的寓所,我才打开行李把礼物拿出来。

  “尼古拉斯,我给你准备了一份礼物,”我说,“你帮我拿出来好吗?”

  他从我的行李中找到了果冻,马上拿出来,跑出房间。

  “妈妈,看这是什么!”他大叫。“是我喜欢的果冻!妈妈,帮我做花生酱果冻三文治好吗?莫娜给我带来了果冻!”

  然后他跑回来,双眼闪烁着兴奋的光彩,但是手里已经没有了果冻。

  “妈妈要帮我做三文治,”他说。“你要吗?”

  我说不用,同时感觉到自己对这个男孩的深深热爱,即使身处这样复杂的世界,他仍然能够为这样简单的东西欣喜若狂。我也非常感激苏珊给了我这么一个有用的提示,帮助我和尼古拉斯迅速地亲密起来。但是最令我难忘的还是这次旅行的尾声,苏珊和尼古拉斯送我到机场。我跪下来拥抱尼古拉斯,和他吻别。

  “谢谢你给我带来果冻,莫娜,”他说。“明年我的生日派对,请你一定要来。”

  我不知道他的派对将在哪个城市,或者哪个国家举行,但是我知道,无论在哪里,我都会尽力赶过去的。

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