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Old friends become new parents

Sunday, July 14, 2002

By Suzanne Martinson, Post-Gazette Food Editor

In the 25 years we've known Kathleen and David Connelly, we never expected to find this in the basement of their house in the Finger Lakes region of New York: a tiny, blue, striped sock.

The sock snuggled beside a large white athletic sock, which formed a line with other socks of different colors, each of them missing a mate.

We've been there, Baby, we've been there. Nothing could have revealed how Kathleen and David's lives have changed better than this solitary blue baby sock: They probably don't realize that washing machines eat baby socks for breakfast. It's still early in the game for our longtime friends, but Ace and I know that about all new parents can do is contain the chaos. That, and love their baby, because that's the most important job -- no, joy -- of all.

Until our Fourth of July weekend reunion, we hadn't seen hide nor hair of them since last summer, when we took our annual couples' vacation. A year ago, it was KC and Dave, Rick and Linda, Ace and I cruising the town of Woodstock, N.Y. I can't say I was surprised when their "news" turned out to be a shadowy, in utero photo of what would become Patrick David Connelly. Shocked is a better word, though I knew they had been thinking about becoming parents.

But for 24 years?

But they were not, as KC put it three or four years ago, being "proactive."

Patrick was born Feb. 18. He weighed 8 pounds 10 ounces. He arrived a little late (much as his parents often did when they tooled toward Pittsburgh in a rented car to spend quality time with us).

They remain serendipitous people, albeit with a parent's load of extra stuff to carry. A little kid can quickly fill up a big truck.

We shared our plans for the trip to see the new parents with our daughter, Jessica, 23, until now the center of our three-family vacations. "You think it's hard for you to imagine!" Jessica snapped. "I've been an 'only child' for all these years."

So KC and David celebrated their 25th anniversary dinner with a baby carrier on the restaurant table. Inside, Patrick gurgled. He's a happy baby, and you'd gurgle, too, if you were the center of the universe as you knew it.

It gave me, now the bewildered empty nester, a little twinge to see Ace talking to Patrick as he used to talk to our baby, now grown and flown. On the other hand, we've paid our offspring's college bills and she has found work.

I don't even remember Jessica's birth announcement, but Patrick's is memorable -- a pictorial architect's "Construction Project -- Plan View" by his mother the architect, who returned to college -- Cornell -- in her 30s to learn the career she'd always coveted.

KC's back at work now, and if you didn't know, you'd think her tasteful black shoulder bag was filled with a laptop computer or architectural tools rather than a breast pump. David is home with the baby, who is bereft of hair. A trio of teen-age girls commented on it at the Fourth of July picnic.

"They said Patrick looked like Elmer Fudd," sniffed KC, who has thick, hormone-happy, shiny locks.

"More like Winston Churchill," said Dad, who has curly hair and a beard.

At 46, KC has few gray hairs; at 57, Dave has more.

Gray hair -- we know about that, too. We laughed how yesterday's hard and fast "rules" have flip-flopped. Jessica -- under penalty of the kid police -- always slept on her stomach, Patrick always on his back. He sleeps with his parents (they simply found a baby book that agreed with them), but Jessica fell asleep anywhere but there, including the floors of vacation motel rooms (with teddy bear and the blanket her grandmother knitted, she was happy). She had a pacifier, he has none. We were considered "old" parents, they are just "seasoned."

Some things don't change. We worried about two much TV ("Mister Rogers' Neighborhood" and "Sesame Street" excepted). They will worry about computer time.

But books, we've all had books. In addition to copies of some of Jessica's favorites, we passed on books passed on to us by Tom Wiley, who met the Connellys at our church's annual ski weekend. Among the old/new books, I had inadvertently thrown in an ancient "Better Homes & Gardens Baby Book, Prenatal to Six Years" that I figured we must have picked up at a garage sale.

"This is my mother's handwriting in the back -- this is MY baby book!" said Ace, who was stacking the Connellys' new books. We snatched it back from their pile.

Perhaps someday Patrick will figure out the mathematical probability that the very next day his dad would open a package from his sister in Florida and pull out David's baby book -- the Better Homes baby book identical to Ace's, though David's Irish mother was much more effusive in her praise of her firstborn newborn son than Ace's mother, who is of Norwegian descent.

And Patrick's baby book? Every feeding logged? Every burp chronicled? Will every tooth be recorded? Hardly.

"I'm one-fourth Danish," KC explained.

"The other parts?" I asked.


Working mother guilt, we'll always have that. However, while Jessica got only a spaghetti pot when she left home, Patrick will probably get a drawing of his dream house.

Spaghetti Pie

We froze this "comfort food" pie to take to the new parents in New York. Serve with a good bread and salad and drink to the health of the baby.

  • 6 ounces spaghetti
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 2 well-beaten eggs
  • 1 1/2 pounds ground beef
  • 1/2 cup chopped onion
  • 1/4 cup chopped green pepper
  • 8-ounce can tomatoes, diced (with Italian seasoning, if desired)
  • 6-ounce can tomato paste
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 2 tablespoons spaghetti seasoning (crush flakes)
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic salt
  • 1 cup (8 ounces) ricotta
  • 1/2 cup (2 ounces) shredded mozzarella

Cook spaghetti according to package directions. Drain. You should have about 3 1/4 cups. Stir butter into hot spaghetti. Stir in Parmesan cheese and eggs. Form spaghetti mixture into "crust" in buttered 9-by-13-inch pan.

In skillet, cook ground beef, onion and pepper until vegetables are tender and meat browned. Drain fat. Stir in undrained tomatoes, tomato paste, sugar, spaghetti seasonings and garlic salt. Heat through.

Dot pieces of ricotta over bottom of spaghetti crust. Fill pie with tomato-beef mixture. Bake, uncovered, in 350-degree oven for 20 minutes. Sprinkle mozzarella cheese on top. Bake 5 minutes longer, or until cheese melts.

Makes 6 servings.

Note: A 10-ounce package of cooked frozen spinach (easy to do in the microwave) added to tomato mixture enhances flavor and nutritive value.

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