Hi everyone, my name is Alison, and I taught Mark and Ben how to cook.
I could tell you about a million ridiculously goofy Mark and Ben stories, like the summer that this one kid on the Framingham bus to Camp started calling them Marcy and Banana, and the bus counselor realized they were so used to adults yelling “Mark! Ben!” that SHE started calling them Marcy and Banana when she went to collect them to get on the bus, because it was SO incredibly silly, that they actually answered to it and went with her to the bus stop.
But I also have all of these incredibly touching stories that show emotional growth, and strength of character and, ya know, sentimental stuff like that.
As you may be aware, Mark is allergic to eggs, tree nuts, peanuts, shellfish, sesame, and raw fruits and vegetables. I was completely honored when Arlene first hired me to cook with her kids in their apartment. I didn’t realize, at first, that I was also teaching Mark and Ben how to eat. On Tuesdays, Fridays, and Sundays, the boys and I made dinner and often also dessert, and then cleaned up as much as we possibly could. I started saying “Cleaning is part of the cooking process,” which is funny, because now Mark sometimes says that back to me. His other favorite Alison-ism is when he reminds me that baking is a science.
Back when they were eleven, Mark and Ben liked to eat dinner in front of the TV, so I made the rule that if we were going to eat in front of a show, it would be an educational show – as in, the Food Network, which was basically professional development for the three of us to improve our skills of cooking.
For a while, our favorite show was Worst Cooks in America, where we watched real chefs like Anne Burrell and Bobby Flay teach clueless reality show contestants how to master cooking. At some point while we stared at these People of Television using a ginormous chef’s knife, we decided we wanted to replicate their knife skills too.
And so, I trusted that eleven-year-old Mark and Ben were going to take cutting with a real knife seriously. Which is exactly what they did. They lived up to my trust. They ALWAYS lived up to my trust.
I think I saw something different in the two of them than a lot of other adults had seen up to that point. Mark and Ben in the kitchen had a different aspect about themselves, a serious attitude that I hadn’t witnessed in them in any other situations. It was like they knew on some level, at age eleven, that learning to cook was going to unlock something crucial about the rest of their lives. Although the kitchen was always full of joking and laughter, there was also a degree of focus and determination that I had not seen in Mark and Ben in any other context.
We would always sit down to eat dinner TOGETHER, and after we got tired of Worst Cooks in America, we’d eat at the table rather than at the couch. It was always nice when Arlene got home early enough from work to join us to eat. I would ask the boys about their days, or whatever was on their minds that night, and we would have a pretty typical family-style dinner. Except that Arlene told me the boys would only really talk about their days, or what was on their minds, when I was there. So I guess we were having a typical mid-2000s family dinner: twin boys who know more about cooking and food than a lot of adults, their real-life mother, and their ten-years-older than them imaginary-world sister.
The other thing that was kind of magical was how the boys and I NEVER bumped into each other in the kitchen. It didn’t even confuse our magic when we moved from the apartment kitchen to the house. We have this intricate ballet-type ability to walk around each other that looks like the sort of thing which would be staged in a movie, but it’s really just how used to each other we got, from being in a tiny space with knives, hot pans, and raw meat.
I credit the apartment. That kitchen was cramped, there was always at least one broken chair, and the Lego figurines were probably silently judging us from the displays where we attempted not to knock over Legos from. And we made it work. If we could cook multi-course holiday meals in that apartment, we can probably make multi-course holiday meals in any kitchen.
Recently, I was sitting at my kitchen table with my best friend Heather, who was diagnosed with a gluten allergy as an adult. She said to me that she wished she knew how to make risotto, and how she felt really bad about how she couldn’t. I looked at her, and I said, “But Heather, how many people do you know who actually know how to make risotto other than me, and Mark, and Ben?” She thought about it and said it was probably just me, and Mark, and Ben. And I told her that I probably also only know me, and Mark, and Ben.
Now keep in mind, Heather has never met Mark or Ben. She’s just heard a million Mark and Ben stories from me over the years. Most of my close friends are major fans of Mark and Ben.
So yes, I taught Mark and Ben how to cook. And over the years, they kept me company through difficult life changes, several instances of having my heart broken, and getting diagnosed with multiple food allergies myself. The two of them have done an AMAZING job of always being there for me.
Mark, you have taught me what it looks like when someone learns how to treat other people with respect for their basic humanity, because we are all humans.
Ben, you have showed me what true loyalty looks like.
And Arlene, you took a chance on me.
Thank you, Mark and Ben. I love you, and I have been honored to witness your growing up and to help you when you needed me along the way. Happy Graduation!