Saturday, June 01, 2013

my two students

Here are Sybill (left) and Kristi (right), my two Science Chicks, sitting on a bench outside of Bonefish Grill while we waited for Kristi's mother to come pick her daughter up:

Sybill's off to MIT, and Kristi, if she tries very, very hard, might be off to TJHSST, our local "magnet" school, and one of the top science/tech high schools in the country.

Dinner at Bonefish Grill was quite good. All three of us ate fish: baked salmon for me, grilled trout for Sybill, and grilled tilapia for Kristi. We talked a bit about what sort of interaction there had been between Kristi and Sybill in my absence; I was shocked (and a bit disappointed) to find out that tonight was the first night that Kristi and Sybill had met face-to-face. I had hoped that Sybill would have taken charge and given Kristi a tour of a lab somewhere, or would have at least started up a serious back-and-forth, via email, about science. Instead, I found out that Kristi had written Sybill a series of questions, mainly about Sybill's life as a student; Sybill had answered those questions in a long, thorough email, and then Kristi had fallen silent, ignoring Sybill's subsequent emails. Not the way I had foreseen the month going.

But during dinner, Sybill played the Big Sis and peppered Kristi with some science-related questions, asking about Kristi's areas of interest (genetics) and talking about her own areas of interest (molecular biology, prosthetics, etc.). We also talked about what lay ahead for Sybill as she contemplated MIT. Sybill told me about MIT's Byzantine dorm-assignment system, which involves a series of lotteries. She also had more immediate concerns: her opera recital tomorrow (Saturday), and her upcoming speech to her graduating class as its valedictorian (literally "goodbye-sayer" in Latin; vale = goodbye, and dicere = to say/tell). I have no worries for Sybill's future; she's got a strong personality and is blessed with drive and direction. Good for her. I joked that I expected to be reading some of her published work in the years ahead.

Dessert was a massive brownie shared by the girls, while I went for my usual crème brûlée. Sybill couldn't understand how anyone could possibly like crème brûlée; I explained my love of the textural contrast. We talked a bit about French food; Sybill, who had been to France, wasn't all that impressed with French haute cuisine; a lot of it came off as flavorless and pretentious to her, although she enjoyed French onion soup. Although I'm not a fan of French onion soup, I agreed with Sybill in principle; my own experience with good, rib-sticking French cooking had come courtesy of my time with my buddy Dominique's family in Carquefou. Maman and Papa were proud of their jardin potager, from which came most, or all, of the vegetables that ended up on our dinner table. Their cuisine wasn't anything like hoity-toity haute cuisine; it was simple, unadorned, unpretentious, and delicious.

Eventually, conversation slowed to a halt, at which point the girls whipped out their cell phones. We adjourned to wait outside for Kristi's mom; while we waited, I took the above picture, which was a second attempt: the first pic mortified Sybill, who complained that her bangs were all over the place, thus necessitating a re-take. Kristi's mom showed up; Kristi's little sister hid in the back of Mom's car; I waved at her and she waved back, an amiable shadow. Kristi gave me a $15 Starbucks gift card; she and I had actually met earlier at the Starbucks about an hour before our appointed 6:30PM rendezvous: Kristi's sister had been engaged in a piano lesson, so Kristi and her mom had nothing to do but retreat to Starbucks to get out of the 90-plus-degree heat.

Parting was sweet sorrow: I knew that the three of us would never have the opportunity to meet like this again. Sybill will be off to MIT before we know it; Kristi will spend her summer doing whatever it is that little Kristis do; and if I get my dream job at a Korean university, I'll be gone from YB by the end of the summer. But that's life, right? Every present moment is a window into the future, a future with many branching possibilities. It felt good to see both Sybill and Kristi today—Sybill on the cusp of moving to the much larger world of MIT and a Bostonian life, Kristi perhaps on the verge of entering a prestigious magnet school. I'm older, forty-three years old, so my own horizon has narrowed and my own set of possibilities is no longer quite so limitless, but even I stare hopefully into my own future.


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