Friends
Photo: Courtesy of Leigh Newman
There's a war going on in my refrigerator. In the lower right-hand drawer, where we keep our lunchmeat and cheese. Among the slightly moldy hunks of Cheddar, the wedges of dried, ancient Parmesan, the deflated skins of scooped-out Brie, lies a cheap plastic bag of cheese sticks.

For those of you in the world who remain innocent of cheese sticks, allow me to digress. Cheese sticks are the white, more cubed version of the American cheese single. They are wrapped in plastic. They are perfect for tossing in a lunch or snack bag. They may or may not be made of actual cheese (depending on the brand), and this last point is moot because they do not taste like cheese. They taste like dairy Styrofoam.

My kids, of course, love them. We cannot go through a single day without laying waste to a bag of cheese sticks, each of which contains eight sticks and costs about $3.99. Around 7 p.m., my husband comes home, roots through the trash, then holds up the crumpled, empty bag in triumph: "Caught! All of you!"

Then begins his lecture: "A big ball of homemade mozzarella costs the same, gives you two or three times the cheese and actually tastes like cheese!"
My response: "We can't live without cheese sticks."
His: "Yes, you can. Particularly when it comes to nutrition."
Mine: "You're really just upset about the money."
His: "Fifty cents a stick!!!"
Mine: "The kids love them. And I'm too tired to fight people under the age of 5."
His: "From now on, everybody in this house is going to cut himself a proper slice of cheese! No more cheese sticks!"
Mine: "Fine, you tell the kids. I'm going outside so as not to hear the crying and rending of flesh."
One month ago, he actually chased us around the house with slices of Cheddar in plastic sandwich bags. "It's the same!" he told our toddler. "It's the same! Only better!"

Our toddler looked at him with his big, wise baby eyes and solemnly shook his head. I agreed silently; it's not the same. A plastic sandwich bag is loose and limp and completely uninteresting. There is no tidy, artificial packaged feel to it. Kids love packages. This is why you can eat an entire bag of potato chips, then refill the salty foil bag with raisins, and the kid will eat them up—unlike when you put the raisins in a boring, china bowl.

If only my husband could put his vitamin-packed, delicious, cost-effective cheese in a shiny, sexy package.

Now wander with me, if you will, to my life beyond the kids and kitchen. A few days after the cheese stick showdown, I went to lunch with a woman. Let's call her Sue Ellen. She was a little older than me. She and I had worked on a project together. She was smart, successful, funny. I looked up to her. And, finally, she asked me out to lunch.

I was really excited. Most of my friends date back to the hairstyles and fashion choices of my youth (the time I cut off all my hair, the era of wearing shorts in winter). I was finally going to make a grown-up lady friend, someone who would know me as who I am now, not who I was then. We would talk about books and art and really mature things like slow cookers—instead of the time Leigh drove her car into a fountain (sober) or the time we all went to Scotland and wore Highland cow hats everywhere, including to the theater.