I never could fathom why the nebulous "They" -- the ones who coin all the popular words and phrases -- minted the term "Salad Days" to mean the period in our unencumbered young adult lives when we were fresh and inexperienced.
As if we could afford salad -- or anything that was perishable -- back then.
Everything about those days seemed capable of living forever.
Maybe that's why I tend to think of them as the Ramen Days.
The time in my life when a dry brick of woven noodles packaged in cellophane and purchased with pennies I scraped from under the seats of my car was my only square meal. Even if it was only literally and not nutritionally.
When mixed with the enclosed flavor packet, a splash of water from the tap, and cooked for three minutes on high, the squiggly noodles seemed satisfying and substantial, and also tangible food for thought: This was the salty soup of youth. Containing all of our desires, hopes and fears, even if our parents didn't think it counted as nourishment.
Strange that I would think of those days and that briny broth as I shared a meal with friends recently. Parents ourselves, now.
In the dimly lit restaurant, we were just a few mothers out on the town. Older now, wiser, and illuminating our menus with cellphones as we had once illuminated stadiums with lighters. Each of us demurely ordering salads and sophisticated wines.
These Salad Days seem more apt a description. We don't need the extra calories. Life doesn't move as fast even though time seems to be speeding by like a freight train. It reminds us of how delicate we are. Still fresh, perhaps, but also perishable.
The meal that says the magic is slowly ebbing away.
Like the link we've all noticed in our children, who are now cresting adolescence. Another curtain is closing or opening depending on which magician you are applauding.
"Who knew that one day they'd believe in Santa Claus and the next day would be asking for the definition of the word virginity," one friend asks rhetorically.
"I know! I gave my daughter a book about her changing body and the first page said 'if your child still believes in Santa Claus she is not ready for this book. ... Boy, was she mad at me."
"I inadvertently outed the tooth fairy," I admitted. "My daughter came to me the next morning holding out the raggedy bill with a red ink splotch the dotty, old fairy had slipped under her pillow as she slept. 'I saw this in your wallet yesterday,' she'd said. 'Either the tooth fairy is stealing from you, or ...
And one simple deduction later, the whole race of magical creatures was wiped out.
" 'Hey ... Are you Santa, too'?"
We didn't speak of it again. Stoney silence usually becomes tolerable given time.
They still want to believe even if disbelief usually wins.
They are growing up.
There's no doubt about that.
But are we?
We have respectable lives, respectable jobs, respectable cars. We might even understand how zoning works. Maybe. We even eat salad as a meal now.
But I can't help but think we still need to believe.
We have met our expectations and married our experiences, even if we don't always see eye to eye or stay hitched to them. Over dinner and drinks, we chat about everything and nothing. We laugh. We enjoy each other's company. We make plans to meet again.
And I think, maybe that's why I have been craving ramen? Because I'm still hungry.