Of Chicken Parm and Penne

Today Julianna turns 15.

Last year, for the annual birthday post, I wrote about how Julianna was prepping herself, and us, for the beginning of High School. Now, on the back-9 of her freshman year in high school, it’s safe to give her a resounding: so far, so good.

Actually, that’s not fair. She’s doing much better than good, so far. She’s thriving.

The lead up to school was the same this year as it has been every year (plus a little extra to account for the school change): a reasonable amount of nerves and anxiety. About 2 days into school, she was good to go. She loves it.

The biggest concern I had going into school this year was that Julianna has not always been the most organized when it has come to doing homework or projects. Let’s just say that given a couch+tv or a desk+work, she’s more likely to choose the former and by more likely, I mean, she’s always chosen the former. Knowing the workload was going to be much greater in high school than it was in middle school had me worried. It didn’t take very long for her to prove me wrong.

I’m not entirely sure what happened but it all has been clicking for her. A few times a week her first class in school is a study period. She does work there so she doesn’t have as much homework to do at home. Just the other day she told me that she was going to work on a project that “wasn’t due yet but [I] want to get ahead.” What happened to the little girl who waits until the day after an assignment is due to start working on it?

You might want to sit down for this next one.

Background: She doesn’t like to read (which frankly, should allow me to write anything I want here and have confidence she’ll never see it). Recently, in her English class, reading “To Kill a Mockingbird” was assigned. When I heard that, I figured, here comes the struggle. Cut to a few weeks later when she says, “this is so much fun to read.”

I say, “well, if you think ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ is so much fun to read, wait until you read ‘Of Mice and Men’ by John Steinbeck or if you want something even more fun and uplifting, wait for ‘1984’ by George Orwell.”

But wait, there’s more…

She’s not just doing great in class. She’s been staying after school on Thursdays to be part of a boxing club and this week she even tried out for the tennis team and we just found out she made it.

The morning after she made the team we were getting ready to go to school. She was packing her bag, turned her head around and with one of those big ear-to-ear pride-filled smiles said, “Dad. I made a team. Isn’t that so cool?”

This broke me just a little but in the most constructive way.

The thing that is probably the most impressive though is how she’s handled the social changes that high school brought. In our town there are 2 middle schools and 1 high school. That means that all of a sudden you have twice as many people in your age group, many of whom you don’t know. We’re talking about teenaged girls and that comes with the potential for some “interesting” social challenges. How did Julianna handle that transition? Like everything else this year, it’s been great.

Just last week she txt’d me (from school – deal with it) and asked if she and a few friends could walk to Dunkin’ after school and if I’d pick them up and drive the others home. I said sure (I’m a sucker). I arrive at Dunkin’ and Julianna and her 2 friends get in the car. I say, “Hi. Who are you two?”

I’d never seen these 2 other people before. They are new friends this year. I can’t even keep track of all her new friends. One day she’s hanging out with one group and the next she’s with a different group. As a socially awkward self-proclaimed Champion of the Nerdery, I was definitely not making all sorts of new friends the way she does.

She has managed to manage her course load and homework, maintain a close-to-4.0 GPA, make new friends while continuing her really strong connections with her existing friends, get involved, try new things, and have fun the whole way.

And did I mention she got 2 jobs?

She works as a teaching assistant at our temple and also at a children’s party place where she helps set up and run birthday parties. When she gets paid, she asks me to move 60% of it to her Greenlight card (look it up parents) and she saves 40% of it.

This girl is crushing it right now.

And then she said she wanted to cook dinner while we were at the grocery store, and could we get the stuff she needed. She wanted to make chicken parm, which stresses me out:

A) She’s never cooked that before.

B) It’s easily my favorite meal and my go-to in any Italian restaurant.

She was motivated. We’ll give it a go; salmonella be damned.

We got home and she got to work. I disappeared so I could go mentally prepare. She was going to make the chicken parm, pasta, and green beans for all 4 of us.

When it was ready, I came downstairs to find the kitchen table set and ready. I said, “Julianna, part of me hopes this is terrible because if it’s not, I’m going to need you to make this for me every night for the rest of my life.”




I don’t know how she did it but she made an incredible chicken parm and pasta dinner. I really shouldn’t have been surprised because everything she’s done this year has been outstanding…

…other than her bedroom, which she is incapable of keeping clean.

I guess nobody is perfect.

Happy Birthday Julianna,



This was so good I forgot to take a picture until I was almost done with the chicken