Baking and Motherhood

I vividly remember watching Like Water For Chocolate on VHS from the library.  The themes in that movie reflected back to me a reality I had never identified outside myself.  It was like the moment the fish swimming in his bowl finally understands this is water.  Though my roots are Italian and Puerto Rican (not Mexican, as in the movie), all of those cultures place an emphasis on food.  And like the main character Tita, it felt that the women who cooked in my family — my great-grandmother, both my grandmothers and my mother — poured their emotions into their creations and their charges were immediately infected with their feelings.  Love was as real and as substantial an ingredient as flour or milk or butter.

When I became a mother, I realized instantly how important feeding my children would be to my happiness.  I fretted over breastfeeding (is he getting enough?) and eventually I served up mashed fruits and vegetables by hand.  Even today my husband will tell you that nothing lifts my spirits like a clean plate handed to me by my 3yo or 5yo.

So when I’m inclined to go above and beyond what a busy mother can “get away with” at school functions, it typically revolves around a baked good.  But sometimes it’s just about showing up.  My actions – every little thing I do for my kids – are my expressions of love.

A few months ago Lauren Apfel and I began this debate for Brain, Child Magazine with a focus on Superwoman Syndrome — I had it, she didn’t.  At the time, I was explaining why I felt the need to do so much, especially around my family, especially when I had a full-time out-of-the home job.  But as our drafts progressed, my life changed.  I reduced my work schedule and I started to let go of some of the less significant things (like a clean house).  Yet that pull to go above and beyond, to perform to perfect standards (even if they were only my own or my child’s as opposed to society’s ideas) remained.

I also refused to believe Lauren lacked ambition by any definition of the word (this woman is a phenomenal writer), which is typically thought of as the “opposite” of Superwoman Syndrome.  So when she used the metaphor, ” I never wanted fingers in lots of pies. I wanted one cake at a time so that I could properly enjoy the eating of it,” we knew this conversation would revolve around the symbolism of baking and motherhood.  Of course, it’s about so much more than that.  I hope you will read the entire debate here:

Making the Perfect Birthday Cupcakes for Our Kids: Two Perspectives

Cupcakes specially requested by my daughter for her 3rd birthday

Cupcakes specially requested by my daughter for her 3rd birthday

Who Do You Love? (When Your Family Are Your Friends And Your Friends Like Family)

Yesterday my parents rescued my children from their viral 102.2 temperature mother and even though I could barely say my name or knew where I was, the way these four greeted each other was a moment instantly burned in my fevered mind.  My son dropped my hand and ran to his nana with a quiet joy and ferocious hug that is part of his silent and strong nature.  My daughter hopped up and down at the curb waiting for my dad to come around from the driver’s seat shouting, “grandpa, grandpa, I’m so excited!” with her usual over-the-top bravado.  The scene was the definition of love.  Of family.

It’s hardly a secret that I’m close with my family.  They are everything to me.  Emergency babysitters.  Voices of reason.  Whispers of contradiction.  Gut-checks, head-checks, lice-checks.  Secrets, laughs, frustrations.

When I need inspiration, everyone knows I call (ok, text) my little brother.  He’s a seeker like I am, but he leans into it whereas when I was his age I tried to plan against it.  He was in high school and I in my late 20s when he told me about this amazing book he’d read: Siddhartha.  That book changed my outlook on life even as I flipped the pages.

When I’m about to make a big move in my life, everyone knows I call my other brother.  He will raise every point as to why I shouldn’t do exactly what I’m about to do and I know if I can live with everything he’s said (because he’s always right) then it’s time to make whatever crazy jump I’ve dreamed up.  If not, it’s back to the drawing board.

When I’m trying to make sense of things in my life, everyone knows I call my dad.  My first spiritual guide, my dad sees a world washed in gray.  He knows that black and white is easier, but nothing in this life is that simple.  As a scared little girl, then as a know-it-all college chick, and even as an adult who has lost her way from time to time, my father has always given me comfort from the uncertainty of life – somehow, someway.

And then there’s my mother.  Everyone knows I call my mother every damn day.  For big reasons, for little reasons, sometimes for both, or sometimes for no reason at all.  My mother is my best friend.  She always has been, always will be.  It’s simple to say someone is your best friend, but writing about someone who is so close to you, who knows who you are at your core — not just who you are with the mask of “student” or “lawyer” or “mother” on your face — is almost an impossible task.

Nevertheless, it was a task I was willing to take on when Jessica Smock and Stephanie Sprenger, the editors of The HerStories Project: Women Explore the Joy, Pain, and Power of Female Friendship, asked me to be a part of their book.

I could have written a story about any one of my girlfriends – the ones who show up to surprise you on a random, insignificant birthday just because that’s what friends do, or the ones that make plans with you even if it’s at 7am on a Tuesday because that’s the time they have on a quick business trip to your neck of the woods, or the ones you haven’t seen in years that you still wish the best for every single day.

(Of course it must be said that I could have easily written about my husband, who has every single one of the qualities I relish except the book was about female friendships.)

I chose to write about my mother as my best friend.  Others wrote about childhood friends, changing friendships, or those rare gems we meet later in life.  These stories represent the best, the most complicated, and the most relatable parts of female friendships.  I’m so proud to be a part of this project.

And even though I buy in to all this junk, I still hate the Sprint Framily plan commercials.  

Combining friends and family should be a slam dunk, so how do they get it so wrong?   Why are all their friends so creepy?  I promise none of the stories in Herstories are like that.  Seriously.