To start, a disclaimer: I fully realize Mother's Day has come and gone. Of course, mothers deserve recognition a lot more than one day a year, so I'm happy to extend the celebration. (Really, mothers deserve to be celebrated every day, all year long, but I digress). Still, I'd fully intended to have this post written and up by Sunday May 12th. Alas, things come up and loved ones need tending to, and so, I'm getting this out as soon as was possible for me.
But I didn't want to skip this post simply because of a date on a calendar. You see, this year, Mother's Day has new meaning for me. I've always appreciated the holiday as one that is important to celebrate, a time for all of us to show some appreciation to the first woman in each of our lives. I've written here on this blog about my mother, the specifics of our relationship, and what makes her unique and beautiful in my eyes.
For so many, however, this holiday is fraught. Many people have lost their moms. Some have terrible or non-existent relationships with their mothers. Others still, like me for so many years, wonder if they will ever get to experience the holiday as an honoree, and not just an honorer. I've had to muddle through many a Mother's Day brunch or lunch, had to conjure a smile when all I wanted to do was pull my hair out or cry in a corner. One such Mother's Day happened for me a few years ago, when my husband and I had been trying to get pregnant for about a year, but hadn't told anyone as much. It was May and I was hopeful I was pregnant -- I would have been about five or six weeks along. The signs were there, and I was quietly exuberant/nervous through extreme nausea, exhaustion, and a fair bit of anxiety. And then, suddenly, I wasn't pregnant. Period. On Mother's Day. Exclamation point! I was visiting my family in Florida, and I remember feeling I needed to hide what I was experiencing. I laid face-down on a poolside lounge chair (the only place I could be alone), sobbing into my towel. I tried to explain to my partner via phone how this particular incident felt, the particularly bitter pill I was swallowing that Mother's Day. All this as my sister-in-law, a decade my junior, sat just yards away inside my parents' house, nursing her third baby, then just weeks old. Talk about muddling through.
So this year, Mother's Day is, for me, quite the contrast and a literal dream come true. Like most dreams worth their salt, my husband and I have put in a ton of effort to bring this one to fruition. It's taken a lot of hard work, patience, diligence, dedication, love, hope, help -- really, too many ingredients to list here. And as is so often the case for the most obscenely delicious outcomes, this recipe is different for every person who creates a child. But every child is a wonder, just as our little Noah is a wonder to me and to his father. We gaze at him with awe every day, and we can't believe he's ours. And that we get to be his. One of the benefits of all of this, something about which I pinch myself every day, is that I get to be his protector and provider, and I can give him all the affection and love in the world without having to moderate that emotion. Put another way, I can kiss him and talk to him and hold him and feed him and not feel like it's "too much" -- no one can ever say I'm going overboard, or look at me strangely like "that's not your actual child, lady. Back off!" I don't even get that luxury with my nephews, much as I adore them. My love needs to have boundaries for every other child. Not so for my own baby.
I am now a mother to a son. I put him to bed every night and wake him up each morning and my body produces food to feed him every day. (As a chef who's used to being "limited" to simply cooking existing food for people, this is a step beyond)! I watch him sleep and check his breathing, I bathe him and groom him and swaddle him and bounce him and calm him. I take his temperature, I change his diapers and make sure his delicious little bottom is clean and dry. And, I do a million other little things on the daily that I don't necessarily think about, that are instinctive, that are tiny acts of love and caring and can be described in no other way except natural -- impulses provided to us by nature.
Of course in the English language, mother has become a verb, a gerund: mothering. This word often has a negative connotation, one of excessive oversight, an overbearing presence. But I think mothering is a great thing. It's something not only mothers can do, of course, but to me it connotes safety and caretaking, all of those little natural impulses I mentioned before. I may be at turns a loud, boisterous personality and a headstrong feminist; at other times I'm a pensive homebody. But when it comes to my child, I want to be as maternal as possible, I want to be all of those things I found so comforting in my mother. I want to be his safe place. I make an effort every day to make him feel that in me. I felt it with my mother since I can remember, and my Mom still offers me that sensation, even now that I'm in middle age. It's amazing the powerful place a mother holds in our hearts.
One of my strongest food memories as relates to my Mom is that of our family birthday cakes since my brothers and I celebrated our first birthdays, and on through our teenage years. They were always chocolate cakes with cream cheese icing. When we were young, they were decorated so they'd look like bunny rabbits or trucks or Raggedy Ann or some other elaborate creation. But the basic flavor pairing was always the same. My Mom also made it in cupcake form for our school birthday parties (remember when moms could just bake anything and bring them in for the whole class? Sigh). My classmates always loved it when my birthday rolled around!
As it turns out, one of the things I most craved in my third trimester was...chocolate cake with cream cheese icing. But I couldn't have it. I was diagnosed with gestational diabetes right after New Year's Day (Happy New Year!) and had to cool it on pretty much all things chocolate and carb-y (i.e. everything I began to crave at about the same time they became prohibited). This birthday cake is forever the sweet taste of home for me, though. Not only is it wildly yummy, but there is some kind of safety in this food. It is maternal, somehow. And so, since I couldn't have it during my pregnancy, I decided I wanted it in honor of Mother's Day -- to fulfill my craving, sure, but also as a sweet homage to my mother and all the birthday cakes she baked for us growing up. The cake itself is good old fashioned deep chocolate cake from a mix (we were Duncan Hines loyalists, but any deep chocolate mix will do). The icing is homemade. All it really takes is whipping together 16 oz. of Philadelphia cream cheese with 4 oz (one stick) of unsalted butter, both softened. You mix in 2 cups or so of powdered confectioner's sugar (to taste) and there you have it. I made the icing purple because I wanted to eat a cake with purple icing and pretty purple sprinkles. Blue or green works just as well for Father's Day, by the way. Any excuse for a cake is a good enough reason to make this one in particular.
So, was my first Mother's Day everything I had dreamed of? Yes and no. The weather was nasty, cool and rainy. And the day itself wasn't terribly different from any other day with a newborn: slugging along, trying to keep the baby from crying, trying to keep up with feedings, hoping to get a little sleep, and all the rest. We were still too exhausted to celebrate in any demonstrable way, and still paying off medical bills so soon after the baby's birth. But mostly, I had been too afraid to dream about what this day would mean for me, just in case it never actually came to pass. I didn't allow myself that indulgence. Which made the day all the more special when I realized about two weeks out that I was going to get to celebrate Mother's Day as a mother this year. It's still almost too much to wrap my head around. Perhaps by Mother's Day next year? Regardless, it was a day that I will remember forever because it was my first, hopefully my first of many, many more to come. Just snuggling with my little munchkin who made me a mamma is all I really need on Mother's Day. I am so thankful to him, and to my husband, for giving me this new title, and the hope of living up to all that it means. For those out there for whom this holiday continues to be difficult -- Father's Day too -- I hear you, I understand. It may not be much, but a little advice from a new mother? Try some cake. It really does make everything, from the worst of days to the best of days, better.