When my grandmother died, she left me a cookbook. It’s an excellent cookbook, printed around 1950, with an endless array of recipes and photos. It provides a variety of menus, each meal containing a main dish, a starch, a vegetable, a fruit, a “salad” (which could be anything) and a dessert, along with how to set the table, seat people, etc. It also comes with lovely illustrations of a classic 1950’s housewife, with her perfectly curled hair, lipstick, impossible waist tucked into a flared dress, and high heels, smiling as she carries in a ham with candied orange peel flowers. Seated at the table are her husband in a shirt and tie, and a son and daughter, perfectly combed and dress, licking their lips in anticipation. The clock on the wall above is at 5 pm sharp.
Somehow, I thought when I quit working, my house would look more like those pictures. Somehow that Donna Reed gene I know is in there would miraculously kick on, and I’d have a sparkling, organized house and sparkling, organized children. And I’d be able to throw a dinner party in that sparkling house and it would be a raging success.
So far that damn gene hasn’t kicked in at all.
M missed her best friend’s birthday party, so we offered to host her family for a birthday dinner instead. The house looked good, but mostly because my mom helped me with it a few days before. I had visions of setting up for this party: I’d make spaghetti with sausage and meatballs, garlic bread, salad, and a vanilla cake with pink sugar, the little girl’s special request. I’d have everything prepped and ready and have plenty of time to clean up, get the girls cleaned up, and maybe even relax a little.
By the time I’d repeatedly fed Baby A, ran errands, taken M to scouts, and frantically prepared the food, it was 45 minutes until they arrived. I was covered in powdered sugar, as was the kitchen. The cake had broken, so I had to make a second batch of frosting to Spackle it back together enough that it would stand up. While I was desperately trying to patch the cake together, M gets up on a chair, looks solemnly at the cake, and says, “That’s beautiful. But weird looking.”
I think, hey, I’ll be a good mom, and she can help frost the cake, and it’ll be lovely mother-daughter bonding time. The following conversation ensues (and keep in mind, I’ve had most of these many times.)
M: Do you think the girl in Hercules is pretty?
Me: She’s too thin for my taste, and the character design is weird.
M: Well, I think she is.
Me: You’re entitled to.
M: I also think Monster High is pretty and those big dolls that are just the heads that you hate, I like those. I want them for my birthday.
M: I know.
At this point, the cake is crumbling everywhere. I’m getting progressively more flustered.
M: L gets Monster High stuff. Whenever she wants.
Me: Feel free to buy it with your own money. Do you want to frost?
M: No, it’s more fun to watch you do it. (pause) A is dumping all the tupperware out. (I stop to remove A from the tupperware. Cake tips over.)
M: So…do you think the girl from Hercules is pretty?
M: Why are you yelling?
Me: I’m sorry, I’m frustrated. Why don’t you go watch Netflix?
Yay mother-daughter bonding time.
I managed to get the cake looking roughly presentable, wiped down the kitchen, and sponged the sugar off my jeans. The doorbell rang as I tore up the stairs, changed into a clean shirt and swept my hair into a ponytail, and scrubbed off the frosting. So much for perfectly curled or shoes other than sneakers.
The food was decent; not my best, but everyone ate everything so it couldn’t have been that bad. We had nice conversation, and the girls had a blast, so I guess it was a success. As I washed dishes, I eyed that cookbook on the shelf, and imagined it’s author shaking her head in dismay, but not hard enough to muss her hair.
I figure her children were duct taped to their chairs. It’s the only way she’d get anything done.