Lost & Found: Mom Edition (#221)

Every mother has secrets. Some are dark — a deeply buried history of domestic violence or mental illness. But some are light — generations of wisdom on everything from gardening to cooking.

My mother died before I was fifteen. As a “liberated woman,” she turned her back on domestic wisdom. She had no helpful hints to give me regarding makeup, stain removal, cleaning, sewing, or baking. She was, in fact, terrible at all those things. She had a hell of a green thumb with houseplants. Our neighbors exclaimed over all the hanging baskets of greenery in our D.C. dining room. At the time, I shoved errant leaves out of my hair and glowered. Now I wish I’d asked how she did it.

As she had six children who survived, Mom undoubtedly had a ton of information on pregnancy and child-rearing. She died before she could pass any of it along. Mainly, I learned from her mistakes, vowing to marry later in life and use ALL the birth control.

When you’re in your twenties, you don’t think much about running a household or raising kids. But once I was married, with house and garden, I realized I didn’t know jack about flowers or pregnancy.

I wonder how many other women realize, after their mother is gone, that they’ve lost generations of useful info along with the person who loved them most in the world? A hundred years ago, other women in the community might have come forward to help a bereaved daughter. Now young women tend to leave home and live alone in the city, hanging out with other young women. Without a weekly call home to Mom for advice on some disaster, we’re on our own.

Luckily, we’ve got women bloggers. And sisters.

During one visit, Brilliant Blonde Lawyer Sister told me that those shoots I was weeding in my new yard were freesia.

Gladioli gone crazy.

I let those shoots sprout and discovered I had fragrant freesia and gorgeous gladioli. They’re perennials, which means they come back every year. (Husband complained about the profusion of pink gladioli until I reminded him that all those flowers are FREE.)

Turns out I also had some narcissus. I cut them and brought them inside. They fell over. I found a post about how a half-shot of gin in the water will keep your paperwhites upright. Apparently grandmas everywhere know this. I sometimes wonder what housewife hastily dumped her gin into her flowers during Prohibition and made this handy discovery. Whoever she was, I salute her.

I was lucky enough to have Judgmental Genius Doctor Sister, too. She’d had children before I did. She warned me I would feel like shit when pregnant. She was right, damn her.

And when I bled vaginally on a Sunday, all the OB’s answering service said was, “Call again tomorrow, go to an ER if it gets really bad.”

I looked in my pregnancy books. All they said was bleeding = miscarriage.

I called Dr. Sis, telling her I was probably losing the fetus, and that it was okay, it was undoubtedly because something was wrong–

She interrupted. “Is the blood bright red?”

“No, more brownish.”

“You’re fine. There’s a lot of extra blood in the cervix at this point. Some is going to leak out. If it isn’t bright red and heavy, it’s totally normal.”

“So the fetus doesn’t have two heads after all?”

“Probably not. Do you still feel like crap?”

“Yes. If I’m not actually throwing up, I feel like throwing up.”

“That’s a good sign.”

“Yeah, thanks, gotta go puke now, bye.”



Yesterday, my husband brought me tulips for Mother’s Day. I cut about an inch off the stems and put them in a vase. They began to droop.

“Maybe you can tie them up with a ribbon?” Andy suggested.

“Do we have any gin?” I asked.

He brought me a bottle and said, “You’re not really going to start drinking over drooping flowers.”

“Watch and learn, buddy.” I poured half a shot of gin into the vase.

This morning, my tulips stood tall.

Boozy. But good.

Of Cursed Birthdays (#220)

When I was a kid, birthdays were a big deal.

As an adult? Well, after your 25th birthday, when your car insurance bill drops, there’s not a lot to look forward to. Besides, no birthday could ever live up to my 10th, when I got a kitten and pierced ears.

My husband tried, though. Andy made me a cake the first year we were together. It was beautiful: nicely frosted, with my name written across it, even. Andy is a fantastic cook. I know it. He knows it. Everyone knows it, probably because I brag about it all the time. I expected the cake to be delicious.

I took a bite. The cake was moist. It was sweet.

Other than that, it had absolutely no flavor.

I took another bite and asked, “So, um, this cake is really unique.  What flavor is this?”

Andy groaned and said, “It’s supposed to be chocolate, but I forgot half the cocoa.”

I said, “It’s okay, it’s very pretty and not dry at all, and no one has made me cake in decades. Thank you, honey.”

The next year Andy planned an elaborate surprise party for me…only to have a an acquaintance give it away. Andy was furious for weeks.

“Don’t worry about it,” I told him. “It’s not really his fault. My birthday has been cursed for years.”

“But you always talk about how great it was when you were a kid!”

“When I was a kid, sure. But my mom died right before my 15thbirthday.  On my birthday, my Ex-Stepfather got me this gorgeous cake from the premiere D.C. bakery. Then, as we were eating, he read us a letter from a family friend telling us how wonderful our dead mother was and we all cried and couldn’t finish the cake.”

“Wow,” said Andy. “You and your siblings couldn’t finish dessert?”

“I know, right? Shows you how catastrophic it was. Anyway, every birthday after that was a reminder of her death. Since then, crap seems to happen the month of my birthday. Someone dies, I lose my job – and it’s not just me.  It’s a miserable month for my whole family. It’s better not to celebrate my birthday.”

Andy didn’t believe me. Not when we when we ran into problems buying the house we wanted the week of my birthday. Not when the plumber’s apprentice made an error that sent sewage all over our bathroom. Not when we lost a beloved pet. Not when I spent 5 hours in a Houston airport or when his parents insisted on visiting for my birthday. Not even when Andy of the Iron Stomach got  stomach flu for the first time.

Last year, Andy insisted on making a big deal out of my birthday.

“Don’t do it,” I warned him. “You know it’s cursed. The bigger the plan, the more likely something will go wrong.”

“It’s gonna be fine,” Andy insisted. “I’ll take the day off work. I’ll make you eggs Benedict for breakfast, poutine, and a cake. What kind of cake do you want?”

“You and cake and my birthday seems like it might not be the best combo—”

“Once! I only forgot the cocoa once! Just tell me what kind of cake you want. You make amazing cakes for everyone else’s birthdays, you should totally have a great cake on your birthday.”

“If you must, how about a single layer Genoise with strawberry whipped cream frosting?”

“I can totally make a Genoise,” said Andy, typing furiously on his phone.

“You’re googling Genoise, aren’t you?”

“Absolutely not. But is it spelled G-E-N-O-I-S?”

A few days before my birthday, Andy’s company had an important conference call scheduled with the East Coast. A shocking, unseasonal blizzard hit the Eastern Seaboard. The important call was rescheduled for my birthday.

“Give it up,” I told Andy. “We’ll go out to dinner on Saturday.”

“No, no, it’s fine. I mean, I won’t be able to make the eggs Benedict, and I probably won’t be able to manage homemade French fries, but I will be home by noon and make you a cake!”

Andy picked up a nasty respiratory virus the night before my birthday. He barely made the conference call. He came home and crawled straight into bed.

I had Campbell’s tinned tomato soup for dinner.

When he regained consciousness, Andy weakly said, “Sorry, honey, I’ll make that cake this weekend. We’ll have your friends over and celebrate.”

“Dude. What will it take to convince you it will never work out?”

“I’m making a cake, damn it,” Andy swore.

And make a cake he did.

Exterior shot of actual cake.

The cake came out suspiciously flat. Andy refused to admit it was problematic. He gamely frosted it, decorated it, and sang “Happy Birthday” as he placed it in front of me.

I had to use my sharpest knife to hack through the bottom crust of what was supposed to be a European sponge cake, but I served it up to our guests.

“Sponge” cake interior.

Andy’s cake was again…unique. While the bottom was tougher than shoe leather, the middle and top of the cake were gooey. The frosting, however, was divine. The guests and I ate that and complimented Andy.

“Thanks!” said Andy. “Does anyone else want another piece?”

We demurred. Andy pouted, then declared, “Fine. I’m having another piece.”

The rest of us avoided eye contact as Andy served himself. But as Andy struggled mightily to fork off a bite-sized piece, I locked eyes with the guest on my left. He was red in the face, holding a napkin over his mouth.

That was it. I lost it, and the rest of the table followed me into endless gales of laughter. I didn’t quite pee my pants, but it A Very Near Thing.

Andy was a good sport, which was a good thing, because we must have laughed for five minutes.

Later that night, he mumbled, “Sorry about your cake, honey. I must have over mixed it.”

“Oh, don’t be sorry! That was hilarious, what with your pouty face and the Great Chef’s refusal to admit that his sponge cake could not be cut. I haven’t laughed that hard in years.”

“You’re not just saying that?”

“Nope. Frosted Genoise jerky is officially my most favorite birthday cake ever now.”

“Good. Because I’m gonna make it again for Mother’s Day.”