Thursday, 3 September 2009

Mummy time

I am desperately concerned that I may have fallen out with a very dear friend over four year old birthday cake. She's the mother of one of my daughter's best friends at school and we're organising a joint birthday party this year.

The thing is, there's this tradition at their school that they take cake for the class on or around their birthday - and this friend wanted us to do this jointly too.

Now a joint party is one thing, but the idea that someone else was going to be providing my daughter's cupcakes for her birthday was just too much. I felt the small purlieu which is the zone where I am a mummy shrinking irreversibly from beneath my feet. Making cakes for birthdays, school fetes and christmas is sacred territory in my role as mummy. I rarely buy the cakes - they must be home made.

I know the friend meant to be kind but the most immediate emotion I felt in response was extreme threat. I felt terrible for refusing the offer of shared cake - but I had to say no.

The thing that makes it worse is that she is a fellow career working mother, a devoted lawyer who herself stays up until past midnight making cakes when duty calls.

Polling views amongst other working mothers I find a similar attachment to the small rituals which assert our enduring role as mother despite our collective decision to partner motherhood with a career. Whether it's polishing shoes, sewing name tags, writing thank you cards - or making cakes - working mothers seem to be attached to small usually domestic symbols which evidence our role as prime nurturer, and which are precious beyond any rational explanation.


1 comment:

  1. We work full-time. Our lives are necessarily not centred wholly on our children and their schools and nor, therefore, on the school gate community. It doesn't mean we love our children or care about their education any less. It just means we have a different focus during the day while they are in school (and frankly not thinking much at all about us) and in the immediate after-school hours.

    So when it comes to the big events, like their birthdays, Christmas, the school concert, family holidays, special events, we do want to be there with extra gold-plated bells on. We put in the big effort to make an impact and create a good, strong and loving memory of a special day or event -- in the hope that these will build a chain of memories and an inner sense that we were there with them all along, whether we were working or not.

    Sometimes, just sometimes, work commitments clash with those special events -- we do our best to manage around, but sometimes they do clash.

    And what I have learned this last year is that there is a special sub-community at the school gate (it's small and it doesn't hang around after drop-off so you need to look harder for it). It is the community of working mothers. And you know what -- they get it. They know you want to make the cake yourself and not buy it or have anyone else make it for you. So when one of them makes an offer to help out, it's with the understanding that you would rather do it yourself but she offers anyway just in case you need a helping hand right then. She offers because she cares about you, not because you care about you saying yes. And when you say "no thanks", she is pleased for you, because that is code for "I've got this one sorted!" She also offers because she knows that before long she's going to be overwhelmed with gratitude when you offer to do the goodie bags for her own child's party when she is locked into work commitments in Switzerland for two weeks leading up to her own child's party. And she just knows you're going to do it with extra gold-plated bells on.

    The other mother