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SANDY BANKS / Life As We Live It

She Didn't Need to Feel Like Such a Half-Baked Mom After All

January 19, 1998|SANDY BANKS

It was no big deal when the notice came home in a backpack from school.

"First Grade Bake Sale! Please send a dozen cupcakes with your child on Wednesday, to be sold to students during recess."

Piece of cake, I thought to myself. I posted it on the refrigerator and made a mental note to dig out my baking pans and pick up some cake mix the night before.

But Tuesday night came and went, filled with basketball practice, homework, laundry and baths. And it wasn't until Wednesday morning that I remembered that note, as we were hustling out the door, cupcakeless.

That left me with no choice but to come down on the wrong side of a question whose answer declares for the world the quality of your commitment to motherhood: "Are you store-bought or homemade?"

*

It's the unofficial dividing line separating the "good" moms from those too busy with their careers to care.

The good moms decorate homemade cookies and make carrot cakes and apple muffins for bake sales and birthday celebrations in class. And they scorn our children, who stumble in late, lugging plastic packages of doughnut holes, bought from Winchell's on the way to school.

At least this is how we imagine it to be, in the recesses of our minds where the guilt collects. And we try to hold that guilt at bay by matching their creations with our own.

A friend and co-worker, the mother of twins, used to drag in exhausted after baking binges, which came so often we thought her kids' school drew its entire budget from student bake sales.

I've become less fanatical as time has gone by. When my oldest was little, I wouldn't let her near a store-bought treat. I prided myself on my homemade confections, and nary a bake sale or birthday or class party passed that didn't offer something my oven produced.

But the self-imposed competition wore me down. I could never match those entries with the fancy decorations, wrapped in bright cellophane with elaborate ribbon bows.

So I settled on a standard, but adequate, contribution--plain fudge brownies, made from a mix, stuffed in plastic sandwich bags.

So it's not creative. It at least grants me entry into the coveted circle of moms who care enough to bake.

*

I'd fallen short this time but was determined to recover with grace and style.

So I hit the local market en route to school, in search of one of those prepackaged sets with the ultrafluffy frosting and alluring rainbow sprinkles.

I quickly spied the perfect collection--a dozen yellow cupcakes covered with mounds of blue frosting, nestled inside a neat plastic case.

In line for the cashier I realized I wasn't alone. Ahead of me was a sheepish-looking woman, another first-grade mom. She'd dropped her kid off at school already, sans cupcakes, she said. She'd forgotten about the bake sale until she was in the carpool line.

The grocery store trip would make her late for work. But better that than leave her son empty-handed, in the midst of all those cupcake-toting moms.

So I was feeling smug--at least I'd remembered before we got to school--until I rolled up to the carpool line.

Because lining the sidewalks were hordes of mothers, leading beaming first-graders balancing large cardboard boxes and aluminum tins. Loaded with cupcakes.

Homemade cupcakes.

*

I couldn't stay away from school that day. I needed a recess visit to see if my cupcakes made the grade . . . and to make sure my first-grader wasn't off crying in a corner alone, ostracized by classmates whose mothers baked.

To my surprise, there were a dozen plastic cupcake cases on the bake sale table, most empty of all but a few of their grocery-store cupcakes, obvious with their mounds of bright icing.

Surrounding them were boxes of cupcakes unsold--those homemade creations with the thin smear of frosting, and the low-fat muffins baked lovingly at home.

And I spotted a few of those lucky kids whose mothers had baked . . . wiping blue frosting off their chins.

*

* Sandy Banks' column is published Mondays and Fridays. Her e-mail address is sandy.banks@latimes.com.

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