On Thursday night I made four dozen cupcakes.
Boy C wanted to take treats to school to share with his whole class; while I didn’t have the energy to churn out enough cupcakes from our somewhat makeshift kitchen in the Boys’ City to feed all the kids in Boy A’s and Boy B’s classes as well, I sent them each off with enough cakey goodness for themselves and their teacher and four friends, and promised to bake for their classes next visit. They were fine with that.
Some of my most enduring memories of childhood are of my mother’s wonderful baking; there was very little money to spare in our house but always an abundance of biscuits, lamingtons and patty cakes. She even baked cakes to sell to local cafes using the tiny gas stove in the bus we lived in while my dad was building our house.
While I bake well myself, my focus has long been on producing fancypants grownup desserts rather than bulk kid-friendly treats. I made Nigella Lawson’s vanilla cupcakes (modded by pushing a square of milk chocolate into each one) for the Boys, and while they certainly elicited no complaints, they just didn’t have the moist, dense-but-light deliciousness of my own mum’s recipe.
I would love to think that my cooking could become part of the tapestry of the Boys’ childhood memories, similar to my remembrances of my grandmother’s Neenish tarts and my mother’s amazing cakes. Not in a “motherly” way, obviously, but Boy C greatly enjoys cooking with me and often thanks me for cooking “such yummy things” for them. I really hope we can hold on to cooking as a shared pleasure as he gets older.
Interestingly, I often notice that when I’ve had successes with dishes for the Boys, next visit it will transpire that their Mum has *coincidentally* cooked pancakes or chocolate self-saucing pudding or whatever it is a few times since then herself, and – of course – that hers is HEAPS better than mine, her recipe is the only “right” recipe and my (previously appreciated) way of cooking the dish is now suddenly “wrong”. And suddenly it can feel like I’ve got three little food police watching, critiquing and sometimes rejecting my meals….
I’m never competetive about the cooking thing, but I do work hard to find a niche where I can contribute to the Boys’ lives in ways they can accept, so it stings a bit when their Mum seems to be trying to undermine me on this level. Still, if that is what’s happening (and it may not be!), it can only be because she feels threatened in her role. Strange, because there’s no question in the Boys’ minds or in my mind as to whether I’m a rival mummy figure – it just isn’t that way at all, even with Boy C who has a close and affectionate relationship with me.
For instance, if we’re out and anyone mistakes us for a mum with her kids, the Boys are so quick to discount the idea that it can leave the hapless commenter looking a bit stunned. Recently we were all boarding a plane and the flight attendant on welcome duty made a comment about how much “my boys” look like me. My instant response was “No, they’re not mine, they’re my partner’s boys.” She was a little taken aback, so I added “Sorry, but if I hadn’t told you straightaway then they would have, and that could get noisy!”
So, since there’s no question that the Boys would ever see me as a mother, think of me as a mother or get mixed up about who is their mother, and I’m not in any danger of doing that either, plus I’ve tried to communicate these things to the Boys’ Mum by mentioning how proud they are of her and how loyally they speak about her to us, I wish I could just be left in peace to cook pancakes or meatballs or chocolate pudding for them without being undermined!
How do food and cooking work in your stepfamily?