Last weekend, our son and his wife came to visit, bringing their two small children. We sat around the dining table, happily chatting about everything and nothing. Eventually, the subject got around to the wee ones’ schooling and the expected level of commitment from parents and grandparents in fund-raising events. Including the dreaded Bake Sale.
I had a flashback to the moment when my son, barely finished with his first-grade orientation, rushed through the door and thrust a semi-clean piece of crumpled paper into my hands, announcing an upcoming bake sale. All mothers were expected to contribute. And it needed to be from scratch. And creatively presented. Oh, and it was tomorrow.
I don’t cook. I hate it. I knew by eighth grade that it was not for me, when all my giggling girlfriends were eager for Home Ec class, while I opted for wood shop with Billy Butz (who spent most of the year in detention due to his unfortunate habit of fondling his junk at recess), which shows you how far I was willing to go. Twenty years later, I found myself holding what would be the first of a ridiculous number of flyers over the years, handed out with knowing and superior smiles by the Bake Sale Moms.
These women are tough. And they take their bake sales very seriously. They think nothing of giving you less than 24 hours between the wadded notice and the presentation of your famous Disney princess cookie collection, because their bake-off artwork has been ready since last Tuesday. These women compete fiercely every year for imaginary first place, jockeying for position to determine who can bring in the most beautiful, well-presented, or most complicated recipe. Winners and runner ups are chosen by the self-appointed pack leader by “first to sell,” “most money paid,” or “best presentation.” This hierarchy remains absolute and unwavering until the next bake-off.
There’s no room in this club for women who don’t bake. You’ll never know their secret handshake or be invited to any of their get-togethers, because, well, you don’t know the difference between real vanilla and imitation. You don’t understand why someone would spend $11 on an entire jar of Cardamon when the recipe only calls for 1/8 of a tablespoon. You don’t belong. So you humbly offer up a paper plate of slightly burnt, generic chocolate chip cookies, obviously sliced from a frozen log, totally humiliating your child, bringing in a paltry two bucks from the janitor in a pity sale, and getting yourself permanently banned from the prestigious Bake Sale Moms’ Club.
When my son was in second grade, we were living on Maui, in an uber-cute, plantation-style house, surrounded by old banana trees. Less “Gone with the Wind” and more 140-year-old sharecropper’s cottage, it came with original plumbing and appliances. Quaint, but not without some inconveniences.
One day, he came home from school and announced that I was supposed to bake some cookies for the bake sale that was, oh yeah, tomorrow. Trying not to panic, since I didn’t have a clue how to get started (and those “I make my child his own Christmas tree every year using toilet paper tubes and glitter” moms can be scary), I decided to at least attempt to fit in and make my kid proud.
I discovered we actually had a cookbook with cookie recipes (who knew?), so I sat down to find one that didn’t ask for some weird “cream of tartar” or include a 13-page tutorial at the bottom on how use pointy tubes of frosting to draw animal faces on your cookies because “Wouldn’t that just be, like, adorable??” (For the love of God, who are these women??)
I finally found one that looked simple enough, and I set all the ingredients out on kitchen table, ready to dazzle my young progeny.
Step one: Preheat oven to 350. Hmmm. There were five knobs on the front. When I turned the one that said “Temp,” all I heard was a hissing sound from inside the oven. I may not be Martha in the kitchen, but I was pretty sure ovens were not supposed to hiss. I called a girlfriend, who asked if the pilot light was on. “What the hell is a ‘pilot light?'” I asked. “You have a gas oven,” she explained, “You need to light the pilot light inside the oven to turn it on.” All righty, then. Historically, kitchens and anything flaming have not worked out well for me, but this was for my boy, so I was going in.
I quickly realized I had absolutely no idea where this mysterious pilot light might be, so I flicked on a long, candle-type lighter, opened the oven door, stuck the lighter in and waved it around, hoping it would somehow figure out where to go so I could get chopping on my bragging rights.
The next thing I heard was an extremely loud BANG, immediately followed by a WHOOSH of thick, greasy, black smoke, billowing out of the oven and streaming oily black soot on me, the walls, the table, all my ingredients, and Poi, the mangy (and now seriously pissed) plantation cat that happened to stroll by looking for treats. Well, crap.
Jake was standing in the doorway, doubled over with laughter, with all the glee of a six-year-old whose mother has just completely torched her kitchen for his personal amusement, while he chortled, “Boy, the other mothers aren’t going to believe this. We should take a picture of you, Mom. This is great!!” Awesome. I told him to give me an hour to clean up the mess, take a shower, and hose down the cat. Then we were off to Safeway for some Oreos. Bite me, bake sale.
And now the next generation is bringing home those same damn flyers. Screw it. If those Betty Crocker wannabes don’t want my Oreos, I’m bringing wine. Bet those mothers can’t make that.