I recently celebrated my 23rd birthday, and weeks before the actual day, my mother called (for the third time that afternoon) to clarify (again) what kind of birthday cake I would like during my weekend at home in Milwaukee. She didn’t want to know what flavor or how I wanted the woman at Sendik’s to decorate it; she wanted me to choose (from memory) a dessert from the well-worn, handmade recipe book that narrated my upbringing.
My mother is an incredible baker of her own tradition. In the day to day, she owns and manages a consignment shop called Ivana's Trunk in Milwaukee, but that’s never stopped her from baking something stellar for every occasion (and I use occasion in the broad sense of the term, because a less-than-24-hour visit from me is always considered an occasion).
Just so you know, with the suggestion of my mother, (she said “I know how much you love my raspberry tort,”) I chose the raspberry tort as my birthday cake. The dessert has three layers: it ends in tough, graham cracker crust, the middle is a fluffy, whipped cream cheese, and the top is fresh raspberries suspended in homemade raspberry jam. My mother was right, I do love her raspberry tort, but there isn’t much about my mother that I don’t love.
From the time I was born until I graduated third grade, my mom was a hardcore stay-at-home mom. She raised two kids, she took care of our home, she volunteered as the school librarian, she was the bake sale queen, and she did everything she could to create a flawless life for my brother and me. When my mother went back to work, and eventually opened her own consignment store, her commitment to our family never faltered. As I grow older, as I take on more responsibility, as I begin to realize just how much it sucks to do laundry and the dishes and work full-time, I am astounded by my mother’s strength, tenacity, and bravery, to literally do it all.
So, when my mother calls me three times a day and tells me what kind of cake I should have for my birthday, I smile and I nod because I know that whatever she does, she does with love in her heart and batter on her apron.
Alexandra Gerard is a freelance hustler in Chicago, providing writing, photography, and social media services. You can find her on Instagram: @itsyagrlgerry.