I’ll never know if it was her idea or my own, but I hardly believe it matters. Those were, without question, some of the sweetest afternoons I’ve had. Covered in flour and fingers caked with dough, I narrated to a mute kitchen cabinet the next steps. “Be sure not to knead the dough too much,” I told an imaginary camera. “Just enough.”
My mother then explained to the fake audience that we wrap the sugar-cookie dough in plastic and put it in the fridge for at least two hours- the longest commercial break in history. “And we’ll be right back on the Mother Daughter Cooking Show,” she told the cabinet.
We would both relax then. The business of pretending to be famous is a lot of work when you take yourself too seriously, which I did, always. I imagined the hundreds of eager housewives glued to their TVs, just sitting on the couch while we artfully concocted dishes they would never attempt, like I did when Mr. Rogers ended and Jeff Smith came on PBS. Jeff would sauté vegetables with names I couldn’t pronounce, and I watched him faithfully day after day until I dozed off and woke to something even more boring than Jeff whisking egg whites. In, I slipped the VHS of Mary Martin’s Peter Pan, and like a daily religious rite, I recited along.
Days with Mom before I got swept out of privilege and into the suburban public school system, were wagon rides and home-made play dough, sledding and hide-and-seek, knitting and watercolor paints. I was a creature of her crafting alone, my attempts to draw my businesslike father into the game a repeated failure as he spread across mountains of documents and furrowed into laptop computer screens. “Dad, want to go play catch?” Maybe a little later. I’m busy now.
My mother raised a youngest daughter. And my abhorrence for dresses, my inability to close my legs while sitting, and my insistence on boy heroes as Halloween costumes did not obscure this truth. My mother raised a daughter, two in fact. And a son. That was her doing, her choice, the only one she knew she had.
In the days after my Dad left, when I was older, she would pass on more than culinary wisdom. She would teach me to TP the houses of cruel boys, the art of over-ordering take-out to bridge bad moods, and the brain’s nostalgic attachment to scents.
I am not the daughter she imagined- short-haired and decorated in neck ties, a sweet-faced boy gritting teeth along Chicago’s sidewalks. I am searching out boyhoods lost, muting the girlhoods of my head, reclaiming a history of physical discomfort. I am cutting my hair over and over. I am in love with my ability to pass and forget. No, I am not the daughter she imagined at all. But I am hers.