eclairs come in all flavors and colors. does that drive the point home a bit too much? i am nothing if not heavy handed.
I remember the first time I realized my mom was a girl, too. I mean, I had always known her gender was female, certainly. But as a child and then into my early puberty I did not consider her an active participant in girlhood. I think I thought she had outgrown it, that somehow through experience and time she had outstripped the parts of the feminine that are emotional, sticky, confusing or lonely. I thought adulthood meant certainty. I didn’t know that on and off for the rest of our lives we will all be the little girl with her hair with her hair all done and no invitation to the birthday party.
It broke my heart right in two when I realized I was wrong.
I was twelve and talking over some heartbreak or another with both her and my dad. I can’t remember what it was, I do remember feeling completely rejected. At one point in the narrative, they laughed knowingly and then looked at each other as they said, “Eclairs!” in unison.
Eclairs? Here I was aching my soul out over something that was surely life shattering and my parents thought it was appropriate to laugh about cream filled french pastries? Didn’t they know what I was going through? Couldn’t they understand the seriousness of the situation? And if they were going to talk about eclairs while I was crying there better well be some damn eclairs for me to eat. WHERE WERE THE ECLAIRS???
They saw the manic look on my face, realized that all the food in the house was in danger - seriously where are the baked goods?? - and started to tell the story right away.
It was early on in their marriage. They were a couple of kids with a baby and just enough money to pay rent if they postponed a few utility bills. My dad’s business was brand new with no clients. My mom was in in the middle of sewing cushions to sit around the kitchen table because they couldn’t afford chairs. They lived on the outskirts of a wealthy area and went to church with CEOs of companies that brought in millions a year.The disparity in circumstance wasn’t something my mom and dad dwelled on. As far as my parents were concerned, they were moving on up on love and ambition and wasn’t it nice that so many people in their community were already so successful?
At one point, they were invited to a dinner party at one of the big houses run by one of the big CEOs that would be attended by many of the wealthy men and women from their church and the surrounding area. Suddenly, my parents were nervous. My mom didn’t know if she had a good enough dress to wear and my dad wondered if the car they had would make it up the hill the house stood on. The host was Mormon and Mormons, no matter their socioeconomic standing, have an unholy love of all things potluck. (I can tell you from vast experience that I don’t believe this part of the church to be true.) My parents were asked to bring a dessert.
A little something sweet was an assignment my mom knew she could do well. She went out to the nicest grocery store in Orange County and bought the loveliest flour, sweetest cream and fanciest chocolate to make a platter of picture perfect eclairs. When they left for the party they were in high spirits. My mom had found a dress in the back of her closet that paired nicely with some borrowed costume jewelry. My dad had decided that the car would probably be fine and tapped the wood on the dashboard twice for luck. Then they were off. My dad said he remembered feeling so proud as his stylish wife walked in with eclairs that looked like they had been flown in from Paris.
And then, it was awful. The only person that spoke to them the entire time was the hostess when she said, “Sit there.”, and pointed to the end of a long table. My dad said all of the dinner conversation went something like this,
Fellow dinner attendee: “I just don’t know what we are supposed to do about our baby! She is up all night long and sleeps all day.”
My mom: “Oh, I know what you mean! Meggie seems to think that midnight is play time!”
Fellow dinner attendee looks at my mom and then looks away: “Debra, weren’t you saying Sammy doesn’t sleep?”
To this day, they both say they have never been in a social situation that comes close to touching that night for awkwardness. Dinner was an array of dishes brought by various guests from the best restaurants in town. Everybody oohed and ahhed about each person’s contribution. Two other couples had brought dessert, one a store bought chocolate cake, the other a plate full of the “the most div-eye-ne cookies, really you all must try them, if I do say so myself.” And they did. In fact, everyone tried every damn thing except that platter of painstakingly made eclairs. Those remained completely untouched.
After dinner and dessert, the crowd moved into the front room and my parents moved to the front door. My mom smiled and said thank you to the hostess while tears pricked at her eyes. By the time they got to the car, they were pouring down her face.
My dad was about to pull away when she put his hand on his.
“Go back in there and get that plate. I am not leaving those people my beautiful eclairs.”
And my dad - that hero guy - sucked it up, went back into the fray and emerged victorious with my mom’s confections.
When the story ended, I sniffled my last sniffles and jumped across the table to give my mom a hug. I felt like maybe since she was still living through the messiness of girldom, then maybe I could, too.
Fifteen years later, I was a grown woman with a child of my own. Out for lunch, I’d presented a couple of women with something I thought was lovely. When they dismissed it, I started to cry. In front of them. Into my soup. The tears were fairly out of character for me. I rarely, if ever, cry in front of acquaintances. But somehow, I couldn’t help it. I felt like a little girl on the playground picked last to play. It was mortifying.
On the way home from the restaurant, I called my mom and bawled about how foolish I felt and that I had no friends and I felt so alone and oh my gosh, how stupid was I to think that what I had to offer was worth a damn thing. She said all the right things and by the time I hung up, the tears had turned to moist hiccups. Blotchy faced, snot nosed hiccups.
Within three hours that sweet woman showed up on my doorstep with a beautiful vintage platter filled with eclairs. We laughed until I cried and then ate and then laughed some more. Thank the clouds, the mountains and the stars for mothers.
Sisters, what you have, what you do, what you hope is important and precious and even more delicious than cream filled puff pastry. Continue to put your heart into your works. Know that it is worthwhile. When I was a kid I thought the most important part of the eclair story was the part where my dad went back in and rescued the plate of confections for my mom. As an adult, I know the most important part is that my mom realized those little pastries didn’t belong in a room full of people who couldn’t appreciate what went into them. That knowledge took a real sense of self worth and a lovingly accurate sense of perspective. We so rarely equip ourselves with those two essential things as we make our way through this life. I would ask each of us to allow ourselves the gift of carrying those two things with us always. If you are in a place where no one seems willing to partake of your eclairs, it has nothing to do with the value of your contributions, you are simply in the wrong place. Just pick up that platter, smile graciously and go out into the world to find out where you belong. I know the a space is waiting for you and the people that fill it are lovely.
And yeah, we all might need to eat a few cream filled pastries to get over the heartaches along the way. So what? I promise to keep quiet about it, if you do.