“I’m not obsessive. I’m particular.”
It’s a phrase my mother often says when people question her method of project execution. It’s a phrase I have come to adopt, just never around her. My particularity has yet to win in a head-to-head combat with hers.
We sit across from one another at our old, wooden dining room table. In front of each of us is a bowl of cake batter, hers of chocolate and mine of vanilla. Between the two plastic bowls lay four rusting, metal trays. They each form twelve cupcake molds. Beside these are five different cupcake papers. Unfortunately for Mom’s and my particularities, five does not divide evenly into forty-eight.
“So… we use nine of each paper? Then we can do two chocolate, two vanilla, and three swirl cupcakes on each tray? Or should we make one color paper be chocolate, one color paper be vanilla and then have the three patterned papers be swirl? Of course then the ratio would be really off,” I am spouting ideas, trying to work out the math. Frowning at the red walls of our dining room, I wait a moment for feedback. Mom purses her lips, quietly finding her own solution. Impatiently, I place the papers into the trays.
“Or…” she says finally, but the thought is interrupted as she starts to rearrange the way that I have placed the papers. She moves all the similar patterns together, where as I had them in a one through five alternating pattern. I’ve noticed that almost seven out of every ten times our preferences do not match up. She finishes her thought, “…We could take away two of the patterns and just use three papers. One chocolate, one vanilla and one swirl.”
“I guess we could do that…” I say hesitantly, “but then the papers will be uneven when we put them back in the canister, and you know we’ll never use the rejects from today. There won’t be enough for a full dozen.” I take the empty canister off the table and place it beside me on the wooden bench, hoping my argument has sufficient logic for her to concede.
“But,” Mom says, holding her palm up and motioning for me to give the canister back, “we can use the other two full designs another day. We can figure out the ‘rejects’ later,” she rationalizes, already snatching up two of the patterns to be restacked.
Once she decides what the “correct” way to do something is, there is no point arguing with her. It’s taken me seventeen years to discover this trick, and I am still reluctant to follow it. An argument has formed in my throat, but I swallow it down, reminding myself that it will be easier for everyone. Slowly, I take up the pattern papers and restack them, being sure to place the ridges together.
Though the trouble with cupcake papers is that they never go back quite right. They always puff up like an accordion once they’ve been peeled apart. I will most likely need to make more cupcakes later this week. Well, I won’t need to, but I will so I don’t have to keep thinking about the papers sitting in the kitchen cupboard being uneven and puffy.
Once the papers are settled into a pattern my mom is satisfied with, we scoop our respective batters into the appointed chocolate and vanilla papers while show tunes escape from my computer’s speakers. I take a break and pull my vanilla hair out of my face. Mom looks up, “Careful not to scoop too much. There won’t be even amounts when we do the swirls,” she chides over Pippin craving an extraordinary life. I adjust from a full scoop to a three-quarters scoop to please her, biting my tongue.
When people tell me I am like my mother, I try to take it as a compliment. It means I am hardworking, loyal, honest, and above all, I get shit done; like these cupcakes for today’s party. I try to ignore the other hand, the real reason people spit that I am like her. I am bossy, controlling, and never to admit to being wrong.
We scoop the swirl cupcakes last, chocolate on one side, vanilla on the other. Then I take a toothpick and mix them together. I try to be artistic and give them intricate swirls that move through the depth of the cupcake.
“What are you doing?” Mom asks when she returns from placing the trays of chocolate and vanilla into the oven.
“Swirling them…” I say in concentration.
“Those are too mixed together, they won’t be swirly just an ugly mud. Do something simple so that they stay white and brown.” She takes the toothpick from my hand and demonstrates a lopsided yin-yang.
“That looks ugly,” I tell her, “and it’s only on the top, what about when someone bites in?” Once I say it, I know I shouldn’t have. But now that it’s out I feel the boiling heat from my stomach subsiding.
“Who cares once they bite into it? They’ll be eating it.” She drops the toothpick back on the table. “But I don’t care, do it however you want.” This is a familiar technique: the guilt trip. She starts to walk back through the kitchen door, but before she is all the way gone she says, “I just think your way is blending together too much, but it doesn’t matter.”
“Obviously it does matter,” I sigh. She turns around. She is clenching and unclenching her fist by her side, a tell-tale sign that she is both irritated and trying not to be irritated.
“It doesn’t,” She says. “Do whatever the hell you want.” Then she is back in the kitchen.
The first five cupcakes have delicate swirls. Then I make a sixth – one, because it is an act of defiance, and two, because I can’t let them be odd. The rest of the cupcakes, however, get one large yin-yang type swirl on the surface.
“You didn’t have to do that, I really didn’t care.” She says when we finally place the last two trays into the oven at 350°F.
“I know. We’ll have some of both.” I pretend this is okay with me and then I release the issue to the universe, like I have so many times.
The ability to let go is not something I have learned from my mother, but rather because of her. It is the piece of personality I take solace in when people find themselves trying to punish me with taunts of being like her. Letting go is the reason I believe it when I say, “I am not obsessive or compulsive, I am particular,” because if I were suffering from OCD, I do not think I would be able to release things to the universe. Though I do worry at times that the universe is getting too full for me to release anything else into it.
With the cupcakes rationed out and baking, Mom and I have approximately twenty-two minutes plus cooling time to relax before we have to have a discussion about how to ice them. However relaxation is not on her mind, it rarely is. According to her, we have just enough time to set up the six folding tables and put the tablecloths on them. I throw one over a table and start to adjust it. “They shouldn’t be crooked like that one,” Mom kindly reminds me.
ABIGAIL SMITH / Contributing Writer
Abigail Smith is a recent graduate from Florida State University with a Bachelor’s Degree in Creative Writing. Currently, she is working on a collection of short stories that center on family dynamics and conflicts. Abigail comes from a large family and says she “wouldn’t be a writer without their love and support. My family is the most important thing to me.” Outside of writing, Abigail also does some photography and design. For more information about her or her writing, visit her personal website at gailallan8.wix.com/abigailsmith.