"We seldom get into trouble when we speak softly. It is only when we raise our voices that the sparks fly and tiny molehills become great mountains of contention."
- - Gordon B. Hinckley
September 19, 2012
Playing Mommy - by Michela Hunter
by College Voices
Michela Hunter
Freshman, Brigham Young University

"Michela!" cried Sarah.

"Mm?" I was too absorbed in my pasta sauce to answer her. It smelled pretty good, and it tasted okay, but it needed...something. I dumped some Italian spices into the pot and wished I had the ingredients to make my mom's tomato sauce.

"Michela, the cake broke!"

That got my attention. I turned around, wooden spoon in hand. Sarah was looking down at the cake, half of which was on a plate on the counter and half of which was still in the little round pan in her hand.

"Oh no!" I cried, unable to keep from laughing. Maybe we hadn't sprayed the pans with enough cooking spray. I put down my spoon and joined Sarah by the counter.

For a few moments we both looked at it. It was a pretty messy break. Chocolate shrapnel was all over the plate and the counter, and it looked as though the cake had ripped diagonally down the middle, so that half of it was thicker than the other.

"Well," I finally said, "it's good that this is just the bottom layer."

"What should we do?" asked Sarah. "Should we use frosting to glue it back together?"

"Nah," I said (more confidently than I felt), taking the pan from her. "Here's what we'll do." I reached into the pan and pulled out the remnants of the cake. "We'll just stick it back together like a puzzle and cover it with frosting and then put the next layer on. No one will know it was broken." I was pretty sure I'd seen my mom do the same thing before.

"Okay," said Sarah slowly as I carefully arranged the two pieces of cake so that they formed a whole again. She turned to the second cake pan and I turned back to the stove.

The sauce was starting to bubble -- I'd turned the heat on too high! Quickly I switched it to low and feverishly stirred the sauce, dabbing at the orange spots that had splattered onto the counter with a paper towel. 

The pot of water beside the sauce was beginning to bubble, but I didn't want to put the pasta in just yet. I didn't know when Kylie and Tiffanie would be back, so I figured I'd leave it to the last possible minute. My mom always said if you cooked it too early, it would be soggy or overcooked when it was time to eat it.

I joined Kaitlynn and Lauren in cutting out paper hearts. We had to hurry so we could heart attack Kylie's room space and finish dinner before Tiffanie ran out of ways to distract Kylie. Currently they were wandering around campus looking at random things in the basements of the science buildings, but Tiffanie had texted me that she thought she'd only be able to waste another half hour or so.

Hurriedly we cut out the hearts and scribbled little messages on them: "Happy birthday!" "I flipping love you." "YOU'RE LEGAL!"

"Michela, your water's boiling," said Kaitlynn. I nodded but didn't stop cutting out hearts. I couldn't put the pasta in yet.

Sarah grunted. "Guys, this is not working out."

I turned to look at her -- or, rather, at the cake. The second layer had come out more smoothly, but we clearly hadn't given the cakes enough time to cool before frosting them. As it was, the cake looked as though someone had taken a butcher knife to it. Uneven chunks of it stuck out or were falling off, and though Sarah was doing her best to cover the chasms up with frosting, the frosting itself was causing pieces of the cake to stick to the spatula she was using.

It looked -- well, it looked terrible, but I didn't want to tell Sarah that. From the look on her face as she surveyed the mess on the plate, she knew it already.

Salvation was impossible. Reluctantly, we put the falling-apart-cake in the fridge, shoving it back as far as possible to avoid further destruction from the refrigerator door and hoping it would at least firm up in the cold. Sarah washed her hands and joined Kaitlynn, Lauren, and me as we cut out hearts, wrote on them, and stuck them all over Kylie's bed, closet, desk, dresser, and onto the wall above her bed.

My phone beeped; I picked it up. It was a text from Tiffanie: "Coming."

I hadn't even started cooking the pasta yet.

I ran to the stove, where the pot of water was hissing and frothing, and tore open my bag of pasta. Pulling out wads of spaghetti, I snapped them in half before tossing them into the water the way I'd seen my mother do so many times before. My spaghetti refused to break as cleanly or as evenly as hers always seemed to; I found myself chasing stray pieces all over the kitchen and throwing them away as I waited for the pasta in the pot to boil. I stirred it in an effort to speed up the process, glancing at the door every few seconds.

Luckily, we did manage to finish heart-attacking Kylie's room, set the table, cook the pasta, stir in the sauce, and put the food on the table a mere five minutes before Tiffanie and Kylie walked in the door.

Kylie, of course, had had no idea what we'd been up to. She loved the decorations in her room, loved that we'd made her dinner. The pasta was declared a success, for which I was grateful. She liked the food but had no idea there was cake in the fridge for her too. She was surprised (and very much amused) when we brought out the cake, and she thought it tasted excellent despite its appearance. We were all happy we'd been able to make her eighteenth birthday special, even though it was her first one away from home.

This was my first time cooking any kind of meal under my own direction rather than my mother's. It tasted good and I was proud of it, but I can't understand how she managed to do that sort of thing every night (minus the cake), even on the days when she felt too tired. 

It's been strange, getting used to her absence when I've never been away from her for more than a week. On the one hand, I can do whatever I want -- I can eat Oreo Pop-Tarts every day, buy 2% milk instead of skim, go out with my friends on a school night, stay up late into the morning, and generally call my own shots. 

On the other hand, I sometimes wish she were still here -- particularly when I look at the piles of dishes accumulating in the sink; the counter that needs scrubbing; the floor that needs sweeping; the vanity that needs organizing; the laundry that needs washing; the problems that every college student faces living on her own for the first time. It's only now that I realize just how much she did for me; it's only now, when she's not here, that I realize how much I rely on her advice and friendship each day.

But although she's not here with me, my mother still follows me around. She's in the back of my mind when I try to copy something I've seen her do in the kitchen and inevitably botch it up. I think of how horrified she'd be when I realize I haven't eaten meat in a week because I keep forgetting to buy it. And I always hear shadows of her voice in mine when I say something and it comes out sounding more like a woman and less like a girl than I intend it to.

As I ate my queen's breakfast of burnt toast and unseasoned scrambled eggs this morning, I picked up my phone and called my mom, as has become my habit over the past couple of weeks. I greeted her in Italian, excited to show off the skeletal phrases I've learned and pleased when I could understand her delighted answer. We chatted some, me about my classes, her about her calling as stake Young Women president. 

I didn't have long to talk before I had to run out the door. I never do. And maybe that's just how college is. But I'm grateful for the five minutes I have each day to hear her voice. Somehow, that bridges the distance, and then I can pretend she's not quite so far away. It's only a few more months until Christmas break, after all. I can get by playing Mommy until then.

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