When I got married, several people gave me aprons. I got floral aprons and aprons with polka dots. Some had frills and one was covered in calico fish. I appreciated every one of these gifts. And yet, I barely ever “tie one on.” Instead, they hang on the back of our kitchen door, alongside a bundle of re-usable bags. The bags get used a lot more than the aprons.
The truth is that I love to cook and entertain guests. The other truth is that between motherhood, working outside the home, and also working as a writer at home, I don’t do these things very often. I’d love to host elaborate dinner parties…this hasn’t happened in years. I’d love to bake fresh muffins for play dates…this has happened exactly once. I’d have loved to volunteer to make something for our first “Back to School Night.” I didn’t.
I do spend a lot of time in the kitchen, yet my tasks there are perfunctory and rushed. I whip together meals using a combination of fresh and frozen foods. I wash dishes in a blind flurry, and load and un-load that dishwasher so often I feel like I’m starring in a version of Groundhog Day, the kitchen edition. And you know what I wear for these activities? My pajamas or what I call my “housey-clothes” i.e. old t-shirts and yoga pants. And it doesn’t really matter if those get splattered.
Aprons fulfill a valuable an obvious purpose: quite simply, they protect clothes from spilled sauce, flying batter, and blender mishaps. The operative concept is that you are wearing something you want to protect…that people outside your family might be seeing you after you cook or even while you’re cooking. That you might ask the question, Can I refresh your drink? while cheerfully wiping your hands on your apron. To me, anyway, these cute aprons indicate you’re enjoying domesticity and even celebrating it. That what you do in the kitchen is a labor of love and…not just a labor.
I’ll be honest: part of me wants to be June Cleaver. I want to wear those aprons more. And the other part of me knows I’ve structured my life to be so fragmented (and sometimes frantic) for a reason. It’s not just that I love both of my jobs or that we have a hefty mortgage. (We could move; I could quit; a few tweaks and the formula could all be different if we wanted it to be.) The other reason I’m typing out these words right now while my toddler naps, when I could instead be in the kitchen crafting a healthy and interesting meal is…
She was a full-time homemaker. She cooked, gardened, and crafted for every holiday. She took meticulous care of her home and her kids. Her apron was blue gingham and, when I was younger, she wore it on a daily basis. She entertained often: candied almonds were regularly tossed into salads, and the fondue set was in steady rotation. I think she invented tablescapes before tablescapes were a thing.
When I was 12, however, my parents got divorced, which meant that we started eating more meals out and my mother didn’t cook as much. She was depressed. She was lost. We even got pizza delivered sometimes (which at the time felt scandalous.) With my dad gone, the entertaining came to a screeching halt. And she stopped wearing her apron.
Of course the “cute apron” doesn’t tell the whole story does it? There’s a fine line between June Cleaver and Betty Draper. And Martha Stewart’s more modern example of domesticity hasn’t turned out to be all sunshine and rainbows (or toile and chevrons) has it?
My mother had enjoyed staying at home. But, for her, there were consequences. When, out of necessity, she tried to enter the work force in her 50’s, after being away from it for over 20 years, her skills were outdated. She’d been a secretary when she was younger, and in fact put my father through college with her salary. Though she ended up working in a few stylish boutiques when I went off to college, and worked in real estate for over 10 years, from the ages 65-75, these jobs paid little more than minimum wage.
Before she died a year and half ago, she told me several times she wished she’d gone to college and worked outside of the home to some extent all along. Her experience convinced her that working part-time was the perfect set up for a woman: this way you can have both a family life and a career. Keep in mind this is only her opinion. Obviously every woman seeks the balance that works best for her and her family…But a mother’s opinion holds sway with a daughter, who, in this case, is me.
Sometimes I feel like I’m trying to juggle too much and I should just try to be at home more. Sometimes I’m confident that I am doing exactly the right thing. Mostly, I feel lucky: when my mother left this world, she got to see me living pretty much the life I wanted and pretty much the life she wanted for me. She also left me her blue gingham apron, which I’d frame long before I’d wear, for fear of ruining it.
As much as my mother embodied a wonderful domesticity when I was a child, her through-line imparted a cautionary tale: in other words, don’t wear an apron too much and don’t let your skills go.
Still, I feel a drawn to those aprons. I think it’s time to finally organize that dinner party I’ve been talking to my husband about ad nauseam. I’m not quite sure how we’ll fit it in: maybe I’ll appeal to the Sun to see if she’ll consider adding more hours to the day. I’m thinking six hours or at least four. If that doesn’t work out, you just might see me walking down the street wearing an apron…because it would be a shame for them to keep going to waste.