so many aprons…

aprons

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…

My mother.

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.

***

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Categories: Cookin'

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29 replies

  1. I’m sorry about your mom. It’s funny the emotional strings some objects have, and you’re absolutely right, aprons are one of them. It’s something I really struggled with as I settled into being a housewife. It made financial and practical sense in our circumstances (hubby & I), but yet I felt (and sometimes still feel) that I had to justify and explain it to anyone who asked my least favourite question: “So, what do you do?”. I couldn’t just be comfortable saying, “I’ve chosen not to work. Yes I have a degree, too many in face (hence Doctorate Housewife), but I’m not working.” Somehow I always half feel like I’m letting down womankind… Aprons, hmmm – they’re tricky little things. Thanks for sharing!

    • You’re right Doctorate Housewife – aprons are tricky things!

      I think that with “those kinds of questions,” ie somewhat awkward and extremely personal and seem to always come up, we have to find a good one-liner that deflects and shuts people down, nicely. I usually try to find something funny. And then I go hahahahaha, laughing at my own joke while the other person looks at me perplexed. 🙂

      In any case, I sense from your situation that YOU are a complex individual and those are my favorite kind of people. 🙂 Thanks for weighing in.

  2. wow. what an intense post! first of all, i LOVE that polka dot apron on the right. i’d figure out how to make that into a dress because, secondly, i don’t wear aprons, but cook just about every night. even if i owned one, i probably wouldn’t wear it just because i’ve never been in the habit to wear one. i say let the feminist and proud domestic in you rally together against stereotypes of any kind and where the damn thing all the time! 🙂

    • Thank you S&S! Yup, I can totally see you making that one into a dress – it has some nice pleats and the color combo is a bit retro. My friend Stefanie gave it to me. I have to admit that I’m more prone to throwing an apron on if it’s cute. You are a brave woman to cook without one OR maybe you’re just not as klutzy of a cook as me 🙂

  3. This post gave me something to think about. I have no associations – negative or positive with my aprons. If I remember to put it on, I’ll wear one when I am cooking. Usually, I manage to splatter everything, but my apron when I have uncooperative sauces or batters

    • I know! I have to say – I don’t understand those half aprons – that leaves me with far too much clothing exposed. Maybe a full hazmat suit is actually the better idea, rather than these frilly little things… 🙂

  4. I had to reread the Feminine Mystique before I could get a handle on my motherhood at 40 after years of eating out and Independence. No, not a fan of the apron! Although it looks adorable on most ladies. Keeps your clothes looking spiff for the party. I rather have wine all over my jeans:-) Plus if the parties at my house I can change. :-))

    • Good point – you can always change when you’re at your own house – but it seems like I’m always staining myself with things (like wine) that won’t come out, EVER. Or maybe I just need to take some kind of stain removal class. 🙂

  5. Aw, what lovely & thought provoking post. Several of my friends are severely conflicted between career dreams and domestic dreams.. It’s not always clear-cut and easy, huh?

    Best wishes to your mom. I hope she was encouraged by this post 🙂

    • Thank you Suzanne – yes it is a conflict and not clear cut at all.

      Unfortunately, my mom is not in a headspace where she can read/ or even understand this post – she’ll probably never even know about it, but I hope/trust she knows how much of a positive influence she has been on me, both inside and outside of the home.

  6. I love the vintage appeal of aprons. There is a secret side of me that would like to spend a few days as Betty Draper. You’re not supposed to say that out loud. But the dresses and hair and pearls are hard to resist for someone who likes costumes as much as I do. It’s hard to eradicate that girly-wedding-ideal entirely. Even if you know it’s a fiction.

    I have a few aprons. I never wear them. Not once. People gave them to me as gifts, and they are all super cute. But for some reason, it never, ever occurs to me to put one on.

    • Yes, it is hard to remember to reach for an apron – even though mine are hanging on a hook just an arm’s length away. It’s kind of like bracelets – I have several of them (mostly gifts) and they are great, I just never seem to grab one. 🙂

      I don’t know about Betty Draper (never watched the show, should I admit that outloud?) but I DO admire the pearl-wearing/heel-clad/aproned and well-coifed June Cleaver from Leave it to Beaver 🙂

  7. Reading your blog made me want to get an apron.I never really thought about owning one but now I must have one! I think Anthropolgie has some cute ones:)You have an adorable collection of them.
    So sorry to hear your mom is not well.Sending you lots of love and strength!

  8. First off, I’m so sorry to hear about your mom.

    Secondly, great post. Loved the back history about your mom.

    I can understand where you’re coming from here. Despite all they somewhat represent, I happen to love aprons! I have a cute frilly June Cleaver one that I adore, among a couple of others. I begrudgingly hosted a “product” party for a friend last year. I love to entertain but I’m not a fan of home sales. But for this friend I’d do anything! So I decided to make it more interesting and sort of make fun of the Tupperware home parties of yesteryear. I made everyone wear aprons. With pearls. It was tons of fun.

    But, yeah, maybe I felt a bit repressed. Until I drank my third glass of wine 🙂

    • Three cheers for June Cleaver! 🙂 If she were on TV today, you KNOW she’d be a very successful blogger: I think hers would have a cooking slant and lots of great household tips.

      Love your pearls n aprons party idea – that must have been fun. 🙂

  9. Your mother’s story resonates with me a great deal….

    Prayers are with you both. She may have never gotten down a career path of any greatness, but she did raise two wonderful children she was proud of. I know, because she told me so. And trust me, that’s really all that truly matters to a mother….the rest is just stuff and fluff.

  10. First of all… you have the most lovely collection of aprons I’ve ever seen. I don’t own one and I’ve never even thought about getting one. This, however, has made me rethink the apron! I suppose I would miss all my white T-shirts with spaghetti sauce all over them, but a pretty Marimekko apron might help me get over that. 🙂 Then I might have to wear an apron over the Marimekko… it’s just too pretty. Okay, layers of aprons=bad.

    I loved the story about your mom but I’m sorry to hear that she struggling. It made me envision a life that was so different from the one most women have today. Yes, the whole domestic goddess thing is very rewarding. I have days when I feel very “wifely” for lack of a better word but others when I think I would want more than just that. I think finding that happy medium is important because being a kick-ass executive all your life and missing out on raising your children and creating a wonderful home for your family is not the way to go either.

    So really wearing that apron as you opened the door to greet your friends was really you saying… hey… I’m a little bit country and a little bit rock-n-roll… I’m doing it all. Good for you! You’ve got the best of both. Not easy… but a good balance for sure.

    • Ha ha! I love the image of older apron over newer/nicer apron and can SO see myself doing that. It’s kind of like: Here, I’ve put out some beautiful linen napkins, but if you really need to actually use one, can u just use this paper towel instead? And let’s just acknowledge that spaghetti sauce tie dye isn’t such a bad look.

      And – yes, lil’ bit country and lil’ bit rock-n-roll. Well put. 🙂 Like so many things in life, I guess it’s about balance and keeping it loose.

      Hope you are doing well and that you’re able to give the thumbs-up sign again??

  11. Those “embarassing” aprons are nothing. You need a semi-laminated apron with a picture of Snoopy preparing a deli sandwich taller than himself before you have the right to claim fashion faux pas

  12. What a lovely picture painted of your Mom. I already feel how she felt when she was 50. I was out of the hospitality industry for 4 years and couldn’t get a job to save my life. I may eventually, like your mom, regret being my own boss and making very little money as a blogger/professional organizer BUT I won’t be able to say that I didn’t spend enough time with my family. PS I have the cutest apron that I have worn only once.

    • Thank you Shelly. Well, you are not only doing an amazing job spending time with your child but it seems to me you are also kicking butt professionally – your daughter is seeing that, she is absorbing it. Looks like a good balance to me…

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