Becoming "That" Mother

Anyone who has spent any amount of time in a grocery store, a parking lot, a laundromat, or any public place has witnessed the antics of “that” mother. You know: The one who goes berserk because her kid was running unchaperoned down the aisle and ran into your cart, and subsequently gets royally pissed because you had no business being in his path in the first place? Or the one who goes into Babies ‘R Us and cusses out the staff and management because they don’t make Black He-Man action figures anymore? (This is a head-scratcher for the staff…because He-Man became obsolete in the late 80’s…and he was never Black in the first place. But what does that matter? She needs a strong Black male role model for her boy and your crappy company can’t provide it!)

“That” mother is uncompromising. She’s unyielding. In short, she’s insane.

Most notable in this group of bizarre women are two kinds: Mothers of only children and mothers of only sons. It now appears that I am a part of the latter group.

This weekend we celebrated my son’s first birthday. My only son. The one who gave me the most trouble in the womb. The one I have to work the hardest to coax a smile from. My ONLY son.

Exasperated that his father wasn’t taking more initiative or interest in planning his birthday party, I invited a few people over impromptu for cake and ice-cream. When ordering his cake a few days before, I had spent 15 minutes mulling  between Handy Manny and Elmo. I mean…he’s one. He doesn’t HAVE a favorite cartoon character yet. His older sisters solved my quagmire when they agreed that the Hispanic fix-it guy was the way to go, and Manny was scheduled to come home with us on Friday.

I went to Publix at noon to pick up said cake and party accoutrement, pleased with how smoothly everything was going. Everything I needed was on the shelves. The girls were excited to have friends and guests coming over and gaily discussed what dresses they would be changing into once the party began. I strolled over to the bakery, basket full of wares and gliding to the hot 90’s tunes that had now become muzak for the generation. When I got to the bakery counter, I was greeted by no one. Odd. The folks at Publix are usually pretty attentive.

I waved at an unconcerned Asian lady and asked her if anyone could help me. She pointed to the back of the room. A lady with a bad relaxer, sporting straw-for-hair, lazily sauntered over to me. She raised her eyebrows in question – as if to say “what do you want???”, but was too slothful to utter the words.

“I’m here to pick up a cake,” I said.

“Fuh who?” she asked.

“Grant,” I said tersely. I felt a slight headache coming on.

She walked over to the rack where the finished cakes sat and set my cake on the counter.

“I wanted to talk to you about your cake,” she said in opening. “Our airbrush machine isn’t working, so I had to draw in the decorations.” She pointed at her shoddy workmanship with her right pinkie finger. I was immediately vexed.

“I don’t know what your airbrush machine was supposed to do, but honestly, this is the worst cake I’ve ever seen done here at Publix.”

SCRRREEECCHH!!! Let me pause right here.

What I need for everyone to understand is that I grew up in Ghana, where there is NO SUCH THING as customer service.  If someone burns your burger, you pay for it and say thank you. If your seamstress ruins your cloth, you pay for it, and mutter and complain all the way home…but never utter a word to her. In my day, we were taught not to complain (although things are quickly changing nowadays). It’s considered rude to complain or make a fuss. Service providers in Ghana act like they are doing you a favor, never mind the fact that you might be paying a hefty sum for that favor. In light of my upbringing, it was a huge step for me to even speak my mind about this abysmal cake.

Now back to the story

“Look at the cracks on this cake. It’s like someone dropped it on the counter and didn’t bother to smooth it out. And look at the penmanship on ‘Happy Birthday’…it’s awful! It’s like a 3 year old wrote it in.”

Old straw head (who turned out to be the bakery manager) looked quizzically at me, as though I’d lost my mind. I feared I was about to.

“So what are you saying?” she asked. “You don’t want the cake?”

She waved her tattooed arm in frustration. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw the word Pisces with little stars and lines surrounding it. I’m not into astrology, so I didn’t try to judge her by her sign. I chose instead to judge her by her missing front tooth and bad attitude.

“No,” I said simply. “I don’t think I do.”

She seemed shocked. I began to vigorously rub my forehead to release the building tension. In the midst of this conversation, my girls are clamoring to see the cake. It was hard for me to maintain my composure with a chorus of “can we see it?” in the background. While the bakery manager and I stared each other down, her assistant manager walked over, observed the imperfections, and offered to either fix them or offer me a discount on the cake. The assistant manager was a brunette; meaning she was White. Why does it always take White people to solve my problems??!?!?

“I can’t come back,” I said. “I have to get home and cook for the people showing up at 3. It’s 1:15 now.” I sighed deeply. “I guess I’ll just take the discount.”

With that, my $27 cake was dropped to $14.99. I didn’t feel vindicated. I still had to serve a crappy looking cake for my son’s first birthday.

Now should all that turmoil have happened over one little chocolate sheet cake? No. Do I even have a picture of it to share the memory of its existence with my son? Nope! Doesn’t matter. I was ready to set that building on fire becuase those people had screwed up my baby’s honorary confection. Some of you guys out there can feel me too. You’re probably sitting at home watching TV with “that” mother as I type.