“A mother is a person who, seeing there are only four pieces of pie for five people, promptly announces she never did care for pie.” -Tenneva Jordan
Last week, my husband sold the U2 tickets he bought for us back in January because it conflicted with my daughter’s school play. I’m not gonna lie, it was painful, but sometimes you have to put things aside when you’re a parent. I say sometimes, though, because I think that’s an important distinction to make in the Pinterest era where everyone competes for Internet Parent of the Year in ever escalating demonstrations of martyrdom and benevolent self sacrifice. The things we give up should be choices we make willingly, not a given that we abdicate everything, every time. Why should we have to pretend these choices don’t sting? It minimizes what they are worth.
Every year around Mother’s Day, the pie quote and other ‘moms are amazing and selfless’ memes start popping up on my Facebook feed. I read them, and all the “oh gosh, so true! LOL xoxox” responses that follow, and promptly realize that either 1. these people are lying, 2. they just haven’t had a really good piece of pie, or 3. we’ve made zero progress in the idea that women, and mothers especially, always come last.
I tried to figure out who the author is to whom this quote is attributed. Who is Tenneva Jordan? A grandmotherly ex pediatric nurse who always bakes pies just a bit too small? Why did she not learn her lesson the first time she ran out of pie? Is she a small, wizened auntie who has observed many selfless mothers going dessertless over the years and, rather than contribute a donut, writes pithy quotes instead? Having found no actual evidence that this person really exists I am left to my own devices, and as far as I’m concerned the real Tenneva Jordan is a 6 year old boy who was punished by dessert withholding a few too many times and decided to get back at us by popularizing this terrible quote.
When I started my second job in an emergency hospital, I had an eleven month old baby and I was one month pregnant. I don’t remember much from that long period of 14 hour days and missed moments at home, but the one thing I do remember is the constant and unrelenting sense that I was never doing right by anyone; gone too much for my toddler, not working enough for my bosses. Raised eyebrows and pursed lips, over and over again. There was no question as to whether or not I would get a piece of pie as it was gone three hours before I even made it to the table.
I don’t need a reminder that I am expected to sacrifice.
When I returned from maternity leave, the hospital had hired an interim medical director who, I am convinced, was an early founder of the redpill subreddit. He would pontificate on the perils of hiring a mother, state that they had no business in the field of emergency medicine, and pronounce my presence a liability to our hardworking and truly committed co-workers.
I don’t need a reminder that I am considered less worthy.
When I was at rock bottom, running on empty and still expected to give more, I did something really, really hard. I put myself first. I know that’s the trendy, self empowering thing to say you do, but few women I know actually do it. It’s not easy, because stupid pie quotes have convinced us over the years that mothers simply don’t do that (where’s the Dad gave up the last hot dog quote, huh?) I’m not talking about having a glass of chardonnay with dinner once a month. I’m talking, ‘I’m quitting my job and this loss of income means we have to move and the kids are going to have to give up x,y,z activities.’ You feel like a failure to your profession, to your kids, your spouse, your fellow women. We are expected to run on empty until the kids are 18, always last, always with a grateful smile. How dare we need something that requires other to make a concession.
It was scary and yes, we gave up a few things, but what I got in return was so much better. Sanity. Health. Time with my loved ones. Lunches with my mom at the mall, where we always shared dessert before she convinced me to buy boots I didn’t need. Back as a normal human, I regained perspective I lost when I was so stressed with life in the clinic, the ability to find empathy for clients that I think so many of us lose when we’re constantly pushed past our breaking point. These things matter.
Life is not an endless slog of other people stepping on you- everyone gets their turn to be a priority, at least, I think that’s how it should work. I see this not only as a mother but as a veterinarian, in the faces of my colleagues who work 60 hour workweeks, spend all day Saturday running the kids to soccer games, then give up their Sunday to help out their mother’s neighbor’s cousin who’s too cheap to pay for an ER visit and promises to pay them next week but never does. I am convinced there is no one in this world more deserving of pie, heaps and heaps of it, than the average veterinarian mother, and henceforth I ban that quote from my lexicon.
I often think of my own mother and what she would have done in the whole 4 pieces of pie/5 people scenario. There is no doubt in my mind that she would have gone without if need be, but it’s never come to that because my mother is always the person who would bring 16 pies to a 5 person gathering. She was prepared. She knew Glenn was gluten free and brought ice cream for him, and that Carrie didn’t eat pie but liked cake so she had one of those too. We have some fake martyr types in our extended family- who doesn’t- but she was never one to play into that.
This weekend, my son pulled the remaining bits of Mother’s Day cake out of the fridge. There were two slices left, and it was me, my daughter, and my son looking at the box. Without prompting or discussion, my kids neatly cut a piece off both slices and cobbled together a third slice, presented to me on a paper plate with a little flower on the side. This made me happy. So with that, I present to you my own updated quote:
Because getting stepped on as a matter of course really shouldn’t be the default any more. Pie on, my friends, pie on.
*Photo attribution: foamcow on Flickr, CC license