Stirring the pot about bake sales, obligation and community

I am the rare woman (apparently, judging from what I read online) who doesn’t feel particularly guilty about my choices and doesn’t have a problem saying “no” to non-business demands on my time that I’m not interested in. Maybe that’s why I can say to those who would bring something from the local grocery store to a school bake sale—why bother?—and mean it without any snarkiness.

The latest nontroversy in the henhouse of first world privilege was sparked by a piece in last week’s New York Times about whether “‘Store Bought’ Spoils the Potluck Spirit.” There are so many layers to this “very important” discussion. The title and parts of the essay talk about potlucks, but the main issue seems to be surrounding mommies who bake goods for bake sales vs. mommies who drop off store-bought goodies.

As far as potluck dinners someone may be invited to, or office parties calling for contributions, things like that, I don’t see a problem with bringing something store bought. Personally, I prefer homemade food and would make something from home myself, but, not everyone is a cook. I still recall a Harris Teeter cherry pie brought for dessert by couple we had over for dinner and it was amazing.

For bake sales, though, it just seems silly to contribute store bought goods. It’s beyond ridiculous to have a situation wherein people are in a gymnasium paying 50 cents per Oreo or something. The point of the bake sale is the school gaining from the value-added labor put in by the dedicated home bakers for the baked goods, not the markup on costs of ingredients. Or is it? I mean some school districts actually forbid home-baked goods at bake sales due to allergies, lack of controls over home kitchens, etc. So, why in the world even have a “bake” sale?

Honestly, as much as I like baking, the bake sale does seem like a relic of times past in which women had a “signature cookie” (I do!) and keep flour, sugar, butter and eggs on hand in the house. I’m not so sure people do this anymore, in general. But, practical matters aside, the NYT article generated alot of discussion of broader issues from  feminism, to how pressed working moms are, to how needy schools really are…

In the many online responses to the NYT story, we heard angrily indignant outbursts suggesting bake sales are just a way for stay-at-home-moms to show off, we hear of the life-altering anxiety some women feel when asked to bake something (really?!?) and a whole organized discussion on NYT itself showcasing a range of opinions on the matter. There are those who claim it’s sexist to have bake sales because of an assumption that it is incumbent on the women to bake. But, that is about people’s own hang ups. I personally know a man who is a president/CEO  who took a personal day to do holiday baking, so there! There are people who moan that they just don’t have the time. Again I point to my CEO friend, and would also argue that it only takes about a half hour to make basic chocolate chip cookies or a batch of brownies.

Really, though, people, it’s simple: If you don’t like baking or, at any juncture in your life don’t want to bake or don’t have time to bake then just don’t sign up for the bake sale. You don’t have to do everything. You can find another way to contribute, if you wish.

I took great pleasure in dreaming up the cupcakes pictured above—my constellation cupcakes for a space-themed event. I looked up constellations online. I mixed what I thought was just the right shade of blue frosting to represent sky (definitely an abstraction, of course). I had to go to the city to Dean & Deluca to get silver dragees to decorate them with. I didn’t know they’d be so hard to come by, and pricey, when I designed the cupcakes, but I had a vision. And, I won a Starbucks gift card for my trouble (not sure how that factored into the profits of the fundraising event, but mine is not to reason why in this case…)

I am not big on school fundraisers, personally. My view is, charge me more for tuition (in the case of our current private preschool). Or, ask for donations, if it has to come to that. Or, raise taxes for the public schools.

Also, my view about “community” and how to be a part of it has a changed a little since I blogged about baking cupcakes for a preschool affair two years ago, right around the same time a similar (though less widely publicized) blurb came out on the web, and while I still like to bake and will do so at any opportunity given, I’ve had a dose of reality about how much contributing to such things actually makes one part of a community.

After a healthy amount of volunteering, I still don’t feel super connected in my kid’s school community, so it takes something more than this, and I am still trying to figure out what that is.  I have made a couple of friends, but I still feel a little bit like an outsider. That may just be my own issue. I’m not sure why. It could be because since I do work some, I am not free at any and all hours for various activities. It could be because I only have one kid. I don’t know why for sure. But, I’m OK with it, since she’ll be going to another school next year for kindergarten and I don’t know that the public school scene is as insular, and I do know that I don’t care all that much. My kid will find her friends and be fine. We’ll both learn as we go.

I am kind of eating my words about community, though, but stand by my love of baking!

A post from November, 2009

I’m always coming across little things on the web that annoy…the latest being this post on Babble (link now dead) where a woman wrote in a letter about not wanting to make stuff for the school bake sale—and she was asking if she should “raise a stink” or not about being asked to bake something, because, the men weren’t asked (how sexist!) and she was so busy with work (how very important she must be).

I guess there are two kinds of people in the world, whether feminist or not, moms or not, men or women—those who like to bake and those who do not like to bake. Me, I like to bake. I love to bake. And I love having the opportunity to bake something and not have to eat the whole damn thing myself or worse, throw it away in three days when it dries out. So, I was very happy to sign up to make something to donate to my daughter’s preschool for the “cake walk” at a little “fun fair” they are having tonight. For a couple tickets, the kids can participate in a musical-chairs kind of thing where they walk around colored pictures and when the music stops, if they are on a certain square, they win a cake (or cupcakes, as the case may be…my “Constellation Cupcakes” are pictured here…the event had an outer space theme).

Of course, I, too, am busy. I have a toddler who only goes to preschool a couple days a week. I have a freelance design business with deadlines and such. Whatever. Even when I worked full time outside of the home I enjoyed making holiday cookies to bring into the office. The point is, I believe we can all find time to do something nice that will delight and make people smile. Maybe baking is not her thing (this woman who wrote in). That’s fine. Why not just say so and ask if there was some other way she could help. Maybe they need signs or something? Maybe they need someone to sit at the bake sale table for an hour. She wanted to just write a check and be done with it and that’s fine, too. But, then she shouldn’t complain about being an “outsider” among parents and feeling shunned—although I suspect that many people who feel this way are just projecting.

These silly things like bake sales and school activities where everyone pitches in with some hokey active contribution help build community. I got involved early because I want to be in the mix for my daughter. It’s very likely I will have only one child, so I want to plant the seeds early of connections with other parents, families and kids so that she will feel part of a community. Parts of the process of being involved in the fun fair (I helped with other aspects than just making cupcakes) were a little annoying for a type-A, e-mail addict like me—with multiple-day lags in communication, trails of unanswered questions and a very, uhm…flowy…work flow process. BUT, it was good for me to be forced to be part of something kind of amorphous and more laid back that I am used to, and something that I am not in charge of…and to see it all work out, with happy kids and families having a fun time together (hopefully, we will see how it pans out tonight).

For those parents who are too busy to lend a little hand to their kids’ schools, and yet feel like outsiders, I say, you can’t have your cake and eat it, too, if you can’t even be bothered to make a cake. But of course, it doesn’t have to be cake. Find a way you can be part of things—even if its small, make it meaningful and make it more than throwing money at the school. Make an impression. Be part of the community.

And here is my showing from last year’s event. I swear it was intentional. One of my FB friends felt the need to tell me my flower looked like a vagina. See? No respect!

2 Responses to “Stirring the pot about bake sales, obligation and community”

  1. admin says:

    To the previous commenter on this post, if you come back, sorry I accidentally deleted your comment and my reply! I didn’t know that in the admin module you could so easily throw comments that had already been approved in the trash! I love your comment and that you commented…

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