No Need to Sugarcoat It
The first year we were married, my husband called me from shul and casually asked, “We got invited to a neighborhood Chanukah party. Want to go?”
I don’t think I’ve ever answered a question as quickly as I answered that one: “Yes!”
It was a no brainer. I was desperate to meet women in my neighborhood.
I was lonely in my basement apartment. I rarely saw any of my old friends who were just as busy as I was, and I hadn’t had a chance to make any new friends.
I was in my first semester of law school, which ate up all my time, and I was expecting my first child – experiencing a pregnancy that was a rollercoaster from the start – so my energy at the end of the day was nonexistent. Even as I felt overwhelmed, or maybe especially because I felt overwhelmed, I was anxious to feel like my pre-adult-responsibility-self again: a person who had always enjoyed a good social event and a sense of belonging.
“Great,” my husband replied. “They want to know if you want to make something?”
Another no brainer. “Of course!” How can I make a good impression on my future best friends if I show up emptyhanded?
But I should have said I’d make a salad.
Better yet, I should have offered to bring the paper goods or the drinks.
But I was young, and I was naïve, and I was eager to make myself memorable in my new community. “Tell them I’ll make the doughnuts.”
I couldn’t see my husband’s face, but if I had to imagine it, he probably raised at least one eyebrow. We might have been newlyweds, but he knew me well enough to know that homemade doughnuts were way out of my league. Back then, I was still figuring out how to make chicken soup that didn’t taste like salt.
But I was determined to make those doughnuts.
I wanted to convince myself – and maybe my husband too – that I could be just like everyone else. That even though I was pursuing an ambitious career that required me to study more hours than I was awake, I could still be domestic. That I could write a legal brief and still whip up confections that impressed other women.
And I had a secret weapon.
My grandmother a”h had a doughnut recipe she made every Chanukah, and she always told me they were super easy to make. She called them fankes – they were more like pop ‘ems than full-fledged doughnuts – so maybe they were in my wheelhouse, even if my specialty was Duncan Hines.
How hard could making doughnuts be?
A lot harder than I thought.
I waited until the day of the party to get baking (of course! Even a brand-new-balabusta knows doughnuts need to be fresh!). I waddled through my doorway after a long day of school, and then I rolled up my sleeves, ready to whisk my way to the prettiest doughnuts you ever did see.
I had emunah peshutah. If one flask of oil could burn for eight days, surely I could follow a recipe and make the same doughnuts my foremothers made by hand before there were KitchenAids and cooking thermometers.
But my “nes gadol haya po” moment never materialized in my kitchen.
Though I followed the recipe to the T, nothing went right. My mixture was lumpy and gluey. When I tried to turn the balls of stickiness into golden discs, they either burned or went limp in the hot oil. Even when I tried to hide the ugliness under a coating of confectionary sugar, the sugar ran brown, and the doughnuts thudded like hockey pucks in my hands.
I was doomed.
When my husband came home from seder, I looked at him in panic. “The doughnuts flopped. I cannot show up at this party emptyhanded.”
He didn’t miss a beat. “So, we’ll buy doughnuts.”
After I’d said I would make my own?
How did he not understand my humiliation?
“We’ll put them in 9×13 pans and no one will know you didn’t make them!” he assured me.
A healthy person would’ve laughed off the suggestion. A healthy person wouldn’t have stood back and watched as her husband lined up storebought doughnuts in a 9×13 pan. But a healthy person I was not. I was young and so deeply insecure that I convinced myself that it was necessary to lie about something so ridiculous, so insignificant, so absurd, just to win over new friends who wouldn’t suspect a thing.
And that’s how I ended up walking into a shul party with storebought doughnuts disguised as my own. I became an instant sensation.
“You made these doughnuts?” someone asked with obvious admiration.
I could have said no.
I should have said no.
A healthy person would have said no.
But suddenly my head was nodding without my consent, and then it was too late. I was deluged with questions I couldn’t answer.
“How did you get the jelly inside without leaving a hole?”
“They’re so perfectly shaped. Each of them is exactly the same size. How’d you do that?”
“Can you give us a baking class? You are so talented.”
They must have thought I was blushing modestly, but really, my cheeks burned with shame.
How pathetic was I?
Hashem has blessed me with unique strengths all my own, and if those talents don’t reveal themselves in the kitchen, why did I need to win people over with some sugarcoated version of myself? No true friendship can ever be built on artifice, but I deluded myself into thinking that the “fake me” was more attractive than the “real me” – and it left me feeling too queasy to enjoy the party for even a minute.
By the time the next Chanukah rolled around, I had dropped out of law school and moved to Montreal, so the people I had tried so hard to impress were now distant memories (and, Baruch Hashem, they couldn’t ask me for the recipe or to repeat the same feat – because I had skipped town).
So now, so many years later, I can look back and (mostly) laugh, because the beauty of getting older is that I’m so much more comfortable in my own skin. These days, I know better to attempt to make doughnuts or to try to fool people with the person I am not.
These days, I am like most women – I spend too much money on doughnuts each Chanukah, I eat my kids’ leftovers instead of treating myself to my own, and there are still times when I feel insecure about everything – my parenting, my cooking (I have gotten a lot better with practice!), the way I look, the way I am perceived by the world.
But when I feel that self-doubt creep in, I remind myself of how silly I felt holding up those doughnuts and pretending they were my handiwork. There is no joy in being valued for something I am not, no matter how I sugarcoat it.