Growing up, when my birthday came around, I would run home from school to find my mother standing at the door with a big smile on her face.
“Happy birthday Nechama’le!”
Let me back up a second. My sisters and I had a running joke in our family that on your birthday, no matter what, something would always happen to give you an uber-emotional meltdown. For me, it was something rather ironic.
It was the birthday cake.
Boston cream pie was a Treitel Birthday tradition. On every birthday in our family my mother would make us this beautiful pie: two layers of light cake with delicious cream in the middle and amazing chocolate frosting on top.
I really and truly disliked it. Let me rephrase that: I hated it.
My dislike for this particular form of baked goodness was to the point where I once cried out in the midst of what must have already been an over-the-top-emotional day, “WHY DO YOU EVEN MAKE THIS FOR ME? I DO NOT EVEN LIKE IT!”
I don’t remember my mother’s exact reaction, but what I do know is that one year later that very same cake was presented to me, with that same warm smile. And then the next year, and the next…
If any of you knew my mother you would know that she bakes the most AMAZING cakes, cookies, and treats. But when it came to birthdays, Boston cream pie it was; she was not going to bake anything else.
To be fair, my mother would get creative and try to change it up every year. Sometimes it was different decorations on the cake, cool sprinkles, or a special shape.
A couple of years went by, I spent some time away from home studying and working in different communities across the states — and guess what? Something changed. I started appreciating so many things that I had previously taken for granted. Suddenly, when we celebrated a birthday in the family I actually started to like that Boston cream pie. I EVEN looked forward to it.
I honestly started to LOVE Boston cream pie, and soon enough I was finding any birthday opportunity to make it. I make it for my husband, mother-in-law, cousin, you name it. If there is a birthday that I’m around for, there’s a good chance I’ll bake that cake.
I am now a mother of two beautiful children of my own, and on their birthdays I find myself standing in the kitchen, lovingly whipping up a… BOSTON CREAM PIE. Treitel tradition has it that if it’s your birthday there will be Boston cream pie, and you will probably love it… if not now… then eventually.
I’m not sure if my daughters even like it, but if they’re anything like their mom I’ll take my chances.
This past Friday, as I stood there making that same pie for my daughter Feigie’s first birthday, I realized that this is all so much more than just a cake.
It’s about a Yiddishe Mamma’s hopes and dreams.
As a parent there is so much that we want to pass on to our children. Often, our children are not as receptive as we wish they’d be. We are often, at first, met with resistance and sometimes even resentment. But it’s our fervent hope and belief that by continuing to consistently provide our children with the product we believe in—with that ‘cake’—and most importantly, presenting it to them with a loving smile, that they too will one day come to appreciate and cherish these traditions as their own. And G-d willing they will give the gift of ‘Boston cream pie’ to their children.
Now, can we say that my mother is a pretty wise woman?
Unfazed by the Minnesota weather, Nechama moved to Minnesota from Montreal after marrying her legendary husband Rabbi Zalman, where she currently co-directs Chabad of Greater St. Paul. Her ability to speak her mind in a frank, open yet genuinely warm and caring manner have become a trademark of her killer personality. Nechama’s hobbies include photography, singing and cooking up a storm in her Saint Paul home, were she lives together with her husband and two adorable children.
(Photo: Sharyn Morrow)