In Defense of the Nontraditional Mom

I passed a milestone of sorts a few weeks ago.  I’ve been at this blog for a little over a year now.  And I can’t believe how fast that year flew by!

This blog started out and continues to be a labor of love for me, a floating life preserver within reach, giving me solace, hope, and joy.  It is also a reconnection to my heritage, my childhood, and the people and things that made me who I am today.

Mom and Deb, celebrating Mother’s Day in 2006.

One of my earliest posts here was on Mother’s Day, where I wrote a little something about my mom, who passed away a few years ago.  She was a traditional mom in nearly every sense of the word.  Unlike her own mother, who preferred the working life to fussing over babies and such, my mom truly loved to bake for her family, jumped at the chance to babysit the grandkids, and would’ve been perfectly giddy if we’d all lived happily on the same street until the end of time.  She was, as the saying goes, very motherish.

I fall somewhere between Mom and Grandma.  I’m what you’d call a nontraditional mom.  No one calls me mom, but I have had children.  Fur children.  Well, dogs, to be exact.

Oh, sure, I can see the rolling eyes from here.  What gives me the right to lump myself into the elite club called motherhood when I’ve not had and/or raised human babies?  Yeah, like that’s all it takes to win Mother of the Year honors.   The line between traditional mom and nontraditional mom is quite faint, actually.  Our similarities are striking.

If our fur children pooh, do we not clean it up?   If they make a mess with their toys, do we not pick it up?  When they catch the Frisbee in mid-air, do we not beam with pride as we cast a glance of pity toward the other mothers at the dog park?  If they are sick, we see the doctor.  If they are bad, we punish.  If they are good, we reward.  If they run out into the street, we pull hamstrings running after them in slippers.

When we give them pills, they spit them out — along with the $2 worth of cream cheese that failed at tricking them into thinking it was just a yummy treat and nothing more.  And whenever we can, we arrange playdates so our little ones can learn valuable social skills, like how it’s not polite to nibble on your own pooh and then try and grab a kiss from a visiting dog mom.

The visiting Kate, on a playdate in our backyard. Just like Club Med.

OK, there are some differences.  Instead of watching my kids splash around in a tub filled with warm water and bubbles, I watch the dogs bounce in and out of the blue plastic kiddie pool on the lawn.  And, while I am lucky that I don’t have to go through driver’s training with a teenager who can’t quite master the brake pedal, I have had to delicately carry on a conversation with a less-than-amused traffic cop while a large, hairy, black dog barked incessantly over my shoulder from the back seat.

But I’m telling you, when you add in the fact that I don’t have to come up with iPads, prom dresses, first cars, and college funds, I’d say my life as a nontraditional mom is pretty rosy.  And fulfilling.  I am loved and adored daily — without having to first hand over $20 and the keys to the car.

Kate and Skipper, on a playdate, keeping a watchful eye on the squirrels.

So, to all the moms out there — traditional or non — I tip my hat and wish you all a Happy Mother’s Day. We are one in the sisterhood of love and loss, heartache and joy.  We are all mothers in spirit.

To fellow nontraditional moms, Suzanne, Lynn, Paula, Angela, Sandy, and Ali, enjoy your day.  You probably won’t get flowers, but at least you didn’t have to gag your way through a breakfast in bed of green and brown eggs.

And to so many wonderful traditional moms whose unique wisdom and support can move Heaven and Earth: rejoice in the labors of love you’ve created, nurtured, and hopefully motivated toward an affluent future and a house big enough for a room for mom some day.  Women like Debbie, Arline, Michelle, Jo, Teresa, Beth, Dixie, Susan, Jeannie, Marti, and Karen.

And especially my sister, Deb, who within days will watch her son and daughter graduate from high school and head out into the world on their own.  At least I don’t have that worry!

Today, for our Mother’s Day celebration together, I made lemon cake with berries for Deb, a tearfully joyful woman whose unwavering devotion to her children was evident even before the grainy, black and white picture revealed two hearts beating inside one.


This is an Ina Garten/Barefoot Contessa (Food Network) recipe, and it is easily the very best lemon cake I’ve ever tasted, hands down.  Another plus: this recipe makes two cakes — one for you and one for your mom.  It is perfect for brunch or to top off a spring dinner of roast leg of lamb and fresh asparagus.  I like to serve it with freshly whipped cream and berries.  Don’t skimp on the lemon zest — it is the best part of this cake.

  • 1/2 pound (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 2 and 1/2 cups granulated sugar, divided
  • 4 extra-large eggs, room temperature
  • 1/3 cup grated lemon zest (from 6 to 8 large lemons)
  • 3 cups flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 3/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice, divided
  • 3/4 cup buttermilk, room temperature
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 2 cups confectioners’ sugar, sifted, and an additional 3 and 1/2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice (for the glaze)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Grease and flour two (8.5 by 4.25 by 2.5 inch) loaf pans.  You may also line the bottoms with parchment paper, if desired.

In an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter and 2 cups granulated sugar until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes.  With the mixer on medium speed, add the eggs, one at a time, and the lemon zest.

Sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a bowl.  In another bowl, combine 1/4 cup lemon juice, the buttermilk, and vanilla.  Add the flour and buttermilk mixtures alternately to the batter, beginning and ending with the flour.  Divide the batter evenly between the pans, smooth the tops, and bake for 45 minutes to one hour, until a cake tester comes out clean.

Combine 1/2 cup granulated sugar with 1/2 cup lemon juice in a small saucepan and cook over low heat until the sugar dissolves.  When the cakes are done, allow to cool for 10 minutes.  Remove the cakes from the pans and set them on a wire rack over a tray or sheet pan; spoon the lemon syrup over them.  Allow the cakes to cool completely.

For the glaze: Combine the 2 cups sifted confectioners’ sugar and the 3 and 1/2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice in a bowl, mixing with a wire whisk until smooth.  Pour over the tops of the cakes and allow the glaze to drizzle down the sides.


About Patti, Reinvented

I am a writer & editor, photographer, foodie, dog rescuer – the priority order changes daily. Most people think my dad was the funny one in the family. I'm here to tell you Mom had her moments. As a kid, whenever I asked her what we were having for dinner she'd turn toward me, glance down at the ever-present dish rag in her hand, and say with a smirk, “Stewed rags and buttermilk.”
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10 Responses to In Defense of the Nontraditional Mom

  1. hartsnyder says:

    Loved this post! Made me both laugh and cry. Also love lemon cake, and this recipe looks terrific!

  2. Zorn's mom says:

    What a very cool and thoughtful posting on mothers everywhere, even us four legged mommies! I absolutely love the photo of the lemon cake. We have an emerging food stylist in our midst!

  3. Sue says:

    From one traditional mom to you, the untraditional mom, Happy Mother’s Day! And thanks for this recipe – it looks amazing. Now, if I could just get one of my “traditional” kids to make this for me, all would be right in my world!

  4. Suzanne says:

    Bravo Auntie Patti!
    One of your best posts ever!
    Love, Abba Zabba Delicious, Henri the 1/8th, Scarlotta — —–, and the fabulous Miss Phoebe Boofay.
    We love you !
    Happy Mothers Day!

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