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Trading addictions for habits

My friend Annie wants to know if I can come cake-sitting with her on Saturday.

"What the hell is cake-sitting?" I asked, because it sounds interesting, seeing as how cake is my favorite food. I would not have even asked usually, because Saturday is Mae Day, which are days I designate to devote to my daughter to make up for the mother guilt I feel for working to provide for her, but then cake-sitting sounds like something Mae might want to do, too.

"Every year everyone brings their own cake and they sit on it at the same time. My question is do I wear underwear or not?" Annie explains, as though that is any explanation. "I'm serious," she continues. "Last year I had a cake all ready but then I fell asleep reading to Hannah and missed everything."

It turns out that a local art gallery hosts an annual fundraiser that literally invites people to bring a cake and sit on it. Evidently a lot of effort goes into the production of some of these cakes, too. Bucket loads of frosting are sculpted into elaborate themes only to end up plastered to someone's ass for the evening. The event doesn't start late at night by any standard Annie and I used to have when we first met years ago, but now we are both daughter-laden and not only that, but our daughters are at the age where they won't go to bed unless you pretend to go with them. But the funny part is, and this is a joke played on all parents, is that you think you're "pretending" to go to sleep at 9 o'clock when really there's no pretense about it. You're out like a sack of cement by the second paragraph of the bedtime story.

It's ironic, too, because what I feared the most about impending motherhood was the lack of sleep I thought it promised. To me the prospect brought back the nightmare of my college years, when I had to forgo my cocaine habit to afford tuition -- another irony, since that particular drug would have come in handy while I was cramming for finals, but it turns out you can only fit so many habits into your day.

For example, not only did I give up cocaine to afford college, I gave up my job waiting tables, too, which up until then had availed me of all that ready cash to finance my drugs-and-unemployed-boyfriend phase. Fortunately that phase didn't last all that long. Soon I was seriously pursuing a degree and financing my tuition by, I swear to God, decorating cakes.

It's true. Cake decorating happens to be a curious talent I discovered one Christmas when I was 9 and I received a cake pan in the shape of Mickey Mouse. What I created was such a wonder to behold that rolls of expensive camera film were devoted to recording it for posterity. My dad took the photos to his favorite bar and before I knew it I was filling orders and keeping tubs of colored frosting in the fridge like I'd seen our local baker do when I used to sit and watch him through his shop-front window. Before long I had a hefty plaster piggy bank full of coins for my efforts, which I used to buy my own Marlboros once my cigarette habit got so prolific my father started to notice the packs I was stealing from his own supply. Eventually I quit the smoking but not the cake decorating. Addictions take a lot of commitment, I learned, and like I said, there's only so many habits you can fit into your day.

Today Annie and I laugh about how we used to like our margaritas strong and by the pitcher-load, and how a not-so-late-night cake-sitting event would have been effortless to attend. "It starts at 10:30," she reminds me.

"I can't make it," I say. Not that I have anything against cakes, or even sitting on them for that matter. On the contrary, I found that cake-making is a cheap-ass way to keep kids entertained, and I have an entire cabinet in my kitchen devoted to cake-making supplies as I speak, and tubs of colored frosting in my fridge again, too. Every time Mae has a friend over I let them loose in the kitchen and send them home with cupcakes in a box and dried batter in their hair.

"Fine," Annie says, "there are two kinds of mothers; those who make cakes and those who sit on them."

I have to laugh at that, because there are not two kinds of mothers. There are millions and millions of kinds of mothers, most of them having traded bad habits for good. I am the kind who is now asleep like a sack of cement by 10:30, due to a certain addiction to bedtime stories. Even though it's not my personal addiction, it still takes a lot of commitment, and there's only so many habits you can fit into your day.

Hollis Gillespie authored two top-selling memoirs and her third, Trailer Trashed, is due out this summer. To attend Gillespie's Shocking Real-Life Memoir Writing workshop in Charlotte on April 13, go to

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