I glare with a mixture of trepidation and resentment at a book on my bookshelf. I know I will eventually succumb and open the cheerful glossy cover, thereby unleasing the inferiority complex within. I am hoping the book will perform a miracle and make me something I’m not -the perfect Woman’s Weekly Birthday Cake Mother.
Every year, the pressure of decorating a mere butter cake from the Women’s Weekly cookbook terrifies me. It literally keeps me awake. It is the only book I have ever seriously considered burning. And perhaps I would, but I’m convinced it would rise from the ashes and demand I build (yes…you do bake and then build) some hideously complicated birthday cake….with the ‘friendly’ advice ‘these steps are easy…but they do take a while.’
It took three of us with a Law, Music and Politics degree over six hours and four bottles of champagne to make this ‘easy but time consuming’ cake for my sister’s 30th. (For the record, the one below is taken from the cookbook…it’s not our final effort.) The lawyer actually used her Chanel lipgloss to ensure the sleepers on the tracks were evenly spaced…that is the level of perfection we were aiming for. By the end we were all sober…exhausted and defeated. ‘Aren’t we supposed to be smart? Isn’t that cake supposed to be easy?’ When we relive that night…we all look slightly haunted. We don’t talk about the choo choo train cake. Ever.
I have a very even-tempered friend who once took a full day off work to build an ‘easy, but time consuming’ Women’s Weekly cake. Normally, she is one of those cool, elegant ice maiden types I’d just love to be…but I’m just too…well, me. Even though it was a week later, she looked so flustered and stressed talking about its creation I almost didn’t recognise her. We shared a sad look when she swore she wouldn’t be doing it ever again. Because we both knew she would. Just as I would.
I don’t know why we put this ridiculous pressure on ourselves as mothers. It’s as though, if we can create The Perfect Cake…all of our motherhood guilts would be absolved for the year. It’s cake cleansing.
So you’ve sent your child to childcare with a cold? Don’t worry…just add another turret to the princess castle cake. You were working the first time your baby started to crawl? Well that’s another carriage on the train cake. Toddler still skipping a number when counting to 10? Well clearly that’s because you didn’t choose the correct blue fondant for the Superman cake…a year ago.
My sister and I would spend hours trying to choose our birthday cakes from the first set of Women’s Weekly cookbooks. Mum would then spend hours building our perfect cake…often after a full day at work and staying up well into the night. I remember the time Mum baked, then built me a ballerina themed cake, complete with stage and backdrop. And the time she made a makeup table with beauty accessories. She baked/built my sister a piano and later a castle with turrets of melted marshmellow with smarties all up the sides. It was a sticky thing of white beauty and its sweetness made my cousin vomit. Every year Mum would build these cakes, tailoring it to what our interests were that year. She’d also make a number cake that we could take to kindy/school to share with our friends. And within minutes of our birthday being over…we’d be back into the cookbook…selecting the cake for the next year. How she didn’t kill us when we chose our next cake within minutes of its predecessor being consumed, I’ll never know.
I’m ashamed to admit I actually considered doing a cake course so I could be the perfect Birthday Cake Mother. I felt that badly about my lack of skills. But I knew I would never have the patience. I also know my daughter is not going to appreciate me working for hours in the kitchen, when she’d rather we were gardening together outside. Or cuddling reading a book. Or doing ridiculous selfies in bed to email to her Dad. Let alone the hundreds of dollars it would cost to do the course, only to placate my guilt and vanity, which would much better be spent elsewhere. Like on the gas bill.
So…since I knew I couldn’t make it…I would fake it. What I remember fondly from my ballerina cake and my makeup table was that I could keep the toys afterwards. So I ordered some Frozen figurines and Batman online that I could stick on the top of the cake. (If you knew my daughter, you’d understand that, a Frozen/Superhero’s party was the only option.)
And then the figurines arrived. Elsa resembled a meth-head and Anna a stoner, with eyes the stuff of nightmares, the tiny diameter of their waists and arms indicative of the tough Winters in Arendelle before Elsa had her teenage hissy fit and ran away. The deathly pallor of their skin hinted a severe vitamin D deficiency from hours locked up in the castle.
Batman didn’t fare much better. While hypothetically he should have been leaping off the roof of Gotham City police department, he was so oversized he toppled over and plunged headfirst from the perch where he was keeping watch…his ratio more to scale as Gozilla than Batman.
Fortunately, I had a plan B.
My daughter’s party was hosted at a play centre where for $42 extra they included icecream cakes. I stuck a Batman logo on one cake and Frozen themed candles on the other. When they came out…my daughters eyes just lit up. ‘Mummy’ she breathed. ‘It’s a Batman AND a Frozen cake.’ And blowing out two sets of candles was just pure joy itself. Watching that scene, it occurred to me – there was my daughter, my little human dynamo, surrounded by friends, family (and let’s face it-presents!) and her cake was just a small portion of what made her birthday so special. It took her smile for me to realise that. And at that moment the Women’s Weekly cookbook and I went into a state of detente.
FYI – My daughter’s actual birthday is not until Tuesday. I am still going to try and make her a cake. And I’ll also make one for childcare. But not because I have to be a perfect Birthday cake Mummy anymore…but because I want to. And I won’t be opening a Women’s Weekly cookbook to try and replicate the perfect cake….(although I may be guided by some of their ideas with the help of Google!) Rather, I’m going to improvise and see what original cake design I can come up with. And I’m going to make it a tradition – twice a year for both children, I’m going to host my ‘Birthday cake bastardary’. I’m actually going to ‘Let it go.’ (Come on…you knew I had to say that somewhere.) Because if I don’t expect perfection from my daughter, why am I modelling the opposite? If I want her to test herself and try new things, I have to be brave enough to do the same. And I look forward to watching what original creations she makes with her own life.
So let’s see what I come up this afternoon/evening. It won’t be Pinterest worthy. Chances are you won’t see any pictures on Facebook or Instagram. And I’ll probably get Mum to help me. (Seriously why wouldn’t I tap into that skill set?) And although Mum was brilliant at those birthday cakes, I’m not. And that’s OK.
But my cakes will be originals-like my daughter. And while I’m cooking, I’ll also be drinking champagne to celebrate the 9 months of difficult baking we did together…which culminated in my most perfect creation-4 years on.