It’s cake season at our house. For most normal families, September means back to school, the beginning of fall, winding down from summer. At my house, it means: CAKES!
I always said that I would never be “that mom”—that one that made birthday cakes and Halloween costumes. I learned a valuable lesson there. Don’t say things like that. It will come back to bite you in the bum. (The only sport I was against was swimming because swim meets last so long and Pokémon was never going to find its way into our house. Right. Guess whose son decided that swimming—year round no less—was the sport for him and of course I have two boys who love everything Pokémon related.)
As I start putting these monstrosities together every year, the same conversations creep up. Why? Why do I go to so much trouble? I will freely admit that the tradition has gotten a little out of control. For years I tried to “one-up” myself with each cake from the year before. I had to consciously decide to Stop. Doing. That. because I was extending myself far past my extremely amateur decorating skills.
There are several things we should get straight first:
- I am not a baker. I am terrible at baking. I do not bake.
- I do not know what I am doing. This is a fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants operation.
- I do not decorate cakes. I engineer solutions with icing. (This is similar to my approach to sewing: I do not sew. I engineer solutions with thread.)
- I hate almost every single cake I create.
That brings us back to the why. Why do this terrible thing that you are terrible at, Becka? It has become a huge tradition in our house, a home with few genuine traditions. The boys never know what their cakes are going to be. I come up with the ideas for the cakes (with a lot of help from my husband and, frequently, input from others) and then design the cake on my own. I have gotten ideas from the internet only once. I spend days agonizing over perfecting these confectionary crafts that the kids enjoy looking at for about one minute before they chop them up and eat them.
Why? After I vowed I would never do it. Why would I do such a thing? It’s a simple answer. I had to. I get to have this conversation almost every year. Someone either forgets that we’ve already had the little chat about why I torture myself for two weeks at the beginning of September every year, or they’re new to my life this year and they ask. Why? Why do you do this?
I don’t normally comment on my husband’s comics, but this time I feel the need to defend myself. It’s not that bad. This year it was only 7 boxes of cake mix.
It started when Yoshi was very young. When Big Brother was a little guy I stayed true to my original conviction and took him to the grocery store every year and let him flip through the book by the bakery to choose whichever cake he wanted for his birthday. He fell in love with the “digger cake”. It looked like a construction site—complete with diggers and trucks for hauling the black sugar gravel and mounds of brown icing. He got to play with his cake before anyone could eat it. He loved it.
For Yoshi’s first birthday, he couldn’t have anything. We broke a few rules and gave him cool whip (which I HIGHLY recommend—by the way—it makes a huge mess but cleans up really easily, less sugar, everything about it was great!) He was allergic to it, of course, but less allergic to it than anything else because it was completely fake so there were less of the ingredients. We benedryl-ed it up and went for it. He loved it.
When his second birthday rolled around, I felt guilty that his brother got these cool cakes from the grocery store and Yoshi would never had that option. I had to make every single thing that Yoshi put into his mouth, completely from scratch. I had to make the flour that I used. Let’s just say that the cake didn’t taste great. But it had sugar, so he thought that was pretty great.
… he couldn’t have anything. … I felt guilty…
It was my first attempt at making a cake. I tried to do a small roundhouse and put a couple of trains on top so that he could have the benefits of a couple of little toys to play with like his brother. I was trying to recreate the magic that his brother got from the grocery store. It was a simple $20 for his brother and a “simple” 20 hours of my time for Yoshi. But it had to be done.
After Yoshi’s third birthday (which was anther version of the train cake, just better because I was improving) Big Brother decided that he would rather that I make him a cake instead of getting one from the bakery. That was the year that I made a three foot long Nimbus 2000 from Harry Potter. That was the beginning of the end.
It’s digressed. I’ve made sculpted cakes. I’ve used Krispie cereal treats to create helicopter tails (that one had a free spinning propeller…). I’ve made some doozies. I get cake decorating tools for my birthday and Christmas and it makes me happy. On the flip side, I’m almost never happy with the finished cakes. The icing isn’t smooth enough, or the proportions are wrong, or the colors are off. I always find a reason to hate it.
It’s so worth it.
This self-imposed hell did have an origination from a genuine need. There was a time that Yoshi could not eat anything. I know that it’s easy to forget for some people. I know there are more people that don’t even know that. But that’s the truth. At that time in the world, there was not even flour available for purchase that I could use. I had to make my own. I had to make my own flour! Cooking for Yoshi was just terrible. Making his birthday cakes was a necessity. Making them fun seemed fair.
Besides, when I first started making cakes, I was terrible. I might have been shooting for “fun” cakes, but what I was turning out were piles of icing with toys on them (that tasted like slightly sweetened cardboard oatmeal). It took several years before the cakes started to look cool.
Making the cakes is a stressful time. Coming up with an idea, designing it, executing it—it’s all hard. I’m hard on myself. It takes a lot of time. And while the finished product is worth it (you should see their faces!), it’s nice to have an annual reminder of how far we’ve come. I don’t have to make flour. I can use a cake mix to make his cake. Yes, the bleed is still intermittent. But since we’ve ruled out food… I get an annual reminder of just how much easier the hard parts are now.
It’s so worth it.
[Cake Season is over! I didn’t have time during cake season to actually get a post published – hahaha!]
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