Every year for Darwin’s birthday I have asked him what birthday cake he would like. He needed a bit of guidance the first couple of years, so I gave him a few of his favourite CeeBeebies characters to choose from. This year his imagination and language were such that I knew I could give him complete carte blanche.
Darwin chose a rainbow. Like mother, like son, I guess. He loves anything with a rainbow design on it, and so the idea of a rainbow cake was wonderful to me. But, he said, he was really like it to be chocolate inside. So, between the two of us we decided on a chocolate fudge cake with rainbow icing.
The cake was not easy to make, but despite the fact that I struggled with it and that it was far from perfect, I really enjoyed decorating his cake. I do every year.
But every year I seem to get a number of people tell me that I make too much effort for a 1, 2, 3… now 4 year old. He doesn’t care what’s on his cake! He won’t even remember it. Just buy him one. Haven’t I got anything better to do with my time?
Honestly, I don’t see it that way. Every year previously I have been up really late at night, working on that cake. This year I actually managed to ice the cake whilst my husband and child went swimming. I make time, sometimes at the expense of an early night or another activity, but every year I feel pressured to defend that choice.
So why would people mock or even try to shame me for doing it? Maybe they do not realise why it is important to me.
When I was young my grandmother, Nan, made me a birthday cake. She was a fabulous baker, and she was brilliant at beautiful classic piped icing. Nan only had one hand, so instead of a piping bag she used something akin to a huge syringe, which she could guide with one hand. Every year I had a birthday cake made just for me.
What special memories I have of choosing what colours of icing I would have. What kind of cake I might like: The sponge, the filling, the pattern.
But that is not the only reason I will make my child a cake for his birthday every year.
My husband’s mother passed away when he was only a few years old. His memories of his mum are scant snapshots of immature remembrance, but one of his strongest and fondest memories of his time with her was consulting a book of children’s cake designs so that he might choose a cake for her to make for his birthday.
You know, we’ve had one hell of a year. I started off catching a common virus that, with my weakened immune system spread to my heart and stopped it working properly. I have had nine months of pain and fear that I would not even get to see my boy turn four. But I did. And I got to play out our little family tradition again.
And I know what many will be thinking. Gosh, she’s a bit defensive about making a cake, isn’t she? Yup. I defend parenting choices. I defend those tired parents who put on Moana for the fortieth time so that they can get just a bit of peace and tidy the house… or not to tidy, but to read a book, or do a crossword, exercise, nap. I also defend those parents who try to make their childrens’ days a multicoloured confection. Most of us fall somewhere in between, and whatever works best for families is great. And I defend those same choices for people who aren’t parenting. For those in relationships, for single people. You set your own priorities and what you make time for.
Ignore the people who mock the idea that you are making all of this extra work for yourself, and make the damn cake, Mimi. It makes you happy. It makes your son happy. Look at it. The pictures make you happy all over again.
I hope that family made birthday cakes will be part of Darwin’s memories for as long as he wants them, and I will work hard to be there to wipe his sticky hands and kiss his sticky smile.