Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Paging Martha Stewart



As you might guess, this was truly a cooperative effort among myself and my two older children, during which I strove to not throttle them and enjoy the process, rather than obsessing over the result. I'm actually happy about the way it turned out -- in case you can't tell, it's a medieval castle.

We have this situation every year, and I feel like I'm learning the same life lesson, over and over until one day I'll grab the brass ring and be able to hop off the merry-go-round. It's a point of pride with me to make all my kids' birthday cakes, because I entertain this rather ridiculous notion that when they're lying on the therapist's couch one day recounting my shortcomings as a mother, they'll pause for a moment, reflect, and say something like, "But you know what? My mother MADE all of my birthday cakes. From scratch."

Um. I used a mix this year. It's all about letting go, isn't it?

(Tangent: I am developing some sort of friendship with another mom from our church with whom -- may I be candid? -- I never in a hundred years would have thought I could have a relationship. This is another instance of God chuckling at/with me. He has arranged for our sons to become friends, and them to live on the other side of town, so that when she brings him for a playdate, she stays. It's happened a couple of times now, and it's really quite marvelous how the Lord can gently topple my concepts about Why This Person Is Not Compatible With Me. Last time, we were actually discussing the abovementioned subject -- how parenthood is all about balance, sifting through all the nonessentials with which we initially define ourselves as parents ("MY child will not ..." or "OUR family is not going to ..."), figuring out what's really worth hanging on to, and then grace-fully letting go of the rest.)

OK, so back to the kitchen, where Hurricane Birthday has ripped through and left its mark, I'm sweating and sticky from frosting, and the kids are oh! so! eager! to help decorate -- and point out what I've missed, of course. I'm gritting my teeth and trying not to snap at them as they offer their helpful input and not being altogether successful. Then I have the same thought I have every year: Aren't birthdays supposed to be about making memories together, and giving the gift of time -- not just what comes wrapped up in a box? Isn't this exactly what I want my kids to learn -- to value people above things? Don't I want them to know, with all certainty, that I love THEM more than my tenuous reputation as a maker of spiffy cakes?

The other thought that popped into my mind is that one reason I think we're passing through this period of financial constraint while Tim is in graduate school is that we end up doing a lot of things ourselves. The budget doesn't really allow for a bakery-purchased, professionally decorated theme cake. So, we make it ourselves. Emphasis on WE. Because we have to, my kids and I are sweating in the kitchen together, watching our masterpiece take shape and complimenting EACH OTHER on the end product. We're sort of ... in the trenches together, you know? And I'm being stretched in a way that I could not be if I could just farm out the job. (Note: If you're reading this and you buy birthday cakes for your kids, please don't be offended. We all have our particular journeys.)

It's sort of like the pool bags. At the beginning of the summer, I had this vision of monogrammed canvas bags from Lands' End or the like, in which each child would keep his or her swimsuits, goggles, towel, etc. -- thus reducing some of the pre-pool chaos around our house. I went as far as putting three monogrammed bags into my online shopping cart and calculating shipping before I ran up against the familiar sticker shock. Well, two days later I was in JoAnn Fabrics and what did I see? Blank canvas bags. Oh sure, they don't come with a lifetime guarantee or anything, but at five bucks a bag, um, hello? They'd do. And guess what our art activity of the week was? Yup, all three kids sat around the craft table with me and hand-painted their pool bags. I might even be so bold as to say that a very good time was had by all.

I guess what I'm saying is, there will probably be a season in our lives when we have more "wiggle room" for extras like monogrammed bags or whatever, but in the meantime, perhaps my repeated requests to the Lord to teach us whatever He has for us in the leaner times are bearing fruit.

Oh, and the party? Half the guests couldn't make it, it was still crazy hot at 6:30 p.m. at the park, I had to transport all this food plus fifty water balloons, the pool was being cleaned from an "accident" when we arrived, and Ian got into a fight with one of the kids at the end. But the people who came were all family and close friends, and they were fabulous and helpful and cheerful, and we swam and played some games, and the fight turned out to be a learning experience, and the other mom understood what happens when sugar and birthday adrenalin combine, and Ian was happy the rest of the time, and we all hung out until it was pitch dark and the screech owls began serenading us, and, and, and ...

Sorry, Martha, but it was just right for US.


MoreThanJustaMom said...

Love it, love it! And Happy Birthday to Ian, who will most certainly always remember that his mother made his birthday cakes from scratch!

Tracee said...

Awesome. And I LOVE screech owls. Awesome. :)

Vanessa said...

I think the cake turned out great, and what is even cooler is that they got to help make it.

Stop beating yourself up on trying to instill all sorts of appreciation and values in your kids. You are doing a great job. I say this because my mom worked while I grew up and bought store made cakes every year, and I turned out fine. . .haven't been to a therapist yet, and I totally LOVE my mom :)

Melanie said...


I think boxed mixes and collaborative deocrating really is the best/most fun, (the only time i buy a cake is when the party's too big to feed everybody with a layer cake)
maybe we need to have a little cake deorting party!

IMHO No one needs to apologize for not being like Martha! I pride myself somewhat on being the anti Martha, less stress that way LOL!

Donna said...

your post brought tears to my eyes...I seriously doubt your kids would ever end up on a therapist's couch-if anything they will be the shining examples of how you can flourish in life having grown up in a well-adjusted, appreciative, God-fearing Christian home! I am really proud of you as a MOM, what little I saw of your kids I can tell they will be exemplary, happy adults who impart love, patience and creativity to THEIR children some day and it will be because of you, your husband and God. I LOVE your cake!! I bet it tasted good too!

tamvandijk said...

I love the cake you guys made together. Very effective use of chocolate bars and gum drops ;) And the knights on top bring it all together. There's nothing like decorating a cake to bring a family together!

Julie said...

Love the cake, no need to explain it's a castle...first thought in my mind on seeing the castle cake! I want to try that!

Beck said...

It looks right it was a great party - and I love that cake, so perfect for a summer birthday!
(to be completely honest, we ALWAYS use cake mixes for Parties With Kids. I do make a from scratch cake for the family party, but I don't want to sit there crying because some kid is just eating the frosting off my chocolate buttermilk cake...)

Amy (Spurgin) Tague said...

Your posts are always SO comforting!! No matter our backgrounds, personalities, preferences.. whatEVER, as mommies we're always going through the same inward (and sometimes outward) struggles. It just so reassuring to read about another mom who loves her little ones so much and who has the same day to day struggles. When I read your blog, for a few minutes I feel like maybe I'm not all alone in the world. :D