Birthday Party Pondering


William Carlos Williams had his red wheelbarrow; for me, the object “so much depends upon” is a child’s birthday cake. I am not a skilled baker, nor am I particularly crafty or proficient with frosting, and, like most working people I know, I have almost zero free time. And yet, twice a year, I spend hours planning and executing homemade birthday cakes for my kids. Sometimes things go horribly wrong. There was the year I forgot the baking soda and the cake, though handsome, had the consistency of overcooked meatloaf.

And last weekend, the cake I made for my four-year-old’s Wild Kratts party — inspired by the PBS Kids show about delightfully dorky animal-lovers Chris and Martin Kratt — came out of the oven a crumbly, torn-up mess. With massive amounts of buttercream, somehow I was able to coax a phoenix (or trio of safari animals) out of the ashes.

Some years the cake is served with caveats like, “don’t forget to pick off the gum!”

And, always, the endeavor takes about four times longer than I anticipate. My older son’s long nap, followed by copious amounts of screen time, helped make this alligator happen.

In some ways, these cakes are an attempt to make up for a year’s worth of perceived parental inadequacy on my part. There is also sentimentality, too immense to measure, mixed into the batter. The annual notches my kids put on their childhood belts thrill, but, okay, mostly kill, me — an emotional maelstrom that seems worthy of a grand gesture. (Or, at least, warrants a major distraction.) And so, on each boy’s birthday, we invite family and friends to our house, the cocoon where our kids feel most at peace with the world, for lunch and a cake that may or may not be leavened but (I hope) is memorable.

How do/did you celebrate your kids’ birthdays? Do you have some great cake or party photos to share? This spring, I’ll once again be looking for inspiration!

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