“Ryder, what was your favorite birthday cake Mom ever made you?” Lincoln inquired as we were looking for ideas for his coming celebration. Each child only has a party every five years, but they are allowed to pick out a cool cake for their special day even if it will only be enjoyed by family.
“The sprinkle donuts! They were awesome!”
My jaw dropped. “Oh really? Better than the Paw Patrol or Transformer cakes?”
“Yep. I loved the sprinkles.” Ryder replied.
“I’m glad you liked them, Sweetie.” Inside, I was stunned. I am not a professional baker; I am just a mom. That means I have bent over backwards and traded many hours of sleep for some of the elaborate cake requests my kids have given me. I don’t usually like to post pictures of these things because I’m not trying to be a Supermom. I am just trying to make my kids feel special and loved. Anyway, to get the irony of his response, you have to see the cake line-up...
For Ryder’s first birthday, I ended up making three cakes in honor of my little guy’s party because he was always hungry and he scooted like a caterpillar…
There was the year that every cake picture was met with a “No!” until the minion picture made him throw back his head and laugh… how could I resist?
And the next year Paw Patrol was his absolute favorite, so he thought the lookout tower was pretty epic.
Then Transformers became the new craze, so I labored to make that one happen too.
Hearing that a funfetti cake mix poured into a donut baking pan beat out all my fondant handiwork was a little hard to swallow. This year Ryder’s birthday fell in the middle of a chaos storm for our family. Treats are his love language, and I felt awful that I wasn’t able to make his dessert more special. The result was so lackluster that neither his dad nor I thought to get a great picture of the donut tower, just a video of the birthday boy blowing out his candles. And here he was saying it didn’t matter to him…
It got me thinking. Why were these donuts so special to him? I didn’t even waste any calories finishing one, so it certainly wasn’t the taste! Perhaps it was because he helped me make them from start to finish. He made the donuts, and the glaze, and he poured the sprinkles. He has helped me make cakes in the past, but since I stay up way past his bedtime making them, I have opted for the morning grand reveal. Perhaps the process, and time spent with mom, is more important than the result for this kiddo--especially if there are taste tests!
A few days later was my youngest son’s birthday. He loves anything Cars and has food allergies, so I made him a homemade cake and put some of his plastic cars and sprinkles on it. He was thrilled with the results!
“Wow, Mom! Thank you! It looks great!”
Even my six-year-old, whose response to the Paw Patrol cake is still, “But where is the slide for the Lookout Tower?!”, was satisfied.
This was interesting for sure. Everett hadn’t helped, but because it had his favorite characters he was thrilled. (But don’t the fondant characters count too?!? Apparently not… ) After we went to a matinee with Grandma, and had a nice dinner at home, we opened presents. We had purchased him a large Lego creative set, so I suggested a family building time. We spend the better part of an hour all building what we could with our pieces and sharing them. It was so simple, but it was a special time as a family and my little guy was happy as pie. His birthday was a success in his eyes.
A few days later we had dinner with friends, and I had my sons create some cake decorations. We bought a little cake--something I never would have done in the past--taped their handmade drawings to popsicle sticks, and stuck them in the cake with a few toys. They were so proud of their hard work. Once again, I realized how much joy it brought my kids to be a part of the process/decision-making aspect of the birthday cake. And in the end it probably is more about spending quality time together than having sugar art that will be destroyed instantaneously. This may differ from child to child. I really do believe personalities affect what we appreciate most. However, listening to our kids about what is important to them is the key.
In the future, I still plan on making some elaborate cakes and desserts, but I don’t think I will hold myself to that standard every year. Instead I plan on creating a birthday experience in which my child’s input and values are key. And this is not just a concept for birthdays. It is for the everyday. Not creating a child-centered home, but creating an environment in which the child knows they are valued and loved is a worthy goal. Just as Betsy has always emphasized with the “Fifteen Minutes a Day” approach, we need to realize that having US is better than any treat or experience. Being present is what our kids long for, especially when we are in busy seasons of life. Simply do whatever you can, so you can lie down on the carpet and drive cars or sit down on that tiny chair and have a tea party. THAT is what they will remember.
I realized something else through this too. It isn’t about my kids. It’s about God. God knew I was at max capacity. He knew that phoning in a donut cake mix was the best I could do at the time. And somehow, He helped my little boy see the fun in it. Ryder wasn’t meditating on what he missed out, he was thankful for what he had. I believe it is evidence of God swooping in--yet again--to bring good out of hard times. As I strive to follow Him in my parenting in the future, I will trust He knows where my efforts are best spent. Seeking Him and being there are sure to top the list.