I Didn't Know You Could Make Birthday Cake from Scratch by @DorothyRosby is a Celebrate Mothers pick
Title: I Didn't Know You Could Make Birthday Cake from Scratch: Parenting Blunders from Cradle to Empty Nest
Author: Dorothy Rosby
Genre: Humorous Essays
The book for every parent who ever stuck a candle in a peanut butter sandwich and called it birthday cake. Or ever tried to crowd fund her child’s braces. Or ever told her child to be quiet so she could finish reading a parenting magazine.
Winning the Birthday Party Competition
If you ask me, children’s birthday parties have gotten out of hand. I don’t even recall having a birthday party when I was a child, let alone renting a swimming pool for one. Of course, we didn’t have a swimming pool to rent in my hometown. We had a lake. And you didn’t have to rent it, but you did have to chase the cows off the beach.
Also, my mother was a busy woman. There were ten children in my family. One does not plan ten birthday parties per year unless one is a professional party planner.
Of course, I did attend birthday parties as a child. And I was once hurt deeply when, as I handed my gift to the birthday girl, she said with feeling, “I hope it’s not another paint-by-number.” I grew up in a very small town. The local hardware and drug stores had the only toy departments in town and I happen to know they both had fine selections of paint-by-number sets.
I was invited to a few other parties as a child, but far fewer than my son has attended in his short life. (Maybe because I had a reputation for giving paint-by-number sets.) Isaac has been to parties at arcades, hotels, and fast food restaurants. He’s been to swimming parties, skating parties, paintball parties, and even a disco party. As a result, he always expects his mother to come up with something equally as exciting. Poor thing; he has the wrong mother.
My birthday party-deprived childhood left me completely unprepared to plan birthday parties that can compete with the modern variety. I’ve never even made what you could call a real birthday cake, and I see no reason to start now. That’s why there are bakeries. I did put five candles in the peanut butter sandwich I made for Isaac’s fifth birthday breakfast. He loves peanut butter sandwiches. And I don’t make waffles either.
It doesn’t mean I love him less. Here’s what I tell people who make their children cakes in the shape of cartoon characters or choo-choo trains: “After work every day, I have just a few hours to spend with my son. I could spend that time making a birthday cake in the shape of a train, or I could get down on my hands and knees and actually play train with him. I choose the latter.” I don’t mention that I couldn’t make a train cake if I tried.
Unfortunately, homemade theme cakes and matching party paraphernalia are an important part of birthday parties for the elementary school set. While I distributed store-bought birthday cake at one of my lackluster parties, a young guest told me that his mother actually makes his birthday cakes. I told him I love my son too much to do that to him.
The child persisted. “Usually,” he said, “homemade tastes better.”
I said, “That depends on whose home it was made in. Now eat your cake or I will.”
Along with my lack of experience, birthday party horror stories add to my anxiety. At a birthday party thrown by some friends, a blindfolded guest missed the piñata and whacked another partygoer. A friend’s daughter broke her arm at a birthday party. And a little boy brought unwanted guests to one of my nephew’s parties: head lice.
Another issue for me is the gifts. Ten guests equal ten gifts and, while I’m sure he would disagree, I think my son needs more toys like I need more dirty dishes in my sink.
And then there’s that small matter of being responsible for other people’s children when I’m not sure I’m qualified to care for my own.
But above all, I’m intimidated by stories of sensational children’s parties, where the parents rent a limousine, hire a celebrity entertainer, or take all the guests to Disney Land. My idea of a good party is plenty of guacamole, which many children don’t seem to appreciate.
How can I compete? I can’t. Nevertheless, I’ve managed some semblance of a birthday party every year since my son was old enough to care. Here’s how I did it:
The Fast Food Restaurant Option:
On the advice of a friend, I called a fast food restaurant to plan my son’s fifth birthday party. I was ecstatic to learn that the restaurant would provide not only kids meals, but a birthday cake as well. Their play area would provide the entertainment for the kids. That left me responsible only for sending invitations and picking out the birthday gift—or using the toy in the kid’s meal, which I’m ashamed to admit I actually considered.
Sounded easy enough, but it was exhausting. Being in charge of eight five-year-olds is like supervising a roomful of grasshoppers. Still, it was a success by my criteria: No body parts were broken. Nobody wanted his gift back. Nobody wanted his mother before the party was over. At least no one mentioned it if he did, and members of this particular demographic group aren’t known for keeping their thoughts to themselves.
Even the birthday cake was a hit. It may not have looked like a choo-choo train or a cartoon character, but it was decorated magnificently … with the logo of a certain popular fast food restaurant.
The Rent-An-Activity Option:
Another year, I booked the party at a bowling alley. I did have some concerns—many small feet and many large bowling balls in the same room, to name one. But what could be more fun for a group of first-graders than dropping large balls onto a shiny, hardwood floor?
This party might have been a success except for one thing. Four parents who had not bothered to RSVP brought their kids anyway—and then left. Suddenly we had nine children, but only one bowling lane. This did allow the kids plenty of time for activities between bowling. Unfortunately, we hadn’t planned any.
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If you’re are an imperfect parent, as the author admits to being, you’ve had two conflicting thoughts running through your head since the earliest stages of your children’s lives: 1) No one can care for my children better than I can. 2) I have no idea what I’m doing here. I Didn't Know You Could Make Birthday Cake from Scratch is reassurance for all imperfect parents. You’re not alone. You’re better than you know and better than your children will tell you—until they grow up and have kids of their own.
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Dorothy Rosby is a syndicated humor columnist whose work appears regularly in publications in the West and Midwest. She's also the author of three books of humorous essays. She lives in the beautiful Black Hills of South Dakota, 20 miles from Mount Rushmore, something she's very proud of though her face isn't on it. Yet. Contact her through her website www.dorothyrosby.com.
Social Media Links:
@dorothy Rosby (Twitter)