I think planning kids’ birthday parties is a ton of fun. I love helping my two little daughters to come up with an original theme and venue, thinking up activities and planning for loot bags. While I don’t lack for enthusiasm, I do occasionally get tripped up in the execution of my (admittedly) sometimes-overly-elaborate plans.
Take yesterday morning, for example. I woke up early to decorate the cake I’d baked for Lily’s dinosaur-themed birthday party, feeling like I had all the time in the world. When I came down to the kitchen, however, I got a painful reminder of the yummy, late-night Mexican dinner I’d enjoyed with my husband – in the form of taco remains all over the counter and dishes piled in the sink. (In the moment, leaving the dishes for the next morning always seems like the ‘right’ thing to do, doesn’t it??)
Nothing like starting a very busy day by cleaning up from last night’s mess…good times. But I would not be easily discouraged; I scrubbed all the pots and pans and started the dishwasher. Then I pulled out my mixer and started whipping up some buttercream icing – in two colours – for my two-level dinosaur cake, which was looking like a work of art in my optimistic mind’s eye. After a week of perusing dozens of cake-decorating ideas online, visiting the Bulk Barn for supplies and raiding the kids’ miniature dinosaur collection, I was armed with the makings of a great cake.
Approximately two hours later, the kitchen was a total disaster yet again – this time with cake and icing-related dishes – and I had finally completed putting the coloured icing on both cakes. Things were going well, but I had forgotten how excruciatingly slow I am at decorating cakes. It’s something I do about twice a year – for each of my daughters’ birthdays – which is not quite often enough to gain speed and skill. Let’s just thank the good Lord that I’d made the two cakes (and frozen them) in advance, otherwise I would have been royally screwed.
After the icing was on, I started to get creative; I added a small, plastic volcano, some miniature dinos and some foliage to the surface of the cake. I had bought some tiny chocolates – in the shape of little rocks – from Bulk Barn, which were perfect for my prehistoric landscape. When my husband Ian walked in, I was starting to use an icing gel to make little footprints behind the dinosaur and to write, ‘Happy Birthday Lily!’ along the lower edge of the cake. The footprints looked OK, but the lettering looked like my Grade 1 kid had written it herself – letters in different sizes with the words slowly sagging down.
Between the questionable cake décor and the kids asking for breakfast, I was starting to get frustrated and tense when Ian announced he was going to the gym. Bad timing, in my opinion, and I told him as much. He shot me a look and said, “Remember, this is a party – not the SAT exams.”
Steamed as I was at the comment, it did ring true. Subconsciously, I think I’ve long been ruined for cake decorating by my good friend Cathy – an accomplished, professional baker who makes incredible creations through her own business, Catherine’s Cakery. Clearly, I don’t have her training, experience or natural-born gift for making exceptional creations.
The beauty of it is that it doesn’t matter. Stressful though it can sometimes be, I love making my own cakes because it’s a sort of gift for my kids. Baking enables me to get carried away in whatever toy or theme they’re absorbed with – in this case, dinosaurs – and literally feed their sweet, childhood innocence back to them.
In the end, I scraped off the awkward, goopy lettering and opted to keep the design simple. Ian got home in time and redeemed himself by brining dinner for the slow cooker and a big bottle of post-party wine for the fridge.
By the time the party actually kicked off at the Museum of Nature, I had a whole new attitude. It helps that I totally love that museum and, thanks to raising two dinosaur lovers, I pretty much know the place like the back of my hand.
After watching a 3D dinosaur movie and touring three of the four levels of the museum, the kids piled into the party area for cake time. Looking back at the picture of Lily’s face when I presented her with the cake, I can see she looks pretty darn thrilled. And to me, that’s all that matters in the end.