Kids birthday’s are a riot of colour, noise and fun, with the primary objective of giving the celebrating child a day to remember. But birthdays aren’t just about the kids. There is sometimes a quieter celebrity which often threatens to steal the show. The celebrity of The Birthday Cake.
I have long forgotten how to celebrate my own birthday properly, usually perfectly content to let the event slip silently out of sight (as long as a little bit of a fuss is made for the zero ending birthdays).
So since becoming a father I have had to re-train myself to acknowledge the birthday as a key event in my children’s lives, and to re-engage in the ceremony of birthday for the benefit of my children.
As a result I have spent what seems like most weekends for the last 12 months or so, attending these wonderfully intense little explosions of colour, noise and vibrancy as child after child passes yet another milestone mark in their lives. And toddlers birthday parties are a sight to behold, populated by clumsy, wobbly zombies, each one vibrating with the raw energy of life itself; too young to really know what is going on, but old enough to know that a bouncy castle + balloons + friends + sticky cakes = best time EVER!
And the more birthdays I have attended, the more I have observed that there is a fundamental competition going on behind the scenes. Which parents can hire the best hall? Which parents can get the best bouncy castles? Which parents can get the best entertainment?
But it appears that the one factor that trumps everything else is the food. For my circle of friends at least, the more homemade, the more organic, the more wholesome the food, the better. For example a hand knitted flapjack using fairly traded sugar and Goji berries from an indigenous tribe cooperative in Latin America would score you BIG parent points.
But the thing that really trumps everything else is The Birthday Cake. Ah yes. The Birthday Cake. The ultimate symbol of the Super Parents. The Birthday Cake. The thing that shouts “Look at us. We have given birth AND we can bake. We are multi-tasking, home-baking, sustenance-providing SUPER PARENTS”
Ever since I became a father, my Facebook and Twitter timelines have become chock FULL of my friends pictures of their children’s Birthday Cakes (ironically, with not a child in sight). Some of these cakes are so utterly magnificent that the creators’ children probably didn’t eat for days whilst they were painstakingly crafting them.
And while my wife and I have largely resisted the lure of The Birthday Cake for my daughters first and second birthdays, I could see all this changing for my daughters recent third birthday.
It was a Saturday afternoon, about two months before the birthday. My wife asked my daughter if she would like a birthday cake. A perfectly reasonable question you might think, but let’s unpack it a little bit. My daughter was approaching her third birthday. Her opinions and views of the world are not yet fixed. Given that this question was her first introduction to the dialogue about birthdays, it is now likely that her view of birthday’s evermore will be first and foremost defined by the presence or otherwise of The Birthday Cake.
And in addition, it wasn’t just the question that was asked, it was the way it was asked. A glint in the eye, a conspiratorial whisper in the voice and a subliminal and very slight nodding of the head as the question was delivered. I realised my wife was, consciously or not, making it impossible for my daughter to say “no” to this question.
Naturally my daughter picked up on all the cues and gleefully replied “yes”. And that was it. Two months of discussing the party once the kids were in bed followed, with The Birthday Cake taking centre stage.
At one point, when I felt the party was in danger of mushrooming into a vast logistical and administrative undertaking that we would need an army of volunteers to help deliver, I suggested that we buy a cake from the local Posh Cake Shop to reduce the burden on the family. The frown and withering stare I received in return was enough for me to understand that what I was saying was tantamount to adultery and betrayal. I filed that suggestion into the mental box in my brain marked “Pandora” – along with the recent suggestion that we turn the kids sandpit into a raised bed for my carrots – and tried to change the subject to a safer, more mundane conversation, about balloons or something.
However, the worst thing about all this was that we decided to do a joint birthday with some of our best friends. This would mean there would be not one, but TWO cakes. And those cakes would be IN COMPETITION!
And sure enough the cake was an ongoing topic of conversation between the two matriarchs in the run up to the party. Some nights my wife would come off the phone from her friend, frustrated and grumbling about an added twist her friend had added to embellish her cake, walking off cursing into the kitchen to find something that could be added to our cake to fortify it.
As the party approached the conversations between the two women literally turned to sledging each other over their cakes. I got an insight into how men must appear when we do that blokey, sledgehammer, put down thing i.e. great fun for those of you in the middle of the banter, but extremely uncomfortable viewing for those watching and not quite sure of the rules.
Then came the day of the party. For my daughter, the party was all about bouncy castles, her friends, balloons and hilariously bad dancing to Katy Perry (can it be torture if they appear to enjoy it?). But for all the adults, underneath all this superficial colour, happiness and noise, was the underlying tension of the two cakes being pitted against each other; two houses going head to head in a glorious cake-off. The battle for cake supremacy had begun.
Someone dimmed the lights. I don’t know who. It didn’t matter. A hush descended on the room. Everyone turned to face the glow of candle light coming around the corner. The hilltop fires had been lit! The Birthday Cakes were here! CAKES!! INCOMING!!!
I must confess, while I had been, up until this point, less preoccupied by the quality of the cakes and more concerned about the survival of my CD collection (which was being frisbeed around the room), I was by now desperate for our cake to be beautiful; to be the show stopper; to resemble everything you might find in a Posh Cake Shop, and – with the benefit of the infinite love of a mother poured into it – much, much more.
The first cake arrived to a collective gasp; a deep, dark dense chocolate cake with elaborate bursts of coloured icing, crackling like fireworks against a midnight sky. The cake-makers face was lit up by the candles, a portrait of happiness and pride.
Then came our cake. More gasps of appreciation. And I was amazed! This was a lighter, pink affair over two tiers, each lovingly adorned with beautiful, delicate thin wafer flowers and studded with pink and white chocolate buttons.
And ff this cake had been a car, it would have been a pink Lamborghini. It would have come screeching into the room, exhaust throttling, tyres burning, a perfect hand brake turn at the end for the adoring crowds. It was a stunning, prancing horse of a cake.
The candles on the cake lit up my wife’s face, a pink halo burning above her head. My daughters face also lit up. She tilted her head down, beamed a beam as wide as an ocean trench and clapped her little hands together three times. Her shoulders bobbed up and down with excitement and she was squealing with joy. A burst of pride spread across my chest.
And my goodness, it tasted amazing. Admittedly it was helped by the TWO packs of butter that were helping to hold it together, but raised cholesterol levels aside, this was a job well and truly done.
So there it was, two months in the planning for both families, demolished in seconds by a hungry and appreciative audience. And it dawned on me. As the cakes were being brought through and all eyes were trained on them – flashbulbs popping and the crowds parting to let the sugary sweet VIPs through – that birthday parties are without doubt primarily about the children; but that the cakes take a certain celebrity too.
And on this occasion it was the mothers that had embraced this celebrity and gone head-to-head, two matriarch lionesses on the Serengeti savannah, circling each other, measuring each other up; each cake cub crying for attention, a symbol of life, creation and nurture. A symbol of pride, dedication and selfless giving, all wrapped up in a sugary-pink icing casing.
And as the chaos died down I decided that next year I am going to get involved. And it’s going to get serious. I have decided the cake will have turrets and minaret’s, delicately sculpted in an Arabic style. And there will be marshmallows and Lindt chocolate. And Spiderman and Winnie the Witch will be involved. And I will take photos of it, and post them on any social media site that will have me.
It’s cake war.