A Tale of Two Cakes

The first cake started as a life preserver- not a literal white ring with red markings and “HMS Titanic” written on it, but figuratively, as the thing I was hoping would keep my sanity afloat.  See, my 27th birthday came just weeks after we moved from my hometown in Peachtree City, GA to an army garrison in downtown Seoul, Korea.  Specifically, it came days after we had moved into our new apartment and weeks before any of our belongings were due to arrive. We had been living out of the same five suitcases for two months, and the act of getting dinner on the table with no pots, pans, or dishes, and the nearest grocery store two miles away, was consuming every minute of my day.  So I decided that for my birthday I wanted to make a pretty cake.  It would be an act of creativity to bouy my floundering spirits.  I bought tin foil pans at the two-mile away grocery store, baked the cake and planned to decorate it with robin’s egg blue frosting and a big funfetti heart.   I was just mixing food coloring into the frosting when a tiny head popped into my peripheral vision:  “What are ya doin?” “I’m frosting my birthday cake, Elliana.”  “But it’s your birthday cake!  You can’t frost your own cake!”  “But I want to.”  “No.  I’ll help!”  First my pretty robin’s egg blue cake turned the exact color of hospital scrubs.   Then the funfetti went everywhere, and lastly, my little helper finger painted right into frosting so that the cake showed through spelling the message “I luv Mome,” and hearts with M+E written in them.  My cake was an act of creativity alright, just not my creativity.  I wish I could say that as we stuck the candles in and slid the cake into the cool oven for safe keeping I was so delighted and thankful for my sweet daughter that I forgot my desire to make my own pretty cake for my birthday, but instead, I sighed.  It was my birthday.  Shouldn’t I get to do what I want- something for me?  The self pity continued right up until the moment, hours later, that I was preheating the oven for dinner and smelled the melting wax.  “The cake!”  My husband, who never makes these mistakes but somehow always cleans up from it when I do, raced to rescue the cake from the oven and rush it to the freezer, but sadly, Elliana’s birthday creation of love looked more like a piece of modern abstract expressionism.   The scrubs-colored frosting was melted into waves, and the candles looked like they were doing the wave as they all bent dramatically to the left.    It was quite a birthday cake, but the real icing on the cake (forgive the pun,) came when Kenny lit the candles after dinner.  As my kids sang three different versions of happy birthday simultaneously, my husband turned from the kitchen with the cake in his hands, and all my self-pity shattered- not because the tenderness of the scene, but because of the cake!  That cake, which had already been through so much, was now spewing flame skyward!  Halfway melting the candles has left so much wick exposed that now Kenny was holding a cake topped by a good ten inches of flame dangerously licking towards his face.  His expression as he carried the cake toward me was becoming increasingly more alarmed.  But when he reached me I couldn’t blow out a single candle!  I couldn’t even try, because I was falling out of my chair laughing.  My cake, my life preserver in the chaos of family life, had been finger painted by my daughter, melted by me, and set aflame by my husband, and now we were all in danger of setting off the building fire alarm and it was perfect!  At every turn my birthday cake brought to my attention the people who love me.  My husband, who rescued the cake, and risked being set on fire by it, my boys who sang through the fiery blaze, and my sweet daughter, who wouldn’t let her “Mome” decorate her own cake.  This is what a birthday should be: a chance to open your eyes and see all the gifts God has already put in your life, starting with the people that love you.  Push fast forward to six weeks after my birthday.  It’s ten o’clock on a Wednesday night and I am covered in white frosting: my hands, my hair, my pajamas- and most of my kitchen.  On the counter in front of me is a nearly-pinterest-worthy Hello Kitty cake with pretzel whiskers and jelly bean eyes.  Elliana turns five in the morning and I’ve been working on her cake since she went to bed.  My husband has long since disappeared into the living room, leaving me to frolic in my ocean of powdered sugar and creativity.   I’m making a pretty cake, but not because I need to, just because I know my daughter will like it.  Elliana decorated my birthday cake, and now I am decorating hers.  Her cake said “I luv Mome,” mine is saying “I love you back.”

Her Cake for Me (can you see the finger painted writing?)

Her Cake for Me (pre-melting- can you see the finger painted writing?)

Mine for Her

Mine for Her

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