When my first boy had his first birthday, I started a tradition that I enjoy, but that also causes me stress every year. Each birthday, I bake and decorate a cake. I don't mean that I slap some frosting on top, cover it in rainbow sprinkles and write "Happy Birthday!" with store bought icing tubes.
No. I bake the cake. I assemble the cake into a specific shape, based on the theme of the birthday party. I make (sometimes buy) fondant and roll it out and cover the cake with it... just so. I create elaborate designs and shapes and colors to make just the perfect cake that everyone will ooh and aah over.
I usually use the week before the party to plan out the design on paper, then, the day before the party, I spend about 5 hours building my masterpiece. I've created out of cake everything from Bob the Builder to an African safari.
My boys are always excited to see what their cake will look like each year. People who aren't able to attend the birthday parties are always disappointed that they won't get to see what cake I came up with this time.
But, if I'm being honest, over the last couple years, I've grown tired of making elaborate cakes. They're expensive And it stresses me out to be spending so much time working on a cake instead of enjoying time with the birthday boy. Plus, the end result never matches up to the image I had in my head, which leaves me disappointed. But the boys always seem to look forward to it, so I've kept going.
This year, though, I've gotten lazy. The thought of spending hours on a cake made me want to hibernate for a month.
For my youngest son's birthday, which was in February, I cheated. I baked the cake, and I made the frosting, and I even made some Oreo cookie pops. But for the decorations, I purchased pre-made edible paper images, which I simply slapped onto the cake and the cookie pops and called it good.
Turns out, my son loved it! He (and everyone at the party, for that matter) thought it was so cool that they could EAT paper! Plus, it was an image of Transformers. I guess I couldn't go wrong with that.
For my oldest son's birthday, which was just this month, I cheated even more. Even the cookie pops were a bit more work than I wanted to do, so I gave my son a choice. I told him I could either make a fancy, elaborate cake for his party, or, I could make an ice cream cake. Lucky for me, he chose ice cream cake.
The only decoration this cake had was a picture of Iron Man I printed from my computer onto plain paper and stuck into the top of the cake. The cake was made of 24 ice cream sandwiches stacked on top of each other, slathered in Cool Whip, sprinkled with crushed Oreo cookies, and drizzled with Hershey's chocolate syrup. The whole cake took a total of about 15 minutes to put together. 10 of those minutes were spent simply unwrapping the ice cream sandwiches.
Wouldn't you know, this cake was a huge hit! Even my father, who HATES Cool Whip, enjoyed 2 helpings. My son ranted and raved over how awesome it was. All the kids oohed and aahed, just as if it were one of my elaborately decorated cakes from the past. At the end of the day, my son declared (more than once) that this was the best birthday he ever had.
Here is where I slap my own forehead and say, "Duh!"
All these years, I thought I needed to make a fancy, amazing cake that took hours to complete, because that's what my boys expected and looked forward to. But, it turns out, all they really care about is that I am there with them.
They know I love them, whether the cake is a 3-tiered replica of the Empire State building or just a bunch of ice cream sandwiches stacked on a plate. The type of cake I create for them doesn't make or break their day. Sure, they think my elaborate cakes are cool, but a pile of ice cream sandwiches is just as good. To them, the fact that I spent any amount of time doing something just for their special day makes them feel appreciated and loved, which is really the whole point to begin with.
Somewhere along the way, I came to believe that they would be disappointed and maybe even feel unloved if I didn't spend hours building a phenomenal cake for them.
I'm thankful that my husband and I, with God's guidance, have taught our children to appreciate the things we do for them, however big and fancy, or however small and simple. They know we love them and that they are special to us, regardless.
I just need to remember to keep it simple, stupid.