Miss G had been planning her fourth birthday for nearly a year.
She wanted it all – the party, the craft, the games and of course, the cake. I decided a mid-week extravaganza might cut down expectations, and extra siblings hanging around with their jaded judgements about the lack of pony rides and bouncy castles. This party would be only viewed through the innocent eyes of four year olds, and so there was no need to panic.
On the eve of the party I rushed home from work with a plan of attack. I, multitasker extraordinaire, would make the cake during dinner and decorate it once the kids were in bed.
In the door I flew and embraced all my little chickadees. I threw meat in a wok and began to have three intense conversations simultaneously. Mr O had lost a tooth, Miss B had a perfect score in a spelling test and Miss G had craft to stick on the fridge.
In went the veggies while I greased the cake tin. Mr O needed help with long division, Miss B began to read to me, Miss G started to unpack her party bags.
The noodles were tossed into the wok and I measured the sugar and butter for the birthday cake. Mr O asked my opinion on the death penalty, Miss B told me about her cartwheel competition and Miss G spotted the mixing bowl. She wanted to help make her cake. Help.
Listen: A kid loses a tooth… and the tooth fairy misplaces it. How does a parent deal? Post continues after audio.
I surrendered to an hour of bickering about beater control and cracking eggs. Desperately I flung the tin in the oven and hustled everyone up for a bath.
Once the bathroom sufficiently swamped, I fled downstairs and chucked the cake on a cooling rack so that I could begin Operation Buttercream.
Now if I am honest with myself, there is a yawning chasm lying between my ambitions and my aptitude in cake making. I pore over Pinterest food porn, pointing out fabulous masterpieces to my children, but it never crosses my mind that these sculptural delicacies would not be within my technical grasp.
My mother was another flamboyant believer in her own baking talents. Mum felt buttercream could solve pretty much anything and used it relentlessly in her birthday creations, often with disastrous results. One year my brother’s cake fell so much in the middle that it became an inch deep chocolate swimming pool with decorations and candles sucked in like quicksand. Unfazed, Mum chucked a boat on it and called it the Titanic.
During my early, tentative years of parenting I listened to that little inner voice and made sure I had reinforcements ready. My husband can wield a pallet knife like a samurai sword and can painstakingly align liquorice bullets on a buttercream tank tyre track or shape the anatomically correct spines on an Apatosaurus cake. The results were spectacular, worthy of inclusion in any reprint of the Women’s Weekly Birthday Cake book. And I shamelessly took all the credit. Karma was bound to come one day.
As I stepped back into the kitchen that evening, I realised that I would never outgrow that teenager who had been asked to drop domestic science at high school. I surveyed the scene of culinary wreckage, with uncooked batter streaming down my bench as a few feeble chunks of cake lay pathetically on the cooling rack. Deep breath. Mum said buttercream could solve anything.
I worked feverishly, mortaring morsels of cake around a Barbie doll into the semblance of a skirt. Layer by layer I spread on the icing, trusting that the sugar would bind into an impenetrable corset. Lollies lined the seams and masked the carnage. I had done it. And there was still time to watch an episode of Game of Thrones.
Sighing with smug satisfaction I wiped down my benches and washed up my pallet knife. I thought about the list of other jobs for the evening – lunchboxes, teacher’s notes, Mr O’s tooth in a jar for the Tooth Fairy.
The bench was sparkling clean, devoid of clutter. Where was that tooth? I picked through the bin. Nowhere to be seen. Nothing was out of place in the room. With a dawning horror I realised the only place left to look was in the folds of buttercream skirts around the cake. There was no time, and quite frankly not enough sugar left in the house to repeat my efforts if I was to investigate.
The next morning Mr O was delighted to see the Tooth Fairy had coughed up some cash without dental payment, and Miss G was awed with my culinary talents. Barbie kept smiling that enigmatic smile at me, not giving her secrets away. I felt sick.
The party rolled along seamlessly, but as we progressed through biscuit decorating and pass the parcel and musical bobs, I began to sweat. It was time for me to pay the piper. Cake time.
What would I say if one of the little darlings had a crunchy surprise in her slice? Could I suggest that this was my twist on a Christmas pudding and that she had won the jackpot?
The little girls gathered around the table and raucously sang. They enthusiastically showered the cake with spittle as they helped Miss G to extinguish her four burning candles. She closed her eyes and made a wish, and I silently hoped that she was wishing for a tooth-free cake serving. I certainly was.
Clutching my knife with white knuckle tension, I cut wafer thin serves and stabbed them frantically, much to the alarm of the onlooking mothers. Rudely ‘forgetting’ to offer cake to adults I rushed it away, muttering about saving some for Miss G’s relatives. But at the end of the party I flung that cake straight into the bin.
I had played Russian roulette and somehow dodged the bullet. Perhaps I really could start to believe my own hype.
If the perfect mother is someone who lurches from disaster to disaster with a smile, then Pepita Smyth has nailed it. A working mother of three, Pepita celebrates the unbridled joy of family life, even the cake stalls, lost footy boots and dawn business calls. Despite her best intentions to create the Pinterest-Perfect world, Pepita is a magnet for motherhood mishaps and thrives in the chaos.