parents

"Sorry Miranda, this is the parenting shortcut I needed to take."

By MIA FREEDMAN

I am easily intimidated by fancy cakes.

Partly, I blame the internet.

Because before Pinterest etc, the only place you saw elaborate baked goods were in The Australian Women’s Weekly’s iconic birthday cake cookbooks. Remember the swimming pool? The dumptruck? The choo-choo train? The duck with the bill made from crinkle cut chips?

 

These books have always been hugely popular in my house. My kids have always pored over them – often with post-it notes –  and fantasised about which cake they’d have for their next birthday.

This used to make me slightly tense because I knew I was not capable of making any of them. Wait, once, years ago when I was still at school myself, I made this one for my young cousin’s birthday:

After that, I gave up.

For a few years (and a few kids) I battled to produce a home-made birthday cake, even if it wasn’t in the shape of anything more exotic than a round cake tin. Smarties and hundreds and thousands were a feature. What kid doesn’t love a sprinkle?

But several months ago, when my youngest turned four, I abandoned the pretense altogether.

And so this was his birthday cake:

I bought it from Woolworths for $4.99 and as I transported it quickly home for his party the next day, I waited for the guilt to hit me.

It never did.

I felt proud about this development because for a long time, I associated home-made birthday cakes with Being A Good Mother. I didn’t judge others but I judged myself. Even using a cake-mix seemed to be cheating.

Where on earth did this bizarre Birthday Cake Parenting index come from, I wondered? Perhaps it was born from reading quotes like this that have penetrated my consciousness for decades:

Ugh. I mean, good for you Miranda.

*Cough*

But here is the thing. At this time in my life, cooking does not come naturally to me. I do not enjoy it. I am not good at it. Everyone has to make decisions about how to allocate their time and in the case of birthday cakes, I weigh up the hours (many) and stress (much) it will cost me against the potential benefit to my children which is none. Seriously, none.

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They will not love me any more than they already do. It will not enhance their enjoyment of their birthday to any measurable degree that I can see (having done it both ways). So it has been a huge relief to let it go.

I’m aware that many people derive enormous pleasure from cooking and baking. They find it creative, satisfying and even relaxing. For every person like me who is intimidated and daunted by fancy birthday cakes, there is someone who lives for it, like Jeanne Sager who wrote an interesting piece on the whole Cakezilla phenomenon last week called, provocatively, “I Love My Kid Too Much To Get Her A Store-Bought Birthday Cake”.

Ouch.

In it, she writes about how she has spent weeks combing Pinterest for the perfect cupcakes for her daughter’s birthday:  “She wants pandas, and she’s going to get pandas if I have to stay up until 3 a.m. crafting cute little black and white bear cubs until my fingers bleed.”

Wow. If that were my kid, I’d Google “Panda images” and pass her the phone. “There! Some pandas!”

But that’s me. Sager would be horrified – and I say this not to mock her, she’s genuinely perplexed about her extreme need to tie herself up in birthday cake knots. She writes:

“It’s a sickness that I’m not quite sure how to explain, but I’ll give it my best shot: I feel like making my kid’s birthday awesome is part of getting her childhood “right,” and that means doing things myself. I just can’t bring myself to accept the “help” of an outside baker. The very idea fills me up with dread. Last year I was sick as a dog before my daughter’s birthday, and even letting my husband make her “bring to school” cupcakes made me cry.

Call it being a cakezilla. Call it peer pressure. Call it extreme parenting. Or just call it crazy.”

She’s at pains to point out that she holds no judgement against store-bought mothers like me, “it’s about me showing my kid I love her in a way that works for me (and my neuroses)”.

Importantly, she also confesses to being hugely intimidated by fancy nurseries.

Oh shit, I can’t do that either.

So… ever bought a cake?

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