There’s something a little Marie Antoinette about me when May arrives. On the second day of the month, I am older. And although the calendar says I’ve aged, on every birthday I regress back to my childhood self, anticipating those traditions that my mother worked so hard to provide. Especially when it comes to cake. The year I turned six, she made a masterpiece, inspired by a photograph in her 1969 edition of the Wilton Pictoral Encyclopedia of Modern Cake Decorating. I am the keeper of this collectible classic:
The year I turned six, she spent days working on what to me now is a seven wonders of the world marvel…the pink castle cake.
If I close my eyes now, I can be transported back to our kitchen where I’m standing barefoot on the linoleum floor, squeezing my eyes shut, waiting for the moment she said “suprise!” to reveal the cake. I stood in awe and wonder, first at the sight of each handcrafted tower, then breathing in the aroma of hardening buttercream frosting tinted pink. There were tiny flags on the top, a little drawbridge, tiny figures to inspire imagination. There has never been such a gift, before or after my sixth birthday.
That it was to be eaten broke my heart.
I wonder if it broke my mother’s heart too.
But we did eat it. Every sugar encrusted bite. And then I went rollerskating in my brand new blue skates with the red stripes down the side.
My mother is an artist of all kinds of mediums. In our childhood, her gorgeous cakes became the ultimate expression of love.
And it just turns out that this year, when I turned 44, there was a tiny detail missing from the day.
No birthday cake.
Sure, I’m a mature adult by now, and shouldn’t need the trappings of the conventional tradition. I should be okay with the fact that we were having an incredibly busy week; that my husband had to work, that I barely had time to grocery shop because we had been sick, that by the time my husband was ready to bake the cake, there were no eggs in the fridge.
Sometimes it happens like that, and it’s perfectly okay.
But although I had some very beautiful gifts and cards to open that day, and a great big joyful inbox full of birthday wishes from friends, every May 2, I am still a six year old kid who delights in cake.
After dinner, I tasted the absence of it.
The next morning, in a defiant act of self love..please forgive me honey, I wasn’t doing this to say you failed…
I made my own birthday cake. Silently hoping that once I had done this, it wouldn’t become the expected chore for years to come. (You know how when you mow the grass once, it’s suddenly always your job?)
Why was this strange guilt upon me, with every unsymmetrical swirly rose? In the act of self love, my desire to create this cake suddenly felt like a guilty act of revenge. An attempt to recover what was missing from yesterday, that full to busted busy day of work and a robotics tournament, at the end of which we just wanted to eat take-out and lie down.
In fairness, I am unable to eat store bought cake because of my dietary issues, so there is no shame I mean to give to my husband.
Still, I must be developmentally six years old every May the second.
Every day this week, I’m eating cake for breakfast.