Sunday, April 5, 2009

Birthday Glee

Today the sun shone hard and warm on our backyard, and despite a swift breeze that brought a chill to the air the weather was ripe for an outdoor birthday extravaganza. We strung birthday banners from tree to tree, hauled out tables and chairs, and prepared for the onslaught. The children arrived to tables for face painting, for mucking around in "gak", and for necklace making. An obstacle course was open and the table was covered with tasty snacks. Guitars were at the ready for the singing. Much fun ensued.
I had, as per usuale, created a cake that ended up a sad reflection of my original intentions. In November I had spent about 6 hours making a beautiful, fondant covered castle cake with my dear friend Beth. It looked amazing, but I couldn't help wondering, couldn't I create something just as amazing looking, and also edible? The sight of everyone peeling the awful-tasting fondant off of Margaret's cake was too much for me to bear. Sure, the icing beneath tasted great, but wasn't that just such a waste of food and money?

So I decided that I would create a cake for my children that was beautiful and delicious through and through, and so rather than just bake the cake and make normal icing with butter and icing sugar and cream, I decided that I would out-do myself and make real, genuine buttercream. I looked up many recipes and finally settled on one that appeared to be the simplest of the complicated recipes I encountered. And so... after four hours of double-boiling, and whisking, and taking careful temperatures on my candy thermometer, and beating, and beating, and beating, and beating... I had created buttercream. It was an almost grotesque yellow color (yes, the color of butter, which is essentially what it was) and it tasted, well, it could have been that I had just licked the spatula one too many times, but I didn't really like it. It was much too buttery and rich, and not quite sweet enough for my taste. But no matter. This was going on the cake, and we would like it regardless. So I slapped it on, made some old-fashioned icing sugar icing with the 2 cups of confectioners sugar I found in the baking closet and piped on a chocolate decoration, embellished it with about a dozen candles and some princesses and a toy knight, and voila. It looked messy and tippy and off-coloured and awful, but I knew in my heart of hearts that the children would think it was fabulous and so I tried to be satisfied at least for that.

And here is the point of the description of the cake-- for the very, very first time ever at a birthday party, I carried the cake out to my children and I did not burst into tears. Because this is what usually happens.

I am distracted. I am busy with the cake. I light the candles, I begin to walk into the room where the children sit, everybody begins to sing, and BAM! It hits me.

This child, this blond, rosy-cheeked child sitting in front of me, has survived another year. I have made it through another year with this child, a whole entire year, all 365 days of it. The disbelief of my good fortune of having had this child for such a seeming eternity always bowls me over in that moment, this of course combined with the fact that my first child laid in my arms for somewhat less than six hours all told, and the floodgates always open as the cake hits the table. I know the onlookers think they are sweet tears of joy and love, but they are only partially that. They are also tears of sadness, for Charlotte who is not at the table with her brother or sister, for Charlotte who never got to blow out candles, for Charlotte who never got to make a friend. In that moment, she always comes to me.

But this year, as I carried out my eighth birthday cake (all told), I was distracted up until the moment that I realized that I was not crying, and that I was happy to see the joy on my children's faces, and the joy on their friends' faces, and I was so glad for all this gladness that I chased the tears away quite willingly, and I enjoyed the afternoon with all my heart.

So it was a good day, and though there is part of me that feels wistful for having not felt those strong pangs of sadness, I am also grateful for having been able to sop up the joy with my two little ones who are here. They deserve great joy, after all.


Cara said...

Gorgeous post - as usual. As each year comes the ratio of joy to bitersweet sadness increases. I'm so glad you had a sunny day!!!!

kris said...

Happiest of birthdays to your two. Five and three! May the year ahead bring laughter and happiness, strength and smiles.

I'm so glad today brought you joy. Party looks like fun!

Jen said...

Happy, happy birthday to Liam and Aoife! And that is one spectacular cake. It is only outdone by your description of your bittersweet joy.

Hope's Mama said...

Beautiful Carol. Think you could send a piece of that cake this way? I reckon it would survive the trip. I need a bit of cake right now!!


Heather said...

That was a beautiful post.

Dana said...

lovely post enjoyed reading and the pics too. You have cute kids.

Adelaide's Mom said...

Birthday wishes and kisses!