It’s another birthday party in our house today. My son turns 9 (nine! what?), and has requested a lightsaber birthday cake. Not just any lightsaber birthday cake mind you. Kylo Ren’s lightsaber. “You remember what that looks like from the movie, mum?” he asks. Ahh, no. But google does, of course. There are plenty of photos of this bad-ass sword of laser light, but not a single one of a cake in its image. Could it be that I am the first to make (and photograph) a Kylo Ren Lightsaber cake. Oh the pressure. (Actually, it turns out I was just spelling the name incorrectly, and one or two people have beaten me from the oven to Facebook, as it were.)
But why do I say yes to these ridiculous requests? Why not just say, “mate, any old lightsaber will have to do”? Followed by, “And it is going to be blue. No dark force encouragement here, thank you very much.” No, I just nod and get to it. Because I want to be the perfect mother.
So there I was up half the night baking the egg, nut and dairy free cake base and up this morning constructing and icing and, as usual, aiming for perfection. And then the kids woke up and wanted to join in. Just the very act of asking causes my chest to constrict. I know I should let them, but I know things won’t turn out like I planned.
And as they got involved, adding bits and pieces here and there, I felt this explosive anxiety building in my chest. Because now there was mess everywhere, and the perfect cake was no longer perfect. And I am holding my temper but in that quiet seething sort of way that is more destructive than explosive outbursts. And my daughter gets icing sugar stuck on the cake board, and in pulling it off rips the silver paper and I feel like my head is going to explode and then she says, in a very quiet, cut through your soul kind of way, “Why do I always mess up?”
And a piece of me breaks off and dies. In the hollow silence of my head, I see her eyes well up and I realise how much I have failed these kids in this regard. My desire for accolade, for mothering glory, is paving the way to emotional fragility in this beautiful, amazing, talented, vibrant human spirit of my daughter. I rush around the table – almost breathless with the need to fix this terrible perspective I have created – and hug her. “Hey,” I say, “You tried and it didn’t work. That’s okay. That is definitely better than not trying at all. Easily fixed.” And I hug her until the tears she has held in her eyes ebb away and then I let go. I hand over the silver balls and icing sugar and show them the picture, and say, with genuine intent in my voice and a smile on my face, “Go for it”. And so they do.
And I realise the cake is irrelevant, but the experience of creating the cake together is priceless. And, as I am prone to do, I wish I could do mothering over with this new knowledge. But I can’t. I can only hold this vital lesson to the light and let it fill my interaction with my kids for this point forward.
So, the cake is done and the birthday boy declares it the best cake ever. And indeed it is. Because everyone is smiling and I am more enlightened than I was when I woke up. And that, really, is all one can ask for in life, isn’t it.