Why do I make complicated birthday cakes?

A collage of birthday cakes, including Moana and Minecraft themed

Birthdays are for cake. Of course, the cake does not have to be pretty, or expensive, or huge. Just made or given with love, just eaten and enjoyed with friends and family. As long as it tastes good, as long as you share it with those who are dear, the cake has served its purpose.

My children changed me forever. From the moment they were placed in my arms, something inside me shifted, irreversibly. It might seem like a subtle change, or more accurately, a million subtle changes. The way I view the world tilted oh so slightly. My reactions and reasonings and instincts, seen through a filter of a slightly different hue.

But they add up to something so very potent. Like the flap of a butterfly’s wings causing a hurricane.

Twice a year, without fail, for each of my children’s birthdays, I attempt an ambitious birthday cake. For my daughter, in her three years so far, she has had a purple owl, Twirlywoos and a pink unicorn cake. For her fourth she requests a rainbow cake with rainbow icing. (I might try a mirror glaze!)

For my son, in his first year it was In the Night Garden, his second a rainbow layer cake, his third a minion bus, his fourth a Ben and Holly jelly flood on the moon, his fifth was Moana themed and his sixth, which is today, is Minecraft.

A minecraft cube birthday cake

I have asked myself, why do I need to do this every time? There is no doubt that the delight on their faces when they have seen each cake were some of the best moments of my life. But would they really be much less delighted if I made more simple cakes? Even if I bought them? I am not sure.

They take days. The cakes usually require two or three layers to make the shapes required. I bake and crack eggs and cover my kitchen in flour. Sometimes I work late at night to keep them hidden, to maintain the surprise. The next day, when the cakes are cool, they are stacked and reinforced and covered in buttercream. I pipe and cut out fondant and make figures and measure icing and smooth sides and create delicate little flowers or cartoon faces.

I have always delighted in making creative things. It is something I am good at, something I have confidence in, even though everything else always seems so uncertain. The more complicated and ambitious a creative project, the more I give myself to it wholeheartedly. It can be a bit of a curse actually. I tend to get carried away, to lose my sense of perspective.

And, twice a year, I give myself over entirely to that compulsion.

Part of it is for them, is to see the joy on their faces, for them to know that I have made it, just for them.

Part of it is for me, to give voice that shift in my universe, to articulate that change, that twisting of my gut, that silent explosion in my chest that is my love for them. To acknowledge that I am changed, that I cannot bear unkindness, that I feel more, that I am selfish less.

We express this feeling in many ways. With affection. With praise. With teaching and learning and always fighting for them, always being in their corner. With food and nourishment and caring.

Sometimes, I express it with cake.



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