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When I was a kid my mom was a Cake Artist, which meant our kitchen often became a No Trespassing zone as she baked, constructed, and decorated cakes for weddings. Wearing her “A Woman’s Work is Never Done” t-shirt and blasting Fleetwood Mac albums as she baked and iced, I sort of consider her to have been the Ace of Cakes before Duff Goldman’s mom was ever impregnated. Mom once made a Cookie Monster cake for me, and it actually looked just like Cookie Monster—complete with a blue furry head and a broken cookie in his mouth. Absolutely amazing. Every year she asked what type of cake I wanted for my birthday, and every year she would create something fabulous: Holly Hobbie cake. Strawberry Shortcake cake. Ziggy cake. You get the idea.
The only cake she refused to make for me was a Bee Gees cake, and looking back, I can’t really blame her. How on earth could anyone even begin to capture this level of fabulousness?! (Sometimes you just have to know when to say Uncle.)
Anyway, because I remember being so jazzed about my mom’s yearly birthday cake creations, I’ve always known that I wanted to pass the “choose your cake” option on to my kids.
At our first joint birthday party (Harper and Meredith’s birthdays are on April 28th and April 29th, which is very charming now, but probably won’t be when we reach the teenage years), I decided to order a typical First Birthday cake for Harp, and Meredith begged for something with SpongeBob on it. I went to a local bakery, spent something like $23,943 for two half sheet cakes, and quickly decided that I will never again drop that much cash on something that doesn’t last at least ten years.
Lovely cakes, right? The kids certainly loved them, as evidenced by the sugar-induced mandibular subluxation shown in the photographs below.
When the second and fourth birthdays were approaching, I once again asked them what type of cakes they wanted. With zero hesitation, Harper said, “Murray Wiggle.” (I know.) Meredith once again went with SpongeBob. (She’s a one trick pony.) I quickly journeyed back to the bakery to see if 2006 was The Year of Free Birthday Cakes. It was not. After getting an estimate of $33,493 for the two cakes, I hyperventilated and woke up fifteen minutes later standing behind a wall of cake mixes and icings and decorative gels and plastic gewgaws. It didn’t take long to figure out what I needed. Chocolate cake mix. White Icing. Yellow, red, black, and blue gel. Self-confidence. Artistic talent. Moxie. I found the mix, icing, and gels, and figured I would simply have to fake the other items.
On the morning of the party I baked the cake and iced it, but wasn’t quite feeling the required amount of aplomb to open the gels.
Two hours before the party I started feeling a bit adrenalized, but not enough to perform The Decorating of The Cake.
Twenty minutes before the guests were to arrive, I applied some valor lip gloss (mint-flavored!) and decided that apples can’t fall far from trees. If my mom can decorate award-winning cakes, why am I so ruffled?! Okay. Let’s do this. How will I put Murray and SpongeBob together? I know! I won’t! I’ll cut this cake in half and create TWO fabulous cakes in less than a half hour! Let’s see. Murray first. He’s a guy with a red shirt and black pants. W on the shirt. He has hair. I began to spin around—squirting gel onto the cake in the style of Edward Scissorhands as he created the topiary masterpieces. Next up? SpongeBob. Hrm. Square pants. He’s a yellow sponge. Red tie. Blue Eyes. And TRIM! Red trim for Murray! Yellow for SpongeBob! And the guests are walking up the sidewalk! Done!!!
When the gifts had been opened and everyone was ready for cake, I confidently called everyone into the dining room, where I uncovered my masterpieces.
After nearly ten seconds of awkward glances and cricket chirps, my mom smiled and said, “You let Meredith decorate the cakes? Brilliant! Meredith, they look wonderful!”
Meredith: But Mombo, I didn’t—
Me: SHE KNEW EXACTLY WHAT SHE WANTED! SpongeBob!!! Right, Meredith?!
Me: And Murray! Wheee! Let’sEatCakeRightNow!!!
Approximately 365 days later, Meredith turned five and we decided to throw a party for her pre-school friends. Once again, she insisted on SpongeBob. (Seriously?! Yes!!!)
I’m still making payments on that cake. (The gewgaws are made from crushed Fabergé eggs! Not really!)
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