This morning I read an article from the Life Lessons section in Real Simple magazine (May issue) called She Takes the Cake by Elissa Schappell. It was a story about the passing down of a baking pan from Elissa’s mother and the memories it elicited each time she used it. Whenever Elissa used the pan to create her own children’s cakes, she was reminded of how embarrassed she felt about the imperfect cakes her mother insisted on baking for her celebrations; she would much rather have had a “perfect” store cake like her friends always had. Would repeating the ritual evoke any of the same feelings in her own children?
I was drawn to this story because it mimicked my own path of expressing my love towards my children as they grew up through rituals followed each year. Would they look back upon those rituals with the same love and care that I put into creating them or would they, too, sometimes feel ashamed of their mom’s imperfect cakes and celebrations? Only time would tell.
One ritual I followed through the years was their birthday celebration. Just like Elissa’s mother did each year I, too, lovingly baked a special cake for them and as they got older incorporated it into a themed party to make a really big deal about their birthdays. (After all, to me, the day they were born were two of the most special days in my life!)
As they entered into the school age years, the parties became a little more elaborate with character themes and the cakes became quite a bit more detailed. I remember the years of Big Bird, Barney and especially Ninja turtles – that was the year their grandmother’s tongue turned green from the icing! Of course, when they moved into middle school, they started requesting going somewhere for a party instead of playing at home, but cool cakes were still trucked into the venues. (Ninja turtles turned into acoustic guitars and soccer fields.)
The celebrations slowed down when they got into high school (it was a little too difficult to manage parties during the teen years), but the cakes continued. That’s when we changed from having parties to going out to eat at their favorite restaurants; I think we went to a local Italian one for 4 years in a row because my youngest son always loved spaghetti & meatballs… he still does!
Birthday celebrations got a little trickier when they went off to college, but somehow I always managed to do something crazy to make it feel special (ordering a pizza blow-out for their dorm mates, sending a balloon bouquet to a study hall to make them feel silly or having a take-out meal delivered to their first off campus apartment). Since they were 3 hours away, I couldn’t make cakes for them, but I managed to send a huge care package with lots of goodies to make up for it.
My sons live on their own now, but luckily reside in the same town so I can once again spoil them with birthday celebrations. We’ve now come full circle and celebrate with their favorite meal at home and the choice of a dessert made lovingly by their adoring mother.
It’s funny how the paths we sometimes travel down lead us all the way back home, isn’t it? After reading about Ms. Schappell’s experience with her mom and how she decided she’d rather continue the ritual with her own kids instead of buying “perfect” cakes, I’ve come to understand that I, too, will probably continue my “imperfect” ritual for a long time to come. Luckily, my sons realize that I created this ritual as an expression of my love and although it has changed and evolved over the years, it means a lot more to them to have our “imperfect” celebrations at home rather than “perfect” ones elsewhere.
Now, tell me, do you have an “imperfect” ritual that created a lasting memory? I’d love to hear all about it; won’t you share your story in the comments below?