Teddy Bear Birthday Cake

When I was eight years old, my mother threw me a teddy bear birthday party. I hadn’t thought about it in years, but it suddenly came to mind when I was perusing the used book sale at the public library. There, on the shelf, was a discontinued copy of A Piece of Cake: Fun and Easy Theme Parties for Children (Gwenn Boechler, 1987), which pretty much had my birthday party pictured on the front.

We decorated those headbands (which the book calls party hats). We made teddy bear paper-bag puppets. We ate that cake.

I love it when I find books like this! Books that contain patterns or recipes for things I remember doing or gifts I remember receiving as a child. It doesn’t happen often, but I think that’s why I treasure it so much when I am lucky enough to stumble upon them.

The highlight of the birthday party was, I think, the teddy bear cake. I know my mother baked me a cake for every birthday until I was a teen (at which point she either made me a blueberry cream cheese flan, or I baked my own cake), sometimes two if my actual birthday and my birthday party ended up being too far apart. Although I do have vague recollections of rainbow sprinkles, I honestly couldn’t tell you anything specific about the cakes Mom baked, except on this year. I remember looking at the instructions for how to put it together. I remember icing the cake. I remember that the candies we used for the claws had black licorice centers, like a Good & Plenty. I remember that the nose and tongue were Smarties.

On the whole, what I remember the most is being so proud of this awesome cake — which is funny, because my mom, unbeknownst to me, thought that it was a terrible failure. No part of it turned out the way she wanted it to. According to her, making this cake was what convinced her that she had no talent whatsoever at cooking. But to me, it was a triumph.

(I heartily disagree with the idea that Mom can’t cook, by the way. Who do you think is responsible for all of those lovely Sunday dinners?)

I guess it just goes to show you that children perceive the world completely differently than adults do. We can all be so critical of ourselves and our work. But a child doesn’t notice if a cake slumps to one side, or if it’s store-bought cake mix, or if the decorations don’t turn out quite as intended. What they remember — especially if you cook together — is the pride of accomplishment. Maybe us adults could use a hit of that in our day-to-day life. There’s nothing wrong with striving to do better, but there’s also nothing wrong with being proud of your work. If it makes someone happy, that’s perfection enough.

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