None of us remember our first birthday cake.
It was likely your mother who, in the midst of the joy, chaos and emotion of a first birthday, set aside the time to remember to soften the butter, bring the eggs to room temperature, preheat the oven, and perform the ritual of her baby’s first cake. Maybe it was your father, grandmother, or older sibling. Maybe it was your aunt or neighbour. But, whoever it was, made that cake with love and intention.
A birthday cake is a very special thing. Being one who adores ceremony and celebration, I have always felt so cared for when presented with this symbol of deep affection by someone who loves me. And I’m more of a savoury treat kind of person.
It isn’t really about the cake, though, is it? Though a cake is a wonderful thing: the care and patience required; the sweet indulgence; the ceremony; the extravagant simplicity. It is a metaphor for love.
My father wasn’t a big fan of cake. Sometimes my mother would make him an alternative cake – rice crispy squares or, his preference, carrot cake.
One year I made my husband a peach pie from scratch.
For the last three years, my eldest daughter has asked for the same cake – chocolate orange. Through these annual requests, she is participating in her own story, building lifelong traditions. To support her in this, to impress these values of caring and observing the passage of time with gratitude and celebration – I consider that to be part of my life’s work.
As a woman and a mother, the fact is that I haven’t always received a birthday cake in adulthood. To be honest, in the last few years, I have had to make a specific request for my husband to bake or even buy me a birthday cake. (To his credit, he happily does this, and does it well.)
And, like I said, I don’t even love cake.
But, I want my girls to see this important ritual performed by their father, for their mother. Because women deserve cake, too.
I don’t want them to have to ask for their cake.
I have a friend who bakes herself a birthday cake every year. Because she enjoys it. I love that. Because women should bake their own cake, if they want to.
I don’t want my girls to think they have to depend on someone else for their cake.
Some people prefer pie. I love that.
I want my girls to choose pie instead - even if everyone else likes cake - if that's what they want.
Tomorrow, my littlest is four years old. This could be the first birthday she remembers. She loves to bake now, and she wants to bake her cake with me (chocolate orange, just like her big sister). Last year, her cake last year was a gluten free chocolate cake from a box with whipped coconut cream.
Because I have learned that when children are very young, they want attention from their parents more than anything else. And they may or may not want to help bake their cake, but they will definitely want to lick icing off the spatula.
And they do not want their parents fussing in the kitchen when they could read them their new book, or watch the birds dance in the sugar snow, just like the day they were born, or smell the hyacinth on the windowsill in a sunbeam.
But, when the right moment comes, with some family gathered round, and that ceremony of love and observance is performed, the cake is everything.