Working mother guilt is something that arrived at the exact same time as Sascha back in December 2001, and over the years I’ve found a range of ways of keeping it under control. Some of these are logical and sensible – knowing I’m a better mum if I’m also a happy and fulfilled person (which for me personally requires the outlet of work to be able to achieve), making sure I prioritise the important things while trying not to sweat the small stuff – and some of them are not. Insisting on making and decorating the most challenging cakes I can think of each year for the kids birthday’s falls into that second category.
I place part of the blame for this on the fact that we grew up in a house where one of the most important components of the lead up to your birthday was selecting your cake from The Women’s Weekly Birthday Cake book. Mum was a lot more sensible than me though, she had strict embargoes on the cakes that couldn’t even be contemplated for selection – the meringue tower that comprised the ‘Cake of Kisses’, and the fiendish complexity of the typewriter – fell firmly in those categories.
When Sascha was turning one I went straight out and bought not only that cake book but the myriad of others that the franchise had spawned in the intervening 20 years and the birthday cake guilt therapy commenced.
The internet was the game changer thought that allowed me to move on from the beautifully laid out step by step instruction of the Woman’s Weekly cakes into a whole new world where you could find a picture of almost anything you fancied made into a cake, but it was totally up to you to figure out how to do it.
Sascha’s love for the little French school girl Madeleine spawned one of my earliest forays into instruction-less cake creation, but my long history as a tracer came to the fore (I won second prize in a design a stamp competition for our local Australia Post at primary school before I confessed that my beautiful rendition of a ring tail possum was actually traced) and delivered a pretty good outcome.
The following year I think Sascha was starting to wise up to the buttons that my obsession with guilt relieving baking provided for pushing, and requested a Madeline cake again, ‘but this time Mum I want it to be the Eiffel Tower, and it can’t just be a flat picture of the Eiffel Tour it needs to stand up tall’. After four hours of studding little silver balls onto a cake to represent the girders of the Eiffel Tower I swore all cakes from now on would be flat.
but then he desperately wanted an Anakin Skywalker Lego figure cake that he’d found online so I let myself be convinced. Trying my hardest to stop the whole thing collapsing on itself, I googled the American mum who’d created the image he’d seen on line and found her blog where she’d written about making the cake, only to discover that THE BODY WAS AN ICED BOX – not a cake, a cereal box covered with icing. Now there was no way that was going to cut the mustard in the working mother guilt alleviation stakes, so while the body may have contained nearly as many wooden skewers as cake, it definitely still qualified as cake.
It was back to flat cakes from there, with a pre-Virgin Galactic solar system rendition for Sam one year,
and one I particularly loved for Sascha, which was meant to double as a welcome to Wenlock, the London 2012 mascot we’d bought in the Lord Mayor’s charity auction after the end of the Olympics. Wenlock’s boat didn’t end up arriving in time for him to be at the party, but at least he was there in cake form.
One of my favorites was a cake for Sam just before a trip to London where we were going to attend one of the final Ashes matches. It was cricket themed, but he didn’t know there was also a surprise inside.
Just as he was about to cut it I told him it was actually a cake that would reveal a surprise when he cut it. He cut it open and found the Union Jack, which was supposed to illustrate that England was going to win the Ashes, but Sascha jumped in first and told him the surprise was that he was adopted and he was really an English boy and we were taking him home to meet his real family. Sisterly love at it’s finest….
In recent year’s Sascha has refused to indulge my guilt alleviation needs, and has insisted it’s her birthday and she shouldn’t be deprived of her all time favourite chocolate cake with cream cheese icing from Jocelyn’s in James St just because of my desire to put myself under immense pressure the night before her party to atone for any parenting sins committed in the past year. I felt it was fair karma when her name was spelt wrong even though the cake was delicious…..
Sam on the other hand has continued to indulge me, with this year’s cake involving a late night decorating tribute to our African safari holiday.
I’d resigned myself to the fact that birthday cakes for Sascha were a train that had left my station, and this year she and the friend she was having a joint birthday party with found a cake on Pinterest they decided they’d make together. Once I’d seen the picture I was fairly confident that I was going to get the call up for assistance as I knew it wouldn’t be as easy to execute as they were thinking, and sure enough we ended up decorating it together which was actually a lot of fun.
Over the years the cakes have created a lot of fun memories, as well as being a really tangible illustration for me that no matter how busy work can be, commitments to family are precious and have to be honoured. I don’t know that setting yourself extreme cake decorating challenges is actually the best way of doing this, but it works for me and over the past 15 years the one thing I’ve learned is that the best way of dealing with working mother guilt is figuring out what works for you and your family, not what anyone else thinks you should be doing.