Monday, May 31, 2010

Two Heads Are Better Than One

This past week was our son Daniel's birthday, and this weekend was the long-awaited birthday party. I'd mentioned to him sometime in March or so that we might think about inviting some friends over, and have subsequently been asked on a weekly basis to calculate the number of days remaining until the party. Yes, it was quite an anticipated event, with the extra excitement of a dinosaur theme and a visit from Grandma Jan thrown in for good measure.

And, as many kids' birthday parties seem to be, this started out as a simple idea that got more complicated as time went on. Now, I am not implying that we had an extravagant party or anything; there were no ponies or bouncy houses or ice sculptures. Just that, as these kinds of things go, it's hard to pick just two or three friends to invite knowing we're leaving out others. And once you buy the dinosaur plates you might as well get the matching cups and invitations. And, well, if our friends are bringing Daniel presents the least we can do is make up some games and send them home with some party favors. We were happy to do these things, but they turn a little get-together into a formal event, and while this seemed like a fine idea two months ago our family's recent health surprises (see previous two posts) put a kink in my advance planning.

And so my mother arrived on Thursday to find me miserably sick, Kyle tired and stuffed up as well, Eva in need of extra attention, and our house not exactly dirty but certainly not clean. Now, like many women, usually I have a love/hate relationship with visits from my mother. On the one hand, she brings too many toys, fruit snacks, and cereal I would never buy. She buys restaurant food for every meal and lies to the kids to get compliance (like telling Eva her nose will fall off if she picks it instead of just saying it's bad manners). On the other hand, she is great with the kids, and they LOVE to play with her. I do like doing things with her and talking to her in the evenings, and she is a good sport about going along with whatever stuff we've got planned for the week. She is as generous with Kyle and me as she is with the kids, and after all who doesn't enjoy getting out of cooking for a few days?

This week, though, a visit from my mom was just what the doctor ordered. She had good ideas for things to put in the goody bags for the party, bought me cold medicine and a patio umbrella, gave the kids the extra attention they needed, and let Kyle and me use her convertible to go out to eat without the kids Saturday night. I was more than happy to just order out all weekend, and to have extra help preparing for the party.

The other major thing that my mom did was design and help make the cake. Daniel had mentioned when we first started planning the party that he really wanted a dinosaur cake. So my mother went on a search for something that would be doable, but also really cool for Daniel. She happened to be taking a cake decorating class this winter and spring, so she arrived this weekend with a fully stocked arsenal of cake decorating supplies and knowledge. When I first saw the design for the cake I was a little intimidated: I had never made a 3D cake before, and I wasn't sure about all the little frosting stars and something that required a dowel rod. But she said she could do it and I agreed that the cake might be achievable with her help.

So Friday afternoon we baked the cakes, and after the kids went to bed Friday night we began assembling and frosting this thing. It really was easy enough, though it was time-consuming and the three batches of buttercream frosting made a big greasy mess all over the kitchen. Finally, at 1:00 in the morning the cake was complete. We dyed and toasted some coconut for "grass" to put around it, put it up where the kids couldn't mess with it, and took some pictures. We'd had some problems getting the head to stay together, but had finally gotten enough frosting to stick everything together fairly well. We crossed our fingers and went to get ready for bed.

Somehow, though, while I was brushing my teeth, I had a feeling that we were not home free. I only noticed it when I looked at the cake through the lens of the camera, but it seemed like the neck was pulling away a bit. I prayed that God would let the cake stay together until the party, then chastised myself for praying for something so completely frivolous. I revised it as a prayer for appropriate perspective on a silly dinosaur cake. Which was good, because when I finished brushing my teeth and went in to shut the lights off, the head had come completely unattached, fallen down, and broken into several pieces on the coconut grass. I went downstairs to tell my mom, and after examining the cake and bellyaching for a few minutes we decided to just go to bed and redo the head in the morning.

And so, about an hour before the party, we fashioned a different head (one that did NOT stand up) out of a store-bought angel food cake and covered it in a tub of premade Wilton frosting. Mom was dyeing and piping that frosting on like the Cake Boss himself. And in the end, I think it looked better than the original. We had a fun party, and Daniel has claimed the head as his own special piece of cake leftovers.

So Grandma Jan saved the day, for the cake and also for our tired little family. Thanks, Mom! We love you!


  1. Great story and great cake!
    I can also relate to the way birthday parties turn into big events. A's 2nd and 3rd birthday parties were pretty big, because we also had the problem of not wanting to leave anyone off the invite list. I chickened out this year and just had a celebration at our regular playgroup.

  2. I missed the story details at the party and just knew we were seeing a replacement head. I would have never known that it was a completely vivisected dinosaur from foreign materials.
    You guys did a great job with the whole thing! And Peter is loving his dinosaur tatoo and tells his daddy about the various things that "Daniel gave him at the party." Although, I think we may now be doomed to Peter requesting a party because he made the connection between Daniel's fun party and "birthday".