Mom on the spot for the perfect cake

Today my youngest son turns 5. This means for me, his mother, it’s almost show time.

Birthdays have become a dilemma in my household. With four children of various ages and personality types, each birthday celebration must be custom fit. I have the social child, who would invite 50 people to his birthday parties if I’d let him. I have the shy child, who likes the idea of parties, but when the actual party comes, he becomes overwhelmed. My daughter, the baby, hasn’t yet developed her own style of birthday celebration, but I know it will involve sparkly pink things.

My 5-year-old is still developing his birthday style, too. And, as most 5-year-olds’ minds work, his imagination conjures grand scenarios that I can never match. Just this morning, he said, “Maybe for my birthday, I can walk down the street with a crown on my head and people will throw candy at me and I can fill my pockets.”

Candy coronations aside, I am focusing on the cake. For weeks, the birthday boy has been excited about a cake he saw in a magazine shaped like an acoustic guitar, frets made of chocolate, strings made of bright red licorice.

I will try to recreate it, but how can I match the picture he has in his mind?

These are the times I feel the most unprepared. I have a college degree from a liberal arts school where I studied hard, wrote in-depth analyses of British poets, studied a foreign language. But nowhere in the college course catalog was there anything about “How to Bake Guitar Cakes.” Come to think of it, I also could’ve used courses in “How to Potty Train a Strong-Willed Child” or “Fight or Flight: What To Do When Your Child Throws a Tantrum in the Middle of the Cereal Aisle.”

What faces me now is an apron, a mixing bowl and a child’s eyes brimming with hopeful expectation. I hope he goes to sleep tonight with chocolate smudged on his sweet little cheek, happy with memories of possibly his greatest birthday ever.

If I’m lucky, I won’t burn the cake.

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