By Marie Claire
About a week before my son Tristan's fourth birthday, I talked with him about how much he had grown up in the past year, how much he had learned, and how proud I was of him for the progress he had made. Then we talked about his birthday and what he wanted to do for his party. As usual, I let him choose what kind of birthday cake he wanted.
Last year he chose a "caterpillar" cake, as at the time bugs fascinated him. That cake wasn't too difficult--just a string of crescent-shaped cake pieces with bright, multicolored icing. I expected him to choose something equally simple this year, so you can imagine my chagrin when, after looking through a book with imaginative cake ideas for children, he chose the "knights and castle" cake. I looked at the detailed drawing, read over the explanation, and felt immediately that I had bitten off a bit more than I could chew. But Tristan was sure he wanted a castle cake, knights and all.
Before I knew it, his birthday was upon me, and I set to work on the cake. Book in hand, I tried to follow the directions as best I could, but soon realized why there was only a drawing of this castle cake, not a photograph, as with most of the other designs. There was a gulf between concept and finished product, and I was adrift and sinking! My cake was lopsided, the icing didn't stick well, and the turrets weren't equal in height or diameter. I couldn't find any toy knights, so I settled for a Lego figure of a man on a horse.
I felt so under pressure and discouraged! Poor Tristan, I thought. He's going to be so disappointed! He's been looking forward to and talking about his knights and castle cake all week, and now look what he's going to get! Things never turn out the way I want them to! Tristan is sure to be one unhappy little boy when he sees his mother's version of his dream cake!
I finally finished the cake, adding the final touches as best I could--paper flags, cookies along the top of the walls that were supposed to look like stones but kept falling over at awkward angles, and "grass" made from shredded coconut dyed with food color that somehow turned out a muddy mossy color. I was done, but felt like crying.
I cleaned up my mess and decided I'd better let Tristan see the cake, to prepare him for the embarrassing moment when he and his friends would see it at the party. As Tristan entered the room, I studied his expression and prayed for just the right thing to say to cheer him up and help him not to take it so hard.
Tristan's eyes widened and, to my surprise, a huge smile spread across his face. "Wow, Mom! It's so cool!" he exclaimed. "It's just what I wanted!"
I nearly burst into tears as he went over to the cake, inspected each part, and said it was exactly the way he wanted it to be. Then he ran over and hugged me, thanked me for making it for him, and lifted his hand to his mouth as if to tell me a secret. I bent over to let him whisper in my ear.
"I love you!" he said, and then ran off to tell his friends about what he'd just seen.
After he left the room I sat there a while, thinking about what I'd just experienced. In those few minutes I was taught a lesson that can take a lifetime to learn. How many times had things in my life turned out differently than I had hoped or imagined? How many times had my dreams seemed to turn out a little lopsided, distorted, with pieces missing? How many times had I questioned God and not fully accepted or appreciated what He had done for me?
Oh, that I can learn to see life through the eyes of a child--full of faith, hope, love, and positiveness, instead of seeing the imperfections. Oh, that I can learn to see the good and the wonder of it all. I stayed in that magic moment as long as I could. Drinking in the scene of that misshapen cake before me and the fresh memory of Tristan's sweet reaction, I asked God to forgive me for my recent negative outlook on life and to help me see things the way my son had seen that cake.
Then a funny thing happened. As I stared at the cake, it took on a cartoon quality and I actually began to like it! Best and most important, Tristan liked it. It was his birthday, after all.
Originally published in Activated Magazine. Used with permission.