I once attended a child's birthday party at which there was no cake. When I rudely asked when the cake was going to be served my German friend patiently explained that there wouldn't be any cake as they had already had one. At home. On their son's actual birthday. I was gobsmacked.
For us, the cake is the party. Without the cake it is just another get together. It is not uncommon for my kids to pull out one of our vast collection of Australian Women's Weekly cookbooks as their party draws to an end and start planning the next party, the one that is now an entire year away. And the weird thing is that I don't mind a bit.
The cake decision is complex, involving matters that go beyond questions of flavour (chocolate or vanilla) or whether to make the cake from scratch or a packet mix. The important questions are whether the cake will be a butterfly or a caterpillar, fairy house or haunted castle, jungle or ocean. Or at least that is the case in my family.
While my German friend did not comprehend my belief in the central role of cake at a child's birthday party, my French friend happily served up a chocolate cake in the shape of a circle for her daughter's 2nd birthday. No, the theme was not circles or shapes or Goodnight Moon. It was just that. A cake. A very fine cake that I still remember almost a decade later.
In recent years we have kept up the tradition while learning how to make something that looks great but doesn't require combined degrees in engineering and the fine arts. We have also accepted that while I choose the cake's theme, my husband is responsible for making it. Last year, this fine arrangement was interrupted by the his early departure for California. Aside from leaving me alone with four children and a house to pack up and sell, he also left me in sole charge of the four-year-old's party.
No need to panic. I had the Australian Women's Weekly's latest tome. A work of genius! The cupcake edition. Somehow I got Mr nearly 4 to agree to the 'garden' theme and we were off. It was completely adorable and indecently easy. I almost felt that I was letting the side down.
This year we did not make Ms10 a specially themed cake. In fact, I let Ms10 and her four new friends pick the cake themselves. From the bakery. It was a sensational cake, chocolate and in the shape of a circle.