"Fondant! Quick! Roll some up and stick it under there. We'll frost it blue and call it a wave"
" I can't get the woolly mammoth to fall over when it gets a direct hit, without making it so floppy that it won't stand up in a breeze. Can you take a look at it?"
"So, do you think we should have the kids rob the tomb in the pyramid before or after the toilet-paper mummy race?"
Those were just a few of the conversations that took place during the preparation for kids' birthday parties in our house, in the good years, during times when Andre was stable and I was the uber-mom.
It's the Birthday Season again here, and I'm sort of surprised by the brick wall of "I can't do this" that I'm facing. I've been thinking about the stark contrast between "then" and "now".
Back in the days when I not only cooked nearly everything from scratch, homeschooled my kids, and kept my house reasonably picked-up, I figured out that all we had to do for a great kids' party was pick a theme that appealed to them: Pirates, Cave-people, Ancient Egypt (Ok, give us a break, we were homeschoolers--Egypt-o-mania comes with the territory), Space, Tigers, Swamp Creatures... and then follow the formula of projectiles, finger food, and some large props made from cardboard, and of course, THE CAKE. Not just any old store-bought cake, but homemade cake sculptures: a space shuttle, a head of a saber-toothed tiger, a pirate ship (yes, we did manage to shore-up the collapsing poop deck with a rolled-up piece of fondant), a tiger, an arctic scene with fondant penguins and polar bears cavorting around an icy pool made of blue jello, the pyramids at Giza (complete with palm trees), Lightning McQueen from the movie, Cars...
|Lightning McQueen from "Cars", Andre's last cake sculpture|
On the day of the party, I'd be busy setting up the "experience"--the bowling-for-tigers game, the posing-for-pictures-as-a-penguin area, the giant cardboard moon for rubber-band-rocket shooting. The feed-the-alligator bean-bag toss.
The guests, their parents and siblings would arrive (no "drop-off and pick-up" parties for me), and I would spend the next few hours in a blur of motion. I am so grateful that there were adults with cameras at these gatherings, or there would be no photos at all.
In those days, those parties didn't feel like work. I felt like That Mom, the one who could pull of these amazing parties and make it look easy...before there were just too many plates spinning in our day-to-day lives and my energy began to flag.
Somewhere in the middle of every party, Andre could be found doing something he did extremely well. When I need an image that helps soften my painful memories, it's an image like this that I turn to.
|Andre and Mark, 2004|
I've written a lot about Andre's darkness, and for most of the first year since his death, that's felt like the thing I needed most to do: to bring to the daylight the side of our life together that we colluded in hiding. But our lives were not all darkness. All of the Hedrick babies knew a Daddy with an almost untiring ability to cuddle sleepy children, a Daddy who could fix nearly anything that was broken, a Daddy who took great pleasure in the grand gesture of unveiling the special birthday creations that he spent so much careful time perfecting.
In fact, over the years of growing instability in our house, as my own energy to keep up the facade faded, and the parties got less and less ambitious, the tradition of the cake sculpture was the last to go, because it was something that I could hand-off to Andre. I would make the sheet cake that would be frozen and sculpted into shapes, and the buttercream icing that would hold it all together, and my cake-engineer would take it from there. One year, I couldn't even muster the energy to make the frosting, so I gave Andre the vague instructions to mix "some butter, some milk and some powdered sugar, until you get something the consistency of spackle". His ratio of butter to sugar was inordinately high, and the coating on the outside of the Death Star, for Mark's 2009 birthday, was a bit shinier and greasier than usual. But the piping of the black icing designs was precise, and thrilled the birthday boy.
|Rhys and Daddy, 2009|