I was really looking forward to this part of being a mom, the part when your child starts school and you can do things like cheer from the sidelines during a baseball game, help out during the winter festival, clap wildly for your little one decked out as a carrot during the spring performance. And of course, baking.
I like to cook and bake almost as much as I like watching cooking shows and reading cook books. I’m not sure I’m very good at either cooking or baking, but I like the idea of it, the creativity, the inspiration that comes with a dozen ingredients spread before me on a cutting board. Let the magic begin! Well, magic my cooking is not, though it’s usually passable.
But when I found out that I had to provide cupcakes for the party, I was excited. I ransacked my cookbooks, focusing on one that offered up such gems as the sleepover cake (made with Twinkies, icing and assorted candies), the purse cake (two round cakes cut and assembled to look like a purse, with Twizzler handles), and doggie cupcakes (okay, that one’s obvious). What might appeal to the 4 year olds?
In the end I decided to play it safe, baking regular Betty Crocker cupcakes, using frosting from a can, and adorning each with a sugar confection in the shape of a Halloween figure. How hard could it be? It wasn’t, of course, but since I couldn’t remember when or if I’ve even made cupcakes before, suddenly I lost my nerve, frozen in front of the bottle of vegetable oil and three large eggs. What if I didn’t mix it all enough? (My giant Kitchen Aid stand mixer is still packed, and I’ve no hand mixer, so a fork was my method). What if I filled the cups too much and didn’t have enough to make the requisite 24? I only have one pan so that was a real possibility. Then, did I have enough frosting? Would the sugar shapes really adhere? As it turned out, the cups were only a little overfilled, so I managed to get 24, with only two seeming sadly small; I made the frosting last; and so far we haven’t lost a single shape. I can’t vouch for their taste, but they are not bad-looking.
All the kids in Mitzi’s class are responsible for bringing in either cupcakes or brownies; Cooper’s class each brings in a bag of candy for their trick or treating; the 3 year olds bring in cookies. Thus, the whole-school celebration is supplied with enough sugar to fill Hingham Harbor. As I clumsily wrapped my creations in plastic and aluminum foil, I wondered how they would compare. Will other moms bake their own fancy confections? Will they buy the too-too-perfect offerings of the local premiere bakery? Will they just stop at the grocery store on the way to school?
I want to be good at this part, the way my mom was. She was always there during our school years, reading to classes or helping out in the library, donating her time, spirit and good humor. She gave us distance as we aged but never missed a tennis match or band performance. And we never thought twice about asking her at the last minute to whip up something for our class party. She never complained, never balked, never got caught unprepared. And she never seemed unsure.
I want to be good at this part, what I think should be a fun part of parenting. I hope my cupcakes are well received (Mitzi and Cooper sure enjoyed licking the bowl). They are not fancy, nor will they be exciting, perhaps, to the modern preschooler experienced in birthday parties at Gymboree or Build-A-Bear or the science museum (or, for some kids in my town, catered professionally to the nines). But my cupcakes were baked in earnest, hopeful as I am that my kids will always come to me for help, be it schoolwork, baked goods or to kiss away their tears. Their first school party. My first batch of baked goods. A new chapter has begun. I hope we’re up to the challenge.
At least now I know how to make cupcakes.