“Frost the Cake!”

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By DeeDee Corbitt Sauter

My almost 5-year-old repeatedly yelled this order to us. It was barely discernible beneath his peals of laughter.

I had no idea what he was talking about; there was no cake in the house. We had some old, stale Girl Scout cookies, but I was not about to stop
this tickling fest to clarify some ludicrous preschool request.

“Frost the cake!”

A spontaneous game had started when he challenged me not to tickle him. I had been heavily ensconced in making a list, a skill for which I am quite famous. I have a list for everything. Recently, on a daily to-do list, I had included the need to make an additional list for birthday party supplies and games. The subject of my newest register was a brainstorming activity to determine the best way to impress upon my children that they had happy childhoods. I desperately needed the break.

Since my children are still young and impressionable, I feel pressure to execute a fabulous youth full of happy moments so when they grow up, they can reflect on these memories and proudly tell everyone within earshot that they have neither complaints nor problems nor emotional baggage. The only low point in their lives will come as they realize there is no way they will be able to be a better parent than their listmaking mom.

My list so far consisted of a title: “Making Memories,” but few other details. There were three columns, one labeled “Activity,” the second “Cost” and the third “Timeframe.” The left margin was finely decorated with a lace-filigree doodle, and I had written my name backwards and upside down just to see if I could. I impressed myself.

I have heard this “Making Memories” phrase being thrown about lately where fabulous mothers frequent. Playgroups, lunches and field trips are filled with moms whose entire focus is on the happiness of their child and the competitive nature of child rearing. It is not for the weak-hearted.

None of that describes me. I am old, self-assured and opinionated and can usually hold my own, but these moms are capable of inducing an anxiety attack with the mere flick of their smart phones, which are overloaded with photos of family outings, random friendship parties, homemade edible table decor and personalized gifts. They are living, breathing, walking Pinterest boards.

At first I thought the whole concept was ludicrous. In fact, I still think it’s absurd, but with the massive number of people who have created this new insidiously competitive sport, it’s difficult not to get caught up in the melee.

So I sat there with my titled, but empty lists until my youngest son decided to annoy me. Those other memory-making mothers would never have used the term “annoy.” They would have instead “shared their challenges” or crafted a photo collage of funny faces or calmly distracted their progeny by pulling out a special activity bag from a hidden drawer created for emergency purposes—all designed with the purpose of manufacturing the perfect childhood and never letting the kid become bored.

Frankly, I don’t remember most of my childhood. I do recall fireflies and night tag, bike rides and playing with the garden hose. There was Barbie and Ken and treks through the woods, letting cable and watching Donny and Marie with the family, eating crabs in the backyard and playing board games on the round, white kitchen table.

I also remember sitting way, way back in the station wagon on the way to our annual Myrtle Beach camping trip. I remember when our house was robbed, twice. I wish I had the tapes on which my sister and I recorded our original audio plays.

There were family dinners, sleepovers with my best friend, and I remember walking to the bus stop—in the rain, without rain boots. The umbrellas seemed smaller back then, and I always got soaked. The day I got my first pair of contacts was momentous. I will never forget how perfect that moment was.

I can guarantee my parents did not plan perfect days, let alone perfect memories. They were busy working and cooking and paying bills. Sometimes they planned out our days to include trips to the community pool or a special day at the movies. Those memories are fabulous, regardless of the simple, last-minute preparations.

Suddenly, I stopped tickling the preschooler gasping on the couch. I picked up my blank list, crumpled it and made a perfect shot to the trash can. I turned to him and asked why he wanted me to frost a cake that didn’t exist and kissed his forehead.

He started his high-pitched squeal again. “I didn’t say, ‘Frost the cake!’ I said, ‘Pause the game!’” We both fell back, with tears in our eyes from the giggling I was sure would never end.

He may not remember the specifics, but I hope he will forever recall the joy. For me, it was the perfect unplanned memory.

DeeDee Corbitt Sauter is a resident of Prince William County. Her column, “Tambourines and Elephants,” appears monthly in Prince William Living.

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