Our son’s 8th birthday party was coming up, and Mel decided to make a cake. The party had a Minecraft theme. I didn’t know birthdays needed themes until Facebook. I see a lot of photos of homemade cakes, baked and decorated elaborately in cohesion with a party theme (Pokémon, Frozen, Avengers…) Buying a sheet cake from the grocery store with a few action figures stuck in it really doesn’t work anymore. It doesn’t have that touch of love that can really only be fully celebrated by posting a picture online.
“Do we really need to worry about making a Minecraft cake?” I asked. “We are already throwing him a party with gifts and favors and whatever. This seems like a bunch of work that he won’t really care about.”
“I just think it will be fun,” She said.
I believed her. I bought into it. Why? Because I spend more time than I should admit looking at pictures on Facebook and feeling shitty. Friends post photos that seem candid, off the cuff, of kids playing with parents in clean name brand clothing and combed hair, within a clean house with nice furniture, and I can’t help but wonder if I’m doing something wrong as a parent. The ones that really get me are the people my same age, and from my same town. In their photos, they look so together. They only post about happy things, kids doing well in school, or how they have the dream partner. If I relied only on Facebook to judge reality, I’d assume that every family was happy and clean and wonderful, while my house has stains on the living room carpet. My son’s shoes are scuffed, his jeans have holes, and his hair is almost never combed. I’ve never bought a new sofa or table and chairs, and sometimes I can’t see my kitchen counter because of all the crap on it. But the fact is, what I see online really does impact the way I view reality, and judge how good of a parent I am.
It’s hard not to wonder if I should be doing something more, like making a custom cake for my son’s 8th birthday and then posting a photo of it online so that we, too, can look like dream parents who care so much about our kids that we will make them the perfect birthday cake.
Mel found a photo on Pinterest of a Minecraft cake that seemed doable. It was, more or less, a large black and green block with a blue pixilated Minecraft sword stuck in it. The steps were laid out in the post. The cake mixes needed, the food coloring required to get the green just right, and where to find a large foam Minecraft sword.
It all looked so easy. And I will admit, the cake looked cool.
But I started to realize the reality of it when I found myself at Wal-Mart late at night, searching for the food coloring gel (something I’d never heard of) that came in shades that require a number, and arguing with my wife over the phone.
“The woman on Pinterest said that she found it at Wal-Mart,” She said it with an irritated tone that seemed to say, ‘If you don’t find it, my cake is ruined and I’ll be a failure.”
“It has to be gel, and it has to be those shades or it won’t look like the picture.”
This really is one of the major downfalls of Pinterest. People make it look so easy, and if you can’t do it, then you feel like dumb ass. I have the same problem with “how to” videos on YouTube. I can’t count how many times I have tried to fix my toilet using a YouTube video, only to end up swearing, bruised knuckled, and calling a plumber.
Eventually I found the damn food coloring, but they weren’t in the food section, but rather in the custom cake section, a part of the store I didn’t know existed. And luckily, they had the right shades of brown, green, and black, or I am confident I’d have ended up at another Wal-Mart in another town. However, I will say, when I came home with the right food coloring, I felt like a champion. I felt like posting my triumph on Facebook so all my friends would know how dedicated I was to my son’s cake. “After searching high and low at the store, I finally found green #32! My son’s Minecraft cake is going to be amazing!” Which would have been a lie. What I wanted to post was, “I searched the store for nearly an hour for green #32. This is frustration.”
Mel made the cake over a couple days. She made the layers, and froze them. She mixed the frosting. She wrapped the pixilated sword with plastic wrap so that it would all be sanitary and healthy. 10 min before the kids arrived; she carefully stuck the sword in the cake, took a step back, smiled, and raised her phone to snap a picture.
And indeed, it did look nice. A lot like the photo.
But in the time that it took for her to open the camera, the weight of the sword over came the cake, and came down, breaking the damn thing in half.
We both looked at it for some time, feeling like failures.
Tristan came in the kitchen shortly after it happened.
Mel leaned down, and gave him the news. “I’m sorry. I ruined your cake.”
She pointed at the broken mess on the kitchen counter.
Tristan looked at it for a moment, and I couldn’t tell if he was angry, sad, or just didn’t care.
Then he shrugged and asked, “Can we still eat it?”
“Yup,” I said.
“Can I have the sword now?”
“I suppose,” Mel said.
“Great!” He said.
“He seems happy,” I said.
“I just wish I’d have been able to take a picture before it fell apart,” Mel said.
“Would that have made you a better mom?” I asked.
“No,” she said. “But it would’ve made me look good online.”
The doorbell rang, and Tristan answered it with the large Minecraft sword in his hand. His buddy, James said, “You have cake on your sword.”
Tristan put it up to his mouth and licked it. Then he said, “Yup!”
When I think back on this, I feel like I was trying to keep up with someone on Pinterest that I don’t even know. Someone who probably knows how to make a cake. Probably has a lot of cake making experience. And in all this keeping up with the Jones’, I realized that none of that really mattered. Tristan had a great birthday party. His friends didn’t care one bit that the cake was broken. All that really happened was that we couldn’t make our friends online jealous because we made an awesome cake.