Saturday, July 4, 2009

Happy Fourth from the Birrd's Nest!

Here is the story behind the flag cake. I'm telling this because it was a huge learning lesson for me and I don't want to forget it.

When I was 14 I saw the idea for this cake in a magazine and decided to make one for the 4th. My parents thought it was great and I think I made a couple more of them during my teenage years. So while not exactly a die-hard tradition, it's nostalgic for me.

I haven't made one since I was married, but for some reason this year I thought I would. It can be a pretty big project depending on how fancy you make it, but I thought out how I could simplify the process into something I could squeeze in to my extremely full schedule. I bought strawberries and blueberries and whipping cream at the store last Wednesday. Then on Friday as we were coming home from somewhere I said to the boys "would you like to help me bake my special 4th of July flag cake?"

I was trying to be a good mommy and involve them.

Bean got all excited. Then he said "I have such a good idea how we can make it. I can just see it in my mind how it's going to be." Then he started going off about scallops on the side and strawberries in the cake and all kinds of complicated things that were definitely not in my plans.

I said "No, I didn't say 'would you like to design a cake for me?' I said 'would you like to help me make my cake?'"

Bean got very distressed. He could not seem to process the concept that this was my project, not his. However, the more we went back and forth about it, the more I felt like a total heel for insisting that it was my way or the highway. I'd just been reading this book about encouraging the creative fire within your children and I felt like I was drenching Bean's inner fire with a high-power hose.

Looking at the time frame of the rest of our day, I realized I had a little more time available than I needed for my cake. So I proposed a solution: I told Bean I was willing to make two cakes. I would do my cake my way and he could do his cake his way. He thought that was great. So I went ahead and baked a buttermilk yellow cake in my 9x13 stoneware pan for my cake.

Then I sat down with Bean and asked him to tell me exactly what he wanted so that I could make it happen. The resulting conversation was pure pandemonium. I would ask him to describe his ideas and when he did I would say "so, what you want is ____" and he would say "no, that's not it!" I couldn't even figure out what kind of cake he wanted me to bake. "A strawberry cake," he said. "Do you mean a cake with smashed up strawberries in the batter?" "No." "Okay, do you mean a cake with a layer of strawberry filling in the middle?" "No." "Well, what do you mean, then?" "A cake with strawberries in it." "But how?" Etc.

We looked at old pictures of cakes in my photo albums and on the computer. We discussed. We debated. We used up all the extra time I had set aside for making his cake just trying to figure out what we were doing. I must admit I got very frustrated. I was open with him about my frustration and that I was trying hard to control my temper and maintain respectful communication. I even got my husband to mediate at one point. The funny thing was, when we finally got our communication ironed out the only difference between what he wanted and what I was already making was that he wanted to be able to frost and decorate the sides of the cake.

I then told him that it didn't make sense to make two cakes, but I was willing to attempt to remove my cake from its pan so he could decorate the sides. I told him it would be difficult, since I hadn't done any of the things you would do if you were intending to remove the cake from the pan, but I would try because I wanted him to have the chance to try out his ideas.

Trying to take the cake out of the pan did not work so well.

Bean and I put the pieces back into the pan and I told him I was sorry but that he could still help me make the flag out of fruit. And at that point, after everything we'd been through, he was okay with that. I was so relieved that he didn't throw a tantrum at that point.

Both the boys helped me slice the strawberries and place the fruit on top of the cake. We had a really fun time doing it and you can see it turned out really cute. A part of me says I should have just stuck to my guns in the beginning and said "No, we're doing this cake my way because I'm an adult and I know more about cake than you do. You will do what I tell you to do and we will have fun making this cake." And we would have had fun.

But a part of me is glad things turned out the way they did. A part of me is glad I attempted to let Bean's creativity take flight. Even though it crashed, it was still a learning experience for him. It was also a huge learning experience for me. Every time Bean and I go head to head about something like this I always learn a lot-- both about how to deal with him better and how to overcome my own weaknesses. I think I modeled appropriate conflict resolution to him also, which is an extremely useful skill.

The cake was delicious and in the end everyone was perhaps a little bit wiser and a little bit fatter.

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Linda said...

love your flag cake! I made a flag cake too today, but neglected to get a picture of it.

The Hills said...

Cake looks way yummy and I love the new picture of Fish on the right!